CHAPTER IX.

THE OCCUPATIONS OF NEGROES.

23. Occupations in the City.--Turning from the more detailed study of the Seventh Ward, let us glance in a general way over the occupations of Negroes in the city at large.

The Professions.--The learned professions are represented among Negroes by clergymen, teachers, physicians, lawyers and dentists, in the order named. Practically all Negroes go to their own churches, where they have, save in a very few cases, clergymen of their own race. There are not less than sixty Negro ministers in the city (possibly a hundred) mostly Methodists and Baptists, with three or four Presbyterians and two Episcopalians. The Presbyterian and Episcopalian clergymen are well trained and educated men in nearly every case. The ministers of the African Methodists vary; those in charge of the larger churches are all men of striking personality, with genius for leadership and organization in some lines, and in some cases, though not in all, they are well-educated men. Practically none of them are illiterate. The Baptist ministers are not on the whole so well trained as the Methodists, although some are well-educated.

Taken on the average the Negro ministers of the city are good representatives of the masses of the Negroes. They are largely chosen by the masses, must cater to their tastes, and must in every way be men whom the rank and file of the race like and understand. Sometimes a strong personality, like the late Theodore Miller, will take a church and lift it to a high level; usually the minister rather follows than leads, and indicates public opinion among his people rather than forms it. The Baptist minister is the elected chairman of a pure democracy, who, if he can command a large enough following, becomes a virtual dictator; he thus has the chance to be a wise leader or a demagogue, or, as in many cases, a little of both. The Methodist minister is the appointed steward of a large corporation, of which his particular church is a small part. His success depends upon the way in which he conducts this church: his financial success, his efforts to increase church membership and his personal popularity. The result is that the colored Methodist minister is generally a wide-awake business man, with something of the politician in his make-up, who is sometimes an inspiring and valuable leader of men; in other cases he may develop into a loud but wily talker, who induces the mass of Negroes to put into fine church edifices money which ought to go to charity or business enterprise.

Ministers receive from $250 a year, in small missions, to $1500 in three or four of the largest churches. The average would be between $600 and $1000.

Next to the clergymen come the teachers, of whom there are about forty in the city:

 

School.

Principals Assistant
Teachers
Kindergartens Indus'l
teachers.
Institute for Colored Youth

2

7

0

2

O. V. Catto

1

6

2

0

Vaux

1

3

0

0

J. E. Hill

1

3

1

0

Coulter street

1

1

0

0

Wilmot

1

1

0

0

House of Industry

0

4

0

0

James Forten

0

0

2

0

Berean Church

0

0

1

0

Total

7

25

6

2

These teachers are in nearly every case well equipped and have made good records. Save in the kindergartens, or in one or more temporary cases, they teach Negro children exclusively. The public school teachers receive the same pay as the white teachers.6

The Negro physician is to-day just beginning to reap the reward of a long series of attempts and failures. At first thought it would seem natural for Negroes to patronize Negro merchants, lawyers and physicians, from a sense of pride and as a protest against race feeling among whites. When, however, we come to think further, we can see many hindrances. If a child is sick, the father wants a good physician; he knows plenty of good white physicians; he knows nothing of the skill of the black doctor, for the black doctor has had no opportunity to exercise his skill. Consequently for many years the colored physician had to sit idly by and see the 40,000 Negroes healed principally by white practitioners. To-day this has largely changed, and principally through the efforts of the younger class of doctors, who have spared no pains to equip themselves at the best schools of the country. The result is that fully half the Negroes employ Negro physicians, and to a small extent these physicians practice among the whites. There are still many of the old class of root doctors and patent medicine quacks with a lucrative trade among Negroes.7 Of reputable Negro physicians there are in the city about fifteen, graduated as follows:

University of Pennsylvania

5

Hahnemann (Homeopathic)

2

Women's Medical

2

Medico-Chirurgical

1

Harvard

1

University of Michigan

1

Howard

2

14

Seven of these have good-sized practice, running from $1500 a year to $3000 or more. Five others have practically just commenced to get practice and are doing fairly well. The other two have outside work and have a limited practice. There are many medical students in the city, and this field is the most attractive open to the Negro among the learned professions.

In contrast to the fair success of the Negro in medicine is his partial failure in law. There are at present about ten practicing Negro lawyers in the city, graduated as follows:

Howard 3
University of Pennsylvania 4
Unknown 3

Two of these are fairly successful practitioners--well versed in law, with some experience, and a small but steady practice. Three others are with difficulty earning a living at criminal practice in police cases; and the rest are having little or no practice. This failure of most Negro lawyers is not in all cases due to lack of ability and push on their part. Its principal cause is that the Negroes furnish little lucrative law business, and a Negro lawyer will seldom be employed by whites. Moreover, while the work of a physician is largely private, depending on individual skill, a lawyer must have co-operation from fellow lawyers and respect and influence in court; thus prejudice or discrimination of any kind is especially felt in this profession. For these reasons Negro lawyers are for the most part confined to petty criminal practice and seldom get a chance to show their ability.

There are three Negro dentists, two being graduated from first-class institutions and enjoying good practice.

On the whole, the professional class of Negroes is creditable to the race. The teachers and physicians would bear comparison with any race; the ranks of the clergy are overcrowded and they present all degrees, from excellent and well- trained spiritual guides to blatant demagogues; the lawyers have little chance to show themselves.

The Entrepreneur--The number of individual undertakers of business enterprise among Negroes is small but growing. Let us first take the Seventh Ward alone and glance over the field. There are in this ward twenty-three establishments for meals and other entertaimnent, varying from a small one-room restaurant to a twenty-room hotel; some of these on Lombard and South streets have capacious dining-rooms with twenty or more tables; some are little dark places with two or three dubious looking stands. In length of establishment they vary: eight had in 1896 been running a year or less; four, two years; two, three years; four, from four to eight years. They represent investments varying from $40 to $1500, and employ beside the proprietors between fifty and one hundred persons according to the season.

There are in the Seventh Ward twenty-three barbershops varying from two months to forty years in length of establishment; eight are from three to five years old, five over ten years old. They employ beside the proprietors from twenty to forty journeymen more or less regularly. A shop represents an investment varying from $50 to $250 or more. The Negro as a barber is rapidly losing ground in the city. It is difficult to say why this has occurred, but there are several contributory reasons: first the calling was for so long an almost exclusively Negro calling that it came in for a degree of the contempt and ridicule poured on Negroes in general; it therefore grew very unpopular among Negroes, and apprentices became very scarce. Today one would have to look a long time among young and aspiring Negroes to find one who would willingly become a barber--it smacks perhaps a little too much of domestic service, and is a thing to fall back upon but not to aspire to. In the second place the business became unpopular with Negroes because it compels them to draw a color line. No first-class Negro barber would dare shave his own brother in his shop in Philadelphia on account of the color prejudice. This is peculiarly galling and has led to much criticism and unpopularity for certain leading barbers among their own people. These two reasons led to a lack of interest and enterprise in the business for a long time and it needed but one movement to hasten the collapse, that is, competition. The competition of German and Italian barbers furnished the last and most potent reason for the withdrawal of the Negro; they were skilled workmen, while skilled Negro barbers were becoming scarce; they cut down the customary prices and some of them found business co-operation and encouragement which Negroes could not hope for. For these reasons the business is slipping from the Negro. This is undoubtedly a calamity and unless the Negro in spite of sentiment awakens in time he will find a lucrative employment gone and nothing in its place. Already a white labor union movement is beginning to crowd the Negro, to ask for legislation which will strike him most forcibly and in other ways to bring organized endeavor to bear upon disorganized apathy.

The Seventh Ward has thirteen small Negro grocery stores. They are mostly new ventures, eight being less than a year old; four, one to five years old, and one fifteen years old. Two are co-operative enterprises but have had no great success. All of these stores with two or three exceptions are really experiments and most of them will soon go to the wall and their places be taken by others. The six smaller shops represent investments of $25 to $50; two have $50 and $100 invested; three between $100 and $200, and one from $500 to $1000. The ambition of the middle class of Negroes lies in this direction and their endeavors are laudable. In another age of industrial development they would have already constituted themselves a growing class of small tradesmen; but to-day the department store and stock-company make the competition too great for people with so little commercial training and instinct. Nevertheless the number of Negro groceries will undoubtedly grow considerably in the next decade.

Next come fourteen cigar stores representing a total investment of $1000 to $1500 mostly in sums of $25, $50 and $100. These stores have been established as follows: one year or less, six; two years, four; three to sixteen years, four. They sell cigars and tobacco, and daily papers; some also rent bicycles, or have a boot-blacking stand or pool room attached. One of the proprietors conducts, beside his cigar store, three barber shops and a restaurant, and employs twenty people. Some of these stores are finely equipped. This business is new for Negroes and growing; a few women have ventured into it, and thus in some cases it furnishes a side occupation for wives.

There are four candy and notion shops established respectively five months, six months, one year and three years, and each representing an investment of $10 to $100. They are in most cases in the hands of women and do a small business. There are also numberless places for selling fuel of all kinds, of which about thirteen rise to the dignity of shops. They represent small investments.

Three retail liquor shops and one bottling establishment are conducted by colored people, representing considerable investments. Two of the saloons are old and well conducted, and financially successful. The other saloon aud the bottling establishment are not very successful.

Four large employment agencies and some smaller ones are situated in the ward. They conduct lodging houses and in some cases boarding houses in connection. One is sixteen years old; all hire clerks. Their business is to act as agents for persons desiring servants, and to guide unemployed persons to situations; for this they charge a percentage or fixed sum out of the wages. They also often serve as homes for unemployed servants, giving them board and lodging, sometimes on credit. Their work is thus useful and lucrative when properly conducted as in two or three establishments. In one or two others, however, there is some suspicion of unfair dealing; servants are attracted from the South by catchy advertisements and personal letters, only to find themselves eventually penniless and out of work in a large city.8 Questionable acquaintanceships are also made at the agencies at times, which lead to ruin. These agencies need strict regulation.

There are four undertaking establishments, two of which are conducted by women. They represent investments of $1000-$10,000 and two of them do a business which probably aggregates $8000 or more annually in each case. They are all old establishments --six to thirty-three years--and in no branch of business, save one, has the Negro evinced so much push, taste and enterprise. Two of the establishments will, in equipment, compare favorably with the white businesses in the city; indeed, in fair competition they have gained the great bulk of Negro and some white patronage from white competitors.

Three bakeries, established two and three years respectively are having moderate success. Six printing offices established, one, six months, the others four to seven years, do job work on small presses; two publish weekly papers. These shops are fairly successful and get considerable work from the colored people. One dressmaker has a shop with $150 invested; another runs a dressmaking school.

Four upholsterers have shops, old and well established, and all do a good business; in two cases the business amounts to two to five thousand a year. One sells antique furniture also.

There are a large number of caterers in the ward--eighty-three9 in all. Most of these, however, do a small business, and in some cases have other work also for at least a part of the year. Of the principal.caterers there are about ten, of whom the doyen was the late Andrew F. Stevens.10 These ten caterers do a large business, amounting in some cases probably to $3000 to $5000 a year. They have a small co-operative store on Thirteenth street, with a considerable stock of dishes, and such things as olives, pickles, etc. This is conducted by a manager and has one hundred or more members. There is also a caterers' association, which is really a trades union. Its club room serves as a clearing house for business and the employment of waiters. This has been running ten years. The catering business presents many interesting phases to the economist and sociologist. Undoubtedly the pre-eminence of Negroes in this business has declined since the Augustins, Jones and Dorsey passed. Negro caterers are still prominent, but they do not by any means dominate the field, as then. The chief reason for this is the change that has come over American fashionable society in the last twenty-five years, and the application of large capital to the catering business. Philadelphia society is no longer a local affair, but receives its cue as to propriety and fashion from New York, London and Paris; consequently the local caterers can no longer dictate fashion for any single American city; more than this, demands have so risen with increasing wealth that catering establishments like Delmonico's, which would keep in the front rank, represent a large investment of capital--investments far beyond the power of the local Negro caterers of Philadelphia. Thus we find a large business built up by talent and tact, meeting with changed social conditions; the business must therefore change too. It is the old development from the small to the large industry, from the house-industry to the concentrated industry, from the private dining room to the palatial hotel. If the Negro caterers of Philadelphia had been white, some of them would have been put in charge of a large hotel, or would have become co-partners in some large restaurant business, for which capitalists furnished funds. For such business co-operation, however, the time was not ripe, and perhaps only a few of the best Negro caterers would have been capable of entering into it with success. As it was, the change in fashion and mode of business changed the methods of the Negro caterers and their clientele. They began to serve the middle class instead of the rich and exclusive, their prices had to become more reasonable, and their efforts to excel had consequently fewer incentives. Moreover, they now came into sharp competition with a class of small white caterers, who, if they were worse cooks, were better trained in the tricks of the trade. Then, too, with this new and large clientele that personal relationship between the caterer and those served was broken up, and a larger place for color prejudice was made.

It is thus plain that a curious economic revolution in one industry has gone on during twenty-nine years, not unaccompanied by grave social problems. In this case the Negro has emerged in better condition and has shown more capacity for hand-to-hand economic encounter than, for instance, in the barbering business. Yet he has not emerged unscathed; in every such battle, when a Negro is fighting for an economic advantage, there is ever a widespread feeling among all his neighbors that it is inexpedient to allow this class to became wealthy or even well-to-do. Consequently the battle always becomes an Athanasius contra mundum, where almost unconsciously the whole countenance and aid of the community is thrown against the Negro.

The three Negro cemetery companies of the city have their headquarters in the Seventh Ward. They arose from the curious prejudice of the whites against allowing Negroes to be buried near their dead. The companies hold valuable property and are fairly well conducted.11 There are several expressmen in the ward owning their own outfits; one has been established twenty-five years; he has three or four wagons and hires four or five men regularly. There was in 1896 a hardware and furniture business forty-seven years old, on South street, but the proprietor, Robert Adger, has since died.12 There are several bicycle shops, a flourishing milk, butter and egg store, a china repairing shop, of long standing; a hair goods store, a rubber goods repairing shop, seventeen years old; a second-hand stove store and two patent medicine shops.

To test the accuracy of these statistics and to note changes, a second visit was made in this ward in 1897, with this result:

 

NEGRO BUSINESS ESTABLISHMENTS, SEVENTH WARD, 1896-97.

Business.

1896
(Dec.)
1897
(Oct.)

Restaurants

23

39

Barber shops

23

24

Grocery stores

13

11

Cigar stores

14

11

Candy and notions

4

2

Shoemaker shops

8

13

Upholsterers

4

4

Liquor saloons

3

2

Undertakers

4

4

Newspapers

2

1

Drug store

0

1

Patent medicine stores

2

2

Printing offices

4

4

 

Such small businesses represent the efforts of a class of poor people to save capital.13 They are all alike hindered by three great drawbacks: First, the Negro never was trained for business and can get no training now; it is very seldom that a Negro boy or girl can on any terms get position in a store or other business establishment where he can learn the technique of the work or general business methods. Second, Negro merchants are so rare that it is natural for customers, both white and colored, to take it for granted that their business is poorly conducted without giving it a trial.14 Third, the Negroes are unused to co-operation with their own people and the process of learning it is long and tedious. Hitherto, their economic activities have been directed almost entirely to the satisfaction of wants of the upper classes of white people, and, too, of personal and household wants; they are just begining to realize that within their own group there is a vast field for development in economic activity. The 40,000 Negroes of Philadelphia need food, clothes, shoes, hats and furniture; these by proper thrift they see ought to be in part supplied by themselves, and the little business ventures we have noticed are attempts in this direction. These attempts would, however, be vastly more successful in another economic age. To-day, as before noted, the application of large capital to the retail business, the gathering of workmen into factories, the wonderful success of trained talent in catering to the whims and taste of customers almost precludes the effective competition of the small store. Thus the economic condition of the day militates largely against the Negro; it requires more skill and experience to run a small store than formerly and the large store and factory are virtually closed to him on any terms.

Turning now to the other wards of the city let us notice some of the chief business ventures of the Negroes. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it is representative:

Ward.

Character of business.

No. Estab-
lishments

Second. Harness shop 1
Third. Grocery store 3
Barber shop 1
Fourth Barber shops 5
Second-hand clothing 1
Second-hand furniture 1
Coal and wood shops 4
Newspaper 1
Restaurants 10
Hair goods and dressmaking 1
Expressmen 5
Decorating and paper-hanging 1
Job printer 1
Shoe repair shops 3
Candy store (manufacture) 1
Cigar stores 2
Crockery store 1
Second-hand stoves 1
Fifth Barber shops 7
  Pool-room 1
  Shoeblacking shop 1
  Restaurants 8
  Undertaker 1
  Fuel and notions 2
  Cigar store 1
  Publishing house (books and papers) 1
  Blacksmith and wheelwright 1
Eighth Florist 1
  Watch repairer 1
  Newspaper and job printing 1
  Undertaker 1
  Hotel and liquor saloon 1
  Barber shops 9
  Upholsterers 2
  Rag warehouse 1
  Restaurants 5
  Fuel and newspaper shop 1
  Grocery store 1
  Cigar stores 2
  Employment bureau 1
  Hair dresser for ladies 1
Fourteenth Barber 1
  Grocery store 1
  Upholsterer 1
  Dealer in mineral water 1
  Second-hand furniture store 1
  Fuel and candy store 1
  Restaurants 2
Twentieth Tailor shop 1
  Shoe-repairing shop 1
  Barber shops 2
Twenty-seventh Real estate agent 1
  Meat dealer (wholesale) 1
Fifteenth Carpet cleaning works 1
and Meat and provisions 1
Twenty-ninth Barber shops and various small establishments 20
Twenty-sixth
and
Thirtieth
Second-hand stoves 1
  Cigar store 1
  Barber shops 2
  Expressman 1
  Second-hand furniture 1
  Upholsterer 1
  Grocery store 1
  Milk and ice shop 1
  Job printing 1
  Restaurant 1
Twenty-second Restaurant and lodging house 1
  Grocery stores 2
  Barbers 2
  Upholsterer 1
  Expressman 1
  Steam laundry 1

 

The most important omissions here are barber shops, on account of the large number, caterers, because their headquarters are mainly in private houses, and many small stores which are easily overlooked and which quickly come and disappear. Some of the businesses are large and important: Three or four caterers do a business of several thousand dollars per year; the well-known Chestnut street florist does a flourishing and well conducted business ;15 the undertaker in the Eighth Ward and the real estate dealer in the Twenty-seventh are unusually successful in their lines. The crockery store in the Fourth Ward is neat and tasty. The three largest enterprises are the provision and wholesale meat businesses in the Fifteenth Ward, and the carpet cleaning works. It is reported that the business of each of these approaches $10,000 a year.

There are five weekly newspapers and a quarterly magazine published in the city by Negroes. Two of the papers are denominational organs for churches; another paper is the official organ of the Odd Fellows; the fourth and fifth are local news sheets. The quarterly is published by the A. M. E. Church. These papers are fairly successful, and are considerably read and reflect the general public opinion pretty well. Most of them have been very weak editorially, though there are some signs of improvement, especially in the case of the quarterly. The publishing house does a business of $15,000 a year.

The Trades.--The practical exclusion of the Negro from the trades and industries of a great city like Philadelphia is a situation by no means easy to explain. It is often said simply: the foreigners and trades unions have crowded Negroes out on account of race prejudice and left employers and philanthropists helpless in the matter. This is not strictly true. What the trades unions and white workmen have done is to seize an economic advantage plainly offered them. This opportunity arose from three causes: Here was a mass of black workmen of whom very few were by previous training fitted to become the mechanics and artisans of a new industrial development; here, too, were an increasing mass of foreigners and native Americans who were unusually well fitted to take part in the new industries; finally, most people were willing end many eager that Negroes should be kept as menial servants rather than develop into industrial factors. This was the situation, and here was the opportunity for the white workmen; they were by previous training better workmen on the average than Negroes; they were stronger numerically and the result was that every new industrial enterprise started in the city took white workmen. Soon the white workmen were strong enough to go a step further than this and practically prohibit Negroes from entering trades under any circumstances; this affected not only new enterprises, but also old trades like carpentering, masonry, plastering and the like. The supply of Negroes for such trades could not keep pace with the extraordinary growth of the city and a large number of white workmen entered the field. They immediately combined against Negroes primarily to raise wages; the standard of living of the Negroes lets them accept low wages, and, conversely, long necessity of accepting the meagre wages offered have made a low standard of living. Thus partially by taking advantage of race prejudice, partially by greater economic efficiency and partially by the endeavor 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.

If now a benevolent despot had seen the development, he would immediately have sought to remedy the real weakness of the Negro's position, i.e., his lack of training; and he would have swept away any discrimination that compelled men to support as criminals those who might support themselves as workmen.

He would have made special effort to train Negro boys for industrial life and given them a chance to compete on equal terms with the best white workmen; arguing that in the long run this would be best for all concerned, since by raising the skill and standard of living of the Negroes he would make them effective workmen and competitors who would maintain a decent level of wages. He would have sternly suppressed organized or covert opposition to Negro workmen.

There was, however, no benevolent despot, no philanthropist, no far-seeing captain of industry to prevent the Negro from losing even the skill he had learned or to inspire him by opportunities to learn more. As the older Negroes with trades dropped off, there was little to induce younger men to succeed them. On the contrary special effort was made not to train Negroes for industry or to allow them to enter on such a career. Consequently they gradually slipped out of industrial life until in 1890 when the Negroes formed 4 per cent of the population, only 1.1 per cent of 134,709 men in the principal trades of the city were Negroes; of 46,200 women in these trades 1.3 per cent were Negroes; or taking men and women together, 2160 or 1.19 per cent of all were Negroes. This does not, however, tell the whole story, for of this 2160, the barbers, brickmakers, and dressmakers formed 1434. In the Seventh Ward the number in the trades is much larger than the proportion in the city, but here again they are confined to a few trades--barbers, dressmakers, cigarmakers and shoemakers.

How now has this exclusion been maintained? In some cases by the actual inclusion of the word "white" among qualifications for entrance into certain trade unions. More often, however, by leaving the matter of color entirely to local bodies, who make no general rule, but invariably fail to admit a colored applicant except under pressing circumstances. This is the most workable system and is adopted by nearly all trade unions. In sections where Negro labor in certain trades is competent and considerable, the trades union welcomes them, as in western Pennsylvania among miners and iron-workers, and in Philadelphia among cigarmakers; but whenever there is a trade where good Negro workmen are comparatively scarce each union steadfastly refuses to admit Negroes, and relies on color prejudice to keep up the barrier. Thus the carpenters, masons, painters, iron-workers, etc., have succeeded in keeping out nearly all Negro workmen by simply declining to work with non-union men and refusing to let colored men join the union. Sometimes, in time of strikes, the unions are compelled in self-defence not only to allow Negroes to join but to solicit them; this happened, for instance, in the stone-cutters' strike some years ago.

To repeat, then, the real motives back of this exclusion are plain: a large part is simple race prejudice, always strong in working classes and intensified by the peculiar history of the Negro in this country. Another part, however, and possibly a more potent part, is the natural spirit of monopoly and the desire to keep up wages. So long as a cry against "Irish" or "foreigners" was able to marshal race prejudice in the service of those who desired to keep those people out of some employments, that cry was sedulously used. So to-day the workmen plainly see that a large amount of competition can be shut off by taking advantage of public opinion and drawing the color line. Moreover, in this there is one thoroughly justifiable consideration that plays a great part: namely, the Negroes are used to low wages--can live on them, and consequently would fight less fiercely than most whites against reduction.

The employers in this matter are not altogether blameless. Their objects in conducting business are not, of course, wholly philanthropic, and yet, as a class, they represent the best average intelligence and morality of the community. A firm stand by some of them for common human right might save the city something in taxes for the suppression of crime and vice. There came some time since to the Midvale Steel Works a manager whom many dubbed a "crank ;" he had a theory that Negroes and whites could work together as mechanics without friction or trouble.16 In spite of some protest he put his theory into practice, and to-day any one can see Negro mechanics working in the same gangs with white mechanics without disturbance. A few other cases on a smaller scale have occurred throughout the city. In general, however, the black mechanic who seeks work from a mill owner, or a contractor, or a capitalist is told: "I have no feeling in the matter, but my men will not work with you" Without doubt, in many cases, the employer is really powerless; in many other cases he is not powerless, but is willing to appear so.

The Negroes of the city who have trades either give them up and hire out as waiters or laborers, or they become job workmen and floating hands, catching a bit of carpentering here or a little brick-work or plastering there at reduced wages. Undoubtedly much blame can rightly be laid at the door of Negroes for submitting rather tamely to this organized opposition. If they would meet organization with organization and excellence of work by excellence, they could do much to win standing in the industries of the cities. This is to-day hard to begin, but it is worth the trying, and the Industrial Department of the Institute for Colored Youth, which the Negroes themselves helped equip, is a step in this direction.

Clerks, Semi-professional and Responsible Workers.-- Under this head has been grouped a miscellaneous mass of occupations: clerks in public and private service, stewards, messengers, musicians, agents, managers and foremen, actors, policemen, etc., i. e., that class of persons whose position demands a degree of attainment in education reliability, talent or skill. Here the number of Negroes is small, but they are nearly as well represented as in trades--an indication of a rather abnormal development. Of 46,393 men in this class of occupations in the city (i.e; policemen, watchmen, agents, commercial travelers, bankers and brokers, bookkeepers, clerks and salesmen, and barkeepers) 327, or seven-tenths of 1 per cent were Negroes; if we add to this stewards, messengers, musicians, and clerks in government service, they form about 1 per cent of those in the city. Nearly all the clerks and salesmen are to be found in Negro stores, although there are a few exceptions.

 

CLERKS, SEMI PROFESSIONAL AND RESPONSIBLE WORKERS IN

PHILADELPHIA, 1890.

Occupation.

Total

Negroes

Watchmen, policemen, and detectives

4,113

62

Bartenders

1,683

32

Agents and collectors

5,049

38

Bankers, brokers, etc.

2,072

6

Bookkeepers, clerks, etc.

23,057

130

Salesmen

10,419

38

Total

46,393

326

There are about sixty colored policemen on the force at present, and the general impression seems to be that they make good average officers. They were first appointed to the police force by Mayor King in 1884. At first there was violent opposition, which would have been listened to had it not been for political complications. The Negro policemen are put on duty mostly in or near the chief Negro settlements and no one of them has yet been promoted from the ranks. The number of Negroes in government service is as follows:

 

Municipal departments

11

Custom House

1

Post-office

17

Navy yard

1

 

Beside these there are a number of messengers and ordinary laborers. In many cases these clerks have made very excellent records, as in the case of the discount clerk in the tax office, who has held his position for many years, and is perhaps the most efficient clerk in the office; or again the Negro postmaster and employee in the postoffice at Wanamaker's store who have been unusually successful in administrating the second largest sub-station in the city. In a few cases certain Negroes have received office through political influence and have been plainly unfitted for their work.

There are a few clerks in responsible positions--one employed by the Pennsylvania railway company, another in a bank. Such cases, however, are rare.

Laborers.--The great mass of the men and a large percentage of the women are manual laborers--i.e., teamsters, janitors, stevedores, hod-carriers, hostlers, elevator-men, sailors, china-packers and night-watchmen. Their wages are usually:

Teamsters $1 to $1.50 a day.
Janitors $30 to $60 a month.
Stevedores 20c. to 30c. an hour (irregular employment).
Hod-carriers $1.50 to $2.50 a day (employed according to season).
Hostlers $16 to $30 a month.
Elevator-men $16 to $25 a month.

 

Besides these there are the ordinary porters, errand boys, newsboys and day-laborers, whose earnings vary considerably, but usually are too small to support a family without much help from wife and children. Stevedores, hod-carriers and day-laborers are especially liable to irregular employment, which makes life hard for them sometimes. The mass of the men are, save in the lower grades, given average wages and meet their greatest difficulty in securing work. The competition in ordinary laboring work is severe in so crowded a city. The women day-laborers are, on the whole, poorly paid, and meet fierce competition in laundry work and cleaning.

The most noticeable thing about the Negro laborers as a whole is their uneven quality. There are some first-class, capable and willing workers, who have held their positions for years and give perfect satisfaction. On the other hand, there are numbers of inefficient and unintelligent laborers on whom employers cannot rely and who are below average American labor in ability. This unevenness arises from two causes: the different training of the various groups of Negroes composing the city population; some are the descendants of generations of free Negroes; some of trained house-servants, long in close contact with their masters' families; others are the sons of field-hands, untouched and untrained by contact with civilized institutions: all this vast difference in preparation shows vast differences in results. The second reason lies in the increased competition within the group, and the growing lack of incentive to good work, owing to the difficulty of escaping from manual toil into higher and better paid callings; the higher classes of white labor are continually beiug incorporated into the skilled trades, or clerical workers, or other higher grades of labor. Sometimes this happens with Negroes but not often. The first-class ditcher can seldom become foreman of a gang; the hod-carrier can seldom become a mason; the porter cannot have much hope of being a clerk, or the elevator-boy of becoming a salesman. Consequently we find the ranks of the laborers among Negroes filled to an unusual extent with disappointed men, with men who have lost the incentive to excel, and have become chronic grumblers and complainers, spreading this spirit further than it would naturally go. At the same time this shutting of the natural outlet for ability means an increase of competition for ordinary work.

Without doubt there is not in Philadelphia enough work of the kind that the mass of Negroes can and may do, to employ at fair wages the laborers who at present desire work. The result of this must, of course, be disastrous, and give rise to many loafers, criminals, and casual laborers. The situation is further complicated by the fact that in seasons when work is more plentiful, temporary immigrations from the South swell the number of laborers abnormally; every spring the tide of immigration sets in, consisting of brickmakers, teamsters, asphalt-workers, common laborers, etc., who work during the summer in the city and return to the cheaper living of Virginia and Maryland for the winter. This makes the competition in summer close for Philadelphians, and often brings actual distress in winter. A pressing duty is to see that the opportunities for work in the city are not misrepresented, and to relieve congestion in some avenues by opening others to Negro labor. Nor would this be a boon simply for Negroes: the excessive competition of Negroes in certain lines of work makes more suffering for their white competitors than if that competition were less intense in places and spread over a larger area. White hod-carriers and porters suffer greatly from competition, while other branches of labor are artificially protected--an economic injustice which might be remedied.

Another custom that works much harm to all classes and colors of laborers is the custom of working exclusively white or exclusively colored gangs of workmen. It is unjust to the Negro because it virtually closes the greater part of the field of labor against him, since his numbers are small compared with the population of the city, and it is harder for him to gather gangs than for the whites. It is, however, a fruitful cause of injustice to white laborers; for the contractor who gets a gang of Negroes to work, has a temptation to force down wages which he seldom resists or cares to resist. He knows that the standard of living of the Negroes is low, and their chances for employment limited. He therefore takes on a gang of Negroes, lowers wages, and then if whites wish to regain their places, they must accept the lower wages. The white laborers then blame the Negroes for bringing down wages--a charge with just enough truth in it to intensify existing prejudices. If laborers on ordinary jobs were hired regardless of color and according to efficiency, no doubt both white and black labor would gain, and the employer would not in the long run lose much.

Servants.--Probably over one-fourth of the domestic servants of Philadelphia are Negroes, and conversely nearly one-third of the Negroes in the city are servants. This makes the Negro a central problem in any careful study of domestic service, and domestic service a large part of the Negro problems. The matter thus is so important that it has been made the subject of a special study appended to this work. A few general considerations only will be advanced here.

So long as entrance into domestic service involves a loss of all social standing and consideration, so long will domestic service be a social problem. The problem may vary in character with different countries and times, but there will always be some maladjustment in social relations when any considerable part of a population is required to get its support in a manner which the other part despises, or affects to despise. In the United States the problem is complicated by the fact that for years domestic service was performed by slaves, and afterward, up till to-day, largely by black freedmen--thus adding a despised race to a despised calling. Even when white servants increased in number they were composed of white foreigners, with but a small proportion of native Americans. Thus by long experience the United States has come to associate domestic service with some inferiority in race or training.

The effect of this attitude on the character of the service rendered, and the relation of mistress and maid, has been only too evident, and has in late years engaged the attention of some students and many reformers. These have pointed out how necessary and worthy a work the domestic performs, or could perform, if properly trained; that the health, happiness and efficiency of thousands of homes, which are training the future leaders of the republic, depend largely on their domestic service. This is true, and yet the remedy for present ills is not clear until we recognize how far removed the present commercial method of hiring a servant in market is from that which obtained at the time when the daughters of the family, or of the neighbor's family, helped in the housework. In other words, the industrial revolution of the century has affected domestic service along with other sorts of labor, by separating employer and employed into distinct classes. With the Negro the effect of this was not apparent so long as slavery lasted; the house servant remained an integral part of the master's family, with rights and duties. When emancipation broke this relation there went forth to hire a number of trained black servants, who were welcomed South and North, they liked their work, they knew no other kind, they understood it, and they made ideal servants. In Philadelphia twenty or thirty years ago there were plenty of this class of Negro servants and a few are still left.

A generation has, however, greatly altered the face of affairs. There were in the city, in 1890, 42,795 servants, and of these 10,235 were Negroes. Who are these Negroes? No longer members of Virginia households trained for domestic work, but principally young people who were using domestic service as a stepping-stone to something else; who worked as servants simply because they could get nothing else to do; who had received no training in service because they never expected to make it their life-calling. They, in common with their white fellow citizens, despised domestic service as a relic of slavery, and they longed to get other work as their fathers had longed to be free. In getting other work, however, they were not successful, partly on account of lack of ability, partly on account of the strong race prejudice against them. Consequently to-day the ranks of Negro servants, and that means largely the ranks of domestic service in general in Philadelphia, have received all those whom the harsh competition of a great city has pushed down, all whom a relentless color proscription has turned back from other chosen vocations; half-trained teachers and poorly equipped students who have not succeeded; carpenters and masons who may not work at their trades; girls with common school training, eager for the hard work but respectable standing of shop girls and factory hands, and proscribed by their color--in fact, all those young people who, by natural evolution in the case of the whites, would have stepped a grade higher than their fathers and mothers in the social scale, have in the case of the post-bellum generation of Negroes been largely forced back into the great mass of the listless and incompetent to earn bread and butter by menial service.

And they resent it; they are often discontented and bitter, easily offended and without interest in their work. Their attitude and complaint increases the discontent of their fellows who have little ability, and probably could not rise in the world if they might. And, above all, both the disappointed and the incompetents are alike ignorant of domestic service in nearly all its branches, and in this respect are a great contrast to the older set of Negro servants.

Under such circumstances the first far-sighted movement would have been to open such avenues of work and employment to young Negroes that only those best fitted for domestic work would enter service. Of course this is difficult to do even for the whites, and yet it is still the boast of America that, within certain limits, talent can choose the best calling for its exercise. Not so with Negro youth. On the contrary, the field for exercising their talent and ambition is, broadly speaking, confined to the dining room, kitchen and street. If now competition had drained off the talented and aspiring into other avenues, and eased the competition in this one vocation, then there would have been room for a second movement, namely, for training schools, which would fit the mass of Negro and white domestic servants for their complicated and important duties. Such a twin movement--the diversification of Negro industry and the serious training of domestic servants--would do two things: it would take the ban from the calling of domestic service by ceasing to make "Negro" and "servant" synonymous terms. This would make it possible for both whites and blacks to enter more freely into service without a fatal and disheartening loss of self-respect; secondly, it would furnish trained servants--a sad necessity to-day, as any housekeeper can testify.

Such a movement did not, however, take place, but, on the contrary, another movement. English trained servants, the more docile Swedes and better paid white servants were brought in to displace Negro servants. One has but to notice the coachmen on the driveways, or the butlers on Rittenhouse Square, or the nursemaids in Fairmount Park, to see how largely white servants have displaced Negroes. How has this displacement been brought about? First, by getting better trained and more willing servants; secondly, by paying servants higher wages. The Swedish and American servants, in most cases, know more of domestic service than the post-bellum generation of Negroes, and certainly as a class they are far more reconciled to their lot. In the higher branches of domestic service--cooks, butlers and coachmen—the process has been to substitute a man at $50 to $75 a month for one at $30 to $40, and naturally again the result has been gratifying, because a better class of men are attracted by the wages; thus the waiters at the new large hotels are not merely white, but better paid, and undoubtedly ought to render better service. In these ways without doubt domestic service has in some respects improved in the city by a partial substitution of better trained, better paid and more contented white servants for poorly trained, discontented, and in the case of waiters, butlers and coachmen, poorly paid Negroes. Moreover, the substitution has not met with active opposition or economic resistance on the part of the Negroes, becanse fully one-half of those in domestic service would be only too glad to get other work of any kind.

What now has been the result of these economic changes? The result has undoubtedly been the increase of crime, pauperism and idleness among Negroes: because while they are being to some extent displaced as servants, no corresponding opening for employment in other lines has heen made. How long can such a process continue? How long can a community pursue such a contradictory economic policy-- first confining a large portion of its population to a pursuit which public opinion persists in looking down upon; then displacing them even there by better trained and better paid competitors. Manifestly such a course is bound to make that portion of the community a burden on the public; to debauch its women, pauperize its men, and ruin its homes; it makes 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 city--on 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.

Nor has the whole group failed in every case to answer this question: the foregoing statistics show how, slowly and under many discouragements, diversification of employments is taking place among the black population. This, however, is the brighter side and represents the efforts of that determined class among all people that surmount eventually nearly all obstacles. The spirit of the age however looks to-day not to the best and most energetic, but to those on the edge, those who will become effective members of society only when properly encouraged. The great mass of the Negroes naturally belong to this class and when we turn to the darker side of the picture and study the disease poverty and crime of the Negro population, then we realize that the question of employment for Negroes is the most pressing of the day and that the starting point is domestic service which still remains their peculiar province. First then as before said the object of social reform should be so to diversify Negro employments as to afford proper escape from menial employment for the talented few, and so as to allow the mass some choice in their lifework: this would be not only for the sake of Negro development, but for the sake of a great human industry which must continue to suffer as long as the odium of race is added to a disposition to look down upon the employment under any circumstances; the next movement ought to be to train servants--not toward servility and toadying, but in problems of health and hygiene, in proper cleaning and cooking, and in matters of etiquette and good form.

To this must be added such arousing of the public conscience as shall lead people to recognize more keenly than now the responsibility of the family toward its servants--to remember that they are constituent members of the family group and as such have rights and privileges as well as duties. To-day in Philadelphia the tendency is the other way. Thousands of servants no longer lodge where they work but are free at night to wander at will, to hire lodgings in suspicious houses, to consort with paramours, and thus to bring moral and physical disease to their place of work. A reform is imperatively needed, and here, as in most of the Negro problems, a proper reform will benefit white and black alike--the employer as well as the employed.

ENDNOTES:

6 This has been the case only in comparatively recent times.

7 Negroes also buy immense quantities of patent medicines, etc.

8 In Norfolk, Va., I once saw the advertisement on a street sign calling for colored "clerks, saleswomen, stenographers," etc., for Northern cities!

9 This total includes a large number of men and women who do some private catering, but for the most part work under other caterers; strictly a large part of them are waiters rather than caterers.

10 Mr. Stevens died in 1898--he was an honest, reliable, business man--of pleasant address, and universally respected. He was easily the successor of Dorsey, Jones and Minton in the catering business.

11 When the caterer Henry Jones died his funeral procession was actually turned back from the cemetery by the refusal of the authorities of Mt. Moriah Cemetery to allow him interment there; he has before his death bought and paid for a lot in the cemetery and the Supreme Court eventually confirmed his title. To-day this absurd prejudice is not so strong and Negroes own lots in the Episcopal Cemetery of St. James the Less and in perhaps one other.

12 The following clipping from the Philadelphia Ledger, November 2, 1896, illustrates a typical life:

"Robert Adger, a colored Abolitionist, died on Saturday, at his home, 835 South street. He was born a slave, in Charleston, S.C., in 1813. His mother, also born in New York, went to South Carolina about 1810, with some of her relatives, and while there was detained as a slave."

"When his master died, Mr. Adger, together with his mother and other members of the family, were sold at auction, but, through the assistance of friends, legal proceedings were instituted, and their release finally secured. Mr. Adger then came to this city about 1845, and secured a position as a waiter in the old Merchants' Hotel. Later he was employed as a nurse, and while working in that capacity, saved enough money to start in the furniture business on South street, above Eighth, which he continued to conduct with success until his death. Mr. Adger always took an active interest in the welfare of the people of his race."

13 One enterprising capitalist hires and sub-rents eight different houses with furnished apartments, paying $1944 annually in rent; he has a bicycle shop which brings $1000 a year for an expense of about $330. He also owns a barber shop which brings in about $1000 a year; one-half the gross receipts of this he pays to a foreman, who pays his journeymen barbers; the owner pays for rent and material. "If I had an education," he said, "I could get on better."

14 Several storekeepers have had white persons enter the store, look at the proprieters and say "Oh! I--er--made a mistake," and go out.

15 Here was a case where some persons sought to drive an enterprising and talented Negro out of business simply because he was colored. A Chestnut street property owner made a special effort to give him a start and now he conducts a business of which no merchant need be ashamed.

16 The large steel manufactory known as the "Midvale Steel Works" is located at Nicetown, near Germantown, in Philadelphia County. This establishment was visited by the writer, and the manager of the establishment interviewed as to the success of the experiment made by him in employing Negroes as workmen along with whites.

About 1200 men are employed altogether, and fully 200 of these are Negroes. About 40 per cent of the whole number of employes are American-born, but generally of Irish, English or German parentage. The remaining 43 per cent are foreign-born, chiefly English, Irish and German, with a few Swedes.

"Our object in putting Negroes on the force," said the manager, "was twofold. First, we believed them to be good workmen; secondly, we thought they could be used to get over one difficulty we had experienced at Midvale, namely, the clannish spirit of the workmen and a tendency to form cliques. In steel manufacture much of the work is done with large tools run by gangs of men; the work was crippled by the different foremen trying always to have the men in their gang all of their own nationality. The English foreman of a hammer gang, for instance, would want only Englisllmen, and the Irish Catholics only Irishmen. This was not good for the works, nor did it promote friendliness among the workmen. So we began bringing in Negroes and placing them on different gangs, and at the same time we distributed the other nationalities. Now our gangs have, say, one Negro, one or two Americans, an Englishman, etc. The result has been favorable both for the men and for the works. Things run smoothly, and the output is noticeably greater."

The manager was especially questioned about the grade of work done by Negroes and their efficiency as skilled workmen. He said: "They do all the grades of work done by the white workmen. Some of this work is of such a nature that it had been supposed that only very intelligent English and American workmen could be trusted with it. We have 100colored men doing that skilled work now, and they do it as well as any of the others."

As to wages, the manager said no discrimination was made between Negroes and whites. They start as laborers at $1.20 a day and "we try to treat them as individuals, not as a herd; they know that good work gives them a chance for better work and better pay. Thus their ambition is aroused; yesterday, for instance, four Negroes saved a furnace worth $30,000. The furnace was full of molten steel, which had become clogged, so that it could not be gotten out in the usual way. A number of powerful men were required to open the side of the furnace. Four colored men volunteered and saved the steel."

With regard to the relations between white and black workmen the manager said: "We have had no trouble at all. The unions generally hold potential strikes over their employers' heads to keep the Negro out of employment. There has, however, been no strike in this establishment for seventeen yeats, and Negroes have been employed for the last seven years."

Finally the manager declared that according to his belief the Negro workman does not have half a chance to show his ability. "He does good work and betters his condition when he has any inducement to do so."

Isabel Eaton.

 

From W.E.B. DuBois, The Philadelphia Negro. New York: Lippincott, 1899, Chapter VIII, pp. 111-141.


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