Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Part 2: The kidnapping of young boys, Eko and Iko, and the circus

We recently shared information about Eko, Iko, and Clicko who were forced to work without pay for the circus in the article:  "Eko, Iko, & Clicko kidnapped and forced into Barnum Circus."  Clicko was kidnapped from South Africa at a different time than the brothers Eko and Iko.  Eko and Iko were kidnapped in 1899, and we are working our way back in the research to determine what happened to them before they crossed paths with Clicko where they all performed in the same circus act in the 1920's.

The first time that genealogist and peonage researcher, Antoinette Harrell, heard of Iko and Eko was in a local Mardi Gras song about local Indians.  She learned more about them in documents at the National Archives.  "There was time that the circus took people with mental and physical disabilities.  Although they were handicapped, they were beat, drugged, mistreated, and lived a miserable life.  There were no human right's organizations back then to protect them from abuse, " said Antoinette.

Charles Rubenstein, Eko, Clicko, and Iko

Since our purpose here is to share records documenting peonage and reveal the history of African Americans trapped in involuntary servitude that far below the radar of records such as census records, we are sharing the following copy of a letter submitted to the FBI in 1946 by a man who traveled with the Clyde Beatty Circus for three or four summers in Illinois at the same time as Iko and Eko.  Please click on the documents to see them in full screen:

Department of Justice, NA, RG60 
Submitted by genealogist and peonage researcher, Antoinette Harrell. 

Department of Justice, NA, RG60 
Submitted by genealogist and peonage researcher, Antoinette Harrell. 
The name of the individual who submitted this letter has been withheld.  He learned about the kidnapping of Eko and Iko from their own account, and he was eyewitness to the conditions they lived under.  The description of their living quarters with thousands of bed bugs is particularly gruesome.

Also unfortunate is the fact that the first side show operator who kidnapped them died and they were just passed to a new owner.  We know that Clicko was dead by time and that they had performed together in the Barnum Circus.
Clyde Beatty Circus ad submitted byAntoinette Harrell

This happens to be the most disturbing piece of oral history which I have ever read, however, it reveals the fact that  circus records can definitely be included among sources to consider when for documenting ancestors who were trapped in peonage.

Eko and Iko in 1937. Submitted by Antoinette Harrell

"Peonage was worse than slavery.  The inhuman treatment that occurred during slavery was supposed to be abolished. Not until the later part of 1920 was it obvious that there were those who still had to serve without volunteering and without being paid,"  said Antoinette.

Please check back. Antoinette will share her thoughts on the contradictions between Juneteenth celebrations and the knowledge gleaned from historical documents that 20th Century slavery did exist for scores of African Americans.  Some of their descendants remain in poverty and on the plantation today. 
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