few years ago a chain email was spread explaining the origins of the wordpicnic. The email stated the word picnic was derived from the phrase “pick-a-nigger.” Remembering that email, I decided to investigate the origins of the wordpicnic, to verify whether the email was correct. My research has concluded thatthe word picnic was not derived from “pick-a-nigger,”
but has its origin from theFrench word piquenique – meaning “to pick or peck.”
hile researching the origins of the word picnic, I became aware of why theperson who started the chain email believed the word came from “pick-a-nigger.”From the late 1800s to the present, many people of African descent have beenlynched in this country during picnic type events. As a matter of fact, lynchingswere the events that were the cause for celebrations and family gatherings.
oliceman, pastors, teachers and people from all levels of society would gather together to participate in the lynching of a person of African descent. Parentswould bring their children to the lynching as a form of entertainment.
n the 1890s, Brother Henry Smith, a 17-year old man, was made to sit on aparade-style float that was drawn by horses and paraded around a cheeringcrowd. After the float was stopped, Brother Henry Smith was tortured and thenburned alive. The death of Brother Henry Smith was not the end of thecelebration. Brother Henry Smith’s body was cut in pieces and the pieces weregiven to the crowd as souvenirs. The most prized piece of flesh was his penis,which was given to a raffle winner. Brother Henry Smith was lynched because hewas falsely accused of killing a white girl.
t must be stressed that lynchings were all day events. The victim was torturedthroughout the day before being killed. Eating, dancing, ball games, andspeeches all took place while the victim was being tortured. Some methods of torture included the victim being burned with torches, stabbed with knives, havingfingers and toes cut-off, being beaten with bats and the most common form of torture for males was being castrated. After the torture the victim was usuallyburned alive. Throughout the United States these events became known as“Negro barbecues.” Children were usually encouraged to participate in theseevents.