Duboistn.gif (3209 bytes) CHAPTERXV.

THE ENVIRONMENT OF THE NEGRO.

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44. Houses and Rent.--The inquiry of1848 returned quite full statistics of rents paid by the Negroes.l In the whole city at that date 4019 Negro families paid$199,665.46 in rent, or an average of $49.68 per family eachyear. Ten years earlier the average was $44 per family. Nothingbetter indicates the growth of the Negro population in numbersand power when we compare with this the figures for 1896 for oneward; in that year the Negroes of the Seventh Ward paid$25,699.50 each month in rent, or $308,034 a year, an average of$126.19 per annum for each family. This ward may have a somewhathigher proportion of renters than most other wards. At the lowestestimate, however, the Negroes of Philadelphia pay at least$1,250,000 in rent each year.2

The table of rents for 1848 is as follows (see page 288):

We see that in 1848 the average Negro family rented by themonth or quarter, and paid between four and five dollars permonth rent. The highest average rent for any section wasless than fifteen dollars a month. For such rents the poorestaccommodations were afforded, and we know from descriptions thatthe mass of Negroes had small and unhealthful homes, usually onthe back streets and alleys. The rents paid to-day in theSeventh Ward, according to the number of rooms, are tabulated onpage 289.

 

RENTS PAID BY NEGROES OF PHILADELPHIA, 1848

  City Spring
Garden
Northern
Liberties
South-
wark
Moyamensing West Philadelphia Total
Total rent paid annually $124,979.37 $8,697.06 $11,128.00 $11,924.15 $40,809.51 $2,127.37 $199,665.46
Number tenements rented by the year 4 4 5 7 18 12 50
Annual average rent paid for same $147.81 $125.00 $167.40 $148.43 $163.00 $66.60 . . .
Number tenements rented by the quarter 1131 35 73 79 210 19 1547
Annual average rent paid for same $58.80 $56.97 $58.41 $55.37 $67.23 $37.48 . . .
Number tenements rented by the month 1078 98 143 139 373 16 1847
Annual average rent paid for same $45.20 $46.68 $38.53 $38.78 $43.08 $32.78 . . .
Number tenements rented by the week 248 38 34 34 205 4 563
Annual average rent paid for same $36.47 $42.84 $30.00 $32.94 $35.47 $22.84 . . .
Number tenements rented by the night . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 . . . 12
Annual average rent paid for same . . . . . . . . . . . . $34.68 . . . . . .
Number persons whose rent is repaid by sub-tenants 6 1 . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Number who pay tax for rent . . . . . . 3 . . . . . . . . . 3
Rent free 2 1 1 . . . 1 . . . 5
Own their houses 88 23 38 28 44 20 241
Not reported 5 3 . . . . . . 3 . . . 11
Average annual rent per family . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $49.68
Same for 1837 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $44.00

 

 

Condensing this table somewhat we find that the Negroes payrent as follows:

Under $5 per month 490 families, or 21.9 per cent
$5 and under $10 643 " " 28.7 "
$10 " " $15 380 " " 17.0 "
$15 " " $20 252 " " 11.3 "
$20 " " $30 375 " " 17.0 "
$30 and over 95 " " 4.1 "

The lodging system so prevalent in the Seventh Ward makes somerents appear higher than the real facts warrant. This ward is inthe centre of the city, near the places of employment for themass of the people and near the centre of their social life;consequently people crowd here in great numbers. Young couplesjust married engage lodging in one or two rooms; families jointogether and hire one house; and numbers of families take insingle lodgers; thus the population of the ward is made up of

Families owning or renting their homes and living
alone
  738, or 31 per cent.
Families owning or renting their homes, who take
lodgers or sub-renters
  937, " 38 "
Families sub-renting under other families   766, " 31 "

Total individuals

7751   100 "

Total families

  2441  
Individuals lodging with families 1924    

Total individuals

9675    

 

The practice of sub-renting is found of course in all degrees:from the business of boarding-house keeper to the case of afamily which rents out its spare bed-chamber. In the first casethe rent is practically all repaid, and must in some cases beregarded as income; in the other cases a small fraction of therent is repaid and the real rent and the size of the homereduced. Let us endeavor to determine what proportion of therents of the Seventh Ward are repaid in sub-rents, omitting someboarding and lodging-houses where the sub-rent is really theincome of the housewife. In most cases the room-rent of lodgerscovers some return for the care of the room. The next table givesdetailed statistics:

 

It appears from this table that nearly $9000 is paid by thesub-renting families and lodgers to the renting families. A partof this ought to be subtracted from the total rent paid if wewould get at the net rent; just how much, however, shouldbe called wages for care of room, or other conveniences furnishedsub-renters, it is difficult to say. Possibly the net rent of theward is $20,000, and of the city about $1,000,000.4

The accommodations furnished for the rent paid must now beconsidered. The number of rooms occupied is the simplestmeasurement, but is not very satisfactory in this caseowing to the lodging system which makes it difficult to sayhow many rooms a family really occupies. A very largenumber of families of two and three rent a single bedroom andthese must be regarded as one-room tenants, and yet this rentingof a room often includes a limited use of a common kitchen; onthe other hand this sub-renting family cannot in justice becounted as belonging to the renting family. The figures are:

829 families live in 1 room, including families lodging, or 35.2 per cent.
104 " " " 2 rooms or 4.4 "
371 " " " 3 " or 15.7 "
170 " " " 4 " }12.7 "
127 " " " 5 "
754 " " " 6 " or more or 32.0 "

The number of families occupying one room is here exaggeratedas before shown by the lodging system; on the other hand thenumber occupying, six rooms and more is also somewhat exaggeratedby the fact that not all sub-rented rooms have been subtracted,althoughthis has been done as far as possible.

Of the 2441 families only 334 had access to bathrooms andwater-closets, or 13.7 per cent. Even these 334 families havepoor accommodations in most instances. Many share the use of onebathroom with one or more other families. The bath-tubs usuallyare not supplied with hot water and very often have nowater-connection at all. This condition is largely owing to thefact that the Seventh Ward belongs to the older part ofPhiladelphia, built when vaults in the yards were usedexclusively and bathrooms could not be given space in the smallhouses. This was not so unhealthful before the houses were thickand when there were large back yards. To-day, however, the backyards have been filled by tenement houses and the bad sanitaryresults are shown in the death rate of the ward.

Even the remaining yards are disappearing. Of the 1751families making returns, 932 had a private yard 12 X 12 feet, orlarger; 312 had a private yard smaller than 12 X 12 feet; 507 hadeither no yard at all or a yard and outhouse in common with theother denizens of the tenement or alley.

Of the latter only sixteen families had water-closets. So thatover 20 per cent and possibly 30 per cent of the Negro familiesof this ward lack some of the very elementary accommodationsnecessary to health and decency. And this too in spite of thefact that they are paying comparatively high rents. Here toothere comes another consideration, and that is the lack of publicurinals and water-closets in this ward and, in fact, throughoutPhiladelphia. The result is that the closets of tenements areused by the public. A couple of diagrams will illustrate this;the houses of older Philadelphia were built like this:

 

When, however, certain districts like the Seventh Ward becamecrowded and given over to tenants, the thirst for money-gettingled landlords in large numbers of cases to build up their backyards like this:

 

This is the origin of numbers of the blind alleys and darkholes which make some parts of the Fifth, Seventh and EighthWards notorious. The closets in such cases are sometimesdivided into compartments for different tenants, but in manycases not even this is done; and in all cases the alley closetbecomes a public resort for pedestrians and loafers. The backtenements thus formed rent usually for from $7 to $9 a month, andsometimes for more. They consist of three rooms one above theother, small, poorly lighted and poorly ventilated. Theinhabitants of the alley are at the mercy of its worst tenants;here policy shops abound, prostitutes ply their trade, andcriminals hide. Most of these houses have to get their water at ahydrant in the alley, and must store their fuel in the house.These tenement abominations of Philadelphia are perhaps betterthan the vast tenement houses of New York, but they are badenough, and cry for reform in housing.

The fairly comfortable working class live in houses of 3-6rooms, with water in the house, but seldom with a bath. A threeroom house on a small street rents from $10 Up; on Lombard streeta 5-8 room house can be rented for from $18 to $30 according tolocation. The great mass of comfortably situated working peoplelive in houses of 6-10 rooms, and sub-rent a part or takelodgers. A 5-7 room house on South Eighteenth street can be hadfor $20; on Florida street for $18; such houses have usually aparlor, dining room and kitchen on the first floor and two tofour bedrooms, of which one or two are apt to be rented to awaiter or coachman for $4 a month, or to a married couple at$6-10 a month. The more elaborate houses are on Lombard streetand its cross streets.

The rents paid by the Negroes are without doubt far abovetheir means and often from one-fourth to three-fourths of thetotal income of a family goes in rent. This leads to muchnon-payment of rent both intentional and unintentional, tofrequent shifting of homes, and above all to stinting thefamilies in many necessities of life in order to live inrespectable dwellings. Many a Negro family eats less than itought for the sake of living in a decent house.

Some of this waste of money in rent is sheer ignorance andcarelessness. The Negroes have an inherited distrust of banks andcompanies, and have long neglected to take part in Building andLoan Associations. Others are simply careless in the spending oftheir money and lack the shrewdness and business sense ofdifferently trained peoples. Ignorance and carelessness howeverwill not explain all or even the greater part of the problem ofrent among Negroes. There are three causes of even greaterimportance: these are the limited localities where Negroes mayrent, the peculiar connection of dwelling and occupationamong Negroes and the social organization of the Negro. Theundeniable fact that most Philadelphia white people prefer not tolive near Negroes 5 limits the Negro very seriously inhis choice of a home and especially in the choice of a cheaphome. Moreover, real estate agents knowing the limited supplyusually raise the rent a dollar or two for Negro tenants, if theydo not refuse them altogether. Again, the occupations which theNegro follows, and which at present he is compelled to follow,are of a sort that makes it necessary for him to live near thebest portions of the city; the mass of Negroes are in theeconomic world purveyors to the rich--working in private houses,in hotels, large stores, etc.6 In order to keep thiswork they must live near by; the laundress cannot bring herSpruce street family's clothes from the Thirtieth Ward, nor canthe waiter at the Continental Hotel lodge in Germantown. With themass of white workmen this same necessity of living near work,does not hinder them from getting cheap dwellings; the factory issurrounded by cheap cottages, the foundry by long rows of houses,and even the white clerk and shop girl can, on account of theirhours of labor, afford to live further out in the suburbs thanthe black porter who opens the store. Thus it is clear that thenature of the Negro's work compels him to crowd into the centreof the city much more than is the case with the mass of whiteworking people. At the same time this necessity is apt in somecases to be overestimated, and a few hours of sleep orconvenience serve to persuade a good many families to endurepoverty in the Seventh Ward when they might be comfortable in theTwenty-fourth Ward. Nevertheless much of the Negro problem inthis city finds adequate explanation when we reflect that hereis a people receiving a little lower wages than usual for lessdesirable work, and compelled, in order to do that work, to livein a little less pleasant quarters than most people, and pay forthem somewhat higher rents.

The final reason of the concentration of Negroes in certainlocalities is a social one and one peculiarly strong: the life ofthe Negroes of the city has for years centred in the SeventhWard; here are the old churches, St. Thomas, Bethel, Central,Shiloh and Wesley; here are the halls of the secret societies;here are the homesteads of old families. To a race sociallyostracised it means far more to move to remote parts of a city,than to those who will in any part of the city easily formcongenial acquaintances and new ties. The Negro who ventures awayfrom the mass of his people and their organized life, findshimself alone, shunned and taunted, stared at and madeuncomfortable; he can make few new friends, for his neighborshowever well-disposed would shrink to add a Negro to their listof acquaintances. Thus he remains far from friends and theconcentred social life of the church, and feels in all itsbitterness what it means to be a social outcast. Consequentlyemigration from the ward has gone in groups and centred itselfabout some church, and individual initiative is thus checked. Atthe same time color prejudice makes it difficult for groups tofind suitable places to move to-- one Negro family would betolerated where six would be objected to; thus we have here avery decisive hindrance to emigration to the suburbs.

It is not surprising that this situation leads to considerablecrowding in the homes, i. e., to the endeavor to get asmany people into the space hired as possible. It is this crowdingthat gives the casual observer many false notions as to the sizeof Negro families, since he often forgets that every otherhouse has its sub-renters and lodgers. It is however difficult tomeasure this crowding on account of this very lodging systemwhich makes it very often uncertain as to just the number ofrooms a given group of people occupy. In the following tabletherefore it is likely that the number of rooms given is somewhatgreater than is really the case and that consequentlythere is more crowding than is indicated. This error howevercould not be wholly eliminated under the circumstances; astudy of the table (page 298) shows that in the SeventhWard there are 9302 rooms occupied by 2401 families, an averageof 3.8 rooms to a family, and 1.04 individuals to a room. Adivision by rooms will better show where the crowding comes in.

 

 

Families occupying five rooms and less: 1648, total rooms perfamily, 2.17; total individuals per room, 1.53.

Families occupying three rooms and less: 1350, total rooms perfamily, 1.63; total individuals per room, 1.85.

The worst cases of crowding are as follows:

Two cases of 10 persons in 1 room.
One case of 9 " 1 "
Five cases of 7 " 1 "
Six cases of 6 " 1 "
Twenty-five cases of 5 persons in 1 room.
One case of 9 persons in 2 rooms.
One case of 16 " 3 "
One case of 13 " 3 "
One case of 11 " 3 "

 

As said before, this is probably something under the realtruth, although perhaps not greatly so. The figures showconsiderable overcrowding, but not nearly as much as is often thecase in other cities. This is largely due to the character ofPhiladelphia houses, which are small and low, and will not admitmany inmates. Five persons in one room of an ordinary tenementwould be almost suffocating. The large number of one-roomtenements with two persons should be noted. These 572 familiesare for the most part young or childless couples, sub-renting abedroom and working in the city.7

45. Sections and Wards.--The spread ofNegro population in the city during the nineteenth century isworth studying. In 1793,8 one-fourth of the blackinhabitants --or 538 persons--lived north of Market street andsouth of Vine, and were either in the homes of white families asservants, or in the alleys, as Shively's, Pewter Platter,Croomb's, Sugar, Cresson's, etc. Between Market and South livedone-half of the blacks, crowded in a region that centred at Sixthand Lombard: in Strawberry alley and lane, Elbow lane, Grey'salley, Shippen's alley, etc., besides in the families of thewhites on Walnut, Spruce, Pine, etc. The remaining fourth of thepopulation was in Southwark, south of South street, and in theNorthern Liberties, north of Vine. Details are given in the nexttable:

 

NUMBER AND DISTRIBUTION OF THE NEGROINHABITANTS OF
PHILADELPHIA IN 1793--OCTOBER TO DECEMBER.

(Taken from the census of the PlagueCommittee.)

 

BETWEEN MARKET AND VINE STREETS

Streets, etc. Negroes. Streets, etc. Negroes.
Market 63 Quarry 4
Water 31 Cherry alley 25
Front 40 South alley 1
Second 29 North alley 4
Third 37 Sugar alley 14
Fourth 42 Appletree alley 7
Fifth 24 Cresson's alley 10
Sixth 32 Shively's alley 11
Seventh 8 Pewter Platter alley 3
Eighth 13 Croomb's alley 5
Ninth 3 Baker's alley 7
Arch 56 Brooks' court 1
Race 38 Priest's alley 6
Vine (south side) 9 Says alley 6
New 3    
Church alley 2 Total 538

 

BETWEEN MARKET AND SOUTH STREETS.

Streets, etc. Negroes Streets, etc. Negroes
Water 12 Penn 11
Front 129 Chestnut 50
Second 116 Walnut 83
Third 66 Spruce 66
Fourth 81 Pine 31
Fifth 63 South (north side) 32
Sixth 37 Strawberry lane 4
Seventh 0 Strawberry alley 2
Eighth 16 Elbow lane 10
Ninth 0 Beetles' alley 5
Grey's alley 13 Willing's alley 1
Norris alley 4 Blackberry alley 2
Dock 5 Carpenter 7
Union 32 Gaskill 7
Cypress alley 1 Georges to South 5
Pear 5 Little Water 5
Lombard 57 Stamper's alley 8
Emslie's alley 6 Taylor's alley 1
Laurel court 1 York court 7
Shippen's alley 26    
    Total. 1007

 

NORTHERN LIBERTIES.

Streets, etc. Negroes. Streets, etc. Negroes.
Water 1 Green 6
Front 59 Coates 32
Second 41 Brown 15
Third 1 Cable lane 1
Fourth 3 St. John 6
Fifth 1 St. Tammany 2
Vine (north side) 18 Willow 1
Callowhill 10 Wood's alley 1
Noble, or Bloody lane 4 Crown 3
Artillery lane (or Duke) 26    
    Total 233

 

 

DISTRICT OF SOUTHWARK

Streets, etc. Negroes Streets, etc. Negroes
Swanson 22 Christian 6
South Penn 3 Queen 5
Front 15 Meade's alley 10
Second 22 German 3
Third 34 Plumb 5
Fifth 5 Moll Tuller's alley 4
Cedar court (south side) 19 George 8
Shippen 50 Ball alley 3
Almond 9 Crabtree alley 2
Catharine 33    
    Total 258

 

SUMMARY.

Between Market and Vine streets 538
Between Market and South streets 1007
North of Vine street 233
South of South street 258

Total

2036
Total inhabitants of county by census of 1790 2489

 

 

The changes from 1793 to 1838, nearly a half century, may thusbe shown:

Place

1793

1838

City 1545 75.0 % 8462 -- 60%
Northern Liberties 233 11.5 % 878 1744 15%
Kensington 359
Spring Garden 507
Southwark 258 13.5% 931 3385 25%
Moyamensing 2454

Total

2036

13,591 + 5000 servants

 

Thus we see in 1838 that the centre of Negro population hadgone southward toward Moyamensing. The Cedar, Locust, Newrnarket,Pine and South Wards, as they were then called, had the bulk ofthe population, and they corresponded approximately to theFourth, Fifth, Seventh and Eighth Wards of to-day.

Ten years later than this, in 1848,9 we have a moredetailed account of the distribution of the Negroes in thevarious sections of the city. They were mostly crowded intonarrow courts and alleys. The colored population north of Vineand east of Sixth streets consisted of 272 families with 1285persons. One hundred and one families of these (415 persons)lived on Apple street and its courts, and in Paschall's alley(now Lynd street). Apple street itself, including Hick's court,had 37 families, with 138 persons, living in 16 houses;Shotwell's row, on the same street, had 16 families with 65persons in 7 houses; the rooms were about 8 feet square.Paschall's alley contained 48 families with 212 persons, in 28houses; one house had 7 families, 33 persons, living in 13 rooms,8 feet square. The rent of the whole house was $266 per year;"yet all of them [i. e., these families] havecomfortable beds and bedding."

About a third of the total Negro population of Moyamensing(the district "south of Cedar street and west of Passyunkroad") was crowded into the space between Fifth and Eighthstreets, and South and Fitzwater; for instance:

 

  Families   Families
Shippen street 55 Black Horse alley 5
Bedford street 63 Hutton's court 9
Small street 73 Yeager's court 9
Baker street 21 Dickerson's court. 5
Seventh and South streets 14 Britton's court 5
Spafford street 16 Cryder's court 4
Freytag's alley 9 Sherman's court. 13
Prosperous alley 11    
   

Total

302

 

"It is in this district and in the adjoining portion ofthe city, especially Mary street and its vicinity, that the greatdestitution and wretchedness exist." The personal propertyof 176 of the above 302 families is returned as $603.50, or $3.43per family; 15 families (42 persons) on Small street (Alaskastreet) above Sixth, have their whole property valued at $7. Mostof these Negroes were rag-pickers, and 29 out of 42 families werenot natives of the State. Mary street and its courts had 80families, with 281 persons living in 35 houses. Some wereindustrious and temperate, but there was "much surroundingmisery." In Gile's alley (from Cedar to Lombard street) were42 families, 147 persons, in 20 houses. Eighty-three of thesepersons were not natives of the State, and 13 of the familiesreceived public charity. A description of this district in 1847is interesting:

"The vicinity of the place we sought was pointed out by alarge number of colored people congregated on the neighboringpavements. We first inspected the rooms, yards and cellars of thefour or five houses next above Baker street on Seventh. Thecellars were wretchedly dark, damp and dirty, and were generallyrented for twelve and a half cents per night. These are occupiedby one or more families at the present time, but in the winterseason when the frost drives those who in summer sleep abroad infields, in boardyards and in sheds, to seek more effectual shelter,they often contain from twelve to twenty lodgers per night.Commencing at the back of each house are small woodenbuildings roughly put together, about six feet square, withoutwindows or fireplaces, a hole about a foot square being left infront along side of the door to let in fresh air and light, andto let out foul air and smoke. These desolate pens, the roofs ofwhich are generally leaky, and their floors so low that more orless water comes in on them from the yard in rainy weather, wouldnot give comfortable winter accommodations to a cow. Although asdismal as dirt, damp and insufficient ventilation can make them,they are nearly all inhabited. In one of the first we entered, wefound the dead body of a large Negro man who had died suddenlythere. This pen was about eight feet deep by six wide. There wasno bedding in it, but a box or two around the sides furnishedplaces where two colored persons, one said to be the wife of thedeceased, were lying either drunk or fast asleep. The body of thedead man was on the wet floor beneath an old torn coverlet."10

In 1853 asimilar description of the crime, filth and poverty of thisdistrict shows us that the present slums do not compare withthose in misfortune and depravity.11 Much of thispoverty and degradation could in 1847be laid at the door of the new immigrants, andalthough some of the immigrants were in good circumstances, yetin general most of the poverty was found where most of theimmigrants were. The immigrants formed the following percentagesof the total population in 1847:

City 47.7 per cent
Moyamensing 46.3 "
Southwark 35.9 "
West Philadelphia 34.3 "
Spring Garden 31.4 "
Northern Liberties 14.2 "

 

The historic centre of Negro settlement in the city can thusbe seen to be at Sixth and Lombard. From this point it movednorth, as is indicated for instance by the establishment of ZoarChurch in 1794. Immigrationof foreigners and the rise of industries, however, early began toturn it back and it found outlet in the alleys of Southwark andMoyamensing. For a while about 1840it was bottled up here, but finally it began to move west. Afew early left the mass and settled in West Philadelphia; therest began a slow steady movement along Lombard street. Theinflux of 1876 andthereafter sent the wave across Broad street to a new centre atSeventeenth and Lombard. There it divided into two streams; onewent north and joined remnants of the old settlers in theNorthern Liberties and Spring Garden. The other went south to theTwenty-sixth, Thirtieth and Thirty-sixth Wards. Meantime the newimmigrants poured in at Seventh and Lombard, while Sixth andLombard down to the Delaware was deserted to the Jews, andMoyamensing partially to the Italians. The Irish were pushed onbeyond Eighteenth to the Schuylkill, or emigrated to the mills ofKensington and elsewhere. The course may be thus graphicallyrepresented (see page 306):

 

This migration explains much that is paradoxical about Negroslums, especially their present remnant at Seventh and Lombard.Many people wonder that the mission and reformatory agencies atwork there for so many y ears have so little to show by way ofresults. One answer is that this work has new materialcontinually to work upon, while the best classes move to the westand leave the dregs behind. The parents and grandparents of someof the best families of Philadelphia Negroes were born in theneighborhood of Sixth and Lombard at a time when all Negroes,good, bad and indifferent, were confined to that and a few otherlocalities. With the greater freedom of domicile which has sincecome, these slum districts have sent a stream of emigrantswestward. There has, too, been a general movement from the alleysto the streets and from the back to the front streets. Moreoverit is untrue that the slums of Seventh and Lombard have notgreatly changed in character; compared with 1840, 1850 or even1870 these slums are much improved in every way. More and moreevery year the unfortunate and poor are being sifted out from thevicious and criminal and sent to better quarters.

And yet with all the obvious improvement, there are stillslums and dangerous slums left. Of the Fifth Ward and adjoiningparts of the Seventh, a city health inspector says:

"Few of the houses are underdrained, and if the closetshave sewer connections the people are too careless to keep themin order. The streets and alleys are strewn with garbage,excepting immediately after the visit of the street cleaner.Penetrate into one of these houses and beyond into the back yard,if there is one (frequently there is not), and there will befound a pile of ashes, garbage and filth, the accumulation of thewinter, perhaps of the whole year. In such heaps of refuse whatdisease germ may be breeding ?" 12

To take a typical case:

"Gillis' Alley, famed in the Police Court, is a narrowalley, extending from Lombard street through to South street,above Fifth street, cobbled and without sewer connections. Housesand stables are mixed promiscuously. Buildings are of frame andof brick. No. -- looks both outside and in like a SouthernNegro's cabin. In this miserable place four colored families havetheir homes. The aggregate rent demanded is $22 a month, thoughthe owner seldom receives the full rent. For three small darkrooms in the rear of another house in this alley, the tenantspay, and have paid for thirteen years, $11 a month. The entranceis by a court not over two feet wide. Except at midday the sundoes not shine in the small open space in the rear that answersfor a yard. It is safe to say that not one house in this alleycould pass an inspection without being condemned as prejudicialto health. But if they are so condemned and cleaned, with suchinhabitants how long will they remain clean?" 13

Some of the present characteristics of the chief alleys whereNegroes live are given in the following table:

 

  Govett's
Court
Hines'
Court
Allen's
Court
Horstman's
Court
Lombard
Row
Turner's
Court
Alley off
Carver
Street
McCann's
Court
Cross
Alley
General Character Poor Poor Very Poor Squalid Fair Wretched Fair Poor Bad
Width, in feet 3 3-6 6 12 9 3 12 12 12
Paved with Bricks Bricks Bricks Bricks Bricks Bricks Bricks Bricks Asphalt
Character of dwelling Poor Back Yard Tenements Back Yard Tenements Back Yard Tenements Fair Old Wooden Houses Old Brick Tenements Old Brick Tenements Wood and Brick
Number of Stories in Houses 3 3 3 2 and 3 3 1 to 3 3 2 to 3 2 to 3
Inhabitants All Negroes All Negroes All Negroes All Negroes Negroes and Jews All Negroes Jews and Negroes All Negroes Jews and Negroes
Cleanliness, etc. Fair Fair Dirty Dirty Fair Fair Fair Fair Dirty
Width of Sidewalk. . .feet 4 5 6 None None None None None None
Lighted by No Lights No Lights No Lights 1 Gas Lamp 1 Gas Lamp 1 Gas Lamp 1 Gas Lamp 1 Gas Lamp No Lights
Privies in Common or Private Common 2 for whole Alley 1/2 for each House 5 in open Court Private Common Common Common Common
Remarks   Emigrants from 5th Ward slums Poor and Doubtful Characters Very Poor People Respectable Homes mingled with Gamblers and Prostitutes Many Empty Houses; Poor and Doubtful People "Blind" Alley; Fairly Respectable Poor People and some Questionable Some Bad Characters

 

The general characteristics and distribution of the Negropopulation at present in the different wards can only beindicated in general terms. The wards with the best Negropopulation are parts of the Seventh, Twenty-sixth, Thirtieth andThirty-sixth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Twenty-fourth,Twenty-seventh and Twenty-ninth. The worst Negro population isfound in parts of the Seventh, and in the Fourth, Fifth andEighth. In the other wards either the classes are mixed or thereare very few colored people. The tendency of the best migrationto-day is toward the Twenty-sixth, Thirtieth and Thirty- sixthWards, and West Philadelphia.

46. Social Classes and Amusements.--Notwithstandingthe large influence of the physical environment of home and ward,nevertheless there is a far mightier influence to mold and makethe citizen, and that is the social atmosphere which surroundshim: first his daily companionship, the thoughts and whims of hisclass; then his recreations and amusements; finally thesurrounding world of American civilization, which the Negro meetsespecially in his economic life. Let us take up here the subjectof social classes and amusements among Negroes, reserving for thenext chapter a study of the contact of the Whites and Blacks.

There is always a strong tendency on the part of the communityto consider the Negroes as composing one practically homogeneousmass. This view has of course a certain justification: the peopleof Negro descent in this land have had a common history, sufferto-day common disabilities, and contribute to one general set ofsocial problems. And yet if the foregoing statistics haveemphasized any one fact it is that wide variations inantecedents, wealth, intelligence and general efficiency havealready been differentiated within this group. These differencesare not, to be sure, so great or so patent as those among thewhites of to-day, and yet they undoubtedly equal the differenceamong the masses of the people in certain sections of the landfifty or one hundred years ago; and there is no surer way ofmisunderstanding the Negro or being misunderstood by him than byignoring manifest differences of condition and power in the40,000 black people of Philadelphia.

And yet well-meaning people continually do this. They regalethe thugs and whoremongers and gamblers of Seventh and Lombardstreets with congratulations on what the Negroes have done in aquarter century, and pity for their disabilities; and they scoldthe caterers of Addison street for the pickpockets and paupers ofthe race. A judge of the city courts, who for years has daily meta throng of lazy and debased Negro criminals, comes from thebench to talk to the Negroes about their criminals: he warns themfirst of all to leave the slums and either forgets or does notknow that the fathers of the audience he is speaking to, left theslums when he was a boy and that the people before him are asdistinctly differentiated from the criminals he has met, ashonest laborers anywhere differ from thieves.

Nothing more exasperates the better class of Negroes than thistendency to ignore utterly their existence. The law-abiding,hard-working inhabitants of the Thirtieth Ward are aroused torighteous indignation when they see that the word Negro carriesmost Philadelphians' minds to the alleys of the Fifth Wardor the police courts. Since so much misunderstanding orrather forgetfulness and carelessness on this point is common,let us endeavor to try and fix with some definiteness thedifferent social classes which are clearly enough defined amongNegroes to deserve attention. When the statistics of the familiesof the Seventh Ward were gathered, each family was put in one offour grades as follows:

Grade 1. Families of undoubted respectability eamingsufficient income to live well; not engaged in menial service ofany kind; the wife engaged in no occupation save that ofhouse-wife, except in a few cases where she had specialemployment at home. The children not compelled to bebread-winners, but found in school; the family living in awell-kept home.

Grade 2. The respectable working-class; incomfortable circumstances, with a good home, and having steadyremunerative work. The younger children in school.

Grade 3. The poor; persons not earning enough to keepthem at all times above want; honest, although not alwaysenergetic or thrifty, and with no touch of gross immorality orcrime. Including the very poor, and the poor.

Grade 4. The lowest class of criminals, prostitutes andloafers; the "submerged tenth."

Thus we have in these four grades the criminals, the poor, thelaborers, and the well-to-do.14 The last classrepresents the ordinary middle-class folk of most moderncountries, and contains the germs of other social classes whichthe Negro has not yet clearly differentiated. Let us begin firstwith the fourth class.

The criminals and gamblers are to be found at such centres asSeventh and Lombard streets, Seventeenth and Lombard, Twelfth andKater, Eighteenth and Naudain, etc. Many people have failed tonotice the significant change which has come over these slums inrecent years; the squalor and misery and dumb suffering of 1840has passed, and in its place have come more baffling andsinister phenomena: shrewd laziness, shameless lewdness,cunning crime. The loafers who line the curbs in these places areno fools, but sharp, wily men who often outwit both the PoliceDepartment and the Department of Charities. Their nucleusconsists of a class of professional criminals, who do not work,figure in the rogues' galleries of a half-dozen cities, andmigrate here and there. About these are a set of gamblers andsharpers who seldom are caught in serious crime, but whonevertheless live from its proceeds and aid and abet it. Theheadquarters of all these are usually the political clubs andpool-rooms; they stand ready to entrap the unwary and tempt theweak. Their organization, tacit or recognized, is very effective,and no one can long watch their actions without seeing that theykeep in close touch with the authorities in some way. Affairswill be gliding on lazily some summer afternoon at the corner ofSeventh and Lombard streets; a few loafers on the corners, aprostitute here and there, and the Jew and Italian plying theirtrades. Suddenly there is an oath, a sharp altercation, a blow;then a hurried rush of feet, the silent door of a neighboringclub closes, and when the policeman arrives only the victim liesbleeding on the sidewalk; or at midnight the drowsy quiet will besuddenly broken by the cries and quarreling of a half-drunkengambling table; then comes the sharp, quick crack of pistolshots--a scurrying in the darkness, and only the wounded man liesawaiting the patrol-wagon. If the matter turns out seriously, thepolice know where in Minster street and Middle alley to look forthe aggressor; often they find him, but sometimes not.15

The size of the more desperate class of criminals and theirshrewd abettors is of course comparatively small, but it is largeenough to characterize the slum districts. Around this centralbody lies a large crowd of satellites and feeders: young idlersattracted by excitement, shiftless and lazy ne'er-do-wells, whohave sunk from better things, and a rough crowd of pleasureseekers and libertines. These are the fellows who figure in thepolice courts for larceny and fighting, and drift thus intograver crime or shrewder dissoluteness. They are usually far moreignorant than their leaders, and rapidly die out from disease andexcess. Proper measures for rescue and reform might save many ofthis class. Usually they are not natives of the city, butimmigrants who have wandered from the small towns of the South toRichmond and Washington and thence to Philadelphia. Theirenvironment in this city makes it easier for them to live bycrime or the results of crime than by work, and being withoutambition--or perhaps having lost ambition and grown bitter wit:hthe world--they drift with the stream.

One large element of these slums, a class we have barelymentioned, are the prostitutes. It is difficult to get at anysatisfactory data concerning such a class, but an attempt hasbeen made. There were in 1896 fifty-three Negro women in theSeventh Ward known on pretty satisfactory evidence to besupported wholly or largely by the proceeds of prostitution; andit is probable that this is not half the real number;16 thesefifty-three were of the following ages:

14 to 19 2
20 to 24 11
25 to 29 9
30 to 39 17
40 to 49 3
50 and over 2
Unknown 9

Total

53

 

Seven of these women had small children with them and hadprobably been betrayed, and had then turned to this sort of life.There were fourteen recognized bawdy houses in the ward; ten ofthem were private dwellings where prostitutes lived and were notespecially fitted up, although male visitors frequented them.Four of the houses were regularly fitted up, with elaboratefurniture, and in one or two cases had young and beautiful girlson exhibition. All of these latter were seven-or eight-roomhouses for which $26 to $30 a month was paid. They are prettywell-known resorts, but are not disturbed. In the slums thelowest class of street walkers abound and ply their trade amongNegroes, Italians and Americans. One can see men following theminto alleys in broad daylight. They usually have male associateswhom they support and who join them in "badger"thieving. Most of them are grown women though a few cases ofgirls under sixteen have been seen on the street.

This fairly characterizes the lowest class of Negroes.According to the inquiry in the Seventh Ward at least 138families were estimated as belonging to this class out of 2395reported, or 5.8 per cent. This would include between five andsix hundred individuals. Perhaps this number reaches 1000 if thefacts were known, but the evidence at hand furnishes only thenumber stated. In the whole city the number may reach 3000,although there is little data for an estimate.17

The next class are the poor and unfortunate and the casuallaborers; most of these are of the class of Negroes who in thecontact with the life of a great city have failed to find anassured place. They include immigrants who cannot get steadywork; good-natured, but unreliable and shiftless persons whocannot keep work or spend their earnings thoughtfully; those whohave suffered accident and misfortune; the maimed and defectiveclasses, and the sick; many widows and orphans and desertedwives; all these form a large class and are here considered. Itis of course very difficult to separate the lowest of this classfrom the one below, and probably many are included here who, ifthe truth were known, ought to be classed lower. In most cases,however, they have been given the benefit of the doubt. Thelowest ones of this class usually live in the slums and backstreets, and next door, or in the same house often, withcriminals and lewd women. Ignorant and easily influenced, theyreadily go with the tide and now rise to industry and decency,now fall to crime. Others of this class get on fairly well ingood times, but never get far ahead. They are the ones whoearliest feel the weight of hard times and their latest blight.Some correspond to the "worthy poor" of most charitableorganizations, and some fall a little below that class. Thechildren of this class are the feeders of the criminal classes.Often in the same family one can find respectable and strivingparents weighed down by idle, impudent sons and waywarddaughters. This is partly because of poverty, more because of thepoor home life. In the Seventh Ward 30 1/2 per cent of thefamilies or 728 may be put into this class, including the verypoor, the poor and those who manage just to make ends meet ingood times. In the whole city perhaps ten to twelve thousandNegroes fall in this third social grade.

Above these come the representative Negroes; the mass of theservant class, the porters and waiters, and the best of thelaborers. They are hard-working people, proverbiallygood-natured; lacking a little in foresight and forehandedness,and in "push." They are honest and faithful, offair and improving morals, and beginning to accumulate property.The great drawback to this class is lack of congenial occupationespecially among the young men and women, and theconsequent wide-spread dissatisfaction and complaint. As aclass these persons are ambitious; the majority can read andwrite, many have a common school training, and all are anxious torise in the world. Their wages are low compared withcorresponding classes of white workmen, their rents are high, andthe field of advancement opened to them is very limited. The bestexpression of the life of this group is the Negro church, wheretheir social life centres, and where they discuss their situationand prospects.

A note of disappointment and discouragement is often heard atthese discussions and their work suffers from a growing lack ofinterest in it. Most of them are probably best fitted for thework they are doing, but a large percentage deserve better waysto display their talent, and better remuneration. The whole classdeserves credit for its bold advance in the midst ofdiscouragements, and for the distinct moral improvement in theirfamily life during the last quarter century. These persons form56 per cent or 1,252 of the families of the Seventh Ward, andinclude perhaps 25,000 of the Negroes of the city. They live in5-10-room houses, and usually have lodgers. The houses are alwayswell furnished with neat parlors and some musical instrument.Sunday dinners and small parties, together with churchactivities, make up their social intercourse. Their chief troubleis in finding suitable careers for their growing children.

Finally we come to the 277 families, 11.5 per cent of those ofthe Seventh Ward, and including perhaps 3,000 Negroes in thecity, who form the aristocracy of the Negro population ineducation, wealth and general social efficiency. In many respectsit is right and proper to judge a people by its best classesrather than by its worst classes or middle ranks. The highestclass of any group represents its possibilities rather than itsexceptions, as is so often assumed in regard to the Negro. Thecolored people are seldom judged by their best classes, and oftenthe very existence of classes among them is ignored. This ispartly due in the North to the anomalous position of those whocompose this class: they are not the leaders or the ideal-makersof their own group in thought, work, or morals. They teach themasses to a very small extent, mingle with them but little, donot largely hire their labor. Instead then of social strong tiesof mutual interest we have in the case of the Negroes, classeswho have much to keep them apart, and only community of blood andcolor prejudice to bind them together. If the Negroes were bythemselves either a strong aristocratic system or a dictatorshipwould for the present prevail. With, however, democracythus prematurely thrust upon them, the first impulse of the best,the wisest and richest is to segregate themselves from the mass.This action, however, causes more of dislike and jealousy on thepart of the masses than usual, because those masses look to thewhites for ideals and largely for leadership. It is naturaltherefore that even to-day the mass of Negroes should look uponthe worshipers at St. Thomas' and Central as feeling themselvesabove them, and should dislike them for it. On the other hand itis just as natural for the well-educated and well-to-do Negroesto feel themselves far above the criminals and prostitutes ofSeventh and Lombard streets, and even above the servant girls andporters of the middle class of workers. So far they arejustified; but they make their mistake in failing to recognizethat, however laudable an ambition to rise may be, the firstduty of an upper class is to serve the lowest classes. Thearistocracies of all peoples have been slow in learning this andperhaps the Negro is no slower than the rest, but hispeculiar situation demands that in his case this lesson belearned sooner. Naturally the uncertain economic status even ofthis picked class makes it difficult for them to spare much timeand energy in social reform; compared with their fellows they arerich, but compared with white Americans they are poor, and theycan hardly furfill their duty as the leaders of the Negroes untilthey are captains of industry over their people as well as richerand wiser. To-day the professional class among them is, comparedwith other callings, rather over-represented, and all have astruggle to maintain the position they have won.

This class is itself an answer to the question of the abilityof the Negro to assimilate American culture. It is a class smallin numbers and not sharply differentiated from other classes,although sufficiently so to be easily recognized. Its members arenot to be met with in the ordinary assemblages of the Negroes,nor in their usual promenading places. They are largelyPhiladelphia born, and being descended from the house-servantclass, contain many mulattoes. In their assemblies there areevidences of good breeding and taste, so that a foreigner wouldhardly think of ex-slaves. They are not to be sure people of wideculture and their mental horizon is as limited as that of thefirst families in a country town. Here and there may be noted,too, some faint trace of careless moral training. On the wholethey strike one as sensible, good folks. Their conversation turnson the gossip of similar circles among the Negroes of Washington,Boston and New York; on questions of the day, and, lesswillingly, on the situation of the Negro. Strangers secureentrance to this circle with difficulty and only by introduction.For an ordinary white person it would be almost impossible tosecure introduction even by a friend. Once in a while somewell-known citizen meets a company of this class, but it is hardfor the average white American to lay aside his patronizing waytoward a Negro, and to talk of aught to him but the Negroquestion; the lack, therefore, of common ground even forconversation makes such meetings rather stiff and not oftenrepeated. Fifty-two of these families keep servants regularly;they live in well-appointed homes, which give evidence of tasteand even luxury.18

Something must be said, before leaving this subject, of theamusements of the Negroes. Among the fourth grade and the third,gambling, excursions, balls and cake-walks are the chiefamusements. The gambling instinct is widespread, as in alllow classes, and, together with sexual looseness, is theirgreatest vice; it is carried on in clubs, in private houses, inpool-rooms and on the street. Public gambling can be found at adozen different places every night at full tilt in the SeventhWard, and almost any stranger can gain easy access. Games of purechance are preferred to those of skill, and in the larger clubs asort of three-card monte is the favorite game, played with adealer who gambles against all comers. In private houses in theslums, cards, beer and prostitutes can always be found. In thepublic pool-rooms there is some quiet gambling and playing forprizes. For the new comer to the city the only open places ofamusement are these pool-rooms and gambling clubs; here arecrowds of young fellows, and once started in this company no onecan say where they may not end.

The most innocent amusements of this class are the balls andcake-walks, although they are accompanied by much drinking, andare attended by white and black prostitutes.The cake-walk is arhythmic promenade or slow dance, and when well done is prettyand quite innocent. Excursions are frequent in summer, and areaccompanied often by much fighting and drinking.

The mass of the laboring Negroes get their amusement inconnection with the churches. There are suppers, fairs, concerts,socials and the like. Dancing is forbidden by most of thechurches, and many of the stricter sort would not think of goingto balls or theatres. The younger set, however, dance, althoughthe parents seldom accompany them, and the hours kept are late,making it often a dissipation. Secret societies and social clubsadd to these amusements by balls and suppers, and there arenumbers of parties at private houses. This class also patronizesfrequent excursions given by churches and Sunday schools andsecret societies; they are usually well conducted, but cost agreat deal more than is necessary. The money wasted in excursionsabove what would be necessary for a day's outing and plenty ofrecreation, would foot up many thousand dollars in a season.

In the upper class alone has the home begun to be the centreof recreation and amusement. There are always to be found partiesand small receptions, and gatherings at the invitations ofmusical or social clubs. One large ball each year is usuallygiven, which is strictly private. Guests from out of town aregiven much social attention.

Among nearly all classes of Negroes there is a largeunsatisfied demand for amusement. Large numbers of servant girlsand young men have flocked to the city, have no homes, and wantplaces to frequent. The churches supply this need partially, butthe institution which will supply this want better and addinstruction and diversion, will save many girls from ruinand boys from crime. There is to-day little done in placesof public amusement to protect colored girls fromdesigning men. Many of the idlers and rascals of the slums playon the affections of silly servant girls, and either ruin them orlead them into crime, or more often live on a part oftheir wages. There are many cases of this latter system to be metin the Seventh Ward.

It is difficult to measure amusements in any enlightening way.A count of the amusements reported by the Tribune, thechief colored paper, which reports for a select part of thelaboring class, and the upper class, resulted as follows fornine weeks:19

Parties at homes in honor of visitors 16
" " homes 11
" " " with dancing 10
Balls in halls 10
Concerts in churches 7
Church suppers, etc 7
Weddings 7
Birthday parties 7
Lectures and literary entertainments at churches 6
Card parties 4
Fairs at churches 3
Lawn parties and picnics 3
  91

 

These, of course, are the larger parties in the whole city,and do not include the numerous small church socials andgatherings. The proportions here are largely accidental, butthe list is instructive.

 

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ENDNOTES:

1 "Condition," etc., 1848, p. 16.

2 Not taking into account sub-rent repaid bysub-tenants; subtracting this and the sum would be, perhaps,$1,000,000--see infra, p. 291. That paid by singlelodgers ought not, of course, to be subtracted as it has not beenadded in.

3 The returns as as to rents paid are among themost reliable of the statistics gathered. The amount of rent isalways well known, and there are few motives for deception.Moreover in Philadelphia there is a tendency to build rows andstreets of houses with the same general design. These rent forthe same sum, and thus particular instances of false report areeasily detected. One feature of the returns must be noted, i. e,the large number of cases where high rents are paid for one- andtwo-room tenements. In nearly all of these cases this rent ispaid for large front bedrooms in good localities, and oftenincludes furniture. Sometimes a limited use of the family kitchenis also included. In such cases it is misleading to call theseone-room tenemeuts No other arraugement however, seemed practicalin these tables.

4 Here, again, the proportion paid by singlelodgers must not be subtracted as it has not been added inbefore.

5 The sentiment has greatly lessened in intensityduring the last two decades, but it is still strong; cf. section47.

6 At the same time, from long custom and fromcompetition, their wages for this work are not high.

7 One room under such circumstances may not by anymeans denote excessive poverty or indecency; the room is usuallyrented in a good locality and is well furnished. Cf. note 3.

8 During the plague of that year a census of theinhabitants remaining in the city was taken. Five-sixths of theNegroes remained, so the census gives a good idea of thedistribution of the Negro population. The results are publishedin the report printed afterward by order of Councils.

9 The figures for 1838 and 1848 are from theinquiries of those dates; cf. census of 1840.

10 "Condition of Negroes," 1848, pp.34-41.

11 Mysteries and Miseries of Philadelphia."(Pamphlet.)

12 Dr. Frances Van Gasken in a tract published bythe Civic Club.

13 Ibid.

14 It will be noted that this classificationdiffers materially from the economic division in Chapter XI. Inthat case grade four and a part of three appear as the"poor;" grade two and the rest of grade three, as the"fair to comfortable;" and a few of grade two and gradeone as the well-to-do. The basis of division there was almostentirely according to income; this division brings in moralconsiderations and questions of expenditure, and consequentlyreflects more largely the personal judgment of the investigator.

15 The investigator resided at the CollegeSettlement, Seventh and Lombard streets, some months, and thushad an opportunity to observe this slum carefully.

16 These figures were taken during the inquiry bythe visitor to the houses.

17 This includes not simply the actual criminalclass, but its aiders and abettors, and the class intimatelyassociated with it. It would, for instance, include much morethan Charles Booth's class A in London.

18 A comparison of the size of families in thehighest and lowest class may be of interest:

Number in Family First Grade Fourth Grade
One 22 8% 17 12%
Two 66 24% 58 42%
Three 54 19% 27 20%
Four 48 33% 21 24%
Five 25 6
Six 18 6
Seven 20 12% 2 2%
Eight 7 0
Nine 5 1
Ten 7 4% 0 0%
Eleven 0 0
Twelve or more 5 0

Total

277   138  

 

Average size of family, first grade, 4.07%; fourth grade,2.08%.

This certainly looks like the survival of the fittest, and ishardly an argument for the extinction of the civilized Negro.

19 These weeks were not consecutive but taken atrandom.

 

 

From W.E.B. DuBois, The PhiladelphiaNegro. New York: Lippincott, 1899, Chapter XV, pp. 287-321.


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