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The Twelfth Census and the Negro Problems W. E. Burghardt DuBois

DuBois, W.E. Burghardt, "The Twelfth Census and the Negro Problems." The Southern Workman, v.29, n.5 (May 1900): pp.305-309.

Online Sources:
This article is available at:
1. Google Books: start page;
2. Hathi Trust Digital Library: start page.

Robert Williams' Notes:
1. Du Bois was to utilize the Twelfth Decennial Census as the basis for his analysis of "The Negro Farmer" (published as pp.69-98 in U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census. Negroes in the United States. Bulletin 8. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1904). More details on "The Negro Farmer" are available on this site.
2. The Credo online repository at the University of Massachusetts Amherst library contains correspondence between Du Bois and officials of the U.S. Census Bureau, such as Walter F. Wilcox and J. A. Hill. Search for "United States Census" to locate letters pertaining to Du Bois's analysis of the Twelfth Census (and later topics): search results page.
— Robert W. Williams, Ph.D.  [Bio] 

The Twelfth Census and the Negro Problems
THE Spanish war and its various sequels have gravely increased some of our difficulties in dealing with the Negro problems. There has come a significant change in public opinion—a growing indifference to human suffering, a practical surrender of the doctrine of equality, of citizenship, and a new impetus to the cold commercial aspect of racial intercourse; all this means increased difficulty in stirring the heart of the nation to such great reformatory movements as the proper solution of the Negro problems demands. Under such circumstances any significant disagreement among the friends of reform, and especially any wide-spread and acknowledged ignorance of the real facts and conditions, is bound to multiply the impediments in the path of humanitarian effort. In the last ten years we have had the spectacle of the friends of the Negro bickering among themselves as to the aim and method of their work. And especially have we for full fifty years felt the hopelessness of many set arguments on the Negro question because of the absence of any common authoritative basis of fact. Just the other day two speakers in the University Extension Series of Philadelphia made substantially the following statements:
   The freedman bought land in Georgia, but his sons have not, and are even losing what he had owned. The later generation make such poor workmen that corporations often offer higher wages for convict than for free labor.    The ownership of land by Georgia Negroes has increased by leaps and bounds, save at a few temporary periods of financial depression or political unrest, and the material advance of the great mass of the black people of that state cannot be denied.
     This is but a single instance of the almost daily contradiction as to the elementary facts which greets the layman who seeks lights on the present condition of the Negro: Is the Negro buying land or is he not? Is he losing or gaining in the skilled trades? How does his physical health compare with that of the past? Does he receive living wages? Can he vote? What does the graduate of the schools find to do?—all these are specimens of the important questions which to-day can be given no comprehensive or authoritative answer covering large and typical areas. And yet most of them are vitally necessary to a preliminary understanding of the Negro problems, not to say to intelligent plans for reform.
     If we look about for agencies which can reasonably be expected to give us at least a partial collection of authoritative data, the most conspicuous is undoubtedly the United States census. So far the census reports are almost our sole source of information as to the condition of the Negro population in general, and for this reason peculiar interest attaches to the Twelfth Census as marking in a peculiar sense the end of an era in the solution of the Negro question as well as in other matters. Some circumstances connected with the preliminary organization of this census leads us to expect from it a somewhat higher degree of accuracy in the past or at least an avoidance of the faults of the discredited ninth and eleventh censuses. As an instrument for social investigation there are certain obvious limitations to the national census. It can successfully measure only the broader and simpler aspects of human society—the number, distribution, age, sex, conjugal condition, and occupations of men. Such matters are easily counted, there is, comparatively speaking, small room for error, and no other agency but the government could command the requisite funds and authority for covering so vast a field. Other data such as those relating to it literacy, deaths, industries, etc. are less obviously suited to the census methods and yet we have just now no better agency. When, however, it comes to matters of land and property, education, crime, and the more delicate and intricate questions of social life, the ordinary machinery of the census is obviously unsuited to the work.
     The rather indefinite term "Social Study" has come to be applied to such investigations as seek to go further and deeper than a national census and study definitely and, within limits, exhaustively, the conditions of life and action in certain localities. Such difficult undertakings have very obvious limitations: they must necessarily be confined to small geographical areas; they can after all measure only the more powerful economic and social forces and must largely omit the deeper spiritual and moral impulses; and above all they require for their successful pursuit a high order of ability, insight, and tact. They are also very costly when the paucity of definite or immediately usable results is considered. Nevertheless the Social Study manifestly approaches as nearly as anything the ideal of measuring and classifying human activity.
     Here we have then the two agencies upon which we must depend for our knowledge of social conditions and development—the broad general measurements of the Census, the limited specific investigations of the Social Study. It is clear that these two agencies may to a large extent supplement each other. For a given city or town the census furnishes the mass data as to number, age, sex, etc. With this broad outline in hand the sociologist seeks to fill in the details of the picture so as to classify and weigh the life and action of that community. So any particular social problem or series of problems, the careful investigation based upon the census is our best method of acquiring reliable and definite knowledge of social conditions. It is the object of this paper, therefore, to suggest a method of careful co-operation between the authorities in charge of the Twelfth Census and a Special Committee for the Study of the Negro Problems, of such a nature as to give to social reformers the most authoritative and reliable light possible on this grave question.
     For the best success of this plan it is necessary that, first, the Twelfth Census be taken with some special reference to gathering material on the Negro in such shape as to be the most available for further investigation: for instance, pains should be taken to count the Negro population thoroughly; to class those of African descent together and not confound with them groups socially so diverse as the Japanese and Indians, to have especial care taken with the age classifications and the statistics of conjugal condition where large errors creep in among the Negro statistics for obvious reasons; above all, the Negro statistics should be so collected as to be easily segregated and counted by themselves. Special pains should be taken to count and classify returns as to Negroes somewhat minutely and elaborately in a special census volume. The Third Hampton Negro Conference convened July 19-21, 1899 and its proceedings were later published (via Hathi Trust: start page). Du Bois (along with Kelly Miller and others) participated on The Committee on Resolutions and signed his name to the "Resolutions of the Third Hampton Negro Conference," among which was included this resolution:
    We think it highly important that the managers of the Twelfth Census should make at their earliest opportunity such special studies of the American Negro as will furnish the most accurate general data as to his social condition. [p.9]
Also at that same conference, a discussion followed the delivery of the "Report of the Committee on Statistics" by J.W. Cromwell (p.31). It was recorded that Kelly Miller suggested that the twelfth decennial Census collect information on African Americans that allowed for cross-racial and cross-national comparisons (at pp.35-36).
     As soon as practical, duplicate copies of the original returns as to Negroes should be put in the hands of a Special Committee for the Study of the Negro Problems covering such cities and other areas as they may elect. Upon the appointment of this committee the whole plan, of course, stands or falls. I only insist upon the necessity of some steps to make plain the truth: with all our simple optimism the race problem is assuming great aspects that demand study. An ordinary congressional committee would be unsuitable for this work for political reasons. The best agency would be a voluntary committee of men something like the Committee of Fifty who studied the liquor problem—chosen, as it were, by common consent, but carrying with it the confidence of the better half of the nation. My own idea of a proper committee would be somewhat as follows:

Here Du Bois was referencing the Committee of Fifty for the Investigation of the Liquor Problem, a privately funded group organized in 1893. At Google Books one can enter the search term "Committee of Fifty" liquor (include the quotation marks) and locate various books printed under its auspices. For a history of the Committee of Fifty and its significance see the article by Harry G. Levine, Sociology professor at Queens College, CUNY (faculty page).
Charles W. Eliot
Charles C. Harrison
Seth Low
George W. Cable
Walter H. Page
William A. Blair
J. L. M. Curry
Booker T. Washington
Francis J. Grimké
Kelly Miller
N. S. Shaler
Daniel C. Gilman
John G. Carlisle
Grover Cleveland
Hannis Taylor
Richard T. Ely
Richmond Mayo-Smith
Carroll D. Wright
Benjamin F. Lee
William L. Wilson
Bishop Nelson
Bishop Potter
Clement G. Morgan
Wm. H. Baldwin, Jr.
William P. Trent
     This list, it will be noted, can be divided as follows:
Men born in the South, 10
Men born in the North, 10
Negroes, 5.
     Of the ten Southern men four live at present in the North; of the ten Northern men three are sociologists of wide repute. The Negroes include Mr. Booker T. Washington, Mr. F. J. Grimké, a Presbyterian clergyman of Washington, D.C, Mr. Kelly Miller, a professor in Howard University, Benjamin F. Lee, a bishop of the African Methodist Church, and Clement G. Morgan, an alderman of Cambridge, Mass.
     Some such committee as this should have general oversight of a series of social studies into the condition of the American Negro. The object of this investigation should not be philanthropic but scientific—it should aim to collect a reliable and authoritative body of facts and not to point out methods of reform; and it should be the province of the supervising committee simply to guarantee the honest, unbiased, and thorough character of the research. The members of this committee should serve without salary they should appoint the actual work of investigation a body of five—possibly ten—trained specialists of recognized ability who should be salaried men, and should conduct in a number of typical districts and other localities throughout the United States a series of social studies into the condition of the Negro, based primarily on the original returns on the Twelfth Census. From ten to twenty-five such studies should be made covering a space of five years involving a total expenditure of not less than $250,000 or more than $500,000. The returns from these studies should be duly classified and various sub-committees of the Committee of Twenty-five should review the evidence collected and determine the final form of its presentation.
     The scope of the inquiry should be well defined. It could without difficulty take the following three subjects:
         1. Occupations and Wages.
         2. Land, Property, and Taxation.
         3. Education.
     And with more difficulty it could throw some light on two other subjects:
         4. Crime and Punishment.
         5. The Right of Suffrage.
     This plan is of course capable of any amount of modification: it might be reduced to the carrying out of two or three local studies by means of private benevolence or it might be expanded to a thorough and exhaustive study of the American Negro. In all cases, however, the fundamental propositions which seem to me vital are:
     (a) A census taken with especial care as regards the Negro.
     (b) A supervising committee of national reputation.
     (c) The placing of the original returns of the census in the hands of experts under the guidance of the committee.
     (d) A series of social studies based primarily on this data.
     Finally, I cannot too strongly insist that the present condition of the Race Question in the United States is critical, and that the Policy of Drift is not the policy that should appeal to a sensible, righteous people. For half the cost of an ironclad to sail about the world and get us into trouble we might know instead of think about the Negro problems.
[End of original text.]  

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