The American Negro Academy.
Occasional Papers, No. 1.
HOFFMAN'S RACE TRAITS AND TENDENCIES
OF THE AMERICAN NEGR0
WASHINGTON, D. C.
PUBLISHED BY THE ACADEMY
In August, 1896, there was published, under the auspices of the American Economic Association, a work entitled "Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro," by Frederick L Hoffman, F. S. S., statistician to the Prudential Insurance Company of America. This work presents by far the most thorough and comprehensive treatment of the Negro problem, from a statistical standpoint, which has yet appeared. In fact, it may be regarded as the most important utterance on the subject since the publication of "Uncle Tom's Cabin;" for the interest which the famous novel aroused in the domain of sentiment and generous feelings, the present work seems destined to awaken in the field of science and exact inquiry.
Mr. Hoffman has spent ten years in painful and laborious investigation of the subject, during which time he has been in touch with the fullest sources of information, and has had the advice and assistance of the highest living authorities in statistics and social science. The temper of mind which he brought to this study may be judged from his own words: "Being of foreign birth, a German, I was fortunately free from a personal bias which might have made an impartial treatment of the subject difficult."* There are other assurances that the author possesses no personal animosity or repugnance against the Negro as such. But, freedom from conscious personal bias does not relieve the author from the imputation of partiality to his own opinions beyond the warrant of the facts which he has presented. Indeed, it would seem that his conclusion was reached from a priori considerations and that facts have been collected in order to justify it.
The main conclusion of the work is that the Negro race in America is deteriorating physically and morally in such manner as to point to ulterior extinction, and that this decline is due to "race traits" rather than to conditions and circumstances of life. Not only do we find this conclusion expressly set forth in connection with every chapter, but it is also easily discernible in foot notes and quotations, in the general drift of cited references, and between the lines. In order to give the clearest possible statement of the author's position his own words will be used.
"The conditions of life therefore . . . would seem to be of less importance than race and heredity."*
"It is not the conditions of life but in the race traits and tendencies that we find the causes of the excessive mortality."
"For the root of the evil lies in the fact of an immense amount of immorality, which is a race trait."
"A combination of these traits and tendencies must in the end cause the extinction of the race."
"It is not in the conditions of life but in race and heredity that we find the explanation."
"The mixture of the African with the white race has been shown to have seriously affected the longevity of the former and left as a heritage to future generations the poison of scrofula, tuberculosis, and most of all, of syphilis."
If the reader will keep constantly in mind the key suggested by these quotations, he will peruse the book itself as well as this review with greater ease and facility.
Gist. "For some generations the colored element may continue to make decennial gains, but it is very probable that the next thirty years will be the last to show total gains, and then the decrease will be slow but sure until final disappearance."
Frederick L. Hoffman, in the Arena, April, 1892.
I have taken this quotation from another work by the same author as it represents more clearly than any other condensed statement the substance of the present chapter. This proposition is a most important one, and therefore its establishment needs to be inquired into with the greatest particularity. If a race does not possess the requisite physical stamina, it is impossible for it to maintain a high degree of moral and intellectual culture or compete with its more vigorous rivals in the race of civilization.
"All the elements of society are conserved in its physical basis, the social population."
Since the author relies mainly upon the eleventh census for facts to establish his conclusion, and since the accuracy of this census is widely controverted, we may fairly call upon him to prove his document before it can be admitted in evidence.
The following quotation from Senator Mills reflects the opinion of many eminent students of public problems as to the accuracy of this enumeration: "The announcement that our population is only 62,662,250 was a genuine surprise, not only to those who looked for the dark side of the picture, but also to those whose faith in the administration and its census bureau had never for a moment wavered. The census of 1880 gave 50, 155,783. The present returns give an increase of 12,466,476, which is at the rate of 24.86 per cent. That this number is not even approximately correct may be seen by comparing the increase in this decade with the gain in others which have preceded it. Any alleged fact that is without the pale of probability stands impeached at the very threshold of the inquiry, and must be verified by competent evidence." Basing his estimates upon the school census, the Senator continues: "The state of Texas is deprived, by the incorrect returns, of at least three representatives in Congress. Alabama loses 240,000, Tennessee and North Carolina 170,000 each, and Virginia, Kentucky, and Louisiana 100,000 each."† Whatever force there maybe in the protest of the eloquent Texas Senator, applies with special emphasis to the colored element; for it goes without saying that errors in enumeration in the South would be confined mainly to the Negro race, and since the bulk of the race is confined to this section such errors would have a most disastrous effect upon its rate of increase as shown by the census reports.
The following table exhibits the development of the colored population for the last one hundred years, as well as its decennial rates of increase and percentage of the total population.
Colored Population of the United States.
If we begin with 1810, the first census year after the constitutional suppression of the slave trade, we see from this table that the growth of the Negro element followed the ordinary law of population, viz: a gradual decline in the rate of increase. In 70 years the decennial rate of increase declined from about 30 per cent to 22 per cent. But from 1880 to 1890 there was a per saltum decrease from 22 to 13 per cent--that is, the decline in ten years was equal to that of the previous seventy. And all this has happened during an era of profound peace and prosperity, when the Negro population was subject to no great perturbing influences. When a number of observations follow with reasonable uniformity a fixed law, but a single result deviates widely from this law. it is usual to suspect the accuracy of the discrepant observation. The author nowhere assigns any adequate cause for this sudden "slump" in the increase of the colored population. Instead of attributing it, in part at least, to the probable imperfection of the eleventh census, he relies wholly upon a blind force recently discovered and named by him "race traits and tendencies." The capriciousness of this new factor, in that it may suspend operation indefinitely or break loose in a day, does not seem to have occurred to the author, at least it does not seem to affect the confident assurance with which he relies upon it. As has been shrewdly remarked by an able reviewer, "It would seem incumbent on him (Mr. Hoffman) further to prove that these race traits, after being held in abeyance for at least a century, first took decisive action in the decade 1880 to 1890."
In 1810 there were 1,377,808 Negroes in the United States. In 80 years this number had swollen to at least 7,470,040, and that, too, without reinforcement from outside immigration. It more than quintupled itself in eight decades. Does it not require much fuller demonstration than the author anywhere presents to convince the ordinary mind that a people that has shown such physical vitality for so long a period, has all at once, in a single decade, become comparatively infecund and threatened with extinction?
It is passing strange that it escaped the attention of a statistician of Mr. Hoffman's sagacity that, even granting the accuracy of the eleventh census, the natural increase of the Negro race was greater than that of the whites during the last decade. The number of immigrants who came to this country between 1880 and 1890 was 5,246,613. I am informed by the census bureau that this number does not include the immigrants who came from British North America and from Mexico after 1885. This number was estimated by the statistical bureau of the Treasury Department to be 540,000, making the total number of immigrants 5,787,613. If this number be subtracted from the increase of the white population during the last decade (11,589,920) their rate of increase will be reduced to 13.35 per cent as compared with 13.51 per cent for the blacks. Nor is this all. The immigrants were for the most part in the full maturity and vigor of their productive powers, being the most fecund element of our white population. If allowance be made for their natural increase from 1880 to 1890 the white race would show a decennial increase appreciably below that of the blacks. If the Negro, then, is threatened with extinction, the white race is in a still more pitiable plight.
The table on page 6 does indeed show plainly that the Negro does not hold his own as a numerical factor of our mixed population. Whereas he represented 19 per cent of the entire population in 1810 he now represents only 12 per cent. But the cause of this relative decline is apparent enough. It is due to white immigration and not to "race traits" as Mr. Hoffman would have us believe. It would be as legitimate to attribute the decline of the Yankee element as a numerical factor in the large New England centers to the race degeneracy of the Puritan, while ignoring the proper cause--the influx of the Celt.
Mr. Hoffman's conclusions as to the Negro population are not generally accepted by students of social problems. Their position is more clearly stated in a recent notice of the work now under review. "Concerning the first of these chapters dealing with population he (Mr. Hoffman) reaches conclusions very different from those generally held by those who have discussed the subject on a priori grounds. The general impression has been that the colored population was increasing at a rate greater than that of the whites, owing both to the greater number of children born and also to the fact that all children of a mixed race were counted as blacks. From such a condition of affairs it would naturally be assumed that the race to which all half-breeds were credited would, especially if prolific, rapidly gain upon the other race."
On the appearance of each census since emancipation, there has been some hue and cry as to the destiny of the Negro population. Public opinion has been rhythmical with reference to its rise and fall above and below the mean line of truth. In 1870 it was extermination; in 1880 it was dreaded that the whole country would be Africanized because of the prolificness of a barbarous race; in 1890 the doctrine of extinction was preached once more; what will be the outcry in 1900 can only be divined at this stage, but we may rest assured that it will be something startling.
Negroes in Cities.
The author's studies in the minor features of the Negro population form the most interesting and valuable work which has yet been undertaken on the subject. The urban drift, the tendency to concentration, and the migratory movements of the black population are treated with fullness and force. It is interesting to know that there are 13 cities in which the colored population exceeds 20,000, and 23 in which it exceeds 10,000, and that the rate of increase of the colored element in these centers is enormous--more than 30 per cent. The concentration of the colored population in certain sections of cities is quite suggestive. The following table will disclose some of the striking features which Mr. Hoffman has exhibited at length.
This tendency to concentration in undesirable places is found to be greater in Northern than in Southern cities. Every large city has its white wards and its black wards, which the politician knows as well as the seaman knows the depths and shallows of the sea.
The evil of this tendency cannot be denied or gainsaid; but its cause is not far to seek nor hard to find.
The author also notes with alarm that the Negro population is congesting in the black belts of the South. There are 70 counties in this section with an aggregate area of over 50,000 square miles in which the colored population outnumbers the white nearly three to one. The general conviction is that the Negroes will be gathered into black settlements scattered throughout the Gulf states. The superintendent of the tenth census writes on this subject: "I entertain a strong conviction that the further course of our (Negro) population will exhibit that tendency in a continually growing force; that this element will be more and more drained off from the higher and colder lands into the low, hot regions bordering on the Gulf of Mexico."†
Commenting on this subject Mr. Hoffman says: "This tendency if persisted in will probably in the end prove disastrous to the advancement of the colored race, since there is but the slightest prospect that the race will be lifted to a higher plane of civilization except by constant contact with the white race."‡
It is undoubtedly true that the Negro has not the initiative power of civilization. What race has? Civilization is not an original process with any race or nation known to history. The torch has been passed from race to race and from age to age. Where else can the Negro go? The white race at present has the light. This concession is no reproach to the Negro race, nor is it due to any peculiar race trait or tendency.
There is a stretch of country extending from southern Pennsylvania to northern Alabama, containing sections of Maryland, West Virginia. Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama, and embraciug the Appalachian system of mountains. This section contains a population of nearly 3,000,000 souls. They belong for the most part to the most thrifty element of our complex population--an element whose toughness of moral and mental fiber is proverbial. The Scotch-Irish are famed the world over for their manly and moral vigor. And yet this people have sunken to the lowest depth of poverty and degradation--a depth from which, without the assistance of outside help, they can be lifted nevermore.* Is this condition of depravity and inability of self-initiative due to "race traits and tendencies?"
Then, supposing the Negroes to be concentrated in the black belts, as seems inevitable, will they necessarily be shut out from wholesome contact with civilization? Not at all. Just how far personal and servile contact can elevate the moral and manly tone of a people is not quite evident. But the result of indirect missionary contact is, perhaps, the surest way to lift a race into civilization. I point to Japan as a recent, striking illustration of this argument. The black belts will afford the richest field for missionary and philanthropic endeavor No section of this country can remain long in an uncivilized state or relapse into barbarism that has in its midst a Hampton Institute or a Booker T. Washington.
Subject. Vital Statistics.
Gist. "The vitality of the Negro may well be considered the most important phase of the so-called race problem, for it is a fact which can and will be demonstrated by indisputable evidence that of all races for which statistics are obtainable and which enter at all into the consideration of economic problems as factors the Negro shows the least power of resistance in the struggle for life."
Statistics are collected from ten of the largest cities with the result that the death rate among the whites is 20.12 per 1000, and among the blacks 32.61. It is acknowledged that the great bulk of this excess in the colored death rate is due to infant mortality. This fact of itself would suggest that the real cause is condition rather than race traits. This truth shall be established out of the mouth of Mr. Hoffman's own witness. "Fifty per cent of the (Negro) children who die never receive medical attention."
"The indifference to medical attendance in cases of illness of their children is due to ignorance."
To the ordinary mind this would imply the most unfortunate condition.
But the death rate is only one factor in the vital equation. The birth rate is equally important. Mr. Hoffman concedes, with reluctant reservation, that the colored birth rate may be greater than that of the whites. "That the birth rate of the Negroes is in excess of that of the white population is probably true even at the present time, at least as compared with the native whites."‡ This is indeed a very feeble admission of a very obvious fact. Mr. Hoffman contends that the death rate of the Negro race is much greater than that of the whites. It has already been shown that, leaving immigration out of account, the increase in the Negro population is greater than that of the white race. How can these two facts be accounted for except it be on the basis of a higher birth rate for the blacks? Mr. Hoffman will have either to alter his estimates or mend his logic.
Direct testimony on this subject must have been known to Mr. Hoffman. Of course no one is qualified to write on vital statistics in America who is not familiar with the investigation of Dr. Billings. Let the reader compare the following quotation as to the relative birth rate of the races, and, noting date of data upon which the conclusion is based, decide for himself as to the ingenuousness of Mr. Hoffman's reluctant admission: "Dr. Billings, in his luminous report on the vital statistics of the United States (1886) shows that 1000 colored women (age from 15 to 49) give birth to 164 children, and 1000 white women to only 127, yearly; that is to say, three colored women have as many children as four white."*
Is the Negro Threatened with Extinction?
Before Mr. Hoffman's conclusion as to the threatening aspect of the high death rate of the Negro race can be accepted, several questions must be answered by him.
I do not know whether the author believes in Providence as a determining factor in society or not. It may not be accounted scientific to take cognizance of any element which cannot be quantified, counted, weighed, or measured. But I do know that the wisest of our species have always believed that God is the controlling factor in human affairs. The Negro's hopes and aspirations are built upon the foundation of this belief. We are told in His word that he visits the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation. If the Negro, then, will conform his life to the moral and sanitary laws, may not the evil tendencies now observable be eradicated or overcome?
The first effects of emancipation are always harmful to the moral and physical well-being of the liberated class. The removal of physical restraints, before moral restraints have grown strong enough to take their place, must always result in misconduct. The Jews in Egypt labored under circumstances remarkably similar to those of the American Negro. After their emancipation, it required them forty years to make the progress which the scientific process would have required them to make in forty days. Such was their moral and physical degeneracy, that only two persons of all the hosts who left the land of Egyptian bondage survived to reach the Promised Land forty years afterward. Luckily for the Hebrews, there were no statisticians in those days. Think of the future which an Egyptian philosopher would have predicted for this people! And yet out of the loins of this race have Sprung the moral and spiritual law-givers of mankind. We should not be discouraged because the Negro does not make a bee-line from Egyptian bondage to the Promised Land beyond the Jordan. He, too, must tarry awhile in the wilderness before he enters upon the full enjoyment of the heritage of freedom.
To the Negro I would say, let him not be discouraged at the ugly facts which confront him. The sociologists are flashing the search. light of scientific inquiry upon him. His faults lie nearer the surface and are more easily detected than those of the white race. Let him not be overwhelmed when all his faults are observed, set in a note book, learned and conned by rote, to be cast into his teeth. If all the ugly facts about any people were brought to light they would furnish an unpleasant record. When the Savior told the woman of Samaria all that she ever did, a very unsavory career was disclosed. If all the misdeeds of any people or individual were brought to light, the best of the race would be injured and the rest would be ruined, The Negro should accept the facts with becoming humility, and strive to live in closer conformity with the requirements of human and divine law. He does not labor under a destiny of death from which there is no escape. It is a condition and not a theory that confronts him.
The American Negro Academy.
Organized March 5, 1897.