In 1863 there were about five million persons of Negro descent in the United States. Of these, four million and more were just being released from slavery. These slaves could be bought and sold, could move from place to place only with permission, were forbidden to learn to read or write, and legally could never hold property or marry. Ninety per cent were totally illiterate, and only one adult in six was a nominal Christian.
Fifty years later, in 1913, there were in the United States ten and a quarter million persons of Negro descent, an increase of one hundred and five per cent. Legal slavery has been abolished leaving, however, vestiges in debt slavery, peonage, and the convict lease system. The mass of the freedmen and their sons have
1. Earned a living as free and partially free laborers.
2. Shared the responsibilities of government.
3. Developed the internal organization of their race.
4. Aspired to spiritual self-expression.
The Negro was freed as a penniless, landless, naked, ignorant laborer. There were a few free Negroes who owned property in the South, and a larger number who owned property in the North; but ninety-nine per cent of the race in the South were penniless field hands and servants.
To-day there are two and a half million laborers, the majority of whom are efficient wage earners. Above these are more than a million servants and tenant farmers; skilled and semi-skilled workers make another million and at the top of the economic column are 600,000 owners and managers of farms and businesses, cash tenants, officials, and professional men. This makes a total of 5,192,535 colored breadwinners in 1910.
More specifically these breadwinners include 218,972 farm owners and 319,346 cash farm tenants and managers. There were in all 62,755 miners, 288,141 in the building and hand trades; 28,515 workers in clay, glass, and stone; 41,739 iron and steel workers; 134,102 employees on railways; 62,822 draymen, cab drivers, and liverymen; 133,245 in wholesale and retail trade; 32,170 in the public service; and 69,471 in professional service, including 29,750 teachers, 17,495 clergymen, and 4,546 physicians, dentists, trained nurses, etc. Finally, we must not forget 2,175,000 Negro homes, with their housewives, and 1,620,000 children in school.
Fifty years ago the overwhelming mass of these people were not only penniless, but were themselves assessed as real estate. By 1875 the Negroes probably had gotten hold of something between 2,000,000 and 4,000,000 acres of land through their bounties as soldiers and the low price of land after the war. By 1880 this was increased to about 6,000,000 acres; in 1890 to about 8,000,000 acres; in 1900 to over 12,000,000 acres. In 1910 this land had increased to nearly 20,000,000 acres, a realm as large as Ireland.
The 120,738 farms owned by Negroes in 1890 increased to 218,972 in 1910, or eighty-one per cent. The value of these farms increased from $179,796,639 in 1900 to $440,992,439 in 1910; Negroes owned in 1910 about 500,000 homes out of a total of 2,175,000. Their total property in 1900 was estimated at $300,000,000 by the American Economic Association. On the same basis of calculation it would be worth to-day not less than $800,000,000.