Children in Black and Mulatto Families

Children in Black and Mulatto Families

American Journal of Sociology
Volume  39, Number 1 (July 1933)
pages 12-29

E. Franklin Frazier (1894-1962), Professor of Sociology
Fisk University

Although the belief in the hereditary inferiority of the mulatto has been slowly dissipated by the accumulation of scientific knowledge, it is still echoed occasionally in scientific studies. In order to determine how far this belief is substantiated or refuted by census data, the writer has analyzed the 1910 and 1920 statistics for children in over 13,000 Negro families for each enumeration in three cities and three rural counties in the South. On the whole, the mulattoes have a smaller proportion of families without children and there is on the average a larger number of children in the mulatto families. Further analysis of the 1910 statistics for the number of children born and living in 10,921 families showed: (1) mulattoes and blacks had about the same proportion of families in which no children were born; (2) on the whole, the mulattoes and blacks in the same community had the same average number of children born; (3) for the entire group a larger proportion of black families had one or more children dead; (4) the blacks had lost on the average a larger number of children; (5) the mulattoes had about 7 per cent more of all their children living than the blacks. Differences in the socio-economic status of these two groups as reflected in literacy and home-ownership seemed to point to cultural rather than biological causes for the differences between them.

In 1860 a physician who contributed monthly articles on the Negro to the American Cotton Planter gave considerable space in the December issue to a comparison of the physical qualities of pure Negroes and mulattoes. From that article, which was presumably supported by the best contemporary scientific opinion, we cite the following observations.

…. mulattoes are generally much shorter lived than negroes of unmixed blood. The pure African, when judiciously managed, has a reasonable prospect of reaching his three score and ten; and instances of much greater longevity abound. Not so with mulattoes; from want of congeniality in the mixture of white and black blood, or from some unexplained, and perhaps inexplicable cause, they die early as a general rule…..Dr. Cartwright and other learned men might say “the offspring is a tertium quid, unlike either father or mother, and incapable of perpetuating its existence beyond a few generations.” We think it would be much better to say at once, it is so, because God made it so; and that he made it so because it was not pleasing to him that the fruits of such an unnatural and unholy commerce should remain long on the earth. But whatever the explanation, there can be but little doubt of the fact for it seems to be established by the concurrent testimony of numerous observers…..

Prof. Dugas, of the Medical College of Georgia …. forcibly taught in his lectures that mulattoes are short lived; …. The testimony of Dr. Merrill, of Memphis, is …. that the amalgamation alluded to, exercises important physiological and pathological influences, one of the tendencies of which is, to impair the energies of the vital forces, predispose to a dynamic (low, typhoid) diseases, and to shorten life. These conditions, it is natural to suppose, must have a tendency, also, to the impairment of the procreative powers, and thus to retard increase; while the congenital debility and disordered innervation resulting, give rise to a still greater sacrifice of infant life, than with the full-blooded negro … if active, intelligent, house-servants are a prime consideration, and if planters have sufficient means to consult pleasure and convenience before interest, it may do to rest in this mongrel race; but if stout hearty, durable, long lived slaves are wanted, and if  pecuniary interest is a permanent consideration, the pure African should be chosen in preference to the mulatto; and the blacker the better. The jet black, shiny, unadulterated, greasy-skinned, strong-smelling negro is the best every way, after he has been in the country long enough to undergo proper training, and to get rid of some of his native, African notions.

Although the writer was fearful at the time that “the truth that mulattoes are short lived is not as extensively known, and as firmly established in the minds of the southern people as it should be,” during the following half-century the beliefs expressed in his article not only became the foundation of popular opinions concerning the mulatto but characterized supposedly scientific studies. In 1896 Hoffman, who concluded that mulattoes were “physically the inferior of the white and pure black,” based his opinion largely on the testimony of physicians who examined recruits during the Civil War. The following is a typical testimony: “Although I have known some muscular and healthy mulattoes, I am convinced that, as a general rule, any considerable admixture of white blood deteriorates the physique and impairs the powers of endurance, and almost always introduces a scrofulous taint.”…

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