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Eric Litke
By Eric Litke June 22, 2020

Yes, the 1942 Milwaukee YMCA brochure featured a racist carnival game

If Your Time is short

  • The game, with a banner including the n-word, was advertised in a 1942 brochure for Camp Minikani, in Washington County.

  • This barbaric game was played widely at local fairs and carnivals from the 1800s into the mid-1900s, often using humans as targets.

  • Newspaper accounts from the era casually reference the “dodgers” being badly injured and even killed.

The black-and-white photo from long ago leaves a jarring impression in 2020. 

Below a carnival banner that proclaims "HIT THE (n-word) BABY," a group of young, white boys are seen hurling objects at a blackened, shadowy target.

This picture has been widely viewed on Facebook, including a post from June 12, 2020, that has been shared more than 9,000 times.

"This image is authentic and shows a 1942 YMCA brochure for Camp Minikani, a children’s summer camp in Wisconsin," the post says.

The post goes on to describe a carnival game in which participants hurl objects at a human target. The more than 1,000 comments include many expressing shock and disgust, while others wondered if the image is legitimate. One comment we saw suggested it had been doctored to inflame racial tensions.

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook).

Is the picture real? And is the description accurate to attribute it to a Wisconsin youth camp brochure?

Time for a disgraceful history lesson.

It’s an ugly topic, but it’s one that’s important to examine to both understand the long-running nature and impact of systemic racism — even through childhood games — and to acknowledge how the mindset behind it lingers today. 

"We can use the past to inform how we got to where we are, and then use that as a tool to educate us about the challenges we continue to face," said Reggie Jackson, historian and head griot, or storyteller, at America’s Black Holocaust Museum, located in Milwaukee. "As we do build toward racial repair and reconciliation, these are some of the things we need to be aware of that we’re fighting against, those mindsets that are still way more common than they need to be."

Picture from YMCA brochure

The picture is real — and it comes from the cited YMCA brochure.

The text of the Facebook post is actually a direct quote (without attribution) from a 2018 factcheck by Snopes.com, which rated True a claim that a game by that name was once a popular fairground attraction.

The game went by the name on the banner, as well as "African Dodger," "The Black Dodger" and an array of other labels we won’t repeat here. Participants got three throws with a ball or egg to try to hit a target.

Featured Fact-check

Sometimes that target was a picture or model of a Black man, but often it was a real person, hired to play the role of the "dodger."

The game was highlighted in the 1942 brochure for Camp Minikani, a camp in Washington County owned then and now by the YMCA of Greater Milwaukee. The camp was established in 1919 and remains in use.

The four-page brochure is on display at the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia in Michigan, and was included in the 2019 book "Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the rise of Jim Crow." The game is featured on the brochure’s last page, which promotes "Special Events" such as an all-camp carnival.

Carrie Wall, president and CEO of the Milwaukee YMCA, called it "a part of our history that we are not proud of."

"The image of this cruel ‘game’ horrifies and disgusts us," Wall said in a statement. "As an organization, we are committed to diversity, inclusion, and equity for all. We can’t hide from our past, but only pledge to be better every day since."

Violent, racist carnival game was commonplace

The question from today’s perspective is how a game in this vein could be so normalized.

An article on the game on the Jim Crow Museum website said it was "as commonplace in local fairs, carnivals and circuses as Ferris wheels and roller coasters are today." Newspaper clippings showed it in use at events hosted by churches and schools.

"The idea that African Americans were sub-humans was prevalent and widely accepted," said the article, by museum multimedia specialist Franklin Hughes. 

Pop culture was rife with mentions of the game. A video compilation from the Jim Crow Museum shows clips featuring Popeye the Sailor (1933) and Donald Duck (no date) playing versions of the game, and it was the central theme of a 1931 movie called "The African Dodger."

Department stores even sold an at-home table version of the game.

Newspapers from the early 1900s often mentioned the game. Some advertised for "dodgers" to play the role of target, and one account detailed a man hospitalized after participants brought their own weighted balls to use.

Our ruling

A viral Facebook post says a picture of white boys playing a racist carnival game comes from a 1942 brochure for a Milwaukee-area YMCA camp.

Museum archives and other research confirms the picture is authentic and comes from a brochure for Camp Minikani.

The barbaric game was widely played from the 1800s into the mid-1900s, prevalent at all manner of fairs and carnivals, as well as in the media of the time.

We rate this claim True.

Our Sources

Facebook post, June 12, 2020

YMCA of Greater Milwaukee, 1942 Camp Minikani brochure (provided by the Jim Crow Museum), 

Snopes, Was a Violently Racist Carnival Game Once Popular in America?, Feb. 26, 2018

Email exchange with Franklin R. Hughes, multimedia specialist, Jim Crow Museum, June 17, 2020

YMCA of Greater Milwaukee, Camp Minikani, accessed June 18, 2020

Henry Louis Gates Jr.,  "Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the rise of Jim Crow," 2019.

Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, The African Dodger, October 2012

Jim Crow Museum YouTube channel, Blacks as Targets, June 11, 2014

Wayne County Democrat, The black dodger, Sept. 19, 1913

Philadelphia Record, article, Sept. 22, 1908

Providence News, Wants African Dodger to Face Balls at Club Fair, Sept. 11, 1924

Interview with Reggie Jackson, head griot, America’s Black Holocaust Museum, June 18, 2020

Email exchange with Jared Stewart, spokesman for YMCA of Greater Milwaukee, June 16-18, 2020

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More by Eric Litke

Yes, the 1942 Milwaukee YMCA brochure featured a racist carnival game

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