Slavery Was Abolished In America Just Sixty Years Ago – What Progress Has The Negro Made Meantime?

Feb. 13, 1926

Sixty years ago – on Dec. 18, to be exact – the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was adopted making slavery unconstitutional in the United States. The Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863, but since it applied only to persons then held as slaves in the States “in rebellion,” and even excepted certain areas in some of those States, the real freedom of the Negro dates from the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment. The present is a fitting time to ask what use the race has made of its freedom in the intervening years. Here are a few highlights from the story:

ECONOMIC ADVANCE.

When freed in 1865, American Negroes owned 12,000 homes and operated 20,000 farms. Now they own 700,000 homes and operate a million farms. Then they conducted 2,100 businesses; now they conduct 70,000. Meantime their aggregate wealth has increased from $20,000,000 to $2,000,000,000, one hundred times as much.

In 1924 there were 73 Negro banks with $6,250,000 capital, $20,000,000 of resources, and an annual business of $100,000,000.

Thirty-five Negro life insurance companies report $200,000,000 of insurance in force on the lives of 1,100,000 persons. These companies have eight thousand employees and are wholly capitalized and managed by Negroes.

One of these companies, the North Carolina Mutual, has more than $42,000,000 of insurance in force and an annual income of over $3,000,000. The Bankers’ Fire Insurance Company of Durham, N.C., has nearly $10,000,000 of insurance in force.

INVENTION AND INDUSTRY.

Elijah McCoy, Detroit inventor, has taken out 57 patents in America and 30 in Europe. The universally used lubricating cup for machinery is one of his inventions. Altogether, thousands of patents have been issued to colored inventors.

In 1929 there were in America 332,249 Negroes engaged in skilled and semi-skilled occupations.

A big textile mill at LaGrange, Ga. uses Negro labor almost exclusively; also a hosiery mill at Durham, N.C. Altogether, more than 20,000 Negroes are employed in textile industries.

During the Great War a number of world records for industrial processes were broken by Negro workers.

RELIGION.

There are in the United States 47,000 Negro churches, with five million members, and 46,000 Sunday schools enrolling three million pupils. Members of colored churches contribute annually $550,000 to home and foreign missions.

The 332,000 Negro members of the Methodist Episcopal Church in five years contributed $1,941,979 to the Centenary Fund of that Church.

Negroes have contributed nearly $350,000 toward the erection of colored Y.M.C.A. buildings in fourteen cities.

The Olive Baptist Church, of Chicago, is said to be the largest Protestant congregation in the world, having a membership of 10,000. It carries on an extensive community program, having fifty-three departments and employing thirty paid workers. Its annual operating budget is about $50,000.

EDUCATION.

In 1865, ninety percent of the Negroes were illiterate; now about twenty percent. Then there were 100,000 Negroes in school; now 2,150,000.

There are in the United States about 10,000 Negro college graduates. Six hundred and seventy-five received the Bachelor’s degree last year.

The degree of Doctor of Philosophy has been awarded to twenty-nine Negroes by American universities. Sixty have been elected to membership in the Phi Beta Kappa scholarship fraternity.

In four years’ work, Eunice Hunton took both the A.B. and A.M. degrees at Smith College, Mass., the largest girls’ college in the world. Only one other student at Smith has ever equaled this record.

H.S. Blackstone received the degree of Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania at the age of 23, one of the youngest students ever receiving this degree.

Constance Crocker finished from the Girls’ High School in Boston at the head of a class of 308.

Through their churches and otherwise, Negroes raise annually $3,000,000 for the support of their schools.

A number of Negroes have recently given to Negro colleges sums ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 each.

LITERATURE AND ART.

More than a hundred volumes of Negro poetry have been published in America.

Countee P. Cullen, of New York, in 1923 and again in 1924, won second prize in the Witter Bynner undergraduate poetry contest, open to all colleges of America and participated in by seven hundred students representing three hundred institutions.

Prof. Isaac Fisher, of Nashville, Tenn., has won five literary prizes in open national contests, one a prize of $500 offered by Everybody’s Magazine for the best article on prohibition.

Helen Perry, of Chicago, won the third prize of $500 in a $30,000 National Scenario Contest, conducted by the Chicago Daily News. There were 27,000 entries in the contest.

E.M. Bannister, of Providence, R.I., attained distinction as a painter, and founded the Providence Art Club.

The French Government has purchased and hung in the Luxemburg Gallery a number of paintings by Henry O. Tanner.

Paul Robeson, Negro actor, has recently achieved remarkable success in America and in England in the role of “Emperor Jones.”

MUSIC.

Roland Hayes, Georgia Negro, has attained international fame as a tenor, having sung with great success before the most critical audiences of America and Europe, including the King and Queen of England and the Queen Mother of Spain.

Harry T. Burleigh, baritone, has for twenty years been a soloist in one of the leading Episcopal Churches of New York.

Marion Anderson, colored contralto, appeared during the season of 1923-24 as soloist with the Philadelphia Philharmonic Society.

J. Rosamond Johnson has composed light operas for Klaw and Erlanger, and many popular songs for May Irwin, Lillian Russell, and Anna Held.

THE NEGRO AND THE FLAG.

During the Spanish American War, Negro troops in the Regular Army distinguished themselves at the battles of Guasimas, El Caney and San Juan Hill.

Three hundred and eighty thousand American Negroes were enrolled for service in the World War, of whom two hundred thousand were sent to France. They were the first of the American Expeditionary Force to get into action, and two Negroes of the 369th Infantry were the first American soldiers decorated for Bravery.

The Croix de Guerre was awarded to four entire Negro regiments for heroism in action. One of these the370th was commanded entirely by Negroes, with the exception of the colonel. Thirty officers of this regiment received medals of Honor for bravery. Altogether, some sixty Negro officers were so decorated.

These are but random paragraphs from a story that led Ambassador James Bryce some years ago to assert that in an equal length of time any other race had ever made such progress. Contemplating the same record, a well-known Southerner recently said:

“The Negro is not a menace to America. He has proved himself worthy of confidence. He has been and may continue to be a blessing. He only needs unnecessary barriers removed from his way, and a chance to demonstrate that under God he is a man and can play a man’s part.”