They sat and spat… Anti-spitting laws

What can I say about the offensiveness of this article?

On a routine search for other source material, I discovered this article that was published in The New Orleans Item on November 11, 1903.

After some brief research I discovered that many states enacted “anti-spitting” laws to prevent the spread of tuberculosis. A lot of this was under “hygienic legislation.” And spitting just “clogged the wheel of the hygienic process.”

In 1901, Mayor Capdevielle vetoed the anti-spitting ordinance but it was passed over by a vote of 16 to 4. The municipal law was titled “Ordinance Prohibiting Spitting on the Floors of Public Halls, Theaters and Other Places of Amusement, and on Sidewalks and Banquettes.” Offenders were to be fined a sum not exceeding five dollars or imprisoned for a term not exceeding ten days.

Apparently, the law worked, as medical societies claimed the “good effects” had already taken place because on a walk through the French Quarter a doctor stated that “not only were the sidewalks conspicuous in their improvement in this direction, but a distinct line of expectoration could be seen on the street, just outside of the sidewalks, and where it could not soil the feet of pedestrians generally and the skirts of ladies, thus showing the moral influence of the ordinance and also demonstrating the fact that the citizens of New Orleans are as a class a law-abiding people.”

Over time, the enforcement of anti-spitting laws created tension between public health concerns and individual liberties. Tuberculosis was certainly the big killer in the early 20th century, but some scholars believe that anti-spitting laws reflected – and precipitated – class and race issues as well. I think this article below is a prime example of that.


George Franklin, Charlie Coleman, alias Scoop, and John King, alias Bear, negroes, were seated in front of the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Association’s building, at the head of Gravier street this morning chewing tobacco and expectorating calmly in various directions. In the meantime they were conversing smoothly, and, though they aimed for a point in the street beyond the curbstone, they were too interested in the topic they were discussing to be accurate with their saliva when they spat. As they sat and spat Corporal Morgan of the First Precinct, Police Station says they violated the law more than fifty times each. When Corporal Morgan arrived on the scene they continued to spit wholly unaware of the fact that they were violating the law. The corporal paused and stroked his chin.

“This,” the policeman mused, “is the first time I came across ‘nigers’ violating the law and they did not run. Now, were this a crap game instead of a spitting match, those coons would flee.”

George, Scoop and Beard [above it has him as ‘Bear’] had heard nothing of the message sent out yesterday by Police Superintendent Journee instructing his officers to enforce the spitting law. So they sat and spat, while Corporal Morgan deliberated.

“And still they expectorated, all seeming to spit at the same spot. Shall I make a charge for each expectorate they spit? O, this is the easiest case I ever handled.”

Just then the negroes caught sight of Morgan, but they did not falter. Presently the corporal approached and stood before them.

“What are you ‘coons’ trying to do?” he asked.

“We’s just spittin’.”

“Spitting where?”

“Why dare.”

“On the banquette or on the sidewalk, or in the street?”

Scoop looked at the miniature pools scattered all around.

“Why I guess we’s spitting all around; on de banket, de street, and de curbstone, too.”

“That’s a confession. Come on, all of you, to jail.”

The three surprised darkies were locked up, but Recorder Hughes merely warned them this morning and they were released.

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