A Social History of the American Negro eBook

Benjamin Griffith Brawley
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 546 pages of information about A Social History of the American Negro.


In the following pages an effort is made to give fresh treatment to the history of the Negro people in the United States, and to present this from a distinct point of view, the social.  It is now forty years since George W. Williams completed his History of the Negro Race in America, and while there have been many brilliant studies of periods or episodes since that important work appeared, no one book has again attempted to treat the subject comprehensively, and meanwhile the race has passed through some of its most critical years in America.  The more outstanding political phases of the subject, especially in the period before the Civil War, have been frequently considered; and in any account of the Negro people themselves the emphasis has almost always been upon political and military features.  Williams emphasizes this point of view, and his study of legal aspects is not likely soon to be superseded.  A noteworthy point about the history of the Negro, however, is that laws on the statute-books have not necessarily been regarded, public opinion and sentiment almost always insisting on being considered.  It is necessary accordingly to study the actual life of the Negro people in itself and in connection with that of the nation, and something like this the present work endeavors to do.  It thus becomes not only a Social History of the race, but also the first formal effort toward a History of the Negro Problem in America.

With this aim in mind, in view of the enormous amount of material, we have found it necessary to confine ourselves within very definite limits.  A thorough study of all the questions relating to the Negro in the United States would fill volumes, for sooner or later it would touch upon all the great problems of American life.  No attempt is made to perform such a task; rather is it intended to fix attention upon the race itself as definitely as possible.  Even with this limitation there are some topics that might be treated at length, but that have already been studied so thoroughly that no very great modification is now likely to be made of the results obtained.  Such are many of the questions revolving around the general subject of slavery.  Wars are studied not so much to take note of the achievement of Negro soldiers, vital as that is, as to record the effect of these events on the life of the great body of people.  Both wars and slavery thus become not more than incidents in the history of the ultimate problem.

In view of what has been said, it is natural that the method of treatment should vary with the different chapters.  Sometimes it is general, as when we touch upon the highways of American history.  Sometimes it is intensive, as in the consideration of insurrections and early effort for social progress; and Liberia, as a distinct and much criticized experiment in government by American Negroes, receives very special attention.  For the first time also an effort is now made to treat consecutively the life of the Negro people in America for the last fifty years.

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A Social History of the American Negro from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.