Letters to the Museum

The Wog Debate and the U.S. Navy

First off let me say that I admire your work very much and would love to come up to Ferris some day soon to see it in person. This is a story that needs to be told, and I hope someday the Smithsonian adopts similar standards to tell the whole (often ugly) truth of American history. Though some of us try to deny it, race continues to be one of, if not the largest issue defining society in the United States.

On to the subject of my email. You may know this already, but I read through your essay on the golliwog, and found no references to it. Maybe it has changed, but as recently as 1998 (when I separated) the U.S. Navy used the term "wog" for seamen who had not yet crossed the equator. There is a big to- do aboard ships crossing the equator and "wogs" are degraded and treated awfully for the day, after which they are given the title "shellback". My understanding was that the term that was used formerly was "pollywog", but that there was a directive to not use it because it was racist, hence, "wog". It is not out of the realm of possibility that the person who told me that was mistaken, or that the word evolved over the years from something closer to "golliwog".

This tradition was no doubt handed down from the British Navy, and I was just wondering if you have any more knowledge about it. When I learned about the term "wog" long after getting out of the service, I immediately was suspicious that it, and the Navy tradition were related, but I have no direct evidence.

If you know about this, please include that information on your web page about the Golliwog caricature.

Thanks in advance, and again, I can't thank you enough for your work.

David J. Myers

-- Jan. 3, 2008