Henry Louis Gates Jr.: Did Dogs Really Eat Slaves, Like in 'Django'?

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. He is also the editor-in-chief of The Root.

(The Root) -- Amazing Fact About the Negro No. 14: Were slaves actually eaten by dogs, as was shown in the film Django Unchained? Also, was it unusual for slaves to ride horses -- and were they really forced to fight each other to the death?

One of the scholar's favorite spectator sports when it comes to our version of film "criticism" is the gleeful search for historical inaccuracies in Hollywood feature films. Pursued with enough intensity and zeal, this sort of Monday morning quarterbacking can be a veritable blood sport, which is no idle metaphor when reflecting on Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained. The film contains one of the most violent -- and devastatingly effective -- scenes I've ever witnessed in any representation of the horrors of slavery, a scene that literalizes the term "bloodhound."...

It Was a Dog-Eat-Slave World

Professional slave catchers used dogs to chase and capture fugitive slaves. As David Doddington writes in "Slavery and Dogs in the Antebellum South" for the website Sniffing the Past, "it was the use of trained dogs that appears to have most concerned" the slaves. "Former slaves claimed that masters, patrollers, or professional slave catchers would use 'savage dogs, trained to hunt and follow the track of the poor colored fugitive,' " according to the 1857 slave narrative of William J. Anderson

But tracking slaves is one thing; devouring them, as happens in Django, is quite another. Did this happen -- could this have happened -- given the fact that the ultimate goal of a master was to exploit his human chattel for maximum profit, and destroying property would not be perhaps the best business decision?

Apparently, it sometimes did happen. Doddington quotes a slaveholder from Louisiana named Bennett H. Barrow, "who kept a detailed dairy and frequently mentioned the importance of dogs in capturing runaways, as well as the terrible violence they could inflict: 'hunting Ruffins Boy Henry, came across Williams runaway caught him dogs nearly et his legs off, near killing him.' "...

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