The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study

By W. E. B. Du Bois | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X.
THE HEALTH OF NEGROES.

25. The Interpretation of Statistics. --The characteristic signs which usually accompany a low civilization are a high birth rate and a high death rate; or, in other words, early marriages and neglect of the laws of physical health. This fact, which has often been illustrated by statistical research, has not yet been fully apprehended by the general public because they have long been used to hearing more or less true tales of the remarkable health and longevity of barbarous peoples. For this reason the recent statistical research which reveals the large death rate among American Negroes is open to very general misapprehension. It is a remarkable phenomenon which throws much light on the Negro problems and suggests some obvious solutions. On the other hand, it does not prove, as most seem to think, a vast recent change in the condition of the Negro. Reliable data as to the physical health of the Negro in slavery are entirely wanting; and yet, judging from the horrors of the middle passage, the decimation on the West Indian plantations, and the bad sanitary condition of the Negro quarters on most Southern plantations, there must have been an immense death rate among slaves, notwithstanding all reports as to endurance, physical strength and phenomenal longevity. Just how emancipation has affected this death rate is not clear; the rush to cities, where the surroundings are unhealthful, has had a bad effect, although this migration on a large scale is so recent that its full effect is not yet apparent; on the other hand, the better care of children and improvement in home life has also had some favorable effect. On the whole, then, we must remember that reliable statistics as to Negro health are but recent in date and that as yet no

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