The Negro as a Health Problem

The Negro as a Health Problem

The Journal of the American Medical Association
Volume 55, Number 15 (1910-10-08)
pages 1246-1247
DOI: 10.1001/jama.1910.04330150006002

H. M. Folkes, M.D.
Biloxi, Mississippi

In the South, regardless of hair-splitting dictionary or legal definitions, it is customary to regard as negro any person who is known to have any negro blood in his veins; this despite the fact that the Supreme Court of Louisiana has lately handed down a decision restricting the term “negro” to those having a greater proportion of negro blood than would occur in an octoroon. This decision, however much it may be law, has not been the custom.

It may not be commonly known in the North that prior to the war it was the custom in the South among the better class of slave owners to give the very best care and attention to the slaves—to the house-servants as well as every other class of laborer generally. Of course, while due credit must be given to the humane motive at the bottom of this, it must be acknowledged that the economic consideration was also largely influential, as each negro, old, or young, possessed considerable cash value. Hence it was decidedly to the interest of the property owner to take care of his investment.

The natural result of this was a higher standard of physical health among negro children than has ever been attained since the emancipation, for among other unfortunate sequelæ folloing this perfectly righteous step was the handing over of the lives and care of negro progeny to their more or less fatalistic parens, who, removed from the control of intelligent direction, soon lapsed into their African condition of irresponsibility. The unfortunate creatures (as the negro race has done in all history) then reverted, in a  large measure, to aboriginal conditions.

The negro, due to his heredity and environment, is essentially a fatalist, and when moved at all it is by his emotions, and not by judgement….

Mulattoes, octoroons and quadroons are much more susceptible to the ravages of syphilis and gonorrhea than are their more deeply tinted brethren.  Negroes of all shades are extremely susceptible to tuberculosis, and also to measles.  In my experience extending over a period of nearly twenty years, I do not recall having seen a case of scarlet fever, diphtheria, mumps or tonsillitis in black negroes, and since beginning this paper I have made inquiries of all the physicians with whom I have come in contact and have received practically the same answer as to the immunity of the pure-blooded negro from these diseases.

Mulattoes, quadroons, and octoroons are decidedly more susceptible to scarlet fever, diphtheria, mumps and tonsillitis, but with rather large experience among the different shades of negro people, I can recall at this moment but very few instances of these diseases among them.

It might not be out of place at this point to call attention to the fact that mulattoes, quadroons, and octoroons, as they are at present in the South, are mostly descendedants of their own type of people, and not the result of crossing of white and black bloods; in other words, mulatto man and woman have progeny mulattoes; quadroons present the same as themselves, as also do octoroons.  There is, however, a marked tendency toward a decrease in the number of children born to these light-colored negroes and the nearer they approach to pure white blood the fewer children they have, as a rule…

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