The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study

The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study

by W.E.B. Du Bois

A collection of fourteen essays which records the cruelties of racism, celebrates the strength and pride of black America and explores the paradoxical "double consciousness" of African-American life. Introduction by John Edgar Wideman.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Sociology
  • Rating: 4.29
  • Pages: 568
  • Publish Date: December 29th 1995 by University of Pennsylvania Press
  • Isbn10: 0812215737
  • Isbn13: 9780812215731

Read the Book "The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study" Online

DuBois covers the hope inspired by the Haitian Revolution, the rise of multiple white mobs leading to an actual decrease of African Americans in the city between 1840 and 1850. He presents an extensive and detailed study of work, with the methodological note: There was in the first place little room for deception, since the occupations of Negroes are so limited that a false or indefinite answer was easily revealed by a little judicious probing; moreover there was little disposition to deceive, for the Negroes are very anxious to have their limited opportunities for employment known (Footnote 1, p 97) Under male occupations there were some interesting things on the list: huckster listed under entrepreneur, and what is a kalsominer? The peculiar distribution of employments among whites and Negroes makes the great middle class of white people seldom, if ever, brought into contact with Negroesmay not this be a cause as well as an effect if prejudice? But above all, he sees it as economic: It is often said simply: the foreigners and trade unions have crowded Negroes out on account of race prejudice and left employers and philanthropists helpless in the matter. Thus partially by taking advantage of race prejudice, partially by greater economic efficiency and partially by the endeavour to maintain and raise wages, white workmen have not only monopolized the new industrial opportunities of an age which has transformed Philadelphia from a colonial town to a world-city, but have also been enabled to take from the Negro workman the opportunities he already enjoyed in certain lines of work (127) Unions white sometimes actually inserted as one of the qualifications, but more generally informally maintained. To come to grips with the problems of the 7th ward, however, is above all providing employment: the one central question of the Seventh Ward, not imperative social betterments, raising of the standard of home life, taking advantage of the civilizing institutions of the great cityon the contrary, it makes it a sheer question of bread and butter and the maintenance of a standard of living above that of the Virginia plantation (140). There is this startling pronouncement on the social nature of crime and on crime as rebellion that precedes and frames a chapter which in other ways sometimes seems to fall back on a more moral reading more palatable to his employers: Crime is a phenomenon of organized social life, and is the open rebellion of an individual against his social environment (235). The real foundation of the difference is the widespread feeling all over the land, in Philadelphia as well as in Boston and New Orleans, that the Negro is something less than an American and ought not to be much more than what he is (284) He notes that African Americans are in the economic world purveyors to the rich (296), which forces them to live close, in central areas of the city where rents are higher, and there he pays more for house-rent than any other group. For those venturing outside of certain areas: The Negro who ventures away from the mass of his people and their organised life, finds himself alone, shunned and taunted, stared at and made uncomfortable; he can make few new friends, for his neighbors however well-disposed would shrink to add a Negro to their list of acquaintancesConsequently emigration from the ward has gone in groups and centred itself about some church (297) While within African American areas: agents and owners will not usually repair the houses of the blacks willingly or improve them. And within the Negroes, there are distinctions as well, of the better classes he writes: They are largely Philadelphia born, and being descended from the house-servant class, contain many mulattoes (318). DuBois has some strange ideas about capitalists, the wealthy, the employers being of a better, more intelligent class more suited to improve society. (377) At the same time, I think DuBois has a somewhat realistic and practical view of why his people might be in favour of machine politics, noting that they do offer some positions allowing African Americans to advance. The report ends on an optimistic note, but given its nature as a study leading to policy recommendations to help solve the Negro problem (and I love how this entire book reframes it as a white problem) it does end on a hopeful note.

While I did not read the book cover to cover, I did learn some pretty interesting facts.

In 1899 W.E.B. Dubois published this study of the Negro community in Philadelphia, which at that time was relatively small. In intricate detail he describes the lives of the black residents of the city.

Nevertheless, this book was an amazing event to read.

Du Bois studied at the University of Berlin, then earned his doctorate in history from Harvard in 1894. Du Bois was a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and edited the NAACP's official journal, "Crisis," from 1910 to 1934. In "On Christianity," a posthumously published essay, Du Bois critiqued the black church: "The theology of the average colored church is basing itself far too much upon 'Hell and Damnation'upon an attempt to scare people into being decent and threatening them with the terrors of death and punishment.