W. E. B. Du Bois, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Study of Black Life

Today’s blog was written by Mary Kate Eckles, summer intern at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland and a liberal arts student at St. John’s College

W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963) was one of the leading academics on black life in the United States. He was a historian, sociologist, educator and the first African American to receive a Ph. D. from Harvard University. Du Bois was known for his progressive works on black life, which included The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (1899) and Souls of Black Folks (1903).

In 1884, Carroll D. Wright, a statistician, became the Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. He planned to perform a large scale study on the working conditions of African Americans and wanted the assistance of Du Bois, who was known for his work on black life and the struggles of African Americans. The RG 257 Copies of Letters Sent 1889-1906 (NAID 7216243) series contains correspondences between Commissioners Wright and Charles P. Neill with Du Bois concerning various possible studies on black life at the turn of the twentieth century.

Under Wright, the Bureau of Labor Statistics published nine researched studies on the work and life of African Americans. When Du Bois first started working with the Bureau, he proposed several studies to Wright. Only one was accepted and received funding upon completion. The first study was the “The Negroes of Farmville, Virginia: A Social Study” (1898), which became the model for many of the Bureau’s black studies to follow. By 1901, when the first correspondences in the series were written, the Bureau had published seven different studies on the working conditions and lives of African Americans. Du Bois also contributed two other studies to the Bureau. These were “The Negro in the Black Belt: Some Social Sketches” (1899) and “The Negro Landholder of Georgia” (1901).

In 1905, Commissioner Wright retired and was replaced by Charles P. Neill, who was less inclined to see the need for studies on the working conditions of African Americans. After some delay, Neill gave $1,250 to Du Bois for his final study, which included a complete canvass of the 6,000 families in Lowndes County. By 1906, Du Bois requested assistance for the extension of his study to include white laborers in Lowndes County. Neill sent him two agents from the Bureau to help with the research. By the end of the correspondences, the study on Lowndes County is incomplete. It is, however, finished in 1907, and sent to the Bureau where it was not published, but rather destroyed for being too controversial. Du Bois was disgusted by this move and discontinued his association with the Bureau. Under Commissioner Neill, the Bureau did not publish another study on the working conditions and lives of African Americans.

Posted in RG 257 Records of the Bureau of Labor Statistics | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Record of the Week: Bayard Rustin, Civil Rights and Gay Rights Activist

In Celebration of LGBT Pride Month

The post was written by Dr. Tina Ligon, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland

Bayard Rustin was a believer in non-violence, a socialist, a civil rights organizer, and an openly gay black man. He was born on March 17, 1912 in West Chester, Pennsylvania and raised by his maternal grandparents, who exposed him to the Quaker Religion and civil rights activities and organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Rustin attended Wilberforce University in Ohio and Cheyney State Teachers College in Pennsylvania. He was involved with several student organizations, including the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.

This portrait of Bayard Rustin was taken on April 5, 1968 during a meeting between civil rights leaders and President Lyndon B. Johnson after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Serial #: A6015-23)

This portrait of Bayard Rustin was taken on April 5, 1968 during a meeting between civil rights leaders and President Lyndon B. Johnson after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Serial #: A6015-23)

Rustin played a major role in the civil rights and equality movements of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. He was active in the Young Communist League, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Rustin was instrumental in organizing, coordinating, and marketing the 1963 March on Washington, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech.

In 1944, Rustin was sentenced to three years in federal prison for failing to report for the physical examination under the Selective Service Act during World War II. Rustin, who strongly believed in nonviolence, was a conscientious objector against the war. The Bureau of Federal Prisons, RG 129, Notorious Offenders Files, 1919-1975 (NAID 580698) contains records related to Rustin’s time in Ashland Federal Correctional Institute in Kentucky. The file unit Rustin, Bayard (NAID 18558235) relates to his various activities in federal prison. Included in the file unit are letters and telegrams sent by fellow activists and religious mentor A. J. Muste. The file unit also contains allegations of homosexual behavior, defiance, and attempts to organize other inmates around the issues of  racial discrimination and segregation, as seen in the many disciplinary reports filed by prison officials.

Bayard Rustin passed away on August 24, 1987. He received numerous awards and accolades for his work in the civil rights and gay communities. Some of these honors include several buildings and LGBT organizations named after him. Rustin was posthumously given honorary membership in Delta Phi Upsilon, a fraternity for gay and bisexual men of color and in 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Other file units and items at the National Archives and Presidential Libraries related to Bayard Rustin include:

  • Focus on Bayard Rustin (NAID 2812560) from the series Sound Recordings of Historical Radio Broadcasts, World War II Government Documentaries, and Popular Radio Shows, 1906-1993 (NAID 1487762)
  • Rustin, Bayard (NAID 6095297) from the series Janet McMahon’s Newspaper Columnist Files, 1977-1981 (NAID 6094325)
  • Black Photographs- Martin Luther King, Sr., Coretta Scott King and Bayard Rustin (NAID 6119543) from the series Marc Henderson’s Subject Files, 1977-1981 (NAID 609638)
  • Chicago, [Illinois] – 157-717-Sub A-v.4 [Classification – Civil Unrest] — Bayard Rustin (NAID 5575056) from the series Classification 157 (Civil Unrest) Case Files, 1957-1978 (NAID 1487609)
  • Schoolhouse: Bayard Rustin (NAID 107741) from the series Audio Recordings of the “Forum” Radio Program, 1940-1982 (NAID 106531)

On Thursday, June 25, 2015, the Stonewall Employee Affinity Group and the Afro-American History Society at the National Archives will show the film Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin at 11:30 am in Lecture Room D at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

Posted in Civil Rights, Record of the Week, RG 129 Bureau of Federal Prisons | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sold for the Benefit of the Captors

Today’s blog was written by genealogist Renée K. Carl


As a genealogist with a background in cultural anthropology, I relish the research project that allows me to put information about a family into the context of the times. When a genealogist in Canada put out a call for assistance on a project regarding his ancestor’s role in the War of 1812, I took up the challenge, as he wanted to know who his ancestor was with, what he was doing, where and when events happened, in other words, anything and everything I could find.

The War of 1812 was, in many ways, a naval war. Many ships were captured by both sides, and the United States and Great Britain both employed the use of privateers to expand the reach of their navies. The warring countries also had to create a system with which to hold and exchange the many prisoners that resulted from the capture of vessels. Men, known as agents, worked in various port cities to secure the release and exchange of prisoners. The system needed careful record-keeping to track prisoner exchange, which eventually resulted in a document that is located in the Registers of British Prisoners of War, 1812–1815 (NAID 1807650) series, from Record Group 45 Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library.

The researcher in Canada asked me to find the names of all the 25 men aboard a British-flagged merchant vessel captured by the US Navy. The prisoner registers are in two volumes, with the first volume much larger than the second. Entries are mostly in alphabetical order, but only by the first letter of the surname. The entries are not in date order, and there are entries also placed in an appendix, plus a continuation of the appendix as entries for some letters in volume two. Looking for a man’s name means checking through many handwritten lines, and to be thorough, reviewing nearly every page in both volumes. At the back of volume one, I came across a most curious, unbound, folded piece of a paper.

“Preserve these sheets they may be wanted” signed by J Beerce and then lower down on the page, and upside down, “List of Slaves not Entd in General List” (NAID 1807650)

“Preserve these sheets they may be wanted” signed by J Beerce and then lower down on the page, and upside down, “List of Slaves not Entd in General List” (NAID 1807650)

I unfolded the paper, and a list of 47 men appeared, some marked as slave, and some marked Negro. There are eight columns on the page, untitled, but they seem to follow the pattern elsewhere in the register: name, description of person, vessel on which they were captured, vessel by which they were captured, date of capture, where captured, where they were held, and finally, the date of what happened to them next, and what happened.

For example, James Baptiste, Seaman of the Sloop Searcher, captured by the Schooner Rapid in June 1813 off the coast of Belize. He was taken to New Orleans and on 29 July 1813, “Sold for the Benefit of the Captors.” Seven men were also sold on 29 July 1813 in New Orleans: James Baptiste, Thomas Clarke, Bristol Clarke, Sharper Forbes, Ranter Forbes, Thomas Forbes and Prince William Henry.

“Sold for the Benefit of the Captors”: that would be to benefit the war effort, to benefit the United States. The fate of others was “Sold by Order of the District Court.” Some died. And for some men, the information is blank, unknown. (NAID 1807650)

“Sold for the Benefit of the Captors”: that would be to benefit the war effort, to benefit the United States. The fate of others was “Sold by Order of the District Court.” Some died. And for some men, the information is blank, unknown. (NAID 1807650)

Upon careful examination, it seems that this sheet might have once been bound in the volume, but time had made the paper brittle and it was now loose. There were several other, similar sheets also in the back of volume one, but still bound. There remained one essential difference between the sheets: the slaves listed on the other sheets specifically mentioned that they had been delivered back to an agent.

Slaves to agent cropped (NAID 1807650)

Slaves to agent cropped (NAID 1807650)

So many questions. Who was J Beerce? What drove his decision to save this document? On that list of 47 men, why were some men marked Black, others Negro? How was it determined that some men were slaves? Were these men slaves from British colonies in the Caribbean? Were they escaped American slaves? How was it determined that certain men would be sold? And to whom were they sold and could their fate be traced?

As the list of questions in my mind grew, I took a deep breath at this research project that I didn’t know existed, but that I couldn’t pass up. I also realized that I needed to stop thinking like a genealogist and start think like an archivist, and think about the documents in the context of the Archives and the record group in which they were found.

End page prisoner tally detail (NAID 1807650)

End page prisoner tally detail (NAID 1807650)

The two volume register is almost certainly a copy of other lists. On the last page of volume one the same Mr. Beerce stated “This catelogue [sic] of British Prisoners of War has been completed as far as I could find materials in the office.” Signed, 9 May 1818. That would account for the semi-alphabetical order, and lack of date order. It might also explain why some letters of the alphabet ran over to the second volume. That the register is a copy quite likely explains the 47 men on a separate list at the end.

New questions arise: from what material did Mr. Beerce make the list? Who was Mr. Beerce? In what office did he work? Could any of those papers still exist? Would they have more information on these men? If so, where would I find the papers at the Archives?


[This blog is the first in a series as Renée Carl explores and shares her research on this document]

Posted in Genealogy, Personal Experience, RG 45 Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library, Slavery and the Slave Trade | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Record of the Week: Master Charles Michael Lee, A Patriot

This post was written by Netisha Currie, Archives Specialist at the National Archives at College Park.


“Master Charles Michael Lee, A Patriot” August, 1941. Local ID: 111-SC-121857


Sometimes, instead of digging through boxes to find an interesting record, a record will find you. While walking through the offices of the Still Pictures branch in College Park, I saw an enlarged print on the wall of this little boy smiling at me.

This photo was taken in August of 1941 of Charles Michael Lee, aged 3, in the photographic laboratory at the Signal Corps office in Baltimore, Maryland. This is one of the many photos collected from official and unofficial sources for the Signal Corps in the series Photographs of American Military Activities, 1918-1981 (NAID 530707, Local Identifier: 111-SC). The caption for the photograph states: “Smart as a whip and neat as a pin, little Charlie’s personality should carry him far.”

What might have become of little Charlie’s life? Some of the landmark documents from the National Archives provide insight as to what he faced growing up in the 20th century United States:

  • He was born at a time when military segregation would soon come to an end under Executive Order 9981 in 1948
  • The Brown v. Board of Education decision would help to desegregate schools, probably while he was in high school
  • Well into being eligible to vote, the Voting Rights Act would pass in 1965 – outlawing discriminatory and unfair practices that inhibited many persons of color from voting
  • He would also be in the prime of his life during the most active years of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, and might have witnessed the Baltimore Riots in 1968.

Looking ahead, as the National Archives continues to preserve and protect the permanent records of the federal government, I wonder what documents and records will match up with the life of a 3 year old kid whose picture is taken in 2015.

For more records and photographic series relating to African Americans in the military, please check out the following resources:

Posted in Photographs, Record of the Week, RG 111 Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, World War II | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Accidents, Injuries and Deaths in the Canal Zone, 1884–1999

Written by Patrice Brown, Archivist (Special Assistant) in the Evaluation and Special Projects Division, National Declassification Center at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland

This is the second in a series of blogs that relates to Panama Canal records. This blog focuses on death records and how the records can be used to perform genealogical or labor history research concerning living and working conditions in the Canal Zone. The records date from 1884–1999 and relate to accidents, injuries and deaths that occurred in the Canal Zone. The records can assist in documenting a variety of events such as whether a relative worked for the Panama Canal. Genealogical information can be obtained from the records relating to an individual’s name, age, marital status, and country of origin. In addition, illnesses and causes of injuries listed in the records can indicate the living and working conditions in the Canal Zone.

From the series Photographs of the Construction of the Panama Canal (NAID 535444), photo number 185-G-1198

From the series Photographs of the Construction of the Panama Canal (NAID 535444), photo number 185-G-1198

The earliest death records in our custody are the Certificates of Death [French], 1884–1894 (NAID 7387390), which contains information relating to deaths that occurred during French construction in the Canal Zone. In addition to this series, researchers might want to also consult the General Records of the French Canal Companies, 1904–1914 (NAID 1012543), particularly File # 14-C-X1, which relates to construction work, acquisition of land, and labor and personnel problems. The majority of the workers were French, but there were several employees from other countries, including Haiti, Martinique, Colombia, and England.

From the series Photographs of the Construction of the Panama Canal (NAID 535444), photo number 185-G-131

From the series Photographs of the Construction of the Panama Canal (NAID 535444), photo number 185-G-131

In several instances the death records document the deaths of Canal employees as well as members of their families, sailors docking at Zone ports, passengers on steamships, and residents of the Canal Zone. Record of Deaths, 1905–1949 (NAID 7387658) and Death Certificate Cards, 1907–1915 (NAID 7408557) capture this type of information. These series include information on males, females, and children from various countries including Jamaica, Panama, the United States, England, and Spain.

From the series Photographs of the Construction of the Panama Canal (NAID 535444), photo number 185-G-1197

From the series Photographs of the Construction of the Panama Canal (NAID 535444), photo number 185-G-1197

Another substantive series that is similar to the previously records is the Gorgas Hospital Mortuary Records, 1906–1999 (NAID 7694678). The records relate to individuals who died in the Gorgas Hospital, which was used to treat patents for malaria and yellow fever. These records cover the largest time span and relate to a specific hospital in the Canal Zone. These records can be searched in the Access to Archival Databases (AAD).

From the series Photographs of the Construction of the Panama Canal (NAID 535444), photo number 185-G-1194

From the series Photographs of the Construction of the Panama Canal (NAID 535444), photo number 185-G-1194

In addition to records in the custody of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) concerning accidents and deaths in the Canal Zone, we also have records relating to accidents and deaths that occurred on Steamships. The Panama Canal Company was an adjunct to the Canal Zone operation. The Company owned a steamship line that was responsible for transporting provisions and passengers between New York, the Canal Zone and South American ports of call. Most of these records have information on the deceased, such as their name, age, nationality, and cause of death.

These steamship records cover employees and to a small extent non-employees. The employees include workers such as seamen, waiters, and cooks. The passengers included Canal employees returning to the Canal Zone from vacation to the United States and families or individuals traveling to Panama or the Canal Zone.

Please note that most of these records concerning accidents, injuries or deaths in the Canal Zone or on steamships are fragmentary and does not cover all deaths. The Department of State, Consular Section has a more complete set of records for deaths occurring in the Canal Zone.

The series related to steamships include Personal Injury Registry Books, 1906–1914 (NAID 7542695), Index to Panama Railroad Relocation Injury Claims, 1914–1951 (NAID 7542845), Personal Payroll Injuries Index Book, 1911–1912 (NAID 7542768), Records Relating to Employee’s Accidents, Sickness or Disability, 1919–1951 (NAID 7822663), Employee’s Accidents, Sickness or Disability, 1951–1960 (NAID 7822689), Injury Report Files, 1952–1960 (NAID 7822682), Reports Relating to Deaths on Steamers, 1949–1960 (NAID 7822683). These series add insight into life on board ships for workers and travelers, as well as document a relative’s service for the Panama Canal.

From the series Photographs of the Construction of the Panama Canal (NAID 535444), photo number 185-G-136

From the series Photographs of the Construction of the Panama Canal (NAID 535444), photo number 185-G-136

All of the records discussed in this blog can provide useful information concerning the lives of those living on the Canal Zone. The information provided ranges from genealogical to social and labor topics. These topics are of interest to many researchers and these records may prove valuable to their hunt for historical information.

Posted in Genealogy, RG 185 Records of the Panama Canal | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Record of the Week: African-American Comics During World War II

This post was submitted by Ray Bottorff, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park. Ray is also a comic books enthusiast, so we present this record of the week in celebration of Awesome Con, happening this weekend in Washington, DC.

From the series General Records, 1942–July 1943 (NAID 12126610) in RG 44

George J. Hecht, President of the Parents’ Institute, a publishing company, contacted the Division of Education Services of the Office of War Information (OWI) about printing comic books aimed at African Americans in order to include and encourage their participation in the war efforts.

Along with the letters, Hecht sent in examples of his work, including tear sheets from a biographical story of  Marian Anderson, which highlighted Anderson’s rising fame and generosity towards American servicemen.

Another set of tear sheets includes a biographical story on Joe Louis.

Posted in African American Women, Education, Record of the Week, RG 44 Office of Government Reports, World War II | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Prince Edward County Free School Association

Today’s blog was written by Emanuel Riley, graduating senior at the University of Maryland and Archives Technician at the National Archives at College Park

On October 17, 1963, William J. vanden Heuvel, then special assistant to President John F. Kennedy, delivered a speech to the students and faculty of Hampden-Sidney College in Prince Edward County, Virginia. By the time, vanden Heuvel delivered the speech he had become quite familiar with Prince Edward County; the county that held the title as the only county in America to close the doors of its public school system amid federal orders to desegregate its school system.

The file unit LL 2-3 Desegregation: Prince Edward Co. (NAID 18515150) located in the Office Files, 1928–1980 (NAID 573507) series in RG 12 Records of the Office of Education contains documentation from the desegregation, and subsequent mass closings, of the Prince Edward County school system. The legal case for the desegregation of the Prince Edwards County school system would become one of the five court cases that would become Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the landmark Supreme Court case in which laws establishing segregated schools were deemed to be unconstitutional.

The events leading up to the closing of the school system occurred as the war of attrition on school desegregation was occurring, led by lead counsel at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Thurgood Marshall. Marshall and the NAACP saw the Prince Edward School System as an ideal case to challenge the constitutionality of public school segregation and overturn the doctrine of Separate but Equal established by Plessy v. Ferguson more than 50 years prior. Following several lower court decisions seeking to delay the effective date of school desegregation, the U.S. Supreme Court, on June 26, 1959, denied the Prince Edward School Board’s request for further delay of the desegregation mandate. The school board responded by shutting the doors to all of its public schools in the summer of 1959.

At the start of the 1959–60 school year, the county’s white children were provided education through the Prince Edward School Foundation, a nonprofit school foundation that provided elementary and secondary education. Several local and state agencies, including the Virginia Teachers’ Association and the Prince Edward County Christian Association, arranged to provide black children with the opportunity to receive an education in non-public facilities in the county and in surrounding areas. But, less than 200 of the county’s 1,700 black children were able to attend school under such arrangements. Most of the county’s 1,700 black children were not provided a public education between 1959 and 1964.   In 1963, Michigan State University conducted a study on black and white students in Prince Edward County. Below is a sampling of the results of the study.

The Prince Edward Free School Association was established to serve the children who could not receive an education under the alternative forms of schooling established following the closing of the public school system. The Free School Association began from an initiative started by President John Kennedy, following a petition started by citizens of the county demanding public education for students of all races. On its opening day, the Prince Edward Free School Association provided schooling to 1,550 black children in the county.

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“I’m a Blues Man, but I’m a Good Man”: B. B. King and the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Today’s tribute was written by Dr. Tina Ligon, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland

“The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you.” ~ B. B. King


B. B. King, blues legend and one of the greatest guitarists in music history, transitioned last week. With hits such as “The Thrill is Gone” (1969), “To Know You is to Love You” (1973), “Never Make a Move Too Soon” (1978), and “Midnight Believer” (1978), B. B. King defined music in America and around the world. His talents influenced countless other artists, including Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and the Rolling Stones. B. B. King loved to tour and interact with audiences by telling short stories about loves and loves lost, between songs.

Riley B. King was born on a plantation near the town of Itta Bena, Mississippi on September 16, 1925. As a child, he sang in local gospel choirs and at age 12, purchased his first guitar for $15.00. King made his way to Memphis, Tennessee where in 1948 he got his big break – performing on the Sonny Boy Williamson radio show on KWEM. His performance led to short 10-minute segments on the black-staffed radio station WDIA. The popularity of the segments prompted King to adopt a catchy radio name. He started using Beale Street Blues Boy, then shorten it to Blues Boy King, and eventually decided on B. B. King. In 1949, B. B. King started recording his songs and touring across the country. At a performance in Twist, Arkansas, two male patrons got into a fight that caused a fire. B. B. King barely escaped the club with his Gibson guitar. After learning that the fight was over a woman named Lucille, B. B. King decided to name his guitar after her, as a reminder to never fight over a woman.

B. B. King and President George W. Bush (NAID 7431369)

President George W. Bush Presents Riley “B. B.” King with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House (NAID 7431369)

In 2006, B. B. King received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush. The honor is bestowed to those who have contributed to the national interest of the United States, through actions of world peace, culture, and other significant public endeavors. An image from the ceremony is included in the series Photographs Related to the George W. Bush Administration (NAID 5962237). B. B. King was honored for his contribution to American music and making a place for the blues within mainstream genres.


Posted in Collections, Music, Photographs, Tribute | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

A Special Memorandum from 1933: “Social Adjustment of Negroes in the United States”

Today’s blog was written by Blossom Ojukwu, undergraduate education major at the University of Maryland, College Park

In the series Historical Files (NAID 566333) in RG 12 Records of the Office of Education is a special memorandum titled “The Social Adjustment of Negroes in the United States.” The document was submitted to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt by the National Urban League (NUL) for Social Service among African Americans. The primary author, Eugene Kinckle Jones, Executive Secretary of the NUL, stated that the contents within the memorandum were objectively written summaries of important facts pertaining to the conditions and welfare of African Americans across the country. Jones respectfully adds “Too often when steps are taken to ameliorate social conditions Negroes are not given equitable consideration,” in order to encourage President Roosevelt to vigorously take into account the matters disclosed in this memorandum because it will assuredly further the welfare of the American people as a whole under his administration.

This memorandum was written by the National Urban League for Social Service among Negroes (headquartered in New York City) and presented to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on April 15, 1933. (NAID 566333)

This memorandum was written by the National Urban League for Social Service among Negroes (headquartered in New York City) and presented to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on April 15, 1933. (NAID 566333)

The memorandum contains twelve sections regarding the economic, social, educational, and health status of African Americans from 1900 to 1930. This blog will summarize the sections entitled: “The Population”, “Occupational Status”, “Education”, and “Recreation and Leisure.”

The Population

The African-American population in the North and Mid-West increased more than any other time in prerecorded history between the years 1920 and 1930 according to the NUL’s memorandum. This rapid increase was the result of the migration of African Americans from the South to the North. The main reason African Americans began to migrate to the North was due to urbanization. There was a growing need for workers in the industrial labor market because of a decrease in immigration due to World War I. In addition, many African Americans wanted to flee the Jim Crow South and racial violence associated with the region. Hence, the growth of the African-American population in cities such as New York, NY; Chicago, IL; Philadelphia, PA; Baltimore, MD; Washington D. C.; Detroit, MI; and St. Louis, MO increased by 13.6 percent.

Occupational Status

The memorandum also stated that African Americans have contributed more labor per capita to the development of the United States. In 1930, African Americans made up 11.3 percent of the countries workforce, in spite of the fact that African Americans only made up 9.2 percent of the total population. In terms of women workers approximately one-fourth of all women fifteen years or older where employed, of that proportion 50 percent of them where African-American women. The ratio of employed married African-American women was three times greater than that of all women. In terms of child labor 240,000 of 667,000 employed children were African American. Child labor amongst African Americans was five times higher than that of any other racial group. In terms of agriculture this memorandum described African-American farmers as America’s principal peasant. African-American farmers owned and operated 30 percent of southern farms yet had to perform a great part of the hired labor and made very little profit.

After World War I, African Americans replaced immigrant labor in industrial jobs. Subsequently, allowing African Americans to rise to skilled and semi-skilled jobs. Unfortunately, this transition propelled numerous unfavorable obstacles for African Americans whom aspired to climb the industrial ladder. This memorandum summarizes these obstacles as:

  1. Living in the tradition of slavery
  2. Frequently, regardless of skill, African Americans were forced to begin at the bottom and seldom did their promotions follow the usual procedure.
  3. When there was prosperity and plenty of work, the opportunities were always at the bottom. In times of unemployment, the pressures on the “bottom” positions drove African Americans out of the industry.
  4. There were traditions of employment-“deadlines”- that limited the employment of African Americans.
  5. Labor unions limited their membership strictly to white citizens.
Cover page of

Cover page of “Fundamentals in the Education of Negroes” compiled and edited by Ambrose Caliver, Senior Specialist in the Education of Negroes in 1935.


The NUL’s memorandum stated that public school education for African-American children in the 1930s was a whole generation behind the public school education of white children. The expenditure per African-American child in 1928 was $8.86, which was a fourth of the expenditure made for white children. In some districts in the South, public schools for African Americans did not receive the amount paid in school taxes. Additionally, African-American schools were thirty days shorter than white schools, and African-American school teachers were paid three times less than white teachers. Transportation for African-American children to and from school was extremely negligible to say the least. Over 350,000 while students and less than 2,000 African-American students were transported to and from school. As a result these factors, statistics showed that 20 percent of African-Americans pupils were overaged by three or more years.

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Higher education among African Americans was conducted chiefly by private institutions. In 1913, there were only 3 accredited African-American collegiate institutions. In 1930, there were more than 100 African American secondary institutions, and in 1932, there were nearly 20,000 African Americans in college but only about 1,500 degrees were granted.

Recreation and Leisure

The desire for recreational facilities was much larger than ending the exclusion of African Americans to public play grounds, parks, and theaters; rather it involved the attitude of the community toward African Americans. This memorandum cites a study in 1928 of African-American recreational facilities in 57 cities (40 northern and 17 southern). The study revealed that the inadequacy of recreational facilities for African Americans was one of the primary reasons African Americans had a reputation for committing crimes. The study explained that because African Americans had no other place to go, they would idle about the street and wander into vicious places because they could not find relaxation anywhere else.

Posted in RG 12 Records of the Office of Education | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Record of the Week: Black British POWs

Today’s Record was submitted by Jesse Wilinski, Archives Technician at the National Archives in Washington, D. C.

In the series Registers of British Prisoners of War, 1812-1815 (NAID 1807650) in RG 45 Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library, are several volumes related to British Prisoners of War (POWs) captured during the War of 1812. In one of the volumes is a list of prisoners on a separate piece of paper. This list on one side states, “Preserve this Sheets they may be wanted,” and on the other side is a list of British POWs from privateers who happened to be black.

This list of black British POWs mentioned both the first and last names of the inmates and what became of them. Many of the black POWs were sold into slavery, mostly in the southern US. This list is very rare to the point that enslaved person upon being sold do not have their first and last names mentioned in record. The list also mentioned the POWs’ occupations.


Registers of British Prisoners of War (NAID 1807650)

Posted in Record of the Week, RG 45 Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library | Tagged , | Leave a comment