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Starting Points: Historical Statistics on African Americans

Every once in a while we get clusters of questions where the same sources are used.  A few months ago two different researchers came to the Business Reference desk looking for statistics on African Americans from 1870 through the first decades of the 20th century.  Historical statistics no matter the topic, can often be a challenge, but statistics on African Americans can be even harder.

Population counts for slaves and free persons of color prior to the Civil War are easier because of congressional apportionment and can be found in regular Census publications.  However, other than population counts, statistics on free persons of color before the war or for African Americans after the Civil War are a bit harder.  For anyone else who might be interested, here are just a few useful sources:

  • Historical Statistics of Black America. This is a two volume set that covers a lot of different types of data.  Volume one has various statistics on: agriculture, business and economics, crime and law enforcement/legal justice, education, family, health/disabilities and health care, housing, income and spending/wealth, and labor and employment.  The statistics in volume two cover: media, military and military affairs, miscellaneous (includes: attitudes, values, behavior, philanthropy, progress, etc.), politics and elections, population, professions, religion, slavery and the slave trade, sports and leisure, and vital statistics.
  • The Negro Farmer in the United States. This title is part of the 15th Census of the United States from 1930 and its Census of Agriculture.  Most of the data only covers 1920 and 1930.

    W.E.B. (William Edward Burghardt) Du Bois, 1868-1963

    W.E.B. (William Edward Burghardt) Du Bois, 1868-1963. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a53178

  • Negroes in the United States.  There are two items by this title published in different years, one published in 1915 (Bulletin 129) and one in 1904 (Bulletin 8).  The 1904 edition included data from different years including: population (distribution, proportion, and increase) as well as sex, age, birthplace, illiteracy, conjugal condition, breadwinners, leading occupations, vital statistics, and farming (tenant, farm owner, tenure). One interesting note on this title that a patron brought to my attention, is that the section on “Negro farmers” was prepared by W. E. B. DuBois who was then a professor of economics and history at Atlanta University.  The 1915 edition had data based on the 1910 Decennial Census and covered the same basic area with a few interesting charts.  The population section had basic age, sex, illiteracy, marital condition, and home ownership charts, but also included one on urban versus rural populations and another on the center of Negro population and inability to speak English. The religious bodies section charts covered geographical distribution while agriculture charts covered basic farm information with an emphasis on the South specifically.  The charts on occupations even covered people age 10 and up and the mortality charts covered the basic causes but also included one chart on effect of home ownership on death rates.
  • Negroes in the United States, 1920-32 / prepared under the supervision of Z.R. Pettet, Chief Statistician for Agriculture, by Charles E. Hall, Specialist in Negro Statistics. Included are sections on: population and growth, geographic distribution and increase, nativity, urbanization, the “black belt,” sex and age distribution, marital conditions, fertility, school attendance and illiteracy, families, occupations, vital statistics (births, infant mortality, mortality), retail business, religious bodies, prisoners, and agriculture.
  • Bulletin of the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.  This is sometimes known as the Labor Bulletin and is a great source for all sorts of statistics on working people.  While there are statistics on strikes, injuries, and working conditions, there are often detailed statistics on occupations.  There are a number that are specific to African Americans most often employment situation reports. It is quite helpful however to have an index before starting.

Of course, there are many other publications and resources for those researching African American History if you want to search our catalog.

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