Connect with us

African American History

How Skin Of Black People Was Used For Leather For Shoes & Other Wares In 1880s, Philadelphia

How Skin Of Black People Was Used For Leather For Shoes & Other Wares In 1880s Philadelphia

In the course of my research, oftentimes, there are stories I would stumble upon, and immediately wish I hadn’t seen them. This is one of those stories in history. And then just to make sure it’s not a made-up story, I dig deeper, only to discover renowned scholarly platforms narrating the same heartwrenching tale.

Below is a Newspaper publication, by Philadelphia News, that captures various reports of white Americans who used the skin of Black people (enslaved Africans) to make shoes, slippers, and other personal effects. Read the publication below:

LEATHER FROM HUMAN SKIN

Advertisement

Philadelphia News

The Mercury, Saturday Morning March 17, 1888

I recall mentioning two or three years ago that a renowned physician in our city was wearing shoes made from slaves’ skin. He continued to follow that tradition, claiming that an African’s tanned skin produces the most durable and malleable leather known to man.

I only met him on the street last week with a beautiful new pair of sneakers. I smiled as I stared at his shoes, as I often do — his pedal coverings have an irresistible fascination for me – and said:

Advertisement

“Do you still have the downtrodden African beneath your feet?” “I presume you mean to enquire if I still wear shoes made of negro skin,” he replied flatly and without a hint of a smile. I absolutely do, and I have no intention of changing until I find a leather that is softer, lasts longer, and has a nicer aesthetic. This is a subject about which I have no feelings. If I were a Southerner in the American sense, I could be accused of being motivated by racial prejudice. But, by birth, I am a foreigner who has become an American citizen by naturalization. I took part in the insurrection so that black people could be emancipated. If a white man’s skin was thick enough, I’d use it for the same reason, and if anyone wants to put my epidermis on his feet after I’ve taken my last breath, he has my ante mortem approval.”

In their blackness, the doctor’s shoes always have an unusually rich lustrousness. He assures me that his feet are never hurt. When I last saw him, the new pair he was wearing made no creaking noises and appeared to be as comfortable as if they had been worn for a month. 

He told me that their predecessors had been in constant use for eight months. He gets the skins from negroes whose bodies have been dissected in one of our major medical schools. The nicest leather may be found on the thighs. The soles are made by gluing together multiple layers of leather. A tanner in Womseldorf, 16 miles from Reading, prepares the skin.

The shoes are made by a local French shoemaker who has no idea what the leather’s true character is, but who marvels at its perfect smoothness and claims that it outperforms the finest French calfskin.

Advertisement

Do not believe for a moment that this doctor is an exception in terms of putting human skin to practical use. Medical students frequently display a wide range of things in which the skin or bones of some dissected humans have been gruesomely used, and they occasionally offer these to their friends, who appreciate them greatly. 

One of the town’s nefarious characters carries a matchbox with a chunk of the skin of a lovely young woman discovered drowned in the Delaware River. It hasn’t lost its natural color. Another young man I know carries a cigar box made of negro skin with a horrible skull and crossbones carved in relief on one side. One of the country’s most well-known surgeons, who practice in this city, has a stunning instrument case made completely of leather derived from African skin. 

A magnificent pair of dark slippers are worn by a young society girl in this city, and the exceptional lustrousness of the leather always draws the admiration of her acquaintances when they see them. The young doctor who gave them to her had just returned from a long trip abroad, and he told her that he had bought them from a Turk in Alexandria. He didn’t know what kind of leather they were made of, but he assumed it was the skin of some wild animal. The leather was made in Womseldorf and the skin originated from a negro cadaver that was previously prone on a Jefferson College dissecting table. The negro’s kinky hair was used to make the rosettes on the slippers.


Sources:

Advertisement

https://africasacountry.com/2014/03/whitehistorymonth-leather-skin

https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/9144128

https://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/question/2013/april.htm

Advertisement

Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.