The Gift of Black Folk: The Negroes in the Making of America/Chapter 2



How the Negro gave his brawn and brain to fell the forests, till the soil and make America a rich and prosperous land.

The primary reason for the presence of the black man in America was, of course, his labor and much has been written of the influence of slavery as established by the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English. Most writers have written of slavery as a moral and economic evil or of the worker, white and black, as a victim of this system. In this chapter, however, let us think of the slave as a laborer, as one who furnished the original great labor force of the new world and differed from modern labor only in the wages received, the political and civil rights enjoyed, and the cultural surroundings from which he was taken.

Negro labor has played a peculiar and important part in the history of the modern world. The black man was the pioneer in the hard physical work which began the reduction of the American wilderness and which not only hastened the economic development of America directly but indirectly released for other employment, thousands of white men and thus enabled America to grow economically and spiritually at a rate previously unparalleled anywhere in history. It was black labor that established the modern world commerce which began first as a commerce in the bodies of the slaves themselves and was the primary cause of the prosperity of the first great commercial cities of our day. Then black labor was thrown into the production of four great crops—tobacco, sugar, rice and cotton. These crops were not new but their production on a large cheap scale was new and had a special significance because they catered to the demands of the masses of men and thus made possible an interchange of goods such as the luxury trade of the Middle Ages catering to the rich could not build. Black labor, therefore, beneath these crops became an important part of the Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Moreover the black slave brought into common labor certain new spiritual values not yet fully realized. As a tropical product with a sensuous receptivity to the beauty of the world he was not as easily reduced to be the mechanical draft-horse which the northern European laborer became. He was not easily brought to recognize any ethical sanctions in work as such but tended to work as the results pleased him and refused to work or sought to refuse when he did not find the spiritual returns adequate; thus he was easily accused of laziness and driven as a slave when in truth he brought to modern manual labor a renewed valuation of life.

The Negro worked as farm hand and peasant proprietor, as laborer, artisan and inventor and as servant in the house, and without him, America as we know it, would have been impossible.

The numerical growth of the Negro population in America indicates his economic importance. The exact number of slaves exported to America will never be known. Probably 25,000 Negroes a year arrived in America between 1698 and 1707. After 1713 this rose to 30,000 and by 1775 to over 40,000 a year. The American Revolution stopped the trade, but it was revived afterward and reached enormous proportions. One estimate is that a million Negroes came in the sixteenth century, three million in the seventeenth, seven million in the eighteenth and four million in the nineteenth or fifteen million in all. Certainly at least ten million came and this meant sixty million killed and stolen in Africa because of the methods of capture and the horror of the middle passage. This, with the Asiatic trade, cost black Africa a hundred million souls.[1] Bancroft places the total slave population of the continental colonies at 59,000 in 1714, 78,000 in 1727, and 293,000 in 1754.

In the West Indies the whole laboring population early became Negro or Negro with an infiltration of Indian and white blood. In the United States at the beginning of our independent national existence, Negroes formed a fifth of the population of the whole nation. The exact figures are:[2]

Percentage Negro in the Population

United States South
1920 . . . . . . . . . 9.9 . . . . . . . . . 2.61
1910 . . . . . . . . . 10.7 . . . . . . . . . 29.8
1900 . . . . . . . . . 11.6 . . . . . . . . . 32.3
1890 . . . . . . . . . 11.9 . . . . . . . . . 33.8
1880 . . . . . . . . . 13.1 . . . . . . . . . 36.0
1870 . . . . . . . . . 12.7 . . . . . . . . . 36.0
1860 . . . . . . . . . 14.1 . . . . . . . . . 36.8
1850 . . . . . . . . . 15.7 . . . . . . . . . 37.3
1840 . . . . . . . . . 16.8 . . . . . . . . . 38.0
1830 . . . . . . . . . 18.1 . . . . . . . . . 37.9
1820 . . . . . . . . . 18.4 . . . . . . . . . 37.2
1810 . . . . . . . . . 19.0 . . . . . . . . . 36.7
1800 . . . . . . . . . 18.9 . . . . . . . . . 35.0
1790 . . . . . . . . . 19.3 . . . . . . . . . 35.2

If we consider the number of Negroes for each 1,000 whites, we have:

1920 . . . . . . . . . 110 . . . . . . . . . 369
1910 . . . . . . . . . 120 . . . . . . . . . 426
1900 . . . . . . . . . 132 . . . . . . . . . 480
1890 . . . . . . . . . 136 . . . . . . . . . 512
1880 . . . . . . . . . 152 . . . . . . . . . 564
1870 . . . . . . . . . 145 . . . . . . . . . 562
1860 . . . . . . . . . 165 . . . . . . . . . 582
1850 . . . . . . . . . 186 . . . . . . . . . 595
1840 . . . . . . . . . 203 . . . . . . . . . 613
1830 . . . . . . . . . 221 . . . . . . . . . 610
1820 . . . . . . . . . 225 . . . . . . . . . 592
1810 . . . . . . . . . 235 . . . . . . . . . 579
1800 . . . . . . . . . 233 . . . . . . . . . 539
1790 . . . . . . . . . 239 . . . . . . . . . 543

The proportion of Negroes in the North was small, falling from 3.4% in 1790 to 1.8% in 1910. Nevertheless even here the indirect influence of the Negro worker was large. The trading colonies, New England and New York, built up a lucrative commerce based largely on the results of his toil in the South and in the West Indies, and this commerce supported local agriculture and manufacture. I have said in my Suppression of the Slave Trade: “Vessels from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and, to a less extent from New Hampshire, were early and largely engaged in the carrying slave-trade. ‘We know,’ said Thomas Pemberton in 1795, ‘that a large trade to Guinea was carried on for many years by the citizens of Massachusetts Colony, who were the proprietors of the vessels and their cargoes, out and home. Some of the slaves purchased in Guinea, and I suppose the greatest part of them, were sold in the West Indies.’ Dr. John Eliot asserted that ‘it made a considerable branch of our commerce. . . . It declined very little until the Revolution.’ Yet the trade of this colony was said not to equal that of Rhode Island. Newport was the mart for slaves offered for sale in the North, and a point of reshipment for all slaves. It was principally this trade that raised Newport to her commercial importance in the eighteenth century. Connecticut, too, was an important slave-trader, sending large numbers of horses and other commodities to the West Indies in exchange for slaves, and selling the slaves in other colonies.

“This trade formed a perfect circle. Owners of slavers carried slaves to South Carolina, and brought home naval stores for their ship-building; or to the West Indies and brought home molasses; or to other colonies, and brought home hogsheads. The molasses was made into the highly prized New England rum, and shipped in these hogsheads to Africa for more slaves. Thus the rum-distilling industry indicated to some extent the activity of New England in the slave-trade. In May, 1752, one Captain Freeman found so many slavers,fitting out that, in spite of the large importations of molasses, he could get no rum for his vessel. In Newport alone twenty-two stills were at one time running continuously; and Massachusetts annually distilled 15,000 hogsheads of molasses into this ‘chief manufacture.’”[3]

In New York and New Jersey Negroes formed between 7 and 8% of the total population in 1790, which meant that they were probably 25% of the labor force of those colonies, especially on the farms.

The growth of the great slave crops shows the increasing economic value of Negro labor. In 1619, 20,000 pounds of tobacco went from Virginia to England. Just before the Revolutionary War, 100 million pounds a year were being sent, and at the beginning of the twentieth century, 800 millions were raised in the United States alone. Sugar was a luxury for the rich and physicians until the eighteenth century, when it began to pour out of the West Indies. By the middle of the nineteenth century a million tons of cane sugar were raised each year and this had increased to nearly 3 millions in 1900. The cotton crop rose correspondingly. England, the chief customer at first, consumed 13,000 bales in 1781, 572,000 in 1820, 871,000 in 1830 and 3,366,000 in 1860. The United States raised 6 million bales in 1880, and at the beginning of the twentieth century raised 11 million bales annually.

This tremendous increase in crops which formed a large part of modern commerce was due primarily to black labor. At first most of this labor was brute toil of the lowest sort. Our estimate of the value of this work and what it has done for America depends largely upon our estimate of the value of such toil. It must be confessed that, measured in wages and in public esteem, such work stands low in America and in the civilized world. On the other hand the fact that it does stand so low constitutes one of the greatest problems of social advance. Hard manual labor, and much of it of a disagreeable sort, must for a long time lie at the basis of civilized life. We are continually transmitting some of it to machines, but the residuum remains large. In an ideal society it would be highly-paid work because of its unpleasantness and necessity; and even today, no matter what we may say of the individual worker or of the laboring class, we know that the foundation of America is built on the backs of the manual laborer.

This was particularly true in the earlier centuries. The problem of America in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was the problem of manual labor. It was settled by importing white bond servants from Europe, and black servants from Africa, and compelling the American Indians to work. Indian slavery failed to play any great part because the comparatively small number of Indians in the West Indies were rapidly killed off by the unaccustomed toil or mingled their blood and pooled their destinies with the Negroes. On the continent, on the other hand, the Indians were too powerful, both in numbers and organization, to be successfully enslaved. The white bond servants and the Negroes therefore became the main laboring force of the new world and with their toil the economic development of the continent began.

There arose a series of special laws to determine the status of laborers which became the basis of the great slave codes. As the free European white artisans poured in, these labor codes gradually came to distinguish between slavery based on race and free labor. The slave codes greatly weakened the family ties and largely destroyed the family as a center of government or of economic organization. They made the plantation the center of economic life and left more or less religious autonomy. They provided punishment by physical torture, death or sale, but they always left some minimum of incentive by which the slave could have the beginnings of private possession.

In this way the economic organization was provided by which the middle classes of the world were supplied with a cheap sweetening material derived from sugar cane; a cheap luxury, tobacco; larger quantities of rice; and finally, and above all, a cheap and universal material for clothing, cotton. These were things that all men wanted who had anything to offer in labor or materials for the satisfaction of their wants. The cost of raising them was a labor cost almost entirely because land in America was at that time endless in fertility and extent. The old world trade therefore which sought luxuries in clothing, precious metal and stones, spices, etc., for the rich, transformed itself to a world-wide trade in necessities incomparably richer and bigger than its medieval predecessor because of its enormous basis of demand. Its first appearance was in the slave trade where the demand for the new American crops showed itself in a demand for the labor necessary to raise them; thus the slave trade itself was at the bottom of the rise of great commerce, and the beginning of modern international commerce. This trade stimulated invention and was stimulated by it. The wellbeing of European workers increased and their minds were stimulated. Economic and political revolution followed, to which America fell heir. New immigrants poured in. New conceptions of religion, government and work arose and at the bottom of it all and one of its efficient causes was the toil of the increasing millions of black slaves.

As the nation developed this slave labor became confined more and more to the raising of cotton, although sugar continued to be the chief crop in the West Indies and Louisiana, and rice on the southeast coast and tobacco in Virginia. This world importance of cotton brought an economic crisis: Rich land in America, adapted to slave methods of culture, was becoming limited, and must either be increased or slavery would die an economic death. On the other hand, beside the plantation hands, there had grown up a large class of Negro servants and laborers who were distributed both north and south. These laborers in particular came into competition with the white laborer and especially the new immigrants. This and other economic causes led to riots in Philadelphia, New York and Cincinnati and a growing conviction on the part of a newly enfranchised white workingmen that one great obstacle in America was slave labor, together with the necessarily low status of the freedmen. These economic reasons overthrew slavery.[4]

After the legal disappearance of slavery its natural results remained in the mass of freedmen who had been trained in the necessary ignorance and inefficiency of slave labor. On such a foundation it was easy to build and emphasize race prejudice. On the other hand, however, there was still plenty of work for even the ignorant and careless working man, so that the Negro continued to raise cotton and the other great crops and to do throughout the country the work of the unskilled laborer and the servant. He continued to be the main laboring force of the South in industrial lines and began to invade the North.

His full power as a labor reservoir was not seen until the transformation of the World War. In a few short months 500,000 black laborers came North to fill the void made by the stoppage of immigration and the rush of white working men into the munitions industry. This was simply a foretaste of what will continue to happen. The Negro still is the mightiest single group of labor force in the United States. As this labor grows more intelligent, self-conscious and efficient, it will turn to higher and higher grades of work and it will reinforce the workingman’s point of view.[5]

It must not be assumed, however, that the labor of the Negro has been simply the muscle-straining unintelligent work of the lowest grade. On the contrary he has appeared both as personal servant, skilled laborer and inventor. That the Negroes of colonial times were not all ignorant savages is shown by the advertisements concerning them. Continually runaway slaves are described as speaking very good English; sometimes as speaking not only English but Dutch and French. Some could read and write and play musical instruments. Others were blacksmiths, limeburners, bricklayers and cobblers. Others were noted as having considerable sums of money.[6] In the early days in the South the whole conduct of the house was in the hands of the Negro house servant; as butler, cook, nurse, valet and maid, the Negro conducted family life.

Thus by social contact and mingling of blood the Negro house servant became closely identified with the civilization of the South and contributed to it in many ways. For a long time before emancipation the house servant had been pushing steadily upward; in many cases he had learned to read and write despite the law. Sometimes he had entered the skilled trades and was enabled by hiring his time to earn money of his own and in rare cases to buy his own freedom. Sometimes he was freed and sent North and given money and land; but even when he was in the South and in the family and an ambitious menial, he influenced the language and the imagination of his masters; the children were nursed at the breast of black women, and in daily intercourse the master was thrown in the company of Negroes more often than in the company of white people.

From this servile work there went a natural development. The private cook became the public cook in boarding houses, and restaurant keeper. The butler became the caterer; the “Black Mammy” became the nurse, and the work of all these in their various lines was of great influence. The cooks and caterers led and developed the art of good-eating throughout the South and particularly in cities like New Orleans and Charleston; and in northern cities like Philadelphia and New York their methods of cooking chicken and terrapin, their invention of ice cream and their general good taste set a standard which has seldom been surpassed in the world. Moreover, it gave economic independence to numbers of Negroes. It enabled them to educate their children and it furnished to the abolition movement a class of educated colored people with some money who were able to help. After emancipation these descendants of the house servant became the leading class of American Negroes. Notwithstanding the social stigma connected with menial service and still lingering there, partially because slaves and freedmen were so closely connected with it, it is without doubt one of the most important of the Negro′s gifts to America.

During the existence of slavery all credit for inventions was denied the Negro slave as a slave could not take out a patent. Nevertheless Negroes did most of the mechanical work in the South before the Civil War and more than one suggestion came from them for improving machinery. We are told that in Virginia: “The county records of the seventeenth century reveal the presence of many Negro mechanics in the colony during that period, this being especially the case with carpenters and coopers.[7]

As example of slave mechanics it is stated that among the slaves of the first Robert Beverly was a carpenter valued at £30, and that Ralph Wormeley, of Middlesex county, owned a cooper and a carpenter each valued at £35. Colonel William Byrd mentions the use of Negroes in iron mining in 1732. In New Jersey slaves were employed as miners, ironworkers, sawmill hands, house and ship carpenters, wheelwrights, coopers, tanners, shoemakers, millers and bakers, among other employments, before the Revolutionary War. As early as 1708 there were enough slave mechanics in Pennsylvania to make the freemen feel their competition severely. In Massachusetts and other states we hear of an occasional artisan.[8]

During the early part of the nineteenth century the Negro artisans increased. The Spanish Governor Salcedo, early in the nineteenth century, in trying to keep the province of Louisiana loyal to Spain, made the militia officers swear allegiance and among them were two companies of colored men from New Orleans “who composed all the mechanics which the city possessed.”[9]

Later, black refugees from San Domingo saved Louisiana from economic ruin. Formerly, Louisiana had had prosperous sugar-makers; but these industries had been dead for nearly twenty-five years when the attempt to market sugar was revived. Two Spaniards erected near New Orleans, a distillery and a battery of sugar kettles and began to manufacture rum and syrup. They had little success until Etienne de Bore, a colored San Dominican, appeared. “Face to face with ruin because of the failure of the indigo crop, he staked his all on the granulation of sugar. Lie enlisted the services of these successful San Dominicans and went to work. In all American history there can be fewer scenes more dramatic than the one described by careful historians of Louisiana, the day when the final test was made and the electrical word was passed around, ‘It granulates!’"

De Bore sold $12,000 worth of sugar that year. Agriculture in the Delta began to flourish and seven years later New Orleans was selling 2,000,000 gallons of rum, 250,000 gallons of molasses and 5,000,000 pounds of sugar. It was the beginning of the commercial reign of one of the great commercial cities of America and it started with the black refugees from San Domingo.[10]

In the District of Columbia many “were superior mechanics.” Olmsted, in his journeys through the slave states just before the Civil War, found slave artisans in all the states. In Virginia they worked in tobacco factories, ran steamboats, made barrels, etc. On a South Carolina plantation he was told by the master that the Negro mechanic “exercised as much skill and ingenuity as the ordinary mechanics that he was used to employ in New England.” In Charleston and some other places they were employed in cotton factories. In Alabama he saw a black carpenter—careful and accurate calculator and excellent workman; he was bought for $2,000. In Louisiana he was told that master mechanics often bought up slave mechanics and acted as contractors. In Kentucky the slaves worked in factories for hemp-bagging, and in iron work on the Cumberland river, and also in tobacco factories. In the newspapers advertisements for runaway mechanics were often seen, as, for instance a blacksmith in Texas, “very smart”; a mason in Virginia, etc. In Mobile an advertisement read “good blacksmiths and horseshoers for sale on reasonable terms.”[11]

Such men naturally showed inventive genius, here and there. There is a strong claim that the real credit for the invention of the cotton gin is due to a Negro on the plantation where Eli Whitney worked. Negroes early invented devices for handling sails, corn harvesters, and an evaporating pan for refining sugar. In the United States patent office there is a record of 1500 inventions made by Negroes and this is only a part of those that should be credited to Negroes as the race of the inventor is not usually recorded.

In 1846 Norbert Rillieux, a colored man of Louisiana, invented and patented a Vacuum pan which revolutionized the method of refining sugar. He was a machinist and engineer of fine reputation, and devised a system of sewerage for New Orleans which the city refused to accept because of his color.

Sydney W. Winslow, president of the United Shoe Machinery Company, laid the foundation of his great organization by the purchase of an invention by a native of Dutch Guiana named Jan E. Matzeliger. Matzeliger was the son of a Negro woman and her husband, a Dutch engineer. He came to America as a young man and worked as a cobbler in Philadelphia and Lynn. He died in 1889 before he had realized the value of his invention.

Matzeliger invented a machine for lasting shoes. It held the shoe on the last, gripped and pulled the leather down around the sole and heel, guided and drove the nails into place and released a completed shoe from the machine. This patent was bought by Mr. Winslow and on it was built the great United Shoe Machinery Company, which now has a capital stock of more than twenty million dollars, and employs over 5,000 operatives in factories covering 20 acres of ground. This business enterprise is one of the largest in our country’s industrial development. Since the formation of this company in 1890, the product of American shoe factories has increased from $200,000,000 to $552,631,000, and the exportation of American shoes from $1,000,000 to $11,000,000.

This development is due to the superiority of the shoes produced by machines founded on the original Matzeliger type.[12] The cost of shoes has been cut in half, the quality greatly improved, the wages of workers increased, the hours of labor diminished, and all these factors have made the Americans the best shod people in the world.”

After Matzeliger’s death his Negro blood was naturally often denied, but in the shoe-making districts the Matzeliger type of machine is still referred to as the “Nigger machine”; or the “Niggerhead” machine; and “A certified copy of the death certificate of Matzeliger, which was furnished the writer by William J. Connery, Mayor of Lynn, on October 23rd, 1912, states that Matzeliger was a mulatto.”'[13]

Elijah McCoy is the pioneer inventor of automatic lubricators for machinery. He completed and patented his first lubricating cup in 1872 and since then has made some fifty different inventions relating principally to the automatic lubrication of machinery. He is regarded as the pioneer in the art of steadily supplying oil to machinery in intermittent drops from a cup so as to avoid the necessity for stopping the machine to oil it. His lubricating cup was in use for years on stationary and locomotive machinery in the West including the great railway locomotives, the boiler engines of the steamers on the Great Lakes, on transatlantic steamships, and in many of our leading factories. “McCoy’s lubricating cups were fam ous thirty years ago as a necessary equipment in all up-to-date machinery, and it would be rather interesting to know how many of the thousands of machinists who used them daily had any idea then that they were the invention of a colored man.”[14]

Another great Negro inventor was Granville T. Woods who patented more than fifty devices relating to electricity. Many of his patents were assigned to the General Electric Company of New York, the Westinghouse Company of Pennsylvania, the American Bell Telephone Company of Boston and the American Engineering Company of New York. His work and that of his brother Liates Wood has been favorably mentioned in technical and scientific journals.

J. H. Dickinson and his son S. L. Dickinson of New Jersey have been granted more than 12 patents for devices connected with player pianos. W. B. Purvis of Philadelphia was an early inventor of machinery for making paper bags. Many of his patents were sold to the Union Paper Bag Company of New York.

Today the Negro is an economic factor in the United States to a degree realized by few. His occupations were thus grouped in 1920:[15] The men were employed as follows:

in agriculture 1,566,627
in extraction of minerals 72,892
in manufacturing and mechanical industries 781,827
in transportation 308,896
in trade 129,309
in public service 49,586
in professional service 41,056
in domestic and personal service 273,959
in clerical occupations 28,710

The women were employed as follows:

in agriculture 612,261
in manufacturing and mechanical industries 104,983
in trade 11,158
in professional service 39,127
in domestic and personal service 790,631
in clerical occupations 8,301

A list of occupations in which at least 10,000 Negroes were engaged in 1920 is impressive:

Farmers 845,299
Farm laborers 664,567
Garden laborers 15,246
Lumber men 25,400
Coal miners 54,432
Masons 10,606
Carpenters 34,217
Firemen (not locomotive) 23,152
Laborers 127,860
Laborers in chemical industries 17,201
Laborers in cigar and tobacco factories 12,951
Laborers in clay, glass and stone industries 18,130
Laborers in food industries 24,638
Laborers in iron and steel industries 104,518
Laborers in lumber and furniture industries 103,154
Laborers in cotton mills 10,182
Laborers in other industries 80,583
Machinists 10,286
Semi-skilled operatives in food industries 11,160
Semi-skilled operatives in iron and steel industries 22,916
Semi-skilled operatives in other industries 14,745
Longshoremen 27,206
Chauffeurs 38,460
Draymen 56,556
Street laborers 35,673
Railway laborers 99,967
Delivery men 24,352
Laborers in coal yards, warehouses, etc. 27,197
Laborers, etc., in stores 39,446
Retail dealers 20,390
Laborers in public service 29,591
Soldiers, sailors 12,511
Clergymen 19,343
Barbers, etc. 18,692
Janitors 38,662
Porters not in stores 59,197
Servants 80,209
Waiters 31,681
Clerks except in stores 14,014
Messengers 12,587
Farmers 79,893
Farm laborers 527,937
Dressmakers and seamstresses 26,961
Semi-skilled operatives in cigar and tobacco factories 13,446
Teachers 29,244
Hairdressers and manicurists 12,660
Housekeepers and stewards 13,250
Laundresses not in laundries 283,557
Laundry operatives 21,084
Midwives and nurses (not trained) 13,888
Servants 401,381
Waiters 14,155

This has been the gift of labor, one of the greatest that the Negro has made to American nationality. It was in part involuntary, but whether given willingly or not, it was given and America profited by the gift. This labor was always of the highest economic and even spiritual importance. During the World War for instance, the most important single thing that America could do for the Allies was to furnish them with materials. The actual fighting of American troops, while important, was not nearly as important as American food and munitions; but this material must not only be supplied, it must be transported, handled and delivered in America and in France; and it was here that the Negro stevedore troops behind the battle line men who received no medals and little mention and were in fact despised as all manual workers have always been despised,—it was these men that made the victory of the Allies certain by their desperately difficult but splendid work. The first colored stevedores went over in June, 1917, and were followed by about 50,000 volunteers. To these were added later nearly 200,000 drafted men.

To all this we must add the peculiar spiritual contribution which the Negro made to Labor. Always physical fact has its spiritual complement, but in this case the gift is apt to be forgotten or slurred over. This gift is the thing that is usually known as “laziness”. Again and again men speak of the laziness of Negro labor and some suppose that slavery of Negroes was necessary on that account; and that even in freedom Negroes must be “driven”. On the other hand and in contradiction to this is the fact that Negroes do work and work efficiently. In South Africa and in Nigeria, in the Sudan and in Brazil, in the West Indies and all over the United States Negro labor has accomplished tremendous tasks. One of its latest and greatest tasks has been the building of the Panama Canal. These two sets of facts, therefore, would seem to be mutually contradictory, and many a northern manager has seen the contradiction when, facing the apparent laziness of Negro hands, he has attempted to drive them and found out that he could not and at the same time has afterward seen someone used to Negro labor get a tremendous amount of work out of the same gangs. The explanation of all this is clear and simple: The Negro laborer has not been trained in modern organized industry but rather in quite a different school.

The European workman works long hours and every day in the week because it is only in this way that he can support himself and family. With the present organization of industry and methods of distributing the results of industry any failure of the European workingman to toil hard and steadily would mean either starvation or social disgrace through the lowering of his standard of living.

The Negro workingman on the other hand came out of an organization of industry which was communistic and did not call for unlimited toil on the part of the workers. There was work and hard work to do, for even in the fertile tropical lands the task of fighting weeds, floods, animals, insects and germs was no easy thing. But on the other hand the distribution of products was much simpler and fairer and the wants of the people were less developed. The black tropical worker therefore looked upon work as a necessary evil and maintained his right to balance the relative allurements of leisure and satisfaction at any particular day, hour or season. Moreover in the simple work-organization of tropical or semi-tropical life individual desires of this sort did not usually disarrange the whole economic process or machine.[16]

The white laborer therefore brought to America the habit of regular, continuous toil which he regarded as a great moral duty. The black laborer brought the idea of toil as a necessary evil ministering to the pleasure gift of the white laborer made America rich, or at least made many Americans rich, it will take the psychology of the black man to make it New and better organization of industry and a clearer conception of the value of effort and a wider knowledge of the process of production must come in, so as to increase the wage of the worker and decrease rent, interest, and profit; and then the black laborer’s subconscious contribution to current economics will be recognized as of tremendous and increasing importance.

  1. Cf. Du Bois, Suppression of the Slave Trade; Du Bois, The Negro (Home University Library).
  2. United States Census, Negro Population 1790–1915; Fourteenth Census, Vol. 3.
  3. Du Bois, Suppression of the Slave Trade, Chapter 4.
  4. Cf. Du Bois, The Philadelphia Negro, Chapter 4.
  5. Cf. Woodson, A Century of Negro Migration; E. J. Scott: Negro Migration During the War.
  6. Journal of Negro History, Vol. I, p. 163.
  7. Bruce, Economic History of Virginia, Vol. 2, pp. 405-6.
  8. Atlanta University Publications: Cf. The Negro Artisan, 1902-1912, and Economic Cooperation among Negro Americans, 1907.
  9. Alice Dunbar Nelson in Journal of Negro History, Vol. 2, p.
  10. Alice Dunbar Nelson, in the Journal of Negro History, Vol. I, p. 375.
  11. Olmsted, A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States, Journey through Texas, and Journey in the Back Country.
  12. Prior to the Matzeliger machine the McKay machine was patented, designed for making the heaviest and cheapest kind of men’s shoes. The Matzeliger machine was designed for light work, women’s shoes, etc., and was the most important invention necessary to the formation of the United Shoe Machinery Company.
  13. H. E. Baker, in Journal of Negro History, Vol. 2, pp. 21ff.
  14. Baker: The Colored Inventor, p. 7.
  15. U. S. Census of 1920. Wilcox-Du Bois, Negroes in the United States (U. S. Census bulletin No. 8, 1904).
  16. Olivier, White Capital and Coloured Labor, Chapter 8, London, 1906.