Black Folk and Birth Control: William Edward Burghardt Du Bois
June 1932 Edition: XVI, No 6
Birth Control Review
A Negro Number
The American Negro has been going through a period of stress, not only in the present depression, but long before it. His income is reduced by ignorance and prejudice and his former tradition of marriage and large families have put grave strain on a budget on which he was seeking, not merely to maintain, but to improve his standard of living.
As slaves, every incentive was furnished to raise the largest number of children possible. The chief surplus crop of Virginia and other border states consisted of this natural increase of slaves and it was realized in the consequent slave trade to feed the lower South and Southwest. Frederick Bancroft has recently shown us that this trade, in the decade 1850-60, involved average annual sales of nearly 80,000 human beings, representing $100,000,000 dollars of capital.
Even then birth control was exercised by the more intelligent slaves, as we know from many reminiscences.
After emancipation, there arose the inevitable clash of ideals between those Negroes who were striving to improve their economic position and those whose religious faith made the limitation of children a sin. The result, among the more intelligent class, was a postponement of marriage which greatly decreased the number of children. Today, among this class of Negroes, few men marry before thirty, and numbers of them after forty. The marriage of women of this class has similarly been postponed.
In addition to this, the lower income which Negroes receive, make bachelorhood and spinsterhood widespread, with the naturally resultant lowering, in some cases, of sex standards. On the other hand, the mass of ignorant Negroes still breed carelessly and disastrously, so that the increase among Negroes, even more than the increase among whites, is from that part of the population least intelligent and fit, and least able to rear their children properly.
There comes, therefore, the difficult and insistent problem of spreading among Negroes an intelligent and clearly recognized concept of birth control, so that the young people can marry, have companionship and natural health and yet not have children until they are able to take care of them. This, of course, requires in the first place a revision of the general laws, and in the second place, it calls for a more liberal attitude among Negro churches. The churches are open, for the most part, to intelligent propaganda of any sort, and the American Birth Control League and other agencies ought to get their speakers before church congregations and their arguments in the Negro newspapers. As it is, the mass of Negroes know almost nothing about the Birth Control Movement, and even intelligent colored people have a good many miss-apprehensions and a good deal of fear at openly learning about it. Like most people with middle-class standards of morality, they think that birth control in inherently immoral.
Moreover, they are quite led away by the fallacy of numbers. They want the black race to survive. They are cheered by a census return of increasing numbers and a high rate of increase. They must learn that among races and groups, as among vegetables, quality and not mere quantity counts.
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois
(Feb. 23, 1868 - Aug. 27, 1963)
One of the Original Founders of the Niagara Movement
Member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
Founding Member of the NYC Chapter of Kappa Boule' (Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, Inc.)
1959 Lenin Peace Prize Winner
Became a Citizen of Ghana, West Africa in 1963