1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Negro
Negro (from Lat. niger, black), in anthropology, the designation of the distinctly dark-skinned, as opposed to the fair, yellow, and brown variations of mankind. In its widest sense it embraces all the dark races, whose original home is the intertropical and sub-tropical regions of the eastern hemisphere, stretching roughly from Senegambia, West Africa, to the Fijian Islands in the Pacific, between the extreme parallels of the Philippines and Tasmania. It is most convenient, however, to refer to the dark-skinned inhabitants of this zone by the collective term of Negroids, and to reserve the word Negro for the tribes which are considered to exhibit in the highest degree the characteristics taken as typical of the variety.
These tribes are found in Africa; their home, being south of the Sahara and north of a not very well-defined line running roughly from the Gulf of Biafra with a south-easterly trend across the equator to the mouth of the Tana. In this tract are found the true negroes; and their nearest relatives, the Bantu-negroids, are found to the south of the last-mentioned line. The relation of the yellowish-brown Bushman and Hottentot peoples of the southern extremity of Africa to the negro is uncertain; they possess certain negroid characters, the tightly curled hair, the broad nose, the tendency towards prognathism; but their colour and a number of psychological and cultural differences would seem to show that the relation is not close. Between the two a certain affinity seems to exist, and the Hottentot is probably the product of an early intermixture of the first Hamito-Bantu immigrants with the Bushman aborigines (see Africa: Ethnology). The relation of the negroids of Africa to those of Asia (southern India and Malaysia) and Australasia cannot be discussed with profit owing to lack of evidence; still less the theories which have been put forward to account for the wide dispersal from what seems to be a single stock. It will be sufficient to say that the two groups have in common a number of well-defined characteristics of which the following are the chief: A dark skin, varying from dark brown, reddish-brown, or chocolate to nearly black; dark tightly curled hair, flat in transverse section, of the “woolly” or the “frizzly” type; a greater or less tendency to prognathism; eyes dark brown with yellowish cornea; nose more or less broad and flat; and large teeth.
Sharing these characteristics, but distinguished by short stature and brachycephaly, is a group to which the name Negrito (q.v.) has been given; with this exception the tendency among the negroids appears to be towards tall stature and dolichocephaly in proportion as they approach the pure negro type. As the most typical representatives of the variety are found in Africa, the Asiatic and Australasian negroids may be dismissed with this introduction. The negro and negroid population of America, the descendants of the slaves imported from West Africa, and in a less degree, from the Mozambique coast, before the abolition of the slave-trade, are treated separately below.
In Africa three races have intermingled to a certain extent with the negro; the Libyans (Berbers: q.v.) in the Western Sudan, and the Hamitic races (q.v.) and Arabs (q.v.) in the east. The identity of the people who have amalgamated with the negro to form the Bantu-speaking peoples in the southern portion of the continent is not certain, but as the latter appear to approach the Hamites in those characteristics in which they differ from the true negroes, it seems probable that they are infused with a proportion of Hamitic blood. The true negroes show great similarity of physical characteristics; besides those already mentioned they are distinguished by length of arm, especially of fore arm, length of leg, smallness of calf and projection of heel; characteristics which frequently fail to appear to the same degree among the Bantu, who are also as a rule less tall, less prognathous, less platyrrhine and less dark. A few tribes in the heart of the negro domain (the Welle district of Belgian Congo) show a tendency to round head, shorter stature and fairer complexion; but there seems reason to suppose that they have received an infusion of Libyan (or less probably Hamitic) or Negrito blood.
The colour of the skin, which is also distinguished by a velvety surface and a characteristic odour, is due not to the presence of any special pigment, but to the greater abundance of the colouring matter in the Malpighian mucous membrane between the inner or true skin and the epidermis or scarf skin. This colouring matter is not distributed equally over the body, and does not reach its fullest development until some weeks after birth; so that new-born babies are a reddish chocolate or copper colour. But excess of pigmentation is not confined to the skin; spots of pigment are often found in some of the internal organs, such as the liver, spleen, &c. Other characteristics appear to be a hypertrophy of the organs of excretion, a more developed venous system, and a less voluminous brain, as compared with the white races.
In certain of the characteristics mentioned above the negro would appear to stand on a lower evolutionary plane than the white man, and to be more closely related to the highest anthropoids. The characteristics are length of arm, prognathism, a heavy massive cranium with large zygomatic arches, fiat nose depressed at base, &c. But in one important respect, the character of the hair, the white man stands in closer relation to the higher apes than does the Negro.
Mentally the negro is inferior to the white, The remark of F. Manetta, made after a long study of the negro in America, may be taken as generally true of the whole race: “the negro children were sharp, intelligent and full of vivacity, but on approaching the adult period a gradual change set in. The intellect seemed to become clouded, animation giving place to a sort of lethargy, briskness yielding to indolence. We must necessarily suppose that the development of the negro and white proceeds on different lines. While with the latter the volume of the brain grows with the expansion of the brainpan, in the former the growth of the brain is on the contrary arrested by the premature closing of the cranial sutures and lateral pressure of the frontal bone. This explanation is reasonable and even probable as a contributing cause; but evidence is lacking on the subject and the arrest or even deterioration in mental development is no doubt very largely due to the fact that after puberty sexual matters take the first place in the negro's life and thoughts. At the same time his environment has not been such as would tend to produce in him the restless energy which has led to the progress of the white race; and the easy conditions of tropical life and the fertility of the soil have reduced the struggle for existence to a minimum. But though the mental inferiority of the negro to the white or yellow races is a fact, it has often been exaggerated; the negro is largely the creature of his environment, and it is not fair to judge of his mental capacity by tests taken directly from the environment of the white man, as for instance tests in mental arithmetic; skill in reckoning is necessary to the white race, and it has cultivated this faculty; but it is not necessary to the negro.
On the other hand negroes far surpass white men in acuteness of vision, hearing, sense of direction and topography. A native who has once visited a particular locality will rarely fail to recognize it again. For the rest, the mental constitution of the negro is very similar to that of a child, normally good-natured and cheerful, but subject to sudden fits of emotion and passion during which he is capable of performing acts of singular atrocity, impressionable, vain, but often exhibiting in the capacity of servant a dog-like fidelity which has stood the supreme test. Given suitable training, the negro is capable of becoming a craftsman of considerable skill, particularly in metal work, carpentry and carving. The bronze castings by the cire perdue process, and the cups and horns of ivory elaborately carved, which were produced by the natives of Guinea after their intercourse with the Portuguese of the 16th century, bear ample witness to this. But the rapid decline and practical evanescence of both industries, when that intercourse was interrupted, shows that the native craftsman was raised for the moment above his normal level by direct foreign inspiration, and was unable to sustain the high quality of his work when that inspiration failed.
In speaking of the form or forms of culture found among negro and negroid tribes, the dependence of the native upon his environment must be kept in mind, particularly in Africa, where interchange of customs is continually taking place among neighbours.
Thus the forest regions are distinguished by a particular form of culture which differs from that prevailing in the more open country (see Africa: Ethnology). But it may be said generally that the negro is first and foremost an agriculturist. The negritos are on a lower cultural plane; they are nomadic hunters who do no cultivation whatever. Next in importance to agriculture come hunting and fishing and, locally, cattle-keeping. The last is not strictly typical of negro culture at all; nearly all the tribes by whom it is practised are of mixed origin, and their devotion to cattle seems to vary inversely with the purity of race. The most striking exception to this statement is the Dinka of the upper Nile, the whole of whose existence centres round the cattle pen. Of the other tribes where pastoral habits obtain to a greater or less extent, the Masai have a large percentage of Hamitic blood, the eastern and southern Bantu-speaking negroids are also of mixed descent, &c.
The social conditions are usually primitive, especially among the negroes proper, being based on the village community ruled by a chief. Where the country is open, or where the forest is not so thick as to present any great obstacle to communication, it has often happened that a chief has extended his rule over several villages and has ultimately built up a kingdom administered by sub-chiefs of various grades, and has even established a court with a regular hierarchy of officials. Benin and Dahomey are instances of this. But the region where this “empire-building” has reached its greatest proportions lies to the south of the forest belt in the territory of the Bantu negroids, where arose the states of Lunda, Cazembe, &c.
The domestic life of the negro is based upon polygyny, and marriage is almost always by purchase. So vital is polygyny to the native social system that the attempts made by missionaries to abolish plurality of wives would, if successful (a contingency unthinkable under present conditions), result in the most serious social disorder. Not only would an enormous section of the population be deprived of all means of support, but the native wife would be infinitely harder worked; agriculture, the task of the women, would be at a standstill; and infanticide would probably assume dangerous proportions.
Descent in the negro world is on the whole more often reckoned through the female, though many tribes with a patriarchal system are found. Traces of totemism are found sporadically, but are rare.
Of the highest importance socially are the secret societies, which are found in their highest development among the negroes of the west coast, and in a far less significant form among-some of the Bantu negroids of the western forest district. In their highest form these societies transcend the tribal divisions, and the tie which binds the individual to the society takes precedence of all others. But the secret society cannot be called a definitely negro institution, since it is found in the west only.
As an agriculturist the negro is principally a vegetarian, but this form of diet is not the result of direct choice; meat is everywhere regarded as a great delicacy, and no opportunity of obtaining it is ever neglected, with one exception—that the cattle-keeping tribes rarely slaughter for food, because cattle are a form of currency. Fish is also an important article of diet in the neighbourhood of large rivers, especially the Nile and Congo. It is worthy of note that the two cultivated plants which form the mainstay of native life, manioc in the west and centre and mealies in the south and east, are neither of African origin.
Cannibalism is found in its simplest form in Africa. In that continent the majority of cannibal tribes eat human flesh because they like it, and not from any magical motive or from lack of other animal food. In fact it is noticeable that the tribes most addicted to this practice inhabit just those districts where game is most plentiful. Among the true negroes it is confined mainly to the Welle and Ubangi districts, though found sporadically (and due to magical motives) on the west coast, and among the Bantu negroids in the south-western part of Belgian Congo and the Gabun.
With regard to crafts the most important and typical is that of iron smelting and working. No negro tribe has been found of which the culture is typical of the Stone age; or, indeed, which makes any use of stone implements except to crush ore and hammer metal. Even these are rough pieces of stone of convenient size, not shaped in any way by chipping or grinding. Doubtless the richness of the African soil in metal ores rendered the Stone age in Africa a period of very short duration (see Africa: Ethnology). A good deal of aptitude is shown in the forging of iron, considering the primitive nature of the tools. Considerable skill in carving is also found in the west and among the Bantu negroids, especially of Belgian Congo south of the Congo. Weaving is practised to a large extent in the west; the true native material being palm-leaf fibre. The cultivation of cotton, which has become important in West Africa, deals with an exotic material and has been subjected to foreign influences. Among the Bantu of the Kasai district the art of weaving palm-cloth reaches its highest level, and in the east cotton-weaving is again found. Pottery-making is almost universal, though nowhere has it reached a very advanced stage; the wheel is unknown, though an appliance used on the lower Congo displays the principle in very rudimentary form. The production of fire by means of friction was universal, the method known as “twirling” being in vogue, i.e. the rapid rotation between the palms of a piece of hard wood upon a piece of soft wood.
Trading is practised either by direct barter or through the medium of rude forms of currency which vary according to locality. Value is reckoned among the tribes with pastoral tendencies in cattle and goats; among the eastern negroes by hoe-and spear-blades and salt blocks; in the west by cowries, brass rods, and bronze armlets (manilas); in Belgian Congo variously by olivella shells, brass rods, salt, goats and fowls, copper ingots and iron spear-blades, &c.
As regards religion, the question of environment is again important; in the western forests where communities are small the negro is a fetishist, though his fetishism is often combined more or less with nature worship. Where communication is easier the nature worship becomes more systematic, and definite supernatural agencies are recognized, presiding over definite spheres of human life. Where feudal kingdoms have been formed, ancestor-worship begins to appear and often assumes paramount importance. In fact this form of religion is typical of all the eastern and southern portion of the continent (see Africa: Ethnology). With the negro, as with most primitive peoples, it is the malignant powers which receive attention from man, with a view to propitiation or coercion. Beneficent agencies require no attention, since, from their very nature, they must continue to do good. The negro attitude towards the supernatural is based frankly on fear; gratitude plays no part in it. A characteristic feature of the western culture area, among both negro and Bantu negroid tribes, is the belief that any form of death except by violence must be due to evil magic exercised by, or through the agency of, some human individual; to discover the guilty party the poison ordeal is freely used. A similar form of ordeal is found in British Central Africa to discover magicians, and the wholesale “smelling-out” of “witches,” often practised for political reasons, is a well-known feature of the culture of the Zulu-Xosa tribes. Everywhere magic, both sympathetic and imitative, is practised, both by the ordinary individual and by professional magicians, and most medical treatment is based on this, although the magician is usually a herbalist of some skill. Where the rainfall is uncertain, the production of rain by magical means is one of the chief duties of the magician, a duty which becomes paramount in the eastern plains among negroes and Bantu negroids alike. But the negroes and negroids have been considerably influenced by exotic religions, chiefly by Mahommedanism along the whole extent of country bordering the Sahara and in the east. Christianity has made less progress, and the reason is not far to seek. Islam is simple, categorical and easily comprehended; it tends far less to upset the native social system, especially in the matter of polygyny, and at the same time discourages indulgence in strong drink. Moreover the number of native missionaries is considerable. Christianity has none of these advantages, but possesses two great drawbacks as far as the negro is concerned. It is not sufficiently categorical, but leaves too much to the individual, and it discountenances polygyny. The fact that it is divided into sects, more or less competitive among themselves, is another disadvantage which can hardly be overrated. This division has not, it is true, as yet had much influence upon the evangelization of Africa, since the various missions have mostly restricted themselves each to a particular sphere; still, it is a defect in Christianity, as compared with Islam, which will probably make itself felt in Africa as it has in China.
As regards language, the Bantu negroids all speak dialects of one tongue (see Bantu Languages). Among the negroes the most extraordinary linguistic confusion prevails, half a dozen neighbouring villages in a small area often speaking each a separate language. All are of the agglutinating order. No absolutely indigenous form of script exists; though the Hausa tongue has been reduced to writing without European assistance.
Authorities.—J. Deniker, Races of Man (London, 1900); A. H. Keane, Ethnology (London, 1896); Man Past and Present (London, 1900); A. B. Ellis, The Tshi-speaking Peoples (1887); The Ewe-speaking Peoples (1890); The Yoruba-speaking Peoples (1894); B. Ankermann, “Kulturkreise in Afrika,” Zeit. f. Eth. (1905), p. 54. See also Africa: § 3, Ethnology.
Negroes in the United States.
After the migration of the European fair-skinned races in large numbers to other parts of the earth occupied by people of darker colour, the adjustment of relations between the diverse races developed a whole series of problems almost unknown to the ancient world or to the life of modern Europe. The wider the diversity of physique and especially of skin colour, the greater the danger of friction. The more serious the effort to secure industrial and social co-operation under representative institutions, the graver have become the difficulties. They have been and are perhaps more acute in the United States than elsewhere, because there the lightest and the darkest races have commingled, because of the theory on which the government of the country nominally rests, that each freeman should be given an equal chance to improve his industrial position and an equal voice in deciding political questions, and because of the almost irreconcilable differences in the public opinion of the two great sections to only one of which do the problems come home as everyday matters. They were not solved by the Civil War and emancipation, but their nature was radically altered. Neither the earlier system of slavery nor the governmental theory during the radical reconstruction period that race differences should be ignored has proved workable, and the trend is now towards some modus vivendi between these extremes.
The only definition of negro having any statutory basis in the United States is that given in the legislation of many Southern states prohibiting intermarriage between a white person and “a person who has one-eighth or more of African blood.” Census enumerators in their counts of the American people since 1790 have distinguished the two main races of whites and negroes, but in so doing they have never been given a definition or criterion of race. Consequently they followed the judgment of the community enumerated, which usually classes as negro all persons known or believed to have in their veins any admixture of negro blood. It is probable that this line, the so-called “colour line,” which is emphasized in regions where negroes are numerous by many legal, economic and social discriminations between the races, is drawn with substantial accuracy. Far different has been the result of governmental efforts to draw another line within the group of negroes as thus defined, that between the negroes of pure African blood and those of mixed negro and white blood. This distinction has no legal significance, for negroes of pure blood and negroes of mixed blood are subject to the same provisions of law, and at least for the whites it has little social or economic significance. An attempt to draw it was made at each census1850 and 1890 inclusive, and the results, so far as they were published, indicate that between one-sixth and one-ninth of the negroes in the United States have some admixture of white blood. The figures were reached through thousands of census enumerators, nearly all of whom were white. Of recent years an effort has been made on the part of negro investigators to get an answer to the same question by the careful study of communities selected as typical. The classification of about 39,000 coloured people, most of them in different parts of Georgia, with a study of the other available data and inferences from a somewhat wide observation, led Dr Dubois to the conclusion that “at least one-third of the negroes of the United States have recognizable traces of white blood.”
Perhaps we may believe with some confidence that the information from white sources understates, and that from negro sources overstates, the proportion, and that the true proportion of mulattoes in the United States is between one-sixth and one-third of all negroes. To infer that the true proportion in 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1890, the dates to which the census figures relate, was much less than the true proportion in 1895 to 1900, to which the unofficial figures relate, is contrary to the general trend of the evidence. As the law and the social opinion of the Southern whites make little or nothing of this distinction between negroes of pure blood and mulattoes, it is often regarded as less important than it really is. The recognized leaders of the race are almost invariably persons of mixed blood, and the qualities which have made them leaders are derived certainly in part and perhaps mainly from their white ancestry. Wherever large numbers of full-blooded negroes and of persons of mixed central or north European and negro blood have lived in the same community for some generations, there is a strong and growing tendency to establish a social line between them.
The difficulty of ascertaining the number of mulattoes in the United States and the tendency of the testimony to be modified by the opinion or desire of the race from which it comes are typical. There is hardly any important aspect of the subject upon which the testimony of seemingly competent and impartial witnesses is not materially affected by the influence of the race to which the witnesses belong. Under these circumstances it seems necessary to assume that the testimony of the official documents of the federal government is correct, unless clear evidence, internal or external, refutes it. The following statements of fact rest mainly on those sources.
The number of negroes living in the (continental) United States in 1908 was about nine and three-quarter millions, and if those in Porto Rico and Cuba be included it reached ten and two-thirds millions. This number is greater than the total population of the United States was in 1820, and nearly as great as the population of Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
During the colonial period, and down to the changes initiated by the invention of the cotton gin, negroes were distributed with some evenness along the Atlantic coast. Between the date of that invention and the Civil War, and largely as a result of the changes the cotton gin set in motion, the tendency was towards a concentration of the negroes in the great cotton-growing area of the country. In 1700, for example, one-ninth of the population of the colony of New York was negro; in 1900 only one-seventieth of the population of the empire state belonged to that race. The division line between the Northern and Southern states adopted by the Census Office in 1880, and employed since that date in its publications, is Mason and Dixon's line, or the southern boundary of Pennsylvania, the Ohio river from Pennsylvania to its mouth and the southern boundary of Missouri and Kansas. In the states north of that line, the Northern states, in all of which but Missouri negro slavery either never existed or else was abolished before the Civil War, the white population increased tenfold and the negro population only fourfold between 1790 and 1860. In the states south of that line, on the contrary, the Southern states, the negro population in the same period increased sixfold and the white population not so fast. It was a widespread opinion shortly after the Civil War that the emancipated slaves would speedily disperse through the country, and that this process would greatly simplify the problems arising from the contact of the two races. This expectation has not been entirely falsified by the result. Between 1860 and 1900 the negroes in the Northern states increased somewhat more rapidly than the northern whites, and those in the Southern states much less rapidly than the Southern whites. As a result, one-tenth of the American negroes lived in 1908 in the Northern states, a larger proportion than at any time during the 19th century. But this process of dispersion is so slow as not materially to affect the prospects for the immediate future, and it is still almost as true as at any earlier date that the region in which cotton is a staple crop coincides in the main with the region in which negroes are more than one-half of the total population.
This appears if a comparison is made between the northern boundary of the so-called Austroriparian zone of plant and animal life in the United States, that is “the zone of the cotton plant, sugar cane, rice, pecan and peanut,” and the northern boundary of the “black belt” or region in which the negroes are a majority of the population. The coincidence of the two is very close, and was much closer in 1900 than in 1860. It appears yet more clearly by a comparison between a map showing the counties in which at least 5% of the area was planted to cotton in 1899 and another map showing the “black belt” counties in 1900. The black belt stretches north through eastern Virginia beyond the cotton belt, and the cotton belt stretches south-west through eastern central Texas beyond the black belt, but between these two extremes there is a close agreement in the boundaries of the two areas.
The question “Have the American negroes progressed, materially and morally, since emancipation?” is generally answered in the affirmative. But even on this question entire unanimity is lacking. A considerable body of men could still be found in 1910, mainly among Southern whites, who held that the condition of the race was worse than it was in the days of slavery. Probably all competent students would admit, however, that the race has differentiated since 1865, that the distance separating the highest tenth from the lowest tenth has become wider, that the highest tenth is far better and far better off than formerly, and the lowest tenth is worse and perhaps also worse off than in slavery. Under such circumstances there are no adequate objective tests of progress. The pessimist points to the alleged increase of idleness and crime, the meliorist to a demonstrated decrease of illiteracy and to considerable accumulations of property. The large majority of competent students believe that the American negroes have progressed, materially and morally, since emancipation, that the central or average point is higher than in 1865, although such persons differ widely among themselves regarding the amount of that progress.
It would be generally but not universally held, also, that the negroes in the United States progressed under slavery, that they were far better qualified for incorporation as a vital and contributing element of the country's civilization at the time of their emancipation than they were on arrival or than an equal number of their African kindred would have been. But probably the rate of progress has been more rapid under freedom than it was under slavery.
The evidence regarding the progress of the American negro may be grouped under the following heads: numbers, birth-rate, health, wealth, education, occupations, morals, citizenship.
Numbers.—The dictum of Adam Smith, “The most decisive mark of the prosperity of any country is the increase of the number of its inhabitants,” may be applied, perhaps after changing the word “decisive” to “obvious,” to the negro population of the United States. The negro population of Africa is probably not increasing at all. But during the 19th century the negroes in the United States increased nearly ninefold. They are now much the most thriving offshoot of the race and the most civilized and progressive group of negroes in the world. Under a slavery system not permitting the importation of new supplies a high rate of increase by excess of births over deaths is an advantage to the master class. During the slavery period and until about 1880 the increase of southern whites and of southern negroes proceeded at about the same rate. But during the last score of years in the century the increase of negroes was much less rapid, the rate being only about three-fifths of that prevailing among southern whites.
Birth-rate.—As the increase of negro population is slackening, as the immigration and emigration of negroes are insignificant in amount, and as the death-rate is about stationary, it is reasonable to infer that the birth-rate is dwindling. This cannot be stated with certainty, for there are no registration records giving the number of births for any large and representative group of American negroes. A good index to the birth-rate, however, may be derived from the proportion of children under 5 years of age to women 15 to 49 years of age. In the returns negroes are not distinguished from Indians and Mongolians. To minimize this slight source of error and at the same time to secure a more representative and homogeneous population group, the following figures are confined to the Southern or former slave states:—
|Date.||Children under 5 Years of Age to|
1000 Women 15 to 49 Years of Age
in the Southern States.
These figures indicate that the proportion of children to child-bearing women, and hence probably the birth-rate, changed in the same direction during each decade between 1850 and 1890. Between 1850 and 1870 the proportion of negro children decreased about 6% and that of white children about 14%; between 1870 and 1880 the proportion of negro children increased about 12% and that of white children about 9%; between 1880 and 1890 the proportion of negro children decreased about 18% and that of white children about 12%; between 1890 and 1900 the proportion of negro children decreased about 4% and that of white children remained practically the same. Before the war the proportion of living children to potential mothers was about the same for the two races at the South, for the first three censuses after the war the proportion of negro children was much greater than of white children, but by 1900 that proportion was less, and the movement during the decade suggests that the proportions may have begun to change in opposite directions.
Some light upon the influences at work may be derived from the comparison between city and country at the south.
|Date.||Children under 5 Years of Age to 1000 Women|
15 to 44 Years of Age in the Southern States.
|Cities having at least
|Smaller Cities and|
The noteworthy inference from these figures is that the proportion of negro children in southern cities was very low and decreasing. In 1890 it was about five-sixths, and in 1900 less than three-fourths of the proportion of children among whites in these cities. The differences in northern cities are equally marked. City life appears to exercise a powerful and increasing influence in reducing the birth-rate among the negroes.
Health.—The prosperity and progress of a population group are indicated, not merely by growth in numbers but also by the longevity of its members. This vitality is roughly measured by the death-rate. Other things being equal, a low and sinking death-rate is evidence of a high and increasing average duration of life. In the United States vital statistics are in charge of the several states and cities, and are often defective or entirely lacking. In 1890 and 1900 the Federal government compiled such as were of importance, and in 1864 an official compilation was made of death-rates of negroes before the war. The results are worth consideration.
at same Time and
These figures indicate that the death-rate of each race decreased during a half century, but that the decrease among negroes was much less rapid than among whites. The negro death-rate at the earliest period exceeded that of the whites by 8.0 per thousand, or three-tenths of the smaller rate. At the latest period the difference was 12.3 per thousand, or seven-tenths of the smaller rate. But these figures speak for negroes living mainly in cities where the proportion of children and elderly persons is small and that of negroes at the healthy ages is large. After making a proper allowance for these differences in sex and age composition, it is found that the true death-rate of negroes in the registration area is about twice as high as that of a white population of like sex and age structure. Whether the difference between negro and white residents of the country districts in the south is equally great, we have no means for judging.
The leading causes of death among negroes in the registration area arranged in the order of importance are stated below. The ratio to the corresponding death-rate among whites is added, but the differences are affected partly by the greater proportion of negroes in the southern cities and the different incidence of diseases in the two regions, and partly by probable differences in the accuracy of diagnosis of disease in the two sections and by physicians attending the two races.
|Causes of Death||Negro Death-rate
|Ratio to White|
Death-rate = 100.
These figures bring out in a striking way the very high mortality, absolute and relative, of the American negro from consumption. When one considers both the great number of deaths caused by consumption and pneumonia, 28.4% of the deaths from all causes in 1900 and the very high death-rate of negroes from these diseases, it is no exaggeration to say that the main cause that the death-rate of that race is double that of the white race lies in the ravages of these two scourges of mankind. The difference between the two races in this respect has apparently increased since 1890, for at that date the death-rate of negroes in the registration area from consumption was only 2.37 times that of the whites, and its death-rate from pneumonia only 1.53 times that of the whites. Here as elsewhere there has been an improvement as measured by an absolute standard, and at the same time an increased divergence from the conditions prevailing among the more numerous race.
Wealth.—An estimate of the property now held by American negroes made in 1904 by a committee of the American Economic Association indicated about $300,000,000, with a probable error of perhaps $50,000,000. This figure indicates a per capita wealth of about $34. We have no means for judging what the possessions of the race were at the time of its emancipation, but in 1860 there were nearly half a million free negroes in the country, many of them holding property and some of them wealthy. The per capita wealth of the white population of the United States in 1900 was about $1320 and that of southern whites about $885, indicating that the property of the average negro person or family was about one twenty-fifth that of the average southern white person or family.
Education.—It is often supposed that the American negroes in 1865 were without any accumulated property and without any start in education. Neither assumption is warranted. On the contrary, about two-fifths of the adult free negroes in the country were reported in 1850 and 1860 as able to read and write, and there is some reason to believe that not far from one-twelfth of the adult slaves also had learned to write. In 1900 more than half of the negroes at least ten years of age could write, and the proportion was rising at a rate which, if continued, would almost eliminate illiteracy by the middle of the present century.
The problem of providing adequate educational facilities for negro children is made more difficult by the maintenance in all the former slave states of two sets of schools, one for each race. At the present time those states with one-third of their population negro assign about one-fifth of their public school funds to the support of negro schools. About $155,000,000 or one-sixth of the entire amount spent by southern communities for public schools between 1870 and 1906, has gone to support schools for the negroes. The same cause has been aided by many private gifts from individuals and organizations interested in negro education, among which the Peabody Education Fund of about $2,000,000, now in course of dissolution, and the John F. Slater Fund, now of about $1,500,000, may be mentioned. Wide differences of opinion exist regarding the character of education needed for the race, and the present trend is towards a greater emphasis upon manual and industrial training as of prime importance for the great majority.
Occupations.—The slavery system furnished industrial training to many slaves who seemed likely to turn it to their master's advantage. When this system was abolished the opportunities for such training open to the race were decreased, and it is doubtful whether even yet as large a proportion of skilled negro artizans are being trained in the south as were produced there before the Civil War. The demand for skilled labour in the south is being met more and more by white labour. This derives an advantage from a prejudice in its favour on the part of white employers even when other things are equal, from its greater skill and efficiency in most cases, its better opportunity to accumulate or to borrow the requisite capital, its superior industry, persistence and thrift. In consequence negroes are being more and more excluded from the field of skilled labour in the south.
Morals.—As the death-rate is believed to vary inversely as health and longevity and thus to afford a measure of those characteristics, so the crime-rate is often thought to vary inversely as morality, and thus to measure the self-control, good order and moral health of the community. But the analogy cannot be pushed. The crime-rate is everywhere far more difficult, and in the United States impossible to ascertain. And even if known the connexion between the infrequency of crime or of specific sorts of crime and the prevalence of good order, obedience to law and morality is far more indirect and subject to far more qualifications than the connexion between the death-rate and health. Still the data regarding crime with all their defects are the best available index of moral progress or retrogression. It must be remembered that the comparative infrequency of crime among slaves, even if it existed, is no proof of the absence of criminal tendencies and actions. Offences on the part of slaves, or at least minor offences which are always far more numerous than serious offences, were dealt with in most cases privately and without invoking the machinery of the law. An apparent increase of crime since emancipation might be due merely to the becoming patent of what was before latent. The only statistical measure of crime now possible in the United States is the number of prisoners in confinement at a given date, and these figures are an inadequate and misleading substitute for true judicial statistics. The evidence they afford, however, is far better than any other in existence and
deserves careful attention. Enumerations of prisoners affording comparable results were made in 1880, 1890 and 1904.
These figures show a rapid increase between 1880 and 1890 in the number and proportion of negro prisoners, and between 1890 and 1904 a slow increase in the number and a notable decrease in the proportion.
But in order to make the figures for 1890 and 1904 comparable, it is necessary to exclude from those for the earlier date 4473 negro prisoners mainly belonging to two classes, persons in confinement prior to sentence and persons in prison because of their inability to pay a fine, but all belonging to classes which were excluded from the enumeration for 1904. This gives the following result:—
The proportion of negro prisoners to population increased rapidly between 1880 and 1890 and slightly between 1890 and 1904, the increase for the first period being most accurately shown by the first set of figures and that for the second period by the second set of figures. It is noteworthy also that the proportion of white prisoners to population decreased during the same period. Perhaps a more significant comparison is that between the proportion of prisoners of each race to the population of that race in the northern states and the southern states respectively, the distribution of population and the systems of penal legislation and administration being widely different in the two sections. It is impossible to make the correction just referred to except for the United States as a whole, but it must be remembered that the figures for 1890 are not comparable with those for 1904, and that the true figures for that year would be decidedly less.
|Date.||Southern States.||Northern States.|
These figures indicate that in the southern states in 1890 there were about four and a half times as many negro prisoners to population as white prisoners, and in 1904 about five and a half times as many; that in the northern states in 1890 there were about six times as many negro prisoners to population as white prisoners, and in 1904 about nine times as many. They throw no light whatever upon a point they are often quoted as establishing, the comparative criminality of the northern and southern negroes. Those residing in the north include an abnormal number of males, of adults, and of city population, influences all tending to increase the proportion of prisoners. It seems likely that if the figures for the south in 1890 could be made strictly comparable with those for the same region in 1904 the apparent decrease of 22% in the proportion of negro prisoners to population would almost but not quite disappear. The evidence regarding crime indicates a continued but slow and slackening increase in the proportion of negro prisoners to negro population in the country as a whole and in its two main sections, an increase in the proportion of white prisoners to white population during the first interval and a decrease during the second, and a growing difference between the two races in the proportion of prisoners.
Citizenship.—When the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Federal Constitution were adopted, the former conferring United States citizenship on all native negroes and the latter providing that the right of such citizens to vote should not be abridged by any state on account of race, colour or previous condition of servitude, it was not the practice in northern states to allow negroes to vote. Proposals to grant them the suffrage were submitted to the voters in 1865 in Connecticut, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Colorado, and in each state they were rejected. In all states containing a large proportion of negroes the results of the Federal policy of reconstruction were disastrous, and those bitter years probably contributed more than the Civil War itself to estrange the two sections. Since the withdrawal of Federal troops in 1877 the prevailing and persistent judgment of southern whites regarding the laws and the policy to be adopted upon this subject has been accorded more and more weight in determining the action of the states and the Federal government. The number of negroes voting or entitled to vote has been reduced at first by intimidation or fraud, later by legislation or provisions of the state constitutions. If such enactments are nominally directed not against any race but against certain characteristics which may appear mainly in the race, such as illiteracy, inability or unwillingness to pay an annual poll tax or to register each year, they have been and are likely to be held within the constitutional authority of the state. On the part of the overwhelming majority of negroes this practical disenfranchisement has aroused no protest, while it has tended to improve the government and to open the way for the gradual development and expression in word and vote of differences within the ranks of white voters regarding questions of public policy.
Along with this decrease of pressure from without the southern states and the development of economic competition between the races within them, there has gone an increased demand on the part of the whites for a complete social separation between the races in school, in church, in public conveyances and hotels, all founded upon a fear that any disregard of such separateness will make intermarriage or fruitful illegal unions between the races more frequent. In short, these developments are towards a more and more rigid caste system.
The negroes in the United States have played and are playing an important and necessary part in the industrial and economic life of the southern states, in which in 1908 they formed about one-third of the population. But that life was changing with marvellous rapidity, becoming less simple, less agricultural and patriarchal, more manufacturing and commercial, more strenuous and complex. It was too early to say whether the negroes would be given an equal or a fair opportunity to show that they could be as serviceable or more serviceable in such a civilization as they had been in that which was passing away, and whether the race would show itself able to accept and improve such chances as were afforded, and to remain in the future under these changing circumstances, as they had been in the past, a vital and essential part of the life of the nation.
Bibliography.—Writings about the American negro fall naturally into classes. The official governmental publications include those of the Census Bureau, notably Bulletin 8, “Negroes in the United States,” reprinted in 1906 in the volume called Supplementary Analysis, those of the Bureau of Labor, especially important articles in the Bulletin of the Bureau, and those of the commissioner of education. The information in these is largely statistical, but in the later publications not a little interpretative matter has been introduced. The point of view is usually that of a dispassionate northern man.
Among southern white men who have written wisely on the subject may be mentioned: Dr J. L. M. Curry, for many years general agent of the Peabody and Slater funds; H. A. Herbert, Why the Solid South? or Reconstruction and its Results (Baltimore, 1890); T. N. Page, The Negro—the Southerner’s Problem (New York, 1904); E. G. Murphy, Problems of the Present South (New York, 1904); E. R. Corson, Vital Equation of the Colored Race; and A. H. Stone, Studies in the American Race Problem (New York, 1908). F. L. Hoffman’s Race, Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro (New York, 1896) contains the most important collection of statistical data in any private publication and interpretations thoroughly congenial to most southern whites.
Among the southern negroes doubtless the most important writers are the two representatives of somewhat antagonistic views, Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery (New York, 1901), Future of the American Negro (Boston, 1899), Tuskegee and its People (New York, 1905), &c., and W. E. B. Dubois, The Souls of Black Folk (Chicago, 1903), The Philadelphia Negro (Boston, 1899), Health and Physique of the Negro American (1907), &c. With these should be mentioned Atlanta University annual publications, the Proceedings of the Hampton Negro Conference and the file of the Southern Workman. No northern man since the war has written on the subject with the thoughtfulness and weight of Frederick Law Olmsted, Journey in the Seaboard Slave States (New York, 1856). See also Sir H. H. Johnston, The Negro in the New World (1910).
(W. F. W.)
- This point has been fully determined by P. A. Brown (Classification of Mankind by the Hair, &c.), who shows conclusively that, unlike true hair and like true wool, the negro hair is flat, issues from the epidermis at a right angle, is spirally twisted or crisped, has no central duct, the colouring matter being disseminated through the cortex and intermediate fibres, while the cortex itself is covered with numerous rough, pointed filaments adhering loosely to the shaft; lastly, the negro pile will felt, like wool, whereas true hair cannot be felted.
- It is also noteworthy that the dark colour seems to depend neither on geographical position, the isothermals of greatest heat, nor even altogether on racial purity. The extremes of the chromatic scale are found in juxtaposition throughout the whole negro domain, in Senegambia, the Gabun, upper Nile basin, lower Congo, Shari valley, Mozambique. In the last region M de Froberville determined the presence of thirty-one different shades from dusky or yellow-brown to sooty black. Some of the sub-negroid and mixed races, such as many Abyssinians, Galla, Jolof and Mandingo, are quite as black as the darkest full-blood negro. A general similarity in the outward conditions of soil, atmosphere, climate, food charged with an excess of carbon, such as the fruit of the butter-tree, and other undetermined causes have tended to develop a tendency towards dark shades everywhere in the negro domain apart from the bias mainly due to an original stain of black blood. Perhaps the most satisfactory theory explains the excessive development of pigment in the dark-skinned races as a natural protection against the ultra-violet rays in which tropical light is so rich and which are destructive of protoplasm (see C. E. Woodruff, Tropical Light, London, 1905). The expression “jet black” is applied by Schweinfurth to the upper-Nilotic Shilluk, Nuer and Dinka, while the neighbouring Bongo and Mittu are described as of a “red-brown” colour “like the soil upon which they reside” (Heart of Africa, vol. i. ch. iv.).
- La Razza Negra nel suo stato selvaggio, &c. (Turin, 1864), p. 20.
- The three volumes by Colonel Ellis mentioned in the bibliography form an excellent study of the development of negro religion.
- The Vai alphabet, “invented” by a native, Doalu Bukere, in the first half of the 19th century, owed its inspiration to European influence and of the characters “many … are clumsy adaptations of Roman letters or of conventional signs used by Europeans” (Sir H. H. Johnston, Liberia, p. 1107 foll., London, 1906).