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Title: Census Statistics of the Negro - A Paper
Author: Willcox, Walter F.
Language: English
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by the Library of Congress)




  [From the _Yale Review_, November, 1904.]


There is no leading country in which the relations of widely
different races are so important as in the United States. As a
natural result of this, there is no country in which statistical
investigation of race questions is so highly developed, or in which
the records cover so long a time. In Europe it is not customary to
recognize or emphasize the race classification of the population
in statistical returns. In India the race classification while
recognized is subsidiary to that of religion and of language.
In American countries to the south of the United States where
race relations are as complex and as diverse as they are with
us, the statistical method is imperfectly developed or of recent
introduction. The main sources of statistical information, therefore,
regarding race relations are the figures for the United States and
those for several of the West Indian Islands.

Since the Civil War the statistical study of certain aspects of race
questions in the United States has been entered upon by different
governmental agencies. The Department of Agriculture has made
investigations of the diet and food supply of negroes and of whites
with especial reference to the bodily heat and the energy it can
produce. The Department of Labor has made a number of suggestive
reports upon the condition of negro communities in certain typical
localities. Various municipal health reports throw light upon the
vital statistics of the two races. The Bureau of Education has
gathered much information regarding the educational development
of negroes and whites. But no one of these and perhaps not all of
them combined have furnished or are furnishing at the present time
as much information regarding the statistics of race in the United
States as the Census Bureau.[1] It is of the highest importance that
the information thus gathered should be carefully and intelligently
interpreted and its lessons correctly read. The object of this paper
is to state certain conclusions to which I have been brought by
my statistical studies of the subject and especially of the recent
census figures.

The population of the United States is divided by the census
returns into four classes, the native white of native parents, the
native white of foreign born parents, that is, the children of
immigrants, the immigrant or foreign born white class, and the other
races than the white, sometimes called collectively the colored,
perhaps more accurately described as the “non-Caucasians.” The most
accurate description of them is to enumerate the great races to
which they belong, namely, the negro, Indian and Mongolian. Of this
fourth group, the non-Caucasians, more than nineteen-twentieths
are negroes and therefore when statements are made, as I shall be
compelled sometimes to make them, not for the negroes but for the
non-Caucasians, it will be understood that nineteen-twentieths of
these are negroes and what is true, therefore, of the non-Caucasians
is probably true of the negroes. These four classes correspond
roughly to four grades of economic well-being,--the native white of
native parents at the top, the negroes, Indians, and Mongolians at
the bottom. Now it is a general fact that the lower the scale of
economic well-being the less accurate on the average will be the
answers to questions put them. A measure of this can be derived from
the answers to the age question. It can be easily proved that the
errors in reporting ages among the immigrant white are about twice as
numerous as among the native white and among the non-Caucasians about
twice as numerous as among the immigrant white. Where age is stated
erroneously it is usually stated at a round number as a multiple of
5. The excess in the reported number at these multiples of 5 over
the estimated true number is thus a measure of the accuracy of the
figures. This excess in 1900 among persons between twenty-eight and
sixty-two years of age inclusive for the native whites was 12.4
per cent. of the total estimated number at multiples of 5, for the
foreign born white 29.8, and for the negro 81.2. What is true of the
inaccuracies in the field of age statistics is probably true of other
sorts of inaccuracies. A larger proportion of the negro population
than of the white is homeless and therefore likely to be omitted
by enumerators instructed to visit every home in the country. In
Maryland a careful recount of nearly 63,000 people was had a few
months after the census day in the effort to detect suspected fraud.
The recount showed that in the original count the omissions among
negroes had been 3.7 per cent. and among whites 1.3 per cent. These
omissions were probably greater than in the general population, but
it is not unlikely that the per cent. of omissions among negroes is
twice as great as the per cent. among whites.

There is no race question upon which we have so great a lack of
scientific information at the present time as that of the degree of
direct intermixture of the two races. Public opinion at the South
seems to be almost unanimous in its belief that, since the Civil
War and emancipation, intermixture of the two races has decreased
and that the mulatto population at the present time is largely the
offspring of mulattoes alone or of mulattoes and negroes, and that
there has been relatively little new infusion of white blood. But no
statistical basis for this opinion exists, and general observation
on a question so difficult and delicate must be regarded as a very
slippery foundation for the belief. Questions on this point were
introduced into the censuses of 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880 and 1890, and
the results were tabulated and published for each of these censuses
except 1880. Prior to 1890 the question was asked in substantially
the same terms, that is, simply the number of mulattoes. In 1890
unfortunately it was sought to amplify the question and Congress
required the Census Office to report the number of mulattoes,
quadroons and octoroons. Such precision in this field is unobtainable
and, in natural reaction against the misleading results obtained in
1890, the Office in 1900 omitted the question entirely. I cannot
feel that this was wise. The results obtained in 1850, 1860 and 1870
for the whole United States showed substantial agreement, the per
cent. of mulattoes among the total negroes having been reported as
in 1850, 11.2; in 1860, 13.2; in 1870, 12.0. These figures cannot be
accepted as showing an increase in the proportion of mulattoes down
to the Civil War and a slight decrease after that time, much less
can the slightly larger proportion of mulattoes reported in 1890
(15.2 per cent.) with a different form of question be regarded as
any evidence of an increase of race mixture since emancipation, but
the general conclusion that between one-eighth and one-ninth of the
negro population at about the time of the Civil War was mulatto may
be regarded as probable.

I believe that if the question should be repeated in 1910 in
substantially the same terms as those employed in 1850, 1860, 1870
and 1880, the results would be likely to indicate far more accurately
than general observation can do whether the proportion of mulattoes
among the negroes has increased or decreased since emancipation. To
establish this, one need not believe that the reported percentages at
former censuses were correct. All that would be necessary for such a
result would be that the question put in substantially the same terms
at intervals during half a century would secure answers which if not
entirely accurate would at least err in the same direction and by
about the same amount.

At the present time there are about nine and one-fifth million
negroes under the United States flag, including those in Porto
Rico, Alaska, and Hawaii, as well as the negroes of continental
United States. This does not include the negritoes, much less the
Malays, of the Philippine Islands. In continental United States,
excluding Alaska and our insular accessions, there are about eight
and five-sixths million negroes. Nearly nine-tenths of them (89.7
per cent.) live in the southern states, that is, the states south
of Mason and Dixon’s line, the Ohio River and the parallel of the
southern boundary of Missouri. The per cent. living in the southern
states, however, is very slowly decreasing. In 1860, 92.2 per cent.
were living there; in 1880, 90.5 per cent.; in 1900, 89.7 per
cent., or in other words, in 1860, 78 negroes among each 1,000 in
the country were living outside of the South, in 1900, 103 in each
1,000. Apparently there was a considerable change in the distribution
of the negroes as a result of the upheaval in the Civil War. Then
followed a period of relative quiescence, but in the last decade of
the century there was an increase in the northward current of negro
migration, especially to northern cities. That the negro population
in our large cities is increasing with greater rapidity than the
white population appears clearly when the totals of the two races
are obtained for the thirty-eight cities which had at least 100,000
inhabitants in 1900. The increase of negroes in these cities, 1890
to 1900, was 38.0 per cent., and that of whites 32.7 per cent., and
in the five southern cities of this class, Baltimore, Washington,
Louisville, Memphis and New Orleans, the increase of whites was 20.8,
and of negroes 25.8 per cent. Washington was the only southern city
of this class in which the negro population did not increase, 1890 to
1900, with greater rapidity than the white. This rapid increase of
the negro population in the larger cities of the country is the more
significant, because thirty-three of these thirty-eight cities lie in
the north and west and therefore increase of their negro population
usually results from long distance migration, and because also the
negro population of smaller cities and of country districts has been
increasing as a rule less rapidly than the white population.

There is no traceable tendency to a separation between negroes and
whites in the South whereby the negro population is becoming more
predominant in the rural districts and the white population in the
cities. Perhaps the best evidence on this point is that derived
from the 242 cities in the South Atlantic and South Central States,
which had at least 2,500 inhabitants both in 1890 and in 1900,
and for which, therefore, the race composition of the population
was separately returned. The negro population of these 242 places
increased between 1890 and 1900 by 21.7 per cent., the white
population by 26.5 per cent. The negro population of the rest of the
southern States outside these 242 places increased 16.4 per cent.,
while the white population outside these 242 places increased 25.0
per cent. The figures show the remarkable fact, which so far as I
know is unparalleled, that the growth of white population in the
South has been almost as rapid in the country districts as in the
cities. Whether this means that the white population is betaking
itself more to agriculture, it would be difficult to assert from
the figures. The negro population is increasing in southern cities
about one-third faster than in country districts. Or, the facts may
be stated perhaps more intelligibly in this way. In the 242 southern
cities for which the race figures are distinguished both for 1890 and
for 1900, there were in 1890, 464 negroes to 1,000 whites; in 1900
there were 447, a decrease of 17. Meantime, in the country districts
there were in 1890, 522 negroes to 1,000 whites, and in 1900 there
were 486, a decrease of 36. These figures show that the decrease in
the proportion of negroes relative to whites in the southern States
in the last decade has been twice as rapid in the country districts
as in the cities.

In studying the increase of the negro population it must be borne
in mind that the figures of 1870 are admitted to be seriously
inaccurate. There are some reasons also for doubting the accuracy
of the census of the negroes in 1890. In order to avoid using these
erroneous or questionable figures and also in order to base the
computation on long periods of time, the increase has been computed
by each of the five twenty-year periods of the nineteenth century.
As the negro problem is preëminently one of interest to the South
it seems fairer to compare the growth of the two races in that
region. Such a comparison shows that the negro population of the
South increased most rapidly during the first twenty years of the
nineteenth century and that its rate of increase steadily declined
to the end of the century. The rate of increase of southern whites
was highest not from 1800 to 1820, but 1840 to 1860. Perhaps the
results may be stated in a way to make them most easily intelligible
by treating the rate of increase of whites in the southern States
in the given twenty-year period as 100 and comparing with it the
rate of increase of southern negroes during the same period of time.
Following this method, the increase of the southern negroes, 1800
to 1820, was to that of southern whites as 125 to 100, that from
1820 to 1840 was 110, that from 1840 to 1860 was 87, that from 1860
to 1880 was 90, and that from 1880 to 1900 was 57. These figures
show that since 1840 the increase of southern negroes has been less
rapid than that of southern whites, that the increase from 1860
to 1880 was relatively more rapid than in the preceding or the
following twenty-year period, suggesting that the period of war and
of reconstruction affected the increase of the white race more than
that of the negroes. At the beginning of the nineteenth century
the southern negroes were increasing much faster than the southern
whites. At the end of it they were increasing only about three-fifths
as fast.

But to complete the presentation of the results reached by the Census
Bureau on this point, it should be added that if the results for the
last twenty-year period be analyzed by decades a different conclusion
is indicated. Comparison of the rates of growth of southern negroes
and southern whites for those two decades shows that the rate of
increase for southern negroes, 1880 to 1890, was to that of southern
whites as 55 is to 100, while in the decade from 1890 to 1900 it was
as 68 to 100. I confess myself skeptical of the accuracy of these
figures. It is difficult for me to accept results which show on
their face that the rate of increase of southern whites east of the
Mississippi River was less, 1890 to 1900, than it was 1880 to 1890,
the rate falling from 19.1 to 18.7, while that for southern negroes
in the same area was much greater in the second decade, the rate
rising from 10.6 to 15.7. At the same time I see nothing better at
present than to mark these figures as questionable and to suspend
judgment until the results for 1910 are published. It may be that the
increase among the negroes has been affected by the marked prosperity
of the South in recent years and has been affected more conspicuously
than the figures for the whites.

With reference to _sex_ it may be noted that there is an excess
of females among the negro population of the United States, while
this is not true either of the Indians or of the native whites.
Strangely enough, this excess of females is found even at the very
earliest ages. It is a general rule that the number of male children
born exceeds the number of female. Among 100 children born, on the
average about 51 are male and 49 female. The scanty records of
births in cities where the negroes constitute a considerable element
of the population, show that in this respect the negroes conform
to the rule. Yet negro children even at the very earliest ages, as
enumerated by the census, show an excess of females over males. This
is true of negro children under one month, and of each of the four
other subdivisions of age under one year. Indeed it is true for every
year of age up to nine. It may be noted that this anomaly appears for
the first time in the figures for 1900. Whether it is due to the fact
that that census first made the distinction between negro population
and the total colored, including the Indians and Mongolians, I am
unable to say.

In the city population of the United States as a rule, females
outnumber the males. This generalization holds true of the great
majority of cities east of the Mississippi River. It is more true
of the negroes than it is of the whites. In the southern cities and
towns having at least 2,500 inhabitants in 1900, there were 9 more
negro females than males in each 100 of negro population. Among
children the two sexes were approximately equal in numbers, so that
if the figures allowed us to exclude the children the preponderance
of females would be still greater. The cause is doubtless to be found
in large measure in the greater demand and greater opportunity for
female labor in cities.

At the present time rather more than half of the negroes over ten
years of age are able to write. The per cent. of _illiteracy_ has
decreased rapidly in the last ten years. In 1890 it was 57.1, while
in 1900 it was 45.5. This rapid decrease in negro illiteracy has gone
on parallel with the rapid decrease of illiteracy among whites. At
the present time the negroes as a race show about seven times the
proportion of illiterates that the whites do and about four times
the proportion of illiterates found among southern whites, and these
ratios between the two races have not materially changed since 1890.
Illiteracy is much more prevalent in the country districts than it is
in the cities. About half of the negroes living outside cities having
at least 25,000 inhabitants are illiterate, while in these cities
less than one-third are illiterate. The rapid development of the
educational system among negroes in the South has left clear traces
upon the proportion of illiterates in the several age classes. The
highest proportion of illiterates is found among negroes at least
sixty-five years of age, the lowest among negroes ten to fourteen
years of age. The difference between these two age limits is rather
greater than the difference between city and country negroes, the
illiteracy of all negroes over sixty-five being rather greater than
that of negroes in country districts, and the illiteracy of negroes
between ten and fourteen years of age being rather less than that of
all negroes living in cities having at least 25,000 inhabitants. If
the per cent. of illiteracy among negroes should continue to dwindle
in the future as rapidly as it did, 1890 to 1900, an improbable
contingency, negro illiteracy would disappear by 1940.

No noteworthy results appear from the statistics of _marital
condition_ among the negroes. They correspond closely with the
statistics for southern whites, the main differences being that
the race has a very much larger proportion of widowed and divorced
persons and that in the last ten years there has been a decline
in the proportion of adult negroes who were married, while among
southern whites there has been an increase in the proportion who were
married. Both races show a decided increase in early marriages, this
being true for the country as a whole and probably the result of the
high prosperity which prevailed immediately before 1900.

Perhaps the most important suggestions derived from the analysis of
the figures for the Twelfth Census are found in the statistics of
_occupations_. The detailed results of these must be regarded as
open to some question since the classification of occupations is
perhaps as difficult a problem as any with which the Census Bureau
has to grapple, and it is possible that the figures for 1890 and 1900
may not in all cases be strictly comparable. Still certain salient
results appear to be established.

Among all the negroes at least ten years of age about five-eighths,
62.2 per cent., are engaged in money getting or gainful occupations.
The corresponding proportion among southern whites is less than
one-half (46.9 per cent.). The difference between the two races is
almost entirely explained by the greater prevalence of money-getting
occupations among female negroes, 41.3 per cent. of the negro females
and only 11.8 per cent. of the southern white females reporting a
gainful occupation. This fact accounts for about three-fourths of
the entire difference between the negroes and the southern whites.
An explanation of the remaining fourth is found in the fact that
negro boys go to work earlier and negro men retire later than white
men. In general it may be said that the lower the earning capacity
of a productive class the greater the quantity of labor required for
its support; the greater the prevalence, therefore, of female labor,
of child labor and of the labor of old men. Part of this greater
prevalence of child labor and old man labor is due to the fact that
the negroes are predominantly engaged in agriculture and that this
industry affords greater opportunities than most others for the work
of children and old men. Yet this fact only partly accounts for the

The most important specific occupations for the negroes are those of
agricultural laborers, farmers, planters and overseers, and laborers
not specified. These three classes are probably more numerous than
the total number of persons engaged in agriculture, for the number
of laborers not specified who were engaged in other occupations
than agriculture is probably greater than the number of persons
engaged in agriculture and not enrolled in any one of these three
occupations. The total number of southern negroes, with the few
Indians and Mongolians engaged in this line of industry, increased
between 1890 and 1900 by 30.4 per cent., the southern whites in the
same occupations increasing in the same period by 43.5 per cent. As
a result the non-Caucasians constituted in 1890 44.4 per cent. of
the population in these classes, while in 1900 they constituted 42.0
per cent. These three classes together include two-thirds of all the
negro breadwinners. In a number of specific occupations involving
some degree of skill, the non-Caucasians in the South constituted a
somewhat smaller proportion of the total number of laborers in the
South in 1900 than they did in 1890. This statement holds true for
launderers and laundresses, carpenters, barbers, tobacco and cigar
factory operatives, and engineers and firemen (not locomotive). In
some other leading occupations the negroes were more numerously
represented in 1900 than in 1890. These include in the professional
classes, teachers and clergymen, and in the skilled labor classes,
miners and quarrymen and iron and steel workers.

While the future of the negro race in the United States seems to be
essentially an industrial and economic question, turning upon their
efficiency in comparison with classes of the population who compete
with them in their staple occupations, the net results of these
various and complex industrial changes can perhaps best be measured
by the _vital statistics_ of the race. The Census Bureau has no
direct information regarding births or marriages. Its information
regarding deaths is confined to the negro population living in the
registration area and amounting to between one-seventh and one-eighth
(13.4 per cent.) of the entire negro population of the country,
over 93 per cent. of it living in cities. The death-rate of negroes
in the registration area in 1900 was reported as 30.2 per thousand,
that of the whites in the same area being 17.3. But of the negroes in
this area the majority were female and the female is the healthier
sex. They were also predominantly adult and the adult years are the
healthier ages. To allow for these differences a computation has been
made to ascertain what the death-rate for the negroes for the whole
country would be, if the death-rate observed in the registration area
for each sex and each age had been true of the negroes of that sex
and age in the country as a whole. On this basis the estimated negro
death-rate of the United States as a whole is 34.2 instead of 30.2,
or just about double that of the whites.

In 1890 the death-rate of the negroes in the registration area as
distinguished from the Indians and Mongolians was not computed. That
of the three races combined, nineteen-twentieths being negroes, was
in 1890 29.9, and in 1900,29.6 per thousand, a decrease of three
deaths per 10,000. In the same area the death-rate of whites in
1890 was 19.1 and in 1900, 17.3, a decrease of 18 per 10,000. It is
uncertain how far these figures may be accepted as indicative of the
actual changes. They are submitted not as entirely trustworthy, but
as the best information available.

Indirect evidence of the birth-rate among the negroes may be obtained
by computing the number of children under five years of age to each
1,000 women fifteen to forty-four. These computations show a very
marked decline between 1880 and 1900 in the proportion of negro
children, but show that the proportion of children at the present
time is greater for negroes than for whites.

But when the country is considered in sections separating the
population of the South from that of the North, different results
appear. Negroes, as a whole, have a larger proportion of living
children than whites, but paradoxical as it may seem, it is also true
that southern negroes have at present a smaller proportion of living
children than southern whites, and northern negroes have a smaller
proportion of living children than northern whites. The difference
in the proportion of children stated in the preceding paragraph, in
other words, is fundamentally a geographical or sectional difference
and not a racial one. Negroes have a high proportion of children not
because they are negroes, but because nine-tenths of them live in
the South and show the effect of influences which establish a high
birth-rate there. The South at the present time is increasing in
population faster than the North, with all its immigration, largely
because 1,000 white women at the North, fifteen to forty-four years
of age, could show at the census only 470 children under five years
of age, while at the South 1,000 negro women of those ages could show
621 children, and 1,000 white women 633 children. In the southern
States prior to the Civil War the proportion of children under
five years of age to 1,000 women of child-bearing ages was about
the same for the two races. The immediate result of the Civil War,
emancipation and reconstruction, was to decrease slightly the number
of white women and increase the number of negro children, so that
in 1880 for 1,000 women of the specified race and of child-bearing
age, there were in the South 82 more negro than white children. In
1890 the difference in favor of the negro race had sunk to 17, and in
1900 it had disappeared and been replaced by an excess of 12 white

       *       *       *       *       *

The American negro, after the turmoil of Civil War and
reconstruction, found himself thrown on his own resources as he
had never been before. This occurred at the beginning of a period
of rapid, almost revolutionary, industrial change in the South, a
change which did not at first affect seriously the staple crops
upon which most of the negro’s labor as a slave had been spent,
but which apparently is beginning to affect even those. In seeking
other avenues of self-support than agriculture and domestic service,
he is seriously handicapped by unfamiliarity with such work, a
lack of native aptitude for it, so it is alleged, absence of the
capital often requisite, and a preference on the part of most of
the whites, even when other things are equal, as they seldom are,
to employ members of their own race. In the industrial competition
thus begun the negro seems during the last decade to have slightly
lost ground in most of those higher occupations in which the services
are rendered largely to whites. He has gained in the two so-called
learned professions of teachers and clergymen. He has gained in
the two skilled occupations of miner or quarryman and iron or steel
worker. He has gained in the occupations, somewhat ill-defined so far
as the degree of skill required is indicated, of sawing or planing,
mill employee, and nurse or midwife. He has gained in the class of
servants and waiters. On the other side of the balance sheet he
has lost ground in the South as a whole in the following skilled
occupations: carpenter, barber, tobacco and cigar factory operative,
fisherman, engineer or fireman (not locomotive) and probably
blacksmith. He has lost ground also in the following industries in
which the degree of skill implied seems somewhat uncertain: laundry
work, hackman or teamster, steam railroad employee, housekeeper or
steward. The balance seems not favorable. It suggests that in the
competition with white labor to which the negro is being subjected he
has not quite held his own.

These figures of occupations seem to me to furnish the best
statistical clue yet obtained for an understanding of the industrial
and social changes affecting this question in the South. My
interpretation of their meaning might be objected to on the ground
that when the negroes are increasing more slowly than the whites, as
they are at present in the South, it should not be expected that they
would increase as fast as whites in the skilled occupations. This
objection seems to me to invert the true order of causation, to put
the cart before the horse. Should we not rather say that southern
negroes are increasing at the present time only two-thirds as fast as
southern whites, while from 1800 to 1840 they increased faster and
from 1840 to 1880 nearly as fast, because they are not succeeding in
entering new occupations or prospering as well in their old as the
competing race is doing?

If this view of the process is correct, then one may add in closing
that, as these occupation figures throw much light upon the causes,
so the figures of an almost stationary death-rate for negroes
compared with a rapidly decreasing death-rate for whites, and an
apparently declining birth-rate for negroes compared with an actually
increasing birth-rate for southern whites, are the best statistical
keys to its effects.

                                                      WALTER F. WILLCOX.
  Cornell University.


[Footnote 1: See especially Census Bulletin 8 entitled “Negroes in
the United States,” Washington, 1904.]


  Italicized text is surrounded by underscores: _italics_.

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

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Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.