Literature analysis

If you are looking for affordable, custom-written, high-quality, and non-plagiarized papers, your student life just became easier with us. We are the ideal place for all your writing needs.

Order a Similar Paper Order a Different Paper

600 word analysis: (per reading)

-Identify the author’s focus
-Compare, contrast, and critique the reading(s)
-Build on your prior understanding of race based on previous reading(s)
-Identify new concepts or theories from the readings that are essential to the understanding of race 

The multiple dimensions of race

Wendy D. Roth

Sociology Department, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Ethnic and Racial

Studies in March 2016, available online:

The citation is:

Roth, Wendy D. 2016. “The Multiple Dimensions of Race.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 39(8):



Increasing numbers of people in the United States and beyond experience “race” not as a

single, consistent identity but as a number of conflicting dimensions. This article

distinguishes the multiple dimensions of the concept of race, including racial identity, self-

classification, observed race, reflected race, phenotype, and racial ancestry. With the word

“race” used as a proxy for each of these dimensions, much of our scholarship and public

discourse is actually comparing across several distinct, albeit correlated, variables. Yet

which dimension of race is used can significantly influence findings of racial inequality. I

synthesize scholarship on the multiple dimensions of race, and situate in this framework

distinctive literatures on colorism and genetic ancestry inference. I also map the

relationship between the multidimensionality of race and processes of racial fluidity and

racial boundary change.

KEYWORDS Self-classification; interviewer-classification; skin color; phenotype; ancestry;

race components

This article synthesizes a growing body of scholarship that distinguishes and analyzes the

multiple dimensions of the concept of race as experienced by individuals and as measured in

research. Increasing numbers of people in the United States and beyond experience “race” not as

a single, consistent identity but as a number of conflicting dimensions. These may include, for

instance, how an individual self-identifies her race, how she is perceived by others, how she

believes she is perceived by others, what she checks among the limited options on the census or

other surveys, her skin color and other aspects of her racial appearance, and her racial ancestry.

These dimensions influence one another, but are not necessarily the same. For example, Salvador,

a restaurant worker in New York, identifies his race as Puerto Rican. Phenotypically, he is dark-

CONTACT Wendy D. Roth, wendy.roth@ubc


skinned with indigenous features, leading some Americans to view him as Black. He believes that

Americans view him as Hispanic, based on his accent and name. Yet on the census, Salvador

checks White for his race because no listed option fits his identity and in Puerto Rico his mixed

racial ancestry allowed him to consider himself closer to White than to Black (Roth 2010). The

word “race” tends to be used as a proxy for each of these dimensions, with the result that much of

our scholarship, as well as public discourse, is actually comparing across several distinct, albeit

correlated, variables.

An important contribution of this scholarship is to emphasize that no single dimension is a

person’s “true” or “correct” race. For instance, observers’ classifications may not match the

individuals’ self-identification, yet each of these dimensions measures something different about

the way that individuals experience race in their daily lives. When it comes to housing or

employment discrimination, Salvador’s perception and treatment as Black is the meaningful

reality, regardless of the fact that those observers are not correctly guessing the way he views

himself. We can understand race as a cognitive structure that divides people into hierarchically

ordered categories on the basis of certain physical or biological characteristics that are believed to

be inherent (Roth 2012). An individual’s race is shaped by both her own identification and the

attributions and reactions of others (Cooley 1902; Jenkins 2008). By deconstructing race into its

diverse dimensions, this scholarship illustrates precisely how race is socially constructed, by

highlighting the micro-level processes and interactions that build, maintain, and occasionally shift

a cognitive structure of race.

Much of the literature that explicitly addresses the multiple dimensions of race focuses on

the United States, where demographic changes such as immigration and interracial marriage have

led to increasing numbers of people experiencing conflicting dimensions of race. This is

particularly true for groups such as Latinos and the multiracial population (Golash-Boza and Darity

2008; Harris and Sim 2000; Hitlin, Brown, and Elder 2007; Rockquemore and Brunsma 2002;

Roth 2010). Native Americans are another group where dimensions of race are frequently

inconsistent (Bratter and Gorman 2011; Campbell and Troyer 2007). Some also find

inconsistencies for Asians and Middle Easterners (Boehmer et al. 2002; Vargas and Stainback In

press), and even some White and Black Americans – two groups for whom racial classification is

assumed to be fairly static (Kressin et al. 2003; Noymer, Penner, and Saperstein 2011; Saperstein

2006). Distinct dimensions of race have also been examined in Latin America, where there has

long been awareness of discrepancies between color, ancestry, and racial classification, for

example (Bailey, Fialho, and Penner In press; Cabella and Porzecanski 2015; Telles 2014; Telles

and Lim 1998). Yet theoretically, the same processes are relevant to Europe, Asia and other regions

of the world, even if those countries focus less explicitly on the concept of race (Ahmed, Feliciano,

and Emigh 2007; Nagaraj et al. 2015; Perrin, Dal, and Poulain 2015; Song and Aspinall 2012).

Which dimension of race researchers use can significantly influence findings of racial

inequality (Bratter and Gorman 2011; Noymer et al. 2011; Saperstein and Penner 2010, 2012;


Telles 2014). Social surveys typically measure only one dimension of race, most frequently a

circumscribed form of self-identification, leaving it to serve as a proxy for all of the others. Yet

other dimensions of race may be theoretically more appropriate for studying specific social

outcomes. At the same time, analyses of the ways that different dimensions of race influence the

same outcomes can push scholars to rethink theoretical mechanisms that are taken largely for


I begin by discussing the multiple dimensions of race and which ones may be more

theoretically appropriate for examining which social outcomes. Next, I review literature that

identifies inconsistencies between different dimensions and factors associated with those

inconsistencies. This includes both statistical studies that include different race measures and the

growing literature on multiracial people, which has advanced our theoretical understanding of how

individuals can experience different dimensions of race. I also discuss studies showing that

different dimensions of race produce different inequality estimates. Here, in addition to scholarship

that explicitly addresses multiple dimensions of race, I argue that what have been treated as

distinctive literatures focusing on specific dimensions should be understood within this broader

framework. For example, I situate the substantial literature on colorism, or phenotype inequalities

and discrimination, within a broader understanding of phenotype as one of several dimensions of

race that influences the others but also produces its own axes of stratification. I also discuss the

literature on genetic admixture inference, and while I challenge the view that current techniques

for measuring genetic ancestry capture a particular dimension of race, I argue that this scholarship

is enhanced by the inclusion of other race dimensions. Finally, I map the relationship between this

body of scholarship and related literatures of racial fluidity and racial boundary change, and

identify additional avenues that would advance this scholarship further.

Mapping the Multiple Dimensions

Figure 1 presents a typology of race dimensions reported in the literature, with some terms

used to describe them, and outcomes they may be more appropriate for studying. This typology is

not meant to be exhaustive but to provide a roadmap to the different components of race that

scholars have been studying. One challenge for this scholarship is the variety of terms used for the

same dimensions. In some cases, the same terms are used by different scholars to reference distinct

dimensions (e.g. “racial identification”), prompting the need for greater theoretical clarity. All of

these dimensions are fluid; they may vary over time and be influenced by a variety of contextual

factors. However, fluidity within one dimension needs to be distinguished conceptually from

differences across dimensions. To aid scholars conducting research in this area, the Multiple

Components of Race Data Library (Bratter, Campbell, and Roth 2014) profiles social science

surveys that include measures of multiple dimensions of race.

[Figure 1 about here]


Racial Identity refers to a person’s subjective self-identification. Importantly, it is not

limited by a set of pre-determined options and does not represent a person’s efforts to fit

themselves into any given set of boxes. It is typically measured with an open-ended self-

identification question, and while it has more frequently been the focus of qualitative research, it

could be captured through an open-ended question in survey research. This dimension might be

most suited for studying outcomes that depend on an individual’s internal self-identification

process, such as political mobilization or voting patterns, residential decision-making, social

network formation, or attitudes.

Racial Self-classification refers to the race that is checked on an official form or survey,

such as a census or federal financial aid forms. It is typically measured with a closed-ended self-

identification question. Both racial self-classification and racial identity are forms of self-

identification, so it is a valid question whether these are actually theoretically distinct dimensions

of the lived experience of race. On one hand, closed-ended questions are merely trying to measure

racial identity and necessarily fail to capture all of its complexity due to their need to simplify

response options for data analysis. However, the experience of having to fit oneself into boxes that

do not represent how one identifies racially has become an important part of how many people

experience the complexity of race. Several studies and artistic works highlight precisely this

experience for groups such as Latinos and multiracial populations (Dowling 2014; Rockquemore

and Brunsma 2002; Rodríguez 2000; Roth 2010; Scholler 2013). Race questions on national

censuses are a particular case of racial self-classification, leading Bailey (2008) to refer to the

answer people give specifically as their “Census race.” Such questions, reflecting federal standards

for data collection, represent a particular racial schema, a set of categories and way of thinking

about race that reflects the nation’s official classification system (Roth 2012). For example, in

filling out the U.S. census, many people view themselves as providing the response that best fits

the way they believe they are supposed to fit into America’s official classifications, regardless of

whether it matches their racial identity (Dowling 2014; Rodríguez 2000; Roth 2010). Other forms

and surveys may have different variants of response options, but are similar in that individuals

who see themselves falling between the boxes provided are forced to make a less-than-ideal choice.

Racial self-classification, as a proxy for racial identity, is frequently used to study a wide

range of outcome measures, and when these two dimensions correspond (e.g. in the case of

someone whose self-concept fits neatly within a society’s official classification schema) this use

is appropriate. When it is an inadequate proxy of racial identity, racial self-classification can

provide some sense of how these groups see themselves fitting into official classifications

(Rodríguez 2000). The distinction between racial self-classification and racial identity highlights

that even in terms of self-identification, people may think about or express that identification

differently in different contexts, and the nature of the question and options provided are aspects of

that context.


Observed Race is the race that others believe you to be. In social research, it is typically

measured by the interviewer’s classification of the individual. In a person’s lived experience, it is

assessed repeatedly and often silently in numerous, daily interactions and encounters. For

individuals whose race is unambiguous, it may be assessed instantly and subconsciously; observers

may not even be aware that they are silently cataloguing a person’s race together with other pieces

of information about them. For those whose race is more ambiguous, the process may take longer

(Freeman et al. 2010) and be more conscious. A large literature in psychology examines how

observers perceive the race of others (e.g., Pauker and Ambady 2009; Willadsen-Jensen and Ito

2006; see Roth 2015). These assessments influence how people are treated and form the basis of

racial discrimination, including non-deliberate actions that nonetheless lead to socioeconomic


An important question for understanding how to interpret observed race is who is doing

the observing. Characteristics of the observer influence how they perceive another individual’s

race (Feliciano In press; Harris 2002). An observer’s knowledge of an individual with regard to

some of the other dimensions of race may also influence their assessments. In one study,

individuals who were previously surveyed about their ancestry but died before a follow-up study

were identified by both a proxy – next of kin or nonrelatives who knew the individual – and by

funeral directors. Only 20% of those who self-classified as Native American were classified as

such by proxies, but none of them were classified as such by funeral directors (Hahn, Truman, and

Barker 1996). Although even the proxies’ assessments had low consistency with the individuals’

self-classification, some likely had greater knowledge than the funeral directors of the individuals’

racial identity or ancestry.

Similarly, the context of the observation matters for how a person’s race is observed.

Freeman and his co-authors (2011) find, in a series of images morphing photographs of Black and

White individuals, low-status attire is associated with the person being perceived as Black and

high-status attire is associated with being perceived as White. Furthermore, the influence of the

attire grew as the race of the individual became more ambiguous, suggesting that people rely on

non-physical features more when a person’s race is not clear.

We can also think of two subtypes of the Observed Race dimension. Appearance-Based

Observed Race is based solely on readily observable characteristics. This includes not only a

person’s phenotype but also visible status markers, clothing, hairstyle, and the context of the

observation. Interaction-Based Observed Race is additionally shaped by information revealed

through interaction, including a person’s accent or language ability, name, knowledge of their

family members, or comments about their background, status, or racial identity (Roth 2010).

Observers may initially make an assessment of appearance-based observed race only to alter that

assessment after interacting with them. Many Latinos describe being perceived as White or as

Black until they open their mouths to speak, at which point their accent or use of Spanish leads an

observer to reclassify them as Latino (Roth 2012). A person’s name can also be used as a racial


cue, with research showing that the same Asian-European multiracial faces are seen as looking

significantly more European when associated with European names than with Asian names (Hilliar

and Kemp 2008). Observers in different social roles rely on different sorts of information in their

assessment of a person’s race. Those most likely to engage in racial profiling or provide services,

such as police officers, security guards, waiters, or salespeople, tend to rely on appearance-based

observed race from their initial observations. But those with greater access to the resources

associated with social mobility, such as employers, teachers, landlords, or lending agents, typically

have greater interaction (Roth 2010). As a result, each type of observed race may be more suited

to studying specific social outcomes.

The distinction between these subtypes remains greatly understudied. Studies of the

classification of photographs or morphed images rely only on appearance, unlike most real

interactions. A significant challenge for scholarship is that many surveys, as well as some

qualitative studies, do not provide enough information to reveal whether the observed race measure

reflects interviewers’ assessments based on appearance or interactions. When and how the

dimension is measured within a study can determine which one is captured. Observed race may be

appearance-based when interviewers record a classification on their first observation of a

respondent, but is interaction-based when recorded at the end of an interview. When the latter

occurs in interviews that ask for racial self-identification, the interviewer’s interaction-based

assessment is likely to also be influenced by the individual’s response.

A person can have many observed races – as many as there are observers and contexts in

which they are observed. Although we typically capture this dimension of race once, from one

interviewer, if we capture it at all, it can also be thought of as something specific to each moment

and each act of observing.

Reflected Race refers to an individual’s belief of how others classify them. It draws on the

concept of reflected appraisals and the idea of the “looking-glass self” (Cooley 1902), which

focuses on how an individual’s racial identity is influenced by the perceptions of others. However,

within the emerging literature, scholars consider reflected race a distinctive dimension of people’s

lived experience of race, one that may or may not influence their racial identity. In this way, it is

useful for understanding the process of self-identification as well as other outcomes such as

perceived discrimination.

However, most often reflected race – measured by questions such as “What race do most

people think you are?” – is used as a proxy for observed race in self-administered or telephone

surveys where interviewers cannot observe the person. The effectiveness of this proxy has never

been studied. As noted above, one’s observed race may differ based on the observers’

characteristics. To the extent that the observed individual is aware of this, specifying the reference

group doing the classifying may result in different responses. A mixed-race person with Black and

White parents may believe that Whites usually view her as Black, but Blacks usually view her as


mixed-race. The CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) Measures of

Racism Module asks respondents “How do other people in this country typically classify you?”,

which may be intended to capture how the mainstream society classifies the person, but how

respondents interpret it could vary based on the extent of interactions they have with the

mainstream society. Ideally, these questions would specify the reference group, whether it is

mainstream society, the individual’s own racial group, or specific minority groups (e.g. Blacks or


Phenotype refers to aspects of a person’s physical appearance that are socially understood

as relevant to racial classification. This includes skin color as well as other features such as hair

texture or color, nose shape, lip shape, and eye color. This is a dimension of race that varies,

sometimes considerably, within racial categories. It affects most other dimensions of races but is

not synonymous with any of them.

Much of the research on phenotype focuses on skin color, usually measured by interviewer

classification with either a categorical question asking the interviewer to rate the person’s skin

color from light to dark or a color palette that interviewers memorize and apply to the respondent.

Although more common in the past, few studies today use a spectrophotometer, an instrument that

measures light reflectance off the skin,1 and measures of self-perceived skin color are fairly rare

(Monk 2015). Thus the bulk of scholarship on skin color reflects someone else’s perception of an

individual’s color. This may be appropriate for studies of color-based discrimination based on

other people’s perceptions. However, Monk (2015) shows that, compared to interviewer-rated skin

color, self-reported skin color is actually a better predictor of internalized measures such as

perceived discrimination, which predict key health outcomes among African-Americans. Future

typologies of race dimensions may find it useful to distinguish self-reported and observed

dimensions of phenotype, both skin color and other features, as data become available to explore

these distinctions in greater depth.

Observed skin color, much like observed race, is influenced by the person doing the

perceiving. Hill (2002) found that Black and White interviewers saw more color variation within

their own race than in the other, such that White interviewers rated Black subjects’ color as darker

than did Black interviewers, and Black interviewers rated White subjects as lighter. Contextual

cues also matter, and indeed the same kinds of social and interactional cues that distinguish

interaction-based from appearance-based observed race – name, accent, language ability – may

also influence an interviewer’s rating of a person’s skin color. An experimental study found that

the inclusion of racially-coded names influenced how observers rated an image’s skin color.

Specifically, people rated the same face as darker when it was associated with a distinctively

Hispanic name rather than a non-Hispanic name (Garcia and Abascal In press).

Phenotype is more complex than skin color alone, yet few surveys include measures of

other features, and those that do typically only ask interviewers to record the respondent’s hair


color and eye color. Studies have found that nose, lips, and hair texture influence individuals’

classifications, although skin color is the primary characteristic used to classify a person’s race

(Feliciano In press). Few studies consider how these other phenotypic features influence

perceptions of skin color, observed race, or socioeconomic outcomes (cf Gravlee 2005). One study

found that some Latinos rated their own skin color darker than a White American observer rated

their color because they had African or Indigenous facial features; they viewed their non-European

nose, lips or hair texture as darkening their overall color, while the American observed focused

only on skin tone (Roth 2012).

Racial Ancestry is a dimension of race that influences other dimensions, such as racial

identity and observed race. This is particularly true in the United States, where racial ancestry was

used as the basis for determining who was Black for much of the nation’s history (Davis 1991), as

well as what fraction of Indigenous ancestry was needed to be considered Native American (Snipp

1989). In assessing what another person is (or making a judgment about appearance-based

observed race), observers often rely on phenotype, but do so because such physical differences are

thought to reveal an ancestral lineage (Smedley and Smedley 2012). In fact, because racial

classification depends not just on phenotype but also on ancestry in North America, many view

race as “a supra-individual, social-relational phenomenon, not as a subjective individual property”

(Brubaker 2015:22), where someone cannot take on a race from which they have no ancestry. The

widespread public rejection of the Black identity claimed by Rachel Dolezal, the NAACP chapter

president who was revealed to be of European descent, is a case in point. In other societies, racial

ancestry is less important and simply living the life of a group member is sufficient for inclusion

(Wimmer 2008).

Although we can think of racial ancestry as the compiled racial groups of one’s ancestors,

most people are unaware of all of the racial ancestry they have. Knowledge of family trees may

only go back a few generations, and in some cases, racial ancestries were buried when relatives

passed as members of different races to pursue greater opportunities or avoid social exclusion. In

practice, what most people think of as their racial ancestry is their Known Ancestry – what a person

believes her racial ancestry to be based on family history. Survey questions on ancestry, such as

the U.S. Census’s open-ended self-report question, attempt to capture known ancestry, although

people’s responses may not be comprehensive, as some forget parts of their ancestry or simplify

what they report (Waters 1990).

The ancestry question was placed on the U.S. Census and other surveys to study immigrant

integration and ethnic assimilation. But Gullickson (In press) argues that these write-in ancestry

responses indicate an essentialized identity that is often related to but distinct from racial self-

identification. Analyzing ancestry and self-classification of race or Hispanic origin together can

indicate how people’s self-classifications draw upon some components of their racial ancestry and

not others. For example, identifying multiracial individuals by ancestry and examining who also

identifies as multiracial on survey race questions can provide new estimates of the multiracial


population and illuminate who chooses a multiracial identity (Gullickson and Morning 2011).

Examining the characteristics of people who report a Latino ancestry but do not identify as Latino

or Hispanic on the census Hispanicity question can also reveal what factors are associated with the

loss of a Latino identity (Alba and Islam 2009; Duncan and Trejo 2011; Emeka and Vallejo 2011).

In these ways, racial ancestry is appropriate for studying social status and social closure, as well

as assimilation and racial boundary crossing.

Even known ancestry is fluid as what people know about their racial ancestry can change

over time. Through genealogical research, people may learn of ancestors pruned from family trees

or who passed across racial lines (Broyard 2008; Williams 1996). Those who were adopted and

later connect with their biological families may also learn new information about their racial

ancestry. While this dimension of race is typically less fluid than others, some people do make

discoveries that can influence other dimensions, particularly racial identity.

One way of discovering new information about racial ancestry is through genetic ancestry

testing. Nearly three million tests have been sold by approximately 40 direct-to-consumer

companies in a little over a decade (Roth and Lyon In press). These tests purport to tell people

about their geographic ancestral origins by analyzing genetic variation that occurred during

worldwide human migrations. We can think of this information as a Genetic Ancestry dimension,

which may include racial ancestries that were previously unknown to an individual from her family

history or genealogical research. Critics point out several limitations of these tests, including that

analyses are restricted by the other individuals within a company’s database and that the

probabilistic nature of the findings is not properly qualified (Bolnick et al. 2007; Duster 2011;

Royal et al. 2010). In some cases, test-takers can confirm new ancestry information by connecting

with other test-takers whose DNA suggests relatedness. While many test-takers understand the

tests’ limitations, others misinterpret what the tests can tell them about ancestry (Roth and Lyon

In press). Whether or not these interpretations are supported by the evidence, the information from

test-takers’ genetic ancestry can inform what they report as their known ancestry when they accept

the results.

Increasingly, genetic measures of racial ancestry are used in population-level research and

health studies (e.g., Atzmon et al. 2010; Bauchet et al. 2007; Marcus et al. 2010; Perez et al. 2013).

There are several problems with how genetic ancestry is measured and interpreted by both genetic

ancestry test-takers and population geneticists, as I discuss further below. Yet as new technologies

attempt to provide information about a person’s deep ancestry beyond what is known in a family’s

collective memory, genetic ancestry may increasingly influence both individuals’ lives and

popular discourse about what race is.

Below I review the major themes in recent scholarship on the multiple dimensions of

race. I focus on work that delineates the inconsistencies across dimensions of race and the factors

associated with them, the relationship between different dimensions, and how using different


dimensions of race influences estimates of inequalities and what this implies for analytical


Major Themes in the Literature

Inconsistencies across Dimensions

One theme in this scholarship is exploring the inconsistencies across dimensions of race

and its associated factors, particularly the inconsistencies between racial self-classification and

observed race. For example, several U.S. studies in the health fields examined inconsistencies

between individuals’ self-reports and the observations of others in the form of medical records,

interviewer classifications, or death certificates (Hahn et al. 1996; Kressin et al. 2003; West et al.

2005).2 These studies found the highest rates of consistency among self-reported Whites (91-98%)

and self-reported Blacks (90-99%), and typically moderate-to-high rates among Asians (76-95%)

and Hispanics (64-83%), but low rates of consistency for Native Americans (0-23%). In a

comparison of racial self-classification in the 2000 U.S. Census and observed race in the 2000

General Social Survey, Smith (2001) similarly found 97-98 percent agreement for Blacks and

Whites but only 58% agreement for other races. Saperstein (2006) also found that inconsistencies

between self-classification and observed race, while small overall, were rapidly growing – with a

55% increase between 1996 and 2000.

However, most of these studies include only cases where observers marked a race for the

individual. When the observer was allowed to mark “unsure” or “race unknown,” many did so,

suggesting even lower levels of consistency. For instance, Kressin et al. (2003), who reported 98%

consistency for Whites and 92% for African Americans between observed race and self-

classification, found those levels dropped to 62% and 61% respectively when they included

observers’ reports of “race unknown” (see also Boehmer et al. 2002).

In these studies, it is difficult to know whether the observer – typically an interviewer or

health administrator – is recording observed race based only on appearance or on interactions as

well. In an important new study, Rastogi, Liebler and Noon (In press) shed light on the process of

interaction-based observed race by examining the racial classifications made by proxies, people

outside the household who know the target individual. Drawing on a unique dataset of

individually-linked records from the full 2000 and 2010 U.S. censuses, they leverage 3.7 million

cases with both a proxy report, usually from a neighbor, and a report for the same individual by

someone within the household. They find high consistency between the household reports and

proxy reports for the nation’s largest groups: 98% of Whites, 94% of Blacks, 88% of Asians, and

86% of Hispanics. However, proxy reports matched household reports for only 62% of Native

Americans, 62% of Pacific Islanders, and 8-36% of multiracial people, depending on the mix of

races reported. Unfortunately the data cannot reveal who makes the household report – or whether


this study reflects consistency between interaction-based observed race and racial self-

classification (if the household report comes from the individual herself) or the fluidity in

interaction-based observed race that occurs when there are different observers, even ones who

know the individual.

This scholarship has also examined the factors associated with inconsistencies in self-

classification and observed race. It understandably finds greater consistency under conditions that

would improve the observers’ knowledge of the individual. We would expect observed race that

is based on interaction to match the way a person self-identifies more often than that based only

on appearance, and these studies suggest that greater interaction leads to greater consistency

(Kressin et al. 2003; Rastogi et al. In press). Observers who have less knowledge of an individual

often rely on social cues to determine what that person’s race might be. Many of these are

associated with stereotypes or assumptions based on social status. For instance, proxies may rely

on positive or negative stereotypes about groups’ financial standing in reporting an individual’s

race. Homeownership is associated with higher odds of consistent classification for Asians, but

lower odds for Native Americans, while the odds of consistent classification were higher for many

minorities in areas with more people using public assistance. (Rastogi et al. In press). Racial

stereotypes about health and group behavior can also influence observers’ classifications and their

inconsistency with proxy reports by relatives; on death certificates, medical examiners were more

likely to classify someone as Native American who had died of cirrhosis, and to classify someone

as Black whose cause of death was homicide, with the race reported by the person’s next of kin

held constant (Noymer et al. 2011).

Observers also rely on contextual cues and racial classification norms when guessing the

race of others. Rastogi et al. (In press) found that proxy classifications were more likely to match

household reports if the person was living in an area where many others report the same race,

suggesting that observers rely on the racial composition of the area to guide their assessments.

However, for people identified by their household as Black-White, proxy reports were more likely

to be inconsistent if the area had a high number of Blacks. In general, Black-White multiracial

people were more often observed as Black than as other races, reflecting social norms of

hypodescent. Proxies also tended to report children as multiple-race and adults as single race,

which may reflect societal ideas that younger people are more likely to view themselves as

multiracial and/or a greater tendency to see young people with their parents and to draw upon this

information about racial ancestry in reporting race.

The Consequences of Inconsistencies

While much of the research on inconsistencies across dimensions of race points toward the

implications of using different measures to study inequality (see below), some studies examine the

impact of the inconsistency itself on the individuals who experience it, showing that being

perceived differently from how one classifies oneself can have negative psychological and health


consequences. Campbell and Troyer (2007) examine indicators of psychological distress among

those who classify themselves as Native American but are perceived as another race by an

observer. Relative to those with consistent classifications, those classified as a different race have

an increased likelihood of considering or attempting suicide and of fatalistically believing that they

will die before the age of 35. The authors argue that this mismatch in observed race and self-

classification increases stress and leads to negative mental health outcomes by invalidating one’s

self-image and identity, threatening social status, and de-legitimizing claims for membership in

one’s community.3

Other studies consider the impact of inconsistencies between a person’s racial self-

classification and reflected race, arguing that a person’s perception of being routinely viewed as a

different race is more important for emotional or physical responses than a single instance of being

observed differently by an outsider, of which she may not even be aware. Applying a status

perspective, Stepanikova (2010) shows that people who believe they are classified as a lower status

race than the one they report for themselves have significantly higher odds of reporting physical

and emotional symptoms as a result of how they were treated based on their race. Yet those who

believe they are classified as a higher status race do not experience symptoms that are significantly

different from people who believe their race is validated by others.

Vargas (2014) finds that individuals who self-classify as White but do not believe that

others view them this way are more likely to express similar or amplified notions of color-

blindness in order to legitimate their membership in the White group from which they feel

marginalized. Meanwhile, people who claim a race that they believe is contested by others

generally experience lower levels of racial group closeness and racial identity salience, which may

lead to a thinning of racial identity when self-classification is inconsistent with reflected race

(Vargas and Stainback In press). In Canada, people whose self-classification did not match their

reflected race were significantly more likely to report suffering from high blood pressure and

hypertension, and poorer self-rated mental health and overall health than those not experiencing a

mismatch (Veenstra 2011). Inconsistency between racial self-classification and both observed and

reflected race is associated with a number of negative physical and emotional outcomes (but see

Song and Aspinall 2012).

The Relationship between Dimensions

Another theme in the literature is how one dimension of race influences another. Some

work considers how phenotype, particularly skin color, influences racial self-classification, for

example. Latinos with darker-skin are more likely to classify their race as Black or as Hispanic,

and less likely to self-classify as White, compared to those with lighter skin (Golash-Boza and

Darity 2008). Similarly, qualitative research shows that phenotype influences the racial identity of

multiracial individuals (Rockquemore and Brunsma 2002; Song and Aspinall 2012). The influence

of skin color on self-classification varies between nations, however. In Latin America, skin color


has a strong effect on who self-classifies as Black in Panama but a weak effect in the Dominican

Republic, with Colombia and Brazil in between (Telles and Paschel 2014).

The concept of reflected appraisals implicitly examines the relationship between different

dimensions of race – how reflected race influences racial identity. Although the term “reflected

race” derives from this theory, it is not the same as a reflected appraisal, as not everyone conforms

their racial identity to the way they believe others view them (Vargas 2015; Vargas and Stainback

In press). Nonetheless, Khanna (2004, 2010) shows precisely how Black-White and Asian-White

multiracial people’s identities are influenced by how they believe they are classified, a belief which

is itself closely tied to their phenotype.

Feliciano (In press) analyzes how individuals’ phenotype influences their observed race,

as well as inconsistencies between observed and self-classified race. Using photos that are

uploaded to and are associated with would-be daters’ own classifications, she considers

how those photos are racially classified by a number of different observers. She finds that observers

tend to place individuals into monoracial groups, using skin tone as their primary guide. Notably,

while light skin is associated with a White designation, and dark skin with a Black designation,

medium skin is associated with a Latino designation, suggesting the extent to which observers

have come to see Latinos as a racial group that is both phenotypically and categorically in-between

Black and White.

In ongoing work, I am investigating how genetic ancestry influences racial identity and

self-classification by examining people’s responses to genetic ancestry tests. Many people who

take these tests say that they influence their racial or ethnic identity (Roth and Lyon In press). But

test results indicating new ancestries do not automatically transform existing identities if the

individual is not receptive to the idea of that particular transformation, such as by viewing those

new ancestries positively, believing that they fit their personality or appearance, or seeing them as

offering closure to long-held identity questions. Those who are less receptive tend to reject the

results and do not incorporate them into their sense of self. Despite popular beliefs that people tend

to privilege scientific or genetic information as more unbiased and factual, this work finds that

genetic ancestry information has only a moderate impact on racial identity, well below the impact

of other dimensions such as observed race, reflected race, or phenotype.

Different Dimensions, Different Outcomes

Among the important findings from this literature is that using measures of different

dimensions of race influences findings on inequality. We have seen this with respect to racial

inequalities in health, criminal justice, and socioeconomic outcomes. However, the data are not

always consistent with regard to which measure reveals the greatest racial disparities in outcomes.

In the health fields, some find that using observed race rather than self-classification can

depress estimates of health problems among Native Americans. Many people who self-classify as


Native American are classified differently by health professionals – most often as White. Using

observed race from administrative records rather than self-identification tends to lower estimates

of cancer incidence and injury among Native Americans (Frost, Taylor, and Fries 1992; Sugarman

et al. 1993). However, using self-classification may also obscure important aspects of how race

contributes to health inequalities, particularly if only one race response is allowed. Many

multiracial individuals with Native American and White ancestry choose White when asked to

select a single race, despite health profiles that are more disadvantaged than Whites and more

similar to Native Americans overall (Bratter and Gorman 2011).

In studies of health care provision, we might expect observed race to more closely mirror

experiences of discrimination in service provision. Yet what little evidence exists is mixed.

Observed race reveals greater inequalities in women’s health screening than does self-

classification; being seen as White is associated with lower rates of pap smear screenings than self-

identifying as White (Saperstein 2012). A study of dental outpatients examined the odds of having

a root canal treatment rather than tooth extraction using self-classified and observed race, and

found that African-Americans were less likely and Asians more likely than Whites to obtain root

canal therapy regardless of the race dimension used. But when using self-classification, Hispanics

were significantly less likely than Whites to obtain a root canal rather than tooth extraction, while

their odds of obtaining a root canal were not significantly different from Whites when using

observed race (Boehmer et al. 2002).

Focusing on criminal justice outcomes and potential discrimination that can occur at

various levels, observed race appears to be more influential than self-classification. One study

found that the odds of young people being arrested are significantly higher if they are perceived as

Black by others, even if they do not self-classify as Black (Penner and Saperstein 2015).

With regard to socioeconomic outcomes, Saperstein (2006) found that even though levels

of inconsistency between observed race and self-classification were small in the population

overall, they were significant enough to affect estimates of family income; she found that self-

classification revealed greater race gaps in family income than observed race. Yet in another study,

observed race revealed greater inequalities in women’s family income than did racial self-

classification. Being seen as White by others was associated with higher family income than self-

identifying as White (Saperstein 2012). This pointed toward the same mechanisms as an earlier

study in Brazil that found significantly higher rates of racial income inequality based on observed

race than on self-classification. While the gap between Browns (pardos) and Blacks varied little

based on the race measure, there were significant differences in the income gaps between Whites

and Browns. Using observed race, Whites earned 26% more than Browns, but only 17% more than

Browns using self-classification (Telles and Lim 1998).

In a cross-national study comparing Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, Telles (2014)

found evidence of stratification by skin color, particularly in education and occupational status,


and argued that self-identification is less reliable for assessing ethnoracial inequality than

classification by others and, especially, external evaluation of skin color. Yet extending this

examination to 19 countries across Latin America and the U.S., Bailey, Fialho and Penner (In

press) found considerable variation throughout the region in how skin color and racial self-

classification mapped onto social inequality in household incomes and how each one was mediated

by social class. They argue that neither dimension is unilaterally better, but must be examined at

the country level.

Thus, while the dimension of race that is used affects many estimates of inequality, it is

not always clear which one will best explain the data. One way to approach the dilemma of which

measure to use is to follow the theoretical expectations for the particular outcome being studied

and the mechanisms expected to influence it. Thus a study focusing particularly on discrimination

in the housing market might select observed race, while one focusing on residential decision-

making might select racial identity (or its common proxy, self-classification). However,

researchers often want to be able to tease apart both of these mechanisms in explaining racial

differences in outcomes (suburban residence, for example). In this case, quantitative researchers

should include both dimensions in their models. Indeed, Saperstein, Kizer and Penner (In press)

detail different analytical strategies for doing so, ranging from testing specific hypotheses about

mechanisms to exploratory analyses. Those that want to explore which dimensions matter most

often face challenges in explaining the patterns they find; indeed, an important avenue for future

research is to complement the more exploratory studies with theory building and advanced work

testing emerging hypotheses.

Other Literatures that Capture Multidimensionality

While a growing scholarship explicitly addresses the multiple dimensions of race, other

fairly self-contained literatures can now be situated within a larger framework of

multidimensionality, for example research on colorism or phenotype inequalities and

discrimination. Skin color produces social stratification along numerous social outcomes that is

distinct from stratification on the basis of racial categorization. Indeed, scholars have found

phenotype inequalities within U.S. racial groups where lighter or more European phenotypes are

associated with better outcomes in income and wealth (Frank, Akresh, and Lu 2010; Kreisman and

Rangel 2014), educational attainment (Branigan et al. 2013; Monk 2014), residential segregation

(South, Crowder, and Chavez 2005), health and healthcare (Baker et al. 2010; Codina and

Montalvo 1994; Gravlee, Dressler, and Bernard 2005), school suspension (Hannon, DeFina, and

Bruch 2013), arrest rates (White 2015), and prison sentence length and time served (Viglione,

Hannon, and DeFina 2011). Color inequalities also persist outside of the U.S., with much of the

research focusing on Latin America (Bailey et al. In press; Telles 2004, 2014).


This literature fits within a multidimensional framework because an awareness of racial

categories is implicit. Scholars typically restrict their analyses to one racial group, usually self-

identified; in doing so, they reveal the heterogeneity within racial classifications. The overriding

point of the colorism literature is the variation of experience within categories as well as between

them. This is effectively the same point as showing that, even among people who self-identify the

same way, perception by others affects their experience of race and vice versa. All of this

scholarship works toward the same goal of illustrating that the experience of race is much more

complex than a single, monolithic label. The colorism literature simply does so, most often, while

holding other dimensions of race constant.

Studies that examine whether color or racial categorization matter more for understanding

unequal opportunities and outcomes typically find complex interactions between them (Bailey et

al. In press; Ronquillo et al. 2007; Telles 2004, 2014). Thus while some argue that one should be

used in lieu of the other (Banton 2012), the question is not whether color or racial classification

(by oneself or others) tells us more about inequality, but how they both reveal the way that

inequalities unfold along many simultaneous dimensions that are all related to how people

experience racialized difference.

Another body of literature that captures the multidimensionality of race – albeit sometimes

unbeknownst to the researchers – is genetic admixture studies in population genetics and health

research. This research relies on the analysis of “ancestry informative markers” (AIMS), genetic

variants whose frequency differs between continental groups. AIMS are identified from

“unadmixed” populations – samples collected from contemporary West Africans, Europeans, or

Native Americans, for instance, who are geographically isolated and report homogeneous ancestry.

Researchers use computer estimation to identify genetic variants that differ across populations

being analyzed.

Rather than determining racial ancestry by purely genetic means, this type of analysis

relies on existing social understandings of what these populations are to identify the genetic

markers that differ most between them. Without an a priori sense of who is West African,

European, Native American, and so on, and including comparison samples from groups which are

so designated, the analysis software would not be able to divide samples into discrete categories

because most human traits are clinal, existing along a gradient of continuous change (Graves

2013). In a study using the three populations mentioned above, researchers have to tell the

computer to look for AIMS that will divide the sample into three populations, but they would get

different results if they asked it to be divided into four, eight, or twenty populations. In other words,

it is because these studies set out to look for discrete, categorical differences that map onto existing

social ideas about what the populations should be that they find them, all the while suggesting that

such differences are natural and free of social influence.


Genetic measures of ancestry, then, are not objectively natural but rather are affected by

other dimensions of race. We should not be surprised that they overlap with other dimensions such

as racial self-classification (Guo et al. 2014) because both reflect the same underlying social

categorizations. But what do these measures actually represent and are they analytically useful?

When researchers attempt to measure “genetic ancestry,” what they are actually capturing is a

probability that the individual and someone in a particular, contemporary racial group share a

common ancestor going back many more generations than most family trees extend. But because

of how populations change, it is not clear that the common ancestor resembles our contemporary

notions of what a “European” or a “Native American” is (Duster 2011). These measures are

capturing an aspect of biological descent, but not one that informs our understanding of racial

ancestry in an analytically meaningful way.

And yet here is another situation where the researchers’ attempts to account for the

multidimensionality of race enhances our understanding of the mechanisms driving racial

inequalities. Several studies that include both measures have found that racial self-classification

explains health inequalities better than genetic ancestry. In their study of southeastern Puerto

Ricans, Gravlee, Non, and Mulligan (2009) include both measures of observed race and genetic

ancestry (ancestry informative markers indicating African ancestry) and discover that observed

race (in interaction with socio-economic status), but not genetic ancestry is associated with blood

pressure. Perez et al. (2013) include measures of racial self-classification and genetic ancestry

(genome-wide European ancestry) to find that self-classification as African-American, but not

European genetic ancestry, is associated with lower rates of atrial fibrillation. Similarly, in a study

of European-Americans and African-Americans, genetic ancestry does not predict cardiovascular

disease better than racial self-classification (Halder et al. 2012). These findings support the

arguments of evolutionary biologists and others that the vast majority of racial health disparities

are explained by environmental rather than genetic causes (Graves 2013). Thus, it is particularly

important for health researchers using these biosocial measures of genetic ancestry to include other

dimensions of race such as self-classification or observed race, to avoid misattributions of racial

health inequalities to genetic causes.4

Situating and Advancing the Multidimensionality of Race

In this final section, I map the relationship between the multidimensionality of race and

other processes that contribute to the complexity of how people experience race – namely, racial

fluidity and racial boundary change. These are also lively areas of study, and it enhances

scholarship in general to have greater theoretical clarity in which processes are being explored and

how they relate to and differ from the others. I also suggest where further research can help us

better understand these relationships and the multidimensionality of race on its own.


Racial fluidity refers to fluctuation in one dimension of race as opposed to inconsistency

across different dimensions. It is useful to further distinguish between temporal fluidity, changes

over time within the same context, and contextual fluidity, changes across contexts within a fairly

limited period of time. Temporal fluidity is of particular interest to psychologists who study racial

identity development, particularly during adolescence and young adulthood. But we also see it

among adults in longitudinal studies, assuming that the question formats and contexts do not

change much from one survey to another (Doyle and Kao 2007; Liebler et al. 2014; Saperstein and

Penner 2012). Contextual fluidity includes the different social settings in which a question is asked,

such as asking an adolescent to racially self-classify at home and at school (Harris and Sim 2002).

It is also what is captured by changes to the questions themselves and by observers’ characteristics.

When we talk about observed race, the specific observer being referenced is part of the context.

As discussed above, each dimension of race is fluid, and this can lead to a lack of clarity

in the broader literature between fluidity within one dimension and inconsistency between

different dimensions. This distinction is shown in the top-left of Figure 2. Fluidity and

multidimensionality are sometimes jointly referred to as “inconsistency,” which serves to highlight

that race is not static, but does not help us understand the particular nature of its dynamism.

[Figure 2 about here]

Research on the multiple dimensions of race and on racial fluidity both point to micro-level

social processes. Racial boundary change occurs at both the micro- and macro-levels, and the

former two processes alone do not determine macro-level boundary change (Wimmer 2008),

although they may contribute to it. The micro-level processes we observe when we measure racial

fluidity or an inconsistency between racial identity and observed race, for instance, generally occur

on a relatively short time frame compared to that of macro-level boundary processes (see Figure

2). These micro-level processes speak to the character of the boundary, particularly whether it is

bright or blurred (Alba 2005). Large inconsistencies between race dimensions or substantial

fluidity in one dimension both point to a lack of agreement over who falls where, which suggest a

blurred boundary. But without looking at whether these inconsistencies or fluidity occur repeatedly

over long periods of time, this does not necessarily reveal processes of boundary change. A

boundary maybe be blurred and stably so; this does not mean that it is blurring, which suggests

change in the nature of the boundary over that longer time frame.

When thinking about how racial boundaries change over time, the issue of the

multidimensionality of race is quite central. Macro-level boundary change is arguably most related

to observed race – how people are classified by others, and particularly by the most privileged

groups. Large numbers of Latinos may classify themselves as White on the census, but it is only

when the dominant White group comes to view them this way that we think of the White racial

boundary as having expanded. Unfortunately, we do not have good public opinion data over time

on how immigrant or ethnic groups are perceived racially. Researchers can consider these shifts


historically by examining the public discourse of dominant groups, but the particular nature of how

people were racially classified is subject to debate (Fox and Guglielmo 2012).

To advance scholarship on the multiple dimensions of race, and perhaps in the long term

on racial boundary change, more work is needed on how dominant groups perceive the race of

others—both particular individuals shown in a variety of social contexts and entire ethnic or

immigrant groups. Experimental studies that can vary aspects of the context in which individuals

are shown (e.g., Freeman et al. 2011) are a promising route to understanding more about how racial

attribution is made. Focusing on both individuals and groups would help to distinguish between

different boundary processes, such as the repositioning of certain types of individuals through

boundary crossing compared to a boundary expanding to incorporate new groups (Wimmer 2008).

There are a number of other promising avenues for future work on the multiple dimensions

of race. There is still considerable work to be done in establishing which dimensions of race matter

most in explaining different types of outcomes. Some studies point in different directions, and

there is not yet enough research to allow a meta-analysis across samples. At present, we can say

which dimensions we expect theoretically to be most appropriate, as I have attempted to do in

Figure 1. But we still need empirical work to test whether those hypotheses are supported, and to

develop and test additional theories when they are not.

Few studies test the validity of using one dimension of race as a proxy for another. Often

proxies are used because of the difficulty of measuring particular dimensions with particular

research designs (i.e., racial identity in survey research, observed race in self-completion modes

of survey research). Future research should determine how estimates of racial inequalities are

affected by using perceived race as a proxy for observed race, or racial-classification as a proxy

for racial identity.

Of course, future research in these areas depends on having more data sets that measure

multiple dimensions of race, which at present are few in number (Bratter et al. 2014). Those who

design and implement surveys often need to be convinced of the value of adding questions that

capture these multiple dimensions (Saperstein 2013). This is particularly true outside of the United

States and Latin America, the regions that have been the focus of most of this research. Although

the theoretical distinctions between different dimensions of race are relevant in many parts of the

world, more empirical research is needed in Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Middle East, to

understand how they affect people’s lived experience. In the United States, the number of people

who experience race as a number of conflicting dimensions will likely grow, making it more

important to understand how the multidimensionality of race affects research estimates, statistics,

and the experience of a growing number of people. Yet in all societies, understanding the diverse

dimensions of race shows how racial inequalities are constructed in multiple ways – from within

and without, by aspects of our experiences, our appearance, our interactions, and our family

history, and by no single one of these on its own.


1 Although sometimes presented providing an objective measure of skin color, spectrophotometer readings are

influenced by background lighting and the part of the body that is measured, including how tanned that body part is

at the moment of the reading (Garcia and Abascal In press).

2 Some of these studies attempted to study the “validity” of race data in vital statistics or medical records without

recognizing that the observed classifications represented a different dimension of race than the self-classification data

used to verify it (e.g., Baumeister et al. 2000).

3 Campbell and Troyer (2007) focus on Native Americans precisely because of the typically high levels of

inconsistency between their self-classification and observed race. Native Americans generally reveal higher levels of

racial ambiguity compared to other U.S. groups.

4 Or alternatively, genetic contributions to health can be analyzed through a panel of gene sequences (single-nucleotide

polymorphisms) that are not associated with efforts to genetically measure continental or racial ancestry.


Ahmed, Patricia, Cynthia Feliciano, and Rebecca Jean Emigh. 2007. “Internal and External

Ethnic Assessments in Eastern Europe.” Social Forces 86(1):231–55.

Alba, Richard. 2005. “Bright vs. Blurred Boundaries: Second-Generation Assimilation and

Exclusion in France, Germany, and the United States.” Ethnic and Racial Studies


Alba, Richard and Tariqul Islam. 2009. “The Case of the Disappearing Mexican Americans: An

Ethnic-Identity Mystery.” Population Research and Policy Review 28(2):109–21.

Atzmon, Gil et al. 2010. “Abraham’s Children in the Genome Era: Major Jewish Diaspora

Populations Comprise Distinct Genetic Clusters with Shared Middle Eastern Ancestry.”

The American Journal of Human Genetics 86(6):850–59.

Bailey, Stanley R. 2008. “Unmixing for Race Making in Brazil.” American Journal of Sociology


Bailey, Stanley R., Fabrício M. Fialho, and Andrew M. Penner. In press. “Interrogating Race:

Color, Racial Categories, and Class across the Americas.” American Behavioral Scientist.

Baker, Rachel B., Jamison D. Fargo, Donna Shambley-Ebron, and Marilyn S. Sommers. 2010.

“A Source of Healthcare Disparity: Race, Skin Color, and Injuries after Rape among

Adolescents and Young Adults.” Journal of Forensic Nursing 6(3):144–50.


Banton, Michael. 2012. “The Colour Line and the Colour Scale in the Twentieth Century.”

Ethnic and Racial Studies 35(7):1109–31.

Bauchet, Marc et al. 2007. “Measuring European Population Stratification with Microarray

Genotype Data.” American Journal of Human Genetics 80(5):948–56.

Baumeister, L., K. Marchi, M. Pearl, R. Williams, and P. Braveman. 2000. “The Validity of

Information on ‘Race’ and ‘Hispanic Ethnicity’ in California Birth Certificate Data.”

Health Services Research 35(4):869–83.

Boehmer, Ulrike et al. 2002. “Self-Reported vs. Administrative Race/Ethnicity Data and Study

Results.” American Journal of Public Health 92:1471–73.

Bolnick, Deborah A. et al. 2007. “The Science and Business of Genetic Ancestry Testing.”

Science 318:399–400.

Bolnick, Deborah A. 2008. “Individual Ancestry Inference and the Reification of Race as a

Biological Phenomenon.” Pp. 70–88 in Revisiting race in a genomic age, Rutgers studies

in medical anthropology, edited by B. A. Koenig, S. S.-J. Lee, and S. S. Richardson. New

Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press.

Branigan, Amelia R. et al. 2013. “Skin Color, Sex, and Educational Attainment in the Post-Civil

Rights Era.” Social Science Research 42(6):1659–74.

Bratter, Jenifer L., Mary E. Campbell, and Wendy D. Roth. 2014. “Multiple Components of

Race Data Library [Online Database].” Retrieved (

Bratter, Jenifer L. and Bridget K. Gorman. 2011. “Does Multiracial Matter? A Study of Racial

Disparities in Self-Rated Health.” Demography 48:127–52.

Broyard, Bliss. 2008. One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life: A Story of Race and Family Secrets.

1st Back Bay pbk. ed. New York: Back Bay Books.

Brubaker, Rogers. 2015. “The Dolezal Affair: Race, Gender, and the Micropolitics of Identity.”

Ethnic and Racial Studies 0(0):1–35.

Cabella, Wanda and Rafael Porzecanski. 2015. “The Growth of Ethnic Minorities in Uruguay:

Ethnic Renewal or Measurement Problems?” Pp. 175–90 in Social Statistics and Ethnic

Diversity: Cross-National Perspectives in Classifications and Identity Politics, IMISCOE

Research Series, edited by P. Simon, V. Piché, and A. A. Gagnon. New York: Springer

International Publishing.

Campbell, Mary E. and Lisa Troyer. 2007. “The Implications of Racial Misclassification by

Observers.” American Sociological Review 72(5):750–65.

Codina, G. Edward and Frank F. Montalvo. 1994. “Chicano Phenotype and Depression.”

Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences 16:296–306.


Cooley, Charles Horton. 1902. Human Nature and the Social Order. New York: Charles

Scribner’s Sons.

Davis, F. James. 1991. Who Is Black? One Nation’s Definition. University Park, PA:

Pennsylvania State University Press.

Dowling, Julie A. 2014. Mexican Americans and the Question of Race. University of Texas


Doyle, Jamie Mihoko and Grace Kao. 2007. “Are Racial Identities of Multiracials Stable?

Changing Self-Identification Among Single and Multiple Race Individuals.” Social

psychology quarterly 70(4):405–23.

Duncan, Brian and Stephen J. Trejo. 2011. “Intermarriage and the International Transmission of

Ethnic Identity and Human Capital for Mexican Americans.” Journal of Labor

Economics 29(2):195–227.

Duster, Troy. 2011. “Ancestry Testing and DNA: Uses, Limits, and Caveat Emptor.” Pp. 99–115

in Race and the genetic revolution: science, myth, and culture, edited by S. Krimsky and

K. Sloan. New York: Columbia University Press.

Emeka, Amon and Jody Agius Vallejo. 2011. “Non-Hispanics with Latin American Ancestry:

Assimilation, Race, and Identity among Latin American Descendants in the US.” Social

Science Research 40(6):1547–63.

Feliciano, Cynthia. In press. “Shades of Race: How Phenotype and Observer Characteristics

Shape Racial Classification.” American Behavioral Scientist.

Fox, Cybelle and Thomas A. Guglielmo. 2012. “Defining America’s Racial Boundaries: Blacks,

Mexicans, and European Immigrants, 1890–1945.” American Journal of Sociology


Frank, Reanne, Ilana Redstone Akresh, and Bo Lu. 2010. “Latino Immigrants and the U.S.

Racial Order How and Where Do They Fit In?” American Sociological Review


Freeman, Jonathan B., Kristin Pauker, Evan P. Apfelbaum, and Nalini Ambady. 2010.

“Continuous Dynamics in the Real-Time Perception of Race.” Journal of Experimental

Social Psychology 46(1):179–85.

Freeman, Jonathan B., Andrew M. Penner, Aliya Saperstein, Matthias Scheutz, and Nalini

Ambady. 2011. “Looking the Part: Social Status Cues Shape Race Perception.” PLoS

ONE 6(9):e25107.

Frost, Floyd, Victoria Taylor, and Elizabeth Fries. 1992. “Racial Misclassification of Native

Americans in a Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Cancer Registry.” Journal

of the National Cancer Institute 84(12):957–62.


Garcia, Denia and Maria Abascal. In press. “Colored Perceptions: Racially Distinctive Names

and Assessments of Skin Color.” American Behavioral Scientist.

Golash-Boza, Tanya and William A. Darity. 2008. “Latino Racial Choices: The Effects of Skin

Colour and Discrimination on Latinos’ and Latinas’ Racial Self-Identifications.” Ethnic

and Racial Studies 31:899–934.

Graves, Joseph L. 2013. “Looking at the World through ‘Race’-Colored Glasses: The Fallacy of

Ascertainment Bias in Biomedical Research and Practice.” Pp. 39–52 in Mapping

“Race”: Critical Approaches to Health Disparities Research, edited by L. E. Gomez and

N. Lopez. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press.

Gravlee, Clarence C. 2005. “Ethnic Classification in Southeastern Puerto Rico: The Cultural

Model of ‘Color.’” Social Forces 83(3):949–70.

Gravlee, Clarence C., William W. Dressler, and H. Russell Bernard. 2005. “Skin Color, Social

Classification, and Blood Pressure in Southeastern Puerto Rico.” American Journal of

Public Health 95(12):2191–97.

Gravlee, Clarence C., Amy L. Non, and Connie J. Mulligan. 2009. “Genetic Ancestry, Social

Classification, and Racial Inequalities in Blood Pressure in Southeastern Puerto Rico.”

PLoS ONE 4(9):e6821.

Gullickson, Aaron. In press. “Essential Measures: Ancestry, Race, and Social Difference.”

American Behavioral Scientist.

Gullickson, Aaron and Ann Morning. 2011. “Choosing Race: Multiracial Ancestry and

Identification.” Social Science Research 40(2):498–512.

Guo, Guang et al. 2014. “Genetic Bio-Ancestry and Social Construction of Racial Classification

in Social Surveys in the Contemporary United States.” Demography 51(1):141–72.

Hahn, Robert A., Benedict I. Truman, and Nancy D. Barker. 1996. “Identifying Ancestry: The

Reliability of Ancestral Identification in the United States by Self, Proxy, Interviewer,

and Funeral Director.” Epidemiology 7(1):75–80.

Halder, Indrani et al. 2012. “Biogeographic Ancestry, Self-Identified Race, and Admixture-

Phenotype Associations in the Heart SCORE Study.” American Journal of Epidemiology


Hannon, Lance, Robert DeFina, and Sarah Bruch. 2013. “The Relationship Between Skin Tone

and School Suspension for African Americans.” Race and Social Problems 5(4):281–95.

Harris, David R. 2002. In the Eye of the Beholder: Observed Race and Observer Characteristics.

Population Studies Center Research Report No. 02-522.

Harris, David R. and Jeremiah Joseph Sim. 2000. An Empirical Look at the Social Construction

of Race: The Case of Multiracial Adolescents. Population Studies Center.


Harris, David R. and Jeremiah Joseph Sim. 2002. “Who Is Multiracial? Assessing the

Complexity of Lived Race.” American Sociological Review 67(4):614–27.

Hilliar, Kirin F. and Richard I. Kemp. 2008. “Barack Obama or Barry Dunham? The Appearance

of Multiracial Faces Is Affected by the Names Assigned to Them.” Perception


Hill, Mark E. 2002. “Race of the Interviewer and Perception of Skin Color: Evidence from the

Multi-City Study of Urban Inequality.” American Sociological Review 67(1):99–108.

Hitlin, Steven, J. Scott Brown, and Glen H. Elder. 2007. “Measuring Latinos: Racial

Classifications and Self-Understandings.” Social Forces 86:587–611.

Jenkins, Richard. 2008. Social Identity. 3rd edition. New York: Routledge.

Khanna, Nikki. 2004. “The Role of Reflected Appraisals in Racial Identity: The Case of

Multiracial Asians.” Social Psychology Quarterly 67(2):115–31.

Khanna, Nikki. 2010. “‘If You’re Half Black, You’re Just Black’: Reflected Appraisals and the

Persistence of the One-Drop Rule.” Sociological Quarterly 51(1):96–121.

Kreisman, Daniel and Marcos A. Rangel. 2014. “On the Blurring of the Color Line: Wages and

Employment for Black Males of Different Skin Tones.” Review of Economics and

Statistics 97(1):1–13.

Kressin, Nancy R., Bei-Hung Chang, Ann Hendricks, and Lewis E. Kazis. 2003. “Agreement

Between Administrative Data and Patients’ Self-Reports of Race/Ethnicity.” American

Journal of Public Health 93(10):1734–39.

Liebler, Carolyn A., Sonya Rastogi, Leticia E. Fernandez, James M. Noon, and Sharon R. Ennis.

2014. America’s Churning Races: Race and Ethnic Response Changes between Census

2000 and the 2010 Census.

Marcus, Gregory M. et al. 2010. “European Ancestry as a Risk Factor for Atrial Fibrillation in

African Americans.” Circulation 122(20):2009–15.

Monk, Ellis P. 2014. “Skin Tone Stratification among Black Americans, 2001–2003.” Social

Forces 92(4):1313–37.

Monk, Ellis P., Jr. 2015. “The Cost of Color: Skin Color, Discrimination, and Health among

African-Americans.” American Journal of Sociology 121(2):396–444.

Nagaraj, Shyamala, Tey Nai-Peng, Ng Chiu-Wan, Lee Kiong-Hock, and Jean Pala. 2015.

“Counting Ethnicity in Malaysia: The Complexity of Measuring Diversity.” Pp. 143–74

in Social Statistics and Ethnic Diversity: Cross-National Perspectives in Classifications

and Identity Politics, IMISCOE Research Series, edited by P. Simon, V. Piché, and A. A.

Gagnon. New York: Springer International Publishing.


Newby, C. Alison and Julie Dowling. 2007. “Black and Hispanic: Identification of Afro-Cuban

Immigrants in the Southwest.” Sociological Perspectives 50:343–66.

Noymer, Andrew, Andrew M. Penner, and Aliya Saperstein. 2011. “Cause of Death Affects

Racial Classification on Death Certificates.” PLoS ONE 6(1):e15812.

Pauker, Kristin and Nalini Ambady. 2009. “Multiracial Faces: How Categorization Affects

Memory at the Boundaries of Race.” Journal of Social Issues 65(1):69–86.

Penner, Andrew M. and Aliya Saperstein. 2015. “Disentangling the Effects of Racial Self-

Identification and Classification by Others: The Case of Arrest.” Demography


Perez, Marco V. et al. 2013. “African American Race but Not Genome-Wide Ancestry Is

Negatively Associated with Atrial Fibrillation among Postmenopausal Women in the

Women’s Health Initiative.” American Heart Journal 166(3):566–72.e1.

Perrin, Nicolas, Luc Dal, and Michel Poulain. 2015. “The Objective Approaches of Ethnic

Origins in Belgium: Methodological Alternatives and Statistical Implications.” Pp. 191–

208 in Social Statistics and Ethnic Diversity: Cross-National Perspectives in

Classifications and Identity Politics, IMISCOE Research Series. New York: Springer

International Publishing.

Rastogi, Sonya, Carolyn Liebler, and James Noon. In press. “An Outside View: What Do

Observers Say about Others’ Races and Hispanic Origins?” American Behavioral


Rockquemore, Kerry Ann and David L. Brunsma. 2002. Beyond Black: Biracial Identity in

America. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Rodríguez, Clara E. 2000. Changing Race: Latinos, the Census, and the History of Ethnicity in

the United States. New York: New York University Press.

Ronquillo, Jaclyn et al. 2007. “The Effects of Skin Tone on Race-Related Amygdala Activity:

An fMRI Investigation.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 2(1):39–44.

Roth, Wendy D. 2010. “Racial Mismatch: The Divergence Between Form and Function in Data

for Monitoring Racial Discrimination of Hispanics.” Social Science Quarterly


Roth, Wendy D. 2012. Race Migrations: Latinos and the Cultural Transformation of Race.

Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Roth, Wendy D. 2015. “Studying Ethnic Schemas: Integrating Cognitive Schemas into Ethnicity

Research through Photo Elicitation.” Pp. 89–118 in Studying Ethnic Identity:

Methodological and Conceptual Approaches Across Disciplines, edited by C. E. Santos

and A. J. Umaña-Taylor. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.


Retrieved October 20, 2015


Roth, Wendy D. and Katherine Lyon. In press. “Genetic Ancestry Tests and Race: Who Takes

Them, Why, and How Do They Affect Racial Identities?” in Reconsidering Race: Cross-

Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Approaches, edited by K. Suzuki and von Vacano,

Diego. New York: Oxford University Press.

Royal, Charmaine D. et al. 2010. “Inferring Genetic Ancestry: Opportunities, Challenges, and

Implications.” The American Journal of Human Genetics 86(5):661–73.

Saperstein, Aliya. 2006. “Double-Checking the Race Box: Examining Inconsistency between

Survey Measures of Observed and Self-Reported Race.” Social Forces 85:57–74.

Saperstein, Aliya. 2012. “Capturing Complexity in the United States: Which Aspects of Race

Matter and When?” Ethnic and Racial Studies 35(8):1484–1502.

Saperstein, Aliya. 2013. “Representing the Multidimensionality of Race in Survey Research.” in

Mapping “Race”: Critical Approaches to Health Disparities Research, edited by L. E.

Gomez and N. Lopez. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

Saperstein, Aliya, Jessica M. Kizer, and Andrew M. Penner. In press. “Making the Most of

Multiple Measures: Disentangling the Effects of Different Dimensions of Race in Survey

Research.” American Behavioral Scientist.

Saperstein, Aliya and Andrew M. Penner. 2010. “The Race of a Criminal Record: How

Incarceration Colors Racial Perceptions.” Social Problems 57(1):92–113.

Saperstein, Aliya and Andrew M. Penner. 2012. “Racial Fluidity and Inequality in the United

States.” American Journal of Sociology 118(3):676–727.

Scholler, Martin. 2013. “The Changing Face of America – Photo Gallery.” Retrieved September

23, 2015 (


Smedley, Audrey and Brian D. Smedley. 2012. Race in North America: Origin and Evolution of

a Worldview. 4th ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Smith, Tom W. 2001. Aspects of Measuring Race: Race by Observation vs. Self-Reporting and

Multiple Mentions of Race and Ethnicity. National Opinion Research Center, GSS

Methodological Report No. 93.

Snipp, C. Matthew. 1989. American Indians: The First of This Land. New York: Russell Sage.

Song, Miri and Peter Aspinall. 2012. “Is Racial Mismatch a Problem for Young ‘mixed Race’

People in Britain? The Findings of Qualitative Research.” Ethnicities 12(6):730–53.


South, Scott J., Kyle Crowder, and Erick Chavez. 2005. “Migration and Spatial Assimilation

among U.S. Latinos: Classical versus Segmented Trajectories.” Demography 42(3):497–


Stepanikova, Irena. 2010. “Applying a Status Perspective to Racial/ethnic Misclassification:

Implications for Health.” Pp. 159–83 in Advances in Group Processes, vol. 27, Advances

in Group Processes. Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Retrieved October 9, 2015



Sugarman, J. R., R. Soderberg, J. E. Gordon, and F. P. Rivara. 1993. “Racial Misclassification of

American Indians: Its Effect on Injury Rates in Oregon, 1989 through 1990.” American

Journal of Public Health 83(5):681–84.

Telles, Edward. 2014. Pigmentocracies: Ethnicity, Race, and Color in Latin America. 1 edition.

Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.

Telles, Edward E. 2004. Race in Another America: The Significance of Skin Color in Brazil.

Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Telles, Edward E. and Nelson Lim. 1998. “Does It Matter Who Answers the Race Question?

Racial Classification and Income Inequality in Brazil.” Demography 35:465–74.

Telles, Edward and Tianna Paschel. 2014. “Who Is Black, White, or Mixed Race? How Skin

Color, Status, and Nation Shape Racial Classification in Latin America.” American

Journal of Sociology 120(3):864–907.

Vargas, Nicholas. 2014. “Off White: Colour-Blind Ideology at the Margins of Whiteness.”

Ethnic and Racial Studies 37(13):2281–2302.

Vargas, Nicholas. 2015. “Latina/o Whitening? Which Latina/os Self-Classify as White and

Report Being Perceived as White by Other Americans?” Du Bois Review: Social Science

Research on Race 12(01):119–36.

Vargas, Nicholas and Kevin Stainback. In press. “Documenting Contested Racial Identities

among Self-Identified Latina/os, Asians, Blacks, and Whites.” American Behavioral


Veenstra, Gerry. 2011. “Mismatched Racial Identities, Colourism, and Health in Toronto and

Vancouver.” Social Science & Medicine 73(8):1152–62.

Viglione, Jill, Lance Hannon, and Robert DeFina. 2011. “The Impact of Light Skin on Prison

Time for Black Female Offenders.” The Social Science Journal 48(1):250–58.

Waters, Mary C. 1990. Ethnic Options: Choosing Identities in America. Berkeley: University of

California Press.


West, Carmen N. et al. 2005. “Race and Ethnicity: Comparing Medical Records to Self-

Reports.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute Monographs 35:72–74.

White, Karletta M. 2015. “The Salience of Skin Tone: Effects on the Exercise of Police

Enforcement Authority.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 38(6):993–1010.

Willadsen-Jensen, Eve C. and Tiffany A. Ito. 2006. “Ambiguity and the Timecourse of Racial

Perception.” Social Cognition 24(5):580–606.

Williams, Gregory Howard. 1996. Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who

Discovered He Was Black. New York, NY: Plume.

Wimmer, Andreas. 2008. “The Making and Unmaking of Ethnic Boundaries: A Multilevel

Process Theory.” American Journal of Sociology 113(4):970–1022.

Xie, Yu and Kimberly Goyette. 1997. “The Racial Identification of Biracial Children with One

Asian Parent: Evidence from the 1990 Census.” Social Forces 76(2):547–70.


Dimension of Race Description Typical Measurement Also described as Outcomes it may be

appropriate for




Subjective self-

identification, not limited

by pre-set options.

Open-ended self-

identification question

“Internal race” (Roth 2010);

“Self-ID” (Scholler 2013);

“racial identification”

(Newby and Dowling 2007)

Political mobilization;

assimilation; social

networks; voting;

residential decision-

making; attitudes



The race you check on an

official form or survey

with constrained options

(e.g. the Census, college

financial aid form, the

GSS, etc.)

Closed-ended survey


“Expressed race” (Roth

2010); “expressed internal

race” (Harris and Sim 2002);

“Census race” (Bailey 2008);

“self-reported race”

(Saperstein 2006); “racial

identification” (Saperstein

and Penner 2012)

Demographic change;

vital statistics; disease

and illness rates

*Often used as a proxy

for Racial Identity



The race others believe

you to be



“External racial identity”

(Harris and Sim 2002);

“racial classification”

(Saperstein and Penner

2012); “racial identification”

(Xie and Goyette 1997)



disparities; residential

segregation; criminal

justice indicators; health

care/service provision

– Appearance-Based Observed race based on

readily observable



classification with

instructions to classify

on first observation

– Racial profiling;

discrimination in

public settings

– Interaction-Based Observed race based on

characteristics revealed

through interaction (e.g.

language, accent,



classification with

instructions to classify

after interaction or


– Workplace










The race you believe

others assume you to be

“What race do most

people think you are?”

“Perceived” race (Vargas



processes, perceived


* Often used as a proxy

for Observed Race

PHENOTYPE Racial appearance Usually interviewer




disparities; residential

segregation; criminal

justice indicators; health

care and service


– Color Skin color Usually interviewer

classification on a likert

scale or color palette

– Other features Hair texture or color,

nose shape, lip shape, eye


Usually interviewer

classification on a series

of categorical variables



The compiled racial

groups of your ancestors

– Known What you believe your

racial ancestry to be

based primarily on

family history

Self-report, often open-


Assimilation; racial

boundary formation;

social closure; disease

and illness rates

– Genetic Deep ancestry indicated

by genetic testing

Analysis of ancestry

informative markers by

researchers or direct-to-

consumer companies

“Genetic ancestry” (Royal et

al. 2010); “Genome-wide

ancestry” (Perez et al. 2013);

“Ancestry inference”

(Bolnick 2008)



Note: This figure builds on an earlier typology in Roth (2010) and benefitted from the discussions of the Measuring the Diverging Components of

Race Workshop at Texas A&M University in June 2014.


WENDY D. ROTH is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of British

Columbia. Address: Department of Sociology, 6303 N.W. Marine Drive, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z1,

Canada. Email: [email protected]

The Condemnation of Blackness

Race, Cr ime, and the Making of Modern Urban America




R A C E , C R I M E , A N D T H E M A K I N G O F


Khalil Gibran Muhammad

h a r va r d u n i v e r s i t y p r e s s

Cambridge, Massachusetts

London, En gland

Copyright © 2010 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging- in- Publication Data

Muhammad, Khalil Gibran, 1972 –
The condemnation of blackness : race, crime, and the making of modern urban America /
Khalil Gibran Muhammad.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978- 0- 674- 03597- 3 (cloth : alk. paper)

1. Crime and race— United States. 2. African Americans— Social conditions.
3. Discrimination in criminal justice administration— United States. 4. United States—
Race relations. I. Title.
HV6197.U5M85 2010
364.2’56—dc22 2009014930

First Harvard University Press paperback edition, 2011

ISBN 978-0-674-06211-5 (pbk.)

For Stephanie, Gibran, Jordan, and Justice,
and for my parents, Ozier and Kimberly

List of Illustrations ix

Introduction: The Mismea sure of Crime 1

1 Saving the Nation: The Racial Data Revolution
and the Negro Problem 15

2 Writing Crime into Race: Racial Criminalization
and the Dawn of Jim Crow 35

3 Incriminating Culture: The Limits of Racial Liberalism
in the Progressive Era 88

4 Preventing Crime: White and Black Reformers
in Philadelphia 146

5 Fighting Crime: Politics and Prejudice in the
City of Brotherly Love 192

6 Policing Racism: Jim Crow Justice in the Urban North 226

Conclusion: The Conundrum of Criminality 269

Manuscript Sources 279

Notes 281

Ac know ledg ments 369

Index 375




“A Downtown ‘Morgue,’ ” c. 1890 55

“How Criminals Are Made,” c. 1907 102

“American Logic,” c. 1913 142

Youth of the Friends Neighborhood Guild, c. 1901 156

“The Washington Party,” c. 1901 159

Staged Charity Photo of Black Children as Pickaninnies, c. 1905 162

Handbill of the Joint Or ga ni za tion of the AEIO and LCPR,
c. 1909 184

Pledge Card of the Association for Equalizing Industrial Opportunities,
c. 1909 186

Adella Bond Defends Herself in Philadelphia Race Riot, c. 1918 212

Stoned to Death by a White Mob during the Chicago Race Riot,
c. 1919 237

Police Search African Americans for Weapons during the Chicago Race
Riot, c. 1919 239

“Puzzle: Find the ‘Keepers of the Peace,’ ” c. 1928 250

“Be First to Let Him Out,” c. 1929 264




I N T R O D U C T I O N :


This book tells an unsettling coming- of- age story. It is a biography of the
idea of black criminality in the making of modern urban America. The
link between race and crime is as enduring and infl uential in the twenty-
fi rst century as it has been in the past. Violent crime rates in the nation’s
biggest cities are generally understood as a refl ection of the presence and
behavior of the black men, women, and children who live there. The U.S.
prison population is larger than at any time in the history of the peniten-
tiary anywhere in the world. Nearly half of the more than two million
Americans behind bars are African Americans, and an unpre ce dented
number of black men will likely go to prison during the course of their
lives. These grim statistics are well known and frequently cited by white
and black Americans; indeed for many they defi ne black humanity.1 In all
manner of conversations about race— from debates about parenting to
education to urban life—black crime statistics are ubiquitous.2 By the
same token, white crime statistics are virtually invisible, except when used
to dramatize the excessive criminality of African Americans. Although the
statistical language of black criminality often means different things to
different people, it is the glue that binds race to crime today as in the

How was the statistical link between blackness and criminality ini-
tially forged?4 Who were the central actors?5 By what means did black
and white social scientists, social reformers, journalists, antiracist activ-
ists, law enforcement offi cials, and politicians construct, contest, and
corroborate their claims regarding black criminality? How did they use
crime among blacks to articulate their vision of race relations in mod-
ern urban America: what it was, what it is, and what it should be?6
How did they incorporate others’ ideas about race into their own sug-
gestions about and solutions to the “Negro Problem”? How did they



produce, translate, and disseminate racial knowledge about crime to
others? To put it another way, between 1890 and 1940, how and why
did racial crime statistics become what Ted Porter calls a “strategy of
communication”— a subject of dialogue and debate— about blacks’ fi t-
ness for modern life?7 Why did black criminality outpace, at times, many
competitors—such as body odor, brain size, disease, and intelligence— in
the national marketplace of ideas about, and “scientifi c” proofs of, black

In 1928 Thorsten Sellin, one of the nation’s most respected white so-
ciologists, argued that African Americans were unfairly stigmatized by
their criminality. His article, “The Negro Criminal: A Statistical Note,”
captured the moment when nearly four de cades of statistical research
on black criminality began to be called into question.9 In the aftermath of
wide- scale racial violence during the Great Migration of black southern-
ers to the urban North, African American researchers in the 1920s pub-
lished a fl urry of new statistical reports of racism among police offi cers,
prosecutors, and court and prison offi cials. Convinced by the weight of
evidence presented by these “New Negro” crime experts and crime
fi ghters— the second generation of academically trained black sociologists
and social workers— Sellin brought their work to the attention of his white
academic peers.10 Speaking as a representative of the white majority in a
Jim Crow nation, he exposed the “unreliability” of racial crime statistics
and the deeply troubling ways in which blackness and criminality shaped
racial identity and racial oppression in modern America:

We are prone to judge ourselves by our best traits and strangers
by their worst. In the case of the Negro, stranger in our midst, all
beliefs prejudicial to him aid in intensifying the feeling of racial
antipathy engendered by his color and his social status. The colored
criminal does not as a rule enjoy the racial anonymity which cloaks
the offenses of individuals of the white race. The press is almost
certain to brand him, and the more revolting his crime proves to
be the more likely it is that his race will be advertised. In setting
the hall- mark of his color upon him, his individuality is in a sense
submerged, and instead of a mere thief, robber, or murderer, he
becomes a representative of his race, which in its turn is made to
suffer for his sins.11

Sellin’s “we,” linked to the notion of the Negro as a “stranger in our
midst,” marked not only his whiteness but also and more importantly, his



position within a dominant racialized community with the power to de-
fi ne those outside it. That same power, Sellin implied, could be used to
break with the past— to change the future of race relations— because
crime itself was not the core issue. Rather, the problem was racial crimi-
nalization: the stigmatization of crime as “black” and the masking of
crime among whites as individual failure. The practice of linking crime to
blacks, as a racial group, but not whites, he concluded, reinforced and
reproduced racial in e qual ity.

The issue here was not whether crime was real. Instead, what struck
Sellin as the key variable to expose and contextualize was the ideological
currency of black criminality. Since the 1890s infl uential black crime ex-
perts such as W. E. B. Du Bois, a pioneering social scientist, and Ida B. Wells,
an internationally-known antilynching activist, labored tirelessly to dera-
cialize black criminality. Although their early efforts to convince white
academic and activist peers failed repeatedly, Sellin owed a great debt to
their struggle, and ultimately their vision of racial justice. Their vision of
fairness and equality included a society in which innocent law- abiding
blacks would not suffer the sins of individual black failures. They imag-
ined African Americans within what sociologist Orlando Patterson calls
the “broader moral community” of the United States.12 Black scholars and
activists pursued something akin to color- blind criminal justice by argu-
ing that equal treatment, was the fi rst step toward disentangling race and
crime, destroying a pillar of racism, and creating a society in which blacks,
like their white immigrant counterparts, were included within, as Du
Bois wrote, the “pale of nineteenth- century Humanity.”13 They may not
have set the terms of the initial discourse, but they most certainly altered
it over time in unanticipated ways. Thus for Sellin and for the many
black experts marginalized within the academy (but cited in his notes),
black criminality had become the most signifi cant and durable signifi er
of black inferiority in white people’s minds since the dawn of Jim Crow.
During the 1930s Sellin would leverage his infl uence alongside the per sis-
tent efforts of black scholars and activists to break the legacy of racial
criminalization, to disentangle race from crime.14

The Condemnation of Blackness reconstructs the key moments, be-
ginning one generation after slavery, when new sources of statistical data
were joined to ongoing debates about the future place of African Ameri-
cans in modern urban America. With the publication of the 1890 census,
prison statistics for the fi rst time became the basis of a national discus-
sion about blacks as a distinct and dangerous criminal population. In the



wake of the Civil War and Reconstruction, when the culture and politics
of white supremacy in the South and across the nation were being recon-
stituted, African American freedom fueled far- reaching anxieties among
many white Americans.15 The census marked twenty- fi ve years of free-
dom and was, consequently, a much- anticipated data source for assessing
blacks’ status in a post- slavery era.

New statistical and racial identities forged out of raw census data
showed that African Americans, as 12 percent of the population, made
up 30 percent of the nation’s prison population. Although specially de-
signed race- conscious laws, discriminatory punishments, and new forms
of everyday racial surveillance had been institutionalized by the 1890s as
a way to suppress black freedom, white social scientists presented the
new crime data as objective, color- blind, and incontrovertible. Neither
the dark color of southern chain gangs nor the pale hue of northern po-
lice mattered to the truth of black crime statistics.

From this moment forward, notions about blacks as criminals mate-
rialized in national debates about the fundamental racial and cultural
differences between African Americans and native- born whites and Eu-
ro pe an immigrants. These debates also informed questions about appro-
priate levels of African American access to the social and economic infra-
structure of the nation. Calls for greater African American access to
public education, for example, were challenged by statistical arguments
that education turned black people into criminals.16 Still, to friend and
foe alike, black criminality offered both a discursive and a practical solu-
tion to healing the deep sectional divisions of a war- torn nation. For
white Americans of every ideological stripe— from radical southern rac-
ists to northern progressives— African American criminality became one
of the most widely accepted bases for justifying prejudicial thinking, dis-
criminatory treatment, and/or ac cep tance of racial violence as an instru-
ment of public safety.

Tracing the emergence and evolution of the statistical discourse on
black criminality sheds new light on the urban North as a crucial site for
the production of modern ideas about race, crime, and punishment. On
the one hand, the dominant historical narratives about black criminality
before the 1960s have been told through southern criminal justice prac-
tices and framed as premodern. Racist southern politicians, vigilante
criminal justice offi cials, and body-parts- collecting lynch mobs during
the long Jim Crow era have formed the core subject matter of these
backward- looking studies.17 On the other hand, the prevailing history of



the northern criminal justice system, starting in the nineteenth century,
has been a modernizing narrative, one in which the development of ev-
erything from prisons to policing to juvenile justice to probation and
parole has turned almost exclusively on the experiences of native- born
whites and Eu ro pe an immigrants.18 In this literature, it is as if black
criminality had not been shaped by modern ideas or modern agencies, or
that very little happening in the urban North pertained to black experi-
ences until the post- World War II era.19 Much historical and so cio log i cal
scholarship proceeds from this vantage point, giving the impression that
the history of racial criminalization began and ended in the Jim Crow
South. Then in the late 1960s, according to most accounts, a latent sub-
culture of violence erupted and spread across the nation’s northern inner-
cities.20 But the statistical discourse on black criminality from the 1890s
forward was a modern invention that encapsulated northern and south-
ern ideas about race and crime. Many postbellum race- relations writers
innovatively pointed out that the highest rates of black criminality could
be found in the cosmopolitan, freedom- loving urban North. Since then,
such “indisputable” statistical evidence from places like Chicago, New
York, and Philadelphia has been at the heart of modern ideas about race
and crime.21

At the dawn of the twentieth century, in a rapidly industrializing, ur-
banizing, and demographically shifting America, blackness was refash-
ioned through crime statistics. It became a more stable racial category in
opposition to whiteness through racial criminalization. Consequently,
white criminality gradually lost its fearsomeness. This book asks, how
did Eu ro pe an immigrants— the Irish and the Italians and the Polish, for
example— gradually shed their criminal identities while blacks did not?
In other words, how did criminality go from plural to singular?

By examining both immigrant and black crime discourses in the ur-
ban North as they were mutually constituted by new statistical data and
made meaningful to a Jim Crow nation, we can more easily discern dis-
tinct (and novel) patterns of talking about race and crime. Rather than
following the lead of social historians of working- class immigrant and
black communities who link ethnic culture to distinct patterns of crimi-
nal behavior, this book explores the genealogy of distinct patterns of ra-
cial crime discourses. In the period under investigation, crime, despite its
variability in form and expression across groups, was a ubiquitous prob-
lem across the nation— so much a problem in the urban North that it
was not clear that blackness would eventually become its sole signifi er.



Even the wellsprings of violent crime, as historian and criminologist
Jeffrey S. Adler found in his recent defi nitive study of hom i cide in Pro-
gressive era Chicago, fl owed from the same broader cultural, social, eco-
nomic, and demographic shifts and tensions affecting all non- elite urban
people. “Contrary to the impressions of most observers,” he writes,
“African American violence was similar to white violence. It resembled
white hom i cide in the form it took; and African- American violence par-
alleled white violence in how that form changed.”22 From the 1890s
through the 1930s, from the Progressive era through Prohibition, Afri-
can Americans had no monopoly on social banditry, crimes of re sis-
tance, or underground entrepreneurship; the “weapons of the weak” and
“lower- class oppositional culture” extended far and wide and in many
directions.23 The Condemnation of Blackness demonstrates and explains
how ideas of racial inferiority and crime became fastened to African
Americans by contrast to ideas of class and crime that shaped views of
Eu ro pe an immigrants and working- class whites.24

Whiteness scholars have shown how crucial the attributes of skin
color, Eu ro pe an ancestry, and the gradual adoption of anti- black racism
were to immigrant assimilation “into the singular ‘white race.’ ”25 Such
benefi ts, Thomas Guglielmo found recently, even secured the whiteness
of Chicago’s “Sicilian Gunmen” because their criminality “never positioned
them as non- white in any sustained or systematic way.”26 Building on
whiteness and critical race scholarship, I explore how postbellum south-
ern black out- migration to the urban North— to Philadelphia, Chicago,
and New York in particular— fueled an invidious black migration narra-
tive framed by crime statistics and reshaped broader racial discourses on
immigration and urbanization during Progressive era. Evoking the specter
of black rapists and murderers moving north one step ahead of lynch
mobs, innovative racial demographers such as Frederick L. Hoffman ex-
plicitly sanitized and normalized the criminality of northern white work-
ing and immigrant classes. Consequently, the black southern migrant— the
“Negro, stranger in our midst”— was marked as an exceptionally danger-
ous newcomer.

One of the strongest claims this book makes is that statistical com-
parisons between the Foreign- born and the Negro were foundational to
the emergence of distinctive modern discourses on race and crime. For all
the ways in which poor Irish immigrants of the mid- nineteenth century
were labeled members of the dangerous classes, criminalized by Anglo-
Saxon police, and over- incarcerated in the nation’s failing prisons, Progres-



sive era social scientists used statistics and sociology to create a pathway
for their redemption and rehabilitation.27 A generation before the Chi-
cago School of Sociology systematically destroyed the immigrant house of
pathology built by social Darwinists and eugenicists, Progressive era so-
cial scientists were innovating environmental theories of crime and delin-
quency while using crime statistics to demonstrate the assimilability of
the Irish, the Italian, and the Jew by explicit contrast to the Negro.28
White progressives often discounted crime statistics or disregarded them
altogether in favor of humanizing Eu ro pe an immigrants, as in much of
Jane Addams’s writings.29 In one of the fi rst academic textbooks on
crime, Charles R. Henderson, a pioneering University of Chicago social
scientist, declared that “the evil [of immigrant crime] is not so great as
statistics carelessly interpreted might prove.” He explained that age and
sex ratios— too many young males— skewed the data. But where the
“Negro factor” is concerned, Henderson continued, “racial inheritance,
physical and mental inferiority, barbarian and slave ancestry and cul-
ture,” were among the “most serious factors in crime statistics.”30

Similar comparisons would echo for the rest of the twentieth century.
The Progressive era was indeed the founding moment for the emergence
of an enduring statistical discourse of black dysfunctionality rather than
the 1960s, as is commonly believed. The post- Moynihan social- scientifi c
and public policy view of black pathology that scholars such as Robin
D. G. Kelley criticize as “ghetto ethnography” began, statistically speak-
ing, in the 1890s. The racial project of making blacks the “thing against
which normality, whiteness, and functionality have been defi ned,” was
foundational to the making of modern urban America.31 Shaped by ra-
cial ideology and racism, the statistical ghetto emerged, study by study, in
the Progressive era as the northern Black Belt formed block by block.32
Inextricably linked at birth, they grew up together.

Northern black crime statistics and migration trends in the 1890s,
1900s, and 1910s were woven together into a cautionary tale about the
exceptional threat black people posed to modern society. In the Windy
City, in the City of Brotherly Love, and in the nation’s Capital of Com-
merce this tale was told, infused with symbolic references to American civi-
lization, to American modernity, and to the fi ctive promised land of unend-
ing opportunity for all who, regardless of race or class or nationality,
sought their fortunes. In these imagined communities of a post- slavery,
post- Reconstruction civil rights America, “color- blind universalism” added
an additional thread of contempt to the narrative. In a moment when



most white Americans believed in the declining signifi cance of racism,
statistical evidence of excessive rates of black arrests and the overrepre-
sentation of black prisoners in the urban North was seen by many whites
as indisputable proof of black inferiority.33

What else but black pathology could explain black failure in these
modern meccas of opportunity? Unlike subsequent commentators in the
1920s and 1930s, Progressive era white race- relations writers frequently
asserted that racism had nothing to do with black criminality. They self-
consciously critiqued black criminality in what they perceived to be race-
neutral language. The numbers “speak for themselves” was one frequent
refrain, followed by “I am not a racist.”34 A variant attached to both
rhetorical strategies accused black race- relations writers of being bi-
ased and sentimental toward their own. They were accused of “cod-
dling” their own criminals and excusing their behavior. When black ex-
perts dug in, when they made forceful counterarguments of epidemic
racism in the heyday of “separate but equal”— even in the North— they
were often charged with playing the race card (a concept then still in its
infancy). The familiar resonance of these statements and exchanges is a
testament to their longevity in American culture and society.35

One explanation for the staying power of black crime rhetoric is that
it had far more proponents than opponents compared to other racial
concepts.36 Beginning in the late nineteenth century, the statistical rheto-
ric of the “Negro criminal” became a proxy for a national discourse on
black inferiority. As an “objective” mea sure, it also became a tool to shield
white Americans from the charge of racism when they used black crime
statistics to support discriminatory public policies and social welfare
practices. Evidence throughout the fi rst half of this book shows that
the gap in the racial crime rhetoric between avowedly white supremacist
writers and white progressives narrowed signifi cantly when it came to
discussing black crime, vice, and immorality. Progressive era white social
scientists and reformers often reifi ed the racial criminalization pro cess by
framing white criminals sympathetically as victims of industrialization.
They described a “great army of unfortunates” juxtaposed against an army
of self- destructive and pathological blacks who were their “own worst
enem[ies].”37 Race and crime linkages fueled an early antiliberal resentment
that pushed African Americans to the margins of an expanding public and
private collaboration of social, civic, and po liti cal reform.38 Northern white
settlement house workers, for example, drew on these ideas when they



limited their crime prevention efforts “for whites only.”39 Local YMCA
offi cials, playground managers, and recreation center supervisors drew
on these ideas when they locked black youngsters out of constructive sites
of leisure and supervised play. Trans- ethnic gangs of white men— backed
by consenting police offi cers— drew on these ideas as they attacked black
pedestrians and homeowners in an increasingly violent and enduring
contest over racialized space in the urban North.

To be sure, racial liberals— a subset of white progressives— pushed back
against the rising tide of northern segregation, discrimination, and violence
during the Progressive era.40 Such leaders as Jane Addams and Mary
White Ovington distinguished themselves in their NAACP commitments
to civil and po liti cal rights. Drawing on the pioneering work of cultural
anthropologist Franz Boas, racial liberals also promoted new cultural
explanations of black criminality and rejected the biological determinism
of the racial Darwinists who had dominated scientifi c discourse on race
since the mid- nineteenth century. But there were limits to Boas’s culture
concept.41 The statistical evidence of black criminality remained rooted
in the concept of black inferiority or black pathology despite a shift in
the social scientifi c discourse on the origins of race and crime. The shift
from a racial biological frame to a racial cultural frame kept race at the
heart of the discourse. Although racist notions of (permanent) biological
inferiority gave way to liberal notions of (temporary) cultural inferior-
ity, racial liberals continued to distinguish black criminality from white
and ethnic criminality. In effect, they incriminated black culture. At-
tempts to deemphasize blackness and provide social welfare for African
Americans never matched the scale or intensity of the Americanization
project among immigrants. The racial- cultural content of white ethnic
criminality gradually began to lose its currency during the Progressive
era, while black criminality became more visible (and more contested by

Black crime researchers and reformers in fact contributed to and
drew inspiration from the cultural discourse on crime. Many black elites
had embraced Victorian ideals of morality and respectability in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, often trumping their white elite
counterparts in sophistication and refi nement. Seeing themselves as walk-
ing billboards for the race’s capacity for equal citizenship, and distin-
guishing themselves from “uncouth” and “criminally inclined” poor
blacks, black elites often employed the language of racial uplift and the



“politics of respectability” to describe black criminality in terms of class
and culture. Their race- relations writings and their social welfare efforts
were often shot through with class bias and victim- blaming. At times, black
northern elites were especially contemptuous of southern migrants. In rhet-
oric alone, when speaking to all- black audiences or when seeking credi-
bility and fi nancial support from white benefactors, their talk about black
criminality seemed indistinguishable from that of their white counterparts.
In the fi rst post- civil rights era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries— Jim Crow’s early years— ideology often trumped race for Afri-
can Americans vying for po liti cal, economic, and social resources among
whites. Conservative black opinion makers and race reformers who dwelt
on the self- destructive behavior of poor blacks were more likely than an-
tiracist activists to be heralded as clear- eyed and unbiased by their infl uen-
tial white peers.43

For some African American writers and reformers, black criminality
was a passport to relevancy in a wider white world in which black voices
were actively suppressed.44 Others, such as James Stemons, a Philadelphia
race- relations reformer and local crime fi ghter, used black criminality
to engage in a kind of double- speak: they used the rhetoric of black
criminality to draw attention to themselves for the purposes of critiqu-
ing racism. Often out of genuine concern for public safety, Stemons, Du
Bois, Wells, and many others did not ignore crime in their own commu-
nities. But neither did they ignore the racial double standards in the
urban crime discourse, the mistreatment of black suspects and crimi-
nals, and the poor quality of police protection offered to black commu-
nities. Despite their elitism, many black reformers tended to offer “root-
cause solutions” alongside their class- infused cultural critiques of black

Progressive era black social scientists and reformers also exposed and
challenged the limits of racial liberalism long before the post- World War
II failures of residential and workplace integration in the urban North
fueled a national civil rights movement and set the stage for a national
po liti cal backlash against liberalism.46 White social workers and white
philanthropists failed to invest suffi cient material resources into the up-
lift of African American urbanites, advising these communities to “work
out their own salvation” before others could help them. But black pro-
gressives cried foul, and they pressed for the same responses to their needs
that were being offered to white working- class and immigrant urbanites.



As much as they embraced the self- help ethos of the era, and as willing as
they were to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and build churches,
settlement houses, schools, businesses, labor organizations, and enter-
tainment venues in their own communities, they recognized that, dollar
for dollar, African Americans stood most in need of community invest-
ment and economic resources but were least likely to be helped.47 In the
segregated black communities of the urban North, members of the work-
ing class and the elite recognized that thoughtful, constructive crime
prevention cost money, lots of it. White philanthropy was the dominant
fi nancial source for all crime- prevention efforts, but native- born poor
whites and new immigrants received the lion’s share of attention and aid.
The hidden cost to black residents was not simply victimization by bad
guys, but also brutality by bad police offi cers and the loss of faith in
American society by the young and old, who saw the police as a repre-
sen ta tion of the government’s malign neglect of black people in general.48
As black sociologist Kelly Miller noted, thoughtful, caring policing was
an important solution to inspiring blacks to invest in their own citizen-
ship. Better policing would lead to better citizens in a feedback loop.49
The empathy police offi cers brought to black communities would be one
pathway, he argued, through which African Americans would come to
know they were valued in modern urban America.50

Beyond their own need to distinguish themselves from social and cul-
tural inferiors, black reformers noted time and time again that the stigma
of criminality fell most heavily on the most disadvantaged, isolated, and
neglected people of the urban North. As they saw it, the Progressive era
discourse of black criminality was at its best a self- serving justifi cation
for segregation and black self- help even as its proponents— white elites—
helped Eu rope’s huddled masses by advocating for social welfare agen-
cies, recreation facilities, better policing, economic fairness, and an end
to po liti cal corruption. At its worst, the stigma of criminality was an in-
tellectual defense of lynching, colonial- style criminal justice practices,
and genocide.

The worst fears of black race- relations writers, crime experts, and
social workers came true when widespread mob violence and race riots
erupted across the urban North during the Great Migration years and
beyond. Out of the bloodshed, black researchers and reformers rewrote
black criminality in terms of racism in the criminal justice system. They
tied testimonies of white police offi cers’ complicity in anti- black violence



to evidence that Progressive era white vice had been deliberately relocated
by police (and politicians) from immigrant communities into segregated
black communities. Police misconduct, corruption, and brutality, they
argued, helped to produce disproportionately high black arrest rates, the
starting point for high juvenile delinquency commitments and adult prison
rates. In this new formulation, New Negro researchers and civil rights
activists such as Charles S. Johnson, Anna Thompson, and Walter White
used statistical evidence of racial disparities in the northern criminal jus-
tice system as evidence that racial crime statistics were an unreliable index
of black behavior. National Urban League and NAACP– affi liated black
social scientists and reformers effectively appropriated the mainstream
environmental discourse of white progressives and later Chicago School
sociologists, breaking, for a time, the double standard that had long pre-
cluded such logic from working on behalf of African Americans. Sellin’s
1928 article captured the ascendance of this formulation and its legiti-
macy among some of the most infl uential white sociologists and crimi-
nologists in the country.

Yet even as National Urban League reports and NAACP press re-
leases brought unpre ce dented attention to new evidence of police bru-
tality and called into question racial disparities in northern prisons in
the 1920s and 1930s, black criminality remained a racial problem. Cer-
tainly, civil rights workers signifi cantly transformed black criminality
discourse among many white social scientists and white liberal social re-
formers. Their activism also contributed greatly to one of the most per-
sis tent themes within civil rights discourse— the fi ght for due pro cess and
equal protection within the criminal justice system. But an emergent
civil rights critique of racial criminalization did not dissolve the link be-
tween race and crime.

By 1940, on the eve of the Second World War and a northward migra-
tion three times larger than the Progressive era migration, black criminal-
ity had not become a universal signifi er of poverty and social marginal-
ization; it had not become a universal social problem in the same way
that Americanization helped to unbind nationality and criminality in
the Progressive era. New knowledge of racial criminalization and a new
awareness of the limits of black crime statistics had not guaranteed a
New Deal for blacks or a fundamental shift in the scale or intensity of
social, economic, or po liti cal reform directed toward black communities.
New Negro antiracism and crime prevention gained a foothold in the



broader ideological debate about the origins of black in e qual ity just
when America’s inner- city landscapes were undergoing dramatic changes.
The harvest of white ethnic succession— economic mobility, suburban
home own ership, union membership, and whites- only schools, play-
grounds, and recreation centers— sown in the seeds of Progressive era
reforms and crime prevention fueled a growing antiliberal sentiment that
northern blacks were still their own worst enemies because immigrants by
dint of hard work escaped slums in spite of poverty, nativism, and police

But contrary to pop u lar belief, the gradual quieting of the statistical
discourse on white ethnic criminality was as much the consequence of
racial ideology linking whiteness with class oppression as it was the re-
sult of new social and economic interventions at the state and federal
levels.52 Liberalism fueled immigrant success even as racial liberalism
found ered on the shoals of black criminality. From the New Deal through
the post- World War II period and for de cades beyond, “the federal gov-
ernment, though seemingly race- neutral, functioned as a commanding
instrument of white privilege.” It was a period “when affi rmative action
was white,” according to historian Ira Katznelson. “[A]t the very mo-
ment when a wide array of public polices was providing most white
Americans with valuable tools to advance their social welfare— insure
their old age, get good jobs, acquire economic security, build assets,
and gain middle- class status— most black Americans were left behind or
left out.”53

African Americans were also left behind in the federal government’s
new Uniform Crime Reports, a breakthrough achievement in crime re-
porting developed in the 1930s. The new annual federal crime reports
became the most authoritative statistical mea sure of race and crime in
New Deal America, superseding decennial census data. Not only did
these reports breathe new life into racial crime statistics, reversing gains
made by black crime experts since the 1890s. The authors gradually re-
moved the “Foreign Born” category from the crime tables, and by the
early 1940s, “Black” stood as the unmitigated signifi er of deviation (and
deviance) from the normative category of “White.”54

The preceding half- century of increasing statistical segregation and
expanding residential segregation naturalized black inferiority, justifi ed
black in e qual ity, and tended to mask black counter- discourses and re-
sis tance, shaping race relations into the second half of the twentieth



century. Although by the 1930s the statistical discourse on black crim-
inality in the urban North was far more contested than it had been in
the  1890s, it remained largely rooted in segregationist thought and
practice and in competing visions of blacks’ place in modern urban


In 1884 Nathaniel Southgate Shaler, a Harvard scientist and a prolifi c
writer on late- nineteenth- century race relations, wrote his fi rst article on
what he and many others called the “Negro Problem.” Like many con-
temporaries in the years following Reconstruction, Shaler believed that
no other nation of the “civilized” world had a diffi culty as great as Amer-
ica’s Negro Problem. All evils old and new— militarism, monarchism,
and the racial threat to Anglo- Saxon purity posed by the new global mo-
bility of the Irish, Italians, and other so- called inferior races of Eu rope in
the industrial age— paled in comparison, he warned, to the problem of
the presence of black people in America. “There can be no sort of doubt
that, judged by the light of all experience, these people are a danger to
America greater and more insuperable than any of those that menace the
other great civilized states of the world.” Shaler believed that white men
of the late nineteenth century— white men of science, white men of the
industrial age, white men of the modern world— had inherited this pre-
dicament from their seventeenth- and eighteenth- century fathers, who
had been “too stupid to see or too careless to consider anything but im-
mediate gains” when they enslaved Africans in America. “It was their
presence here that was the evil, and for this none of the men of our cen-
tury are responsible,” he wrote, assuaging the guilt of his Atlantic Monthly
readers, who would now have to continue the heavy lifting of rebuilding
and reconciling a war- torn nation racked by uncertainty and anxiety
about its future.1

Shaler’s articles emerged at a crucial moment in post Civil War de-
bates about the future of black freedom in America. His studies and
many others’ illuminate regional instabilities— between the North and
South— within scientifi c and pop u lar discourses on the nature and mean-
ing of blackness. Their ideas reveal the stakes for late nineteenth- century


S A V I N G T H E N A T I O N :





race- relations writers in search of an objective and unifying basis by
which to mea sure and judge black fi tness and behavior for survival, la-
bor, and citizenship in a newly- modernizing nation. For these infl uential
writers, postbellum census reports ushered in a racial data revolution that
became the linchpin of an emerging white supremacist discourse on saving
the nation through knowledge and ac cep tance of black death and self

This latest crisis had begun in the 1860s. In a moment equivalent to a
historical blink of the eye, four million people were transformed from
property to human beings to would- be citizens of the nation. Only a de-
cade before, few white Americans other than abolitionists had antici-
pated that black people would become the legal equivalents of white
people. In those outrageously heady days of the 1850s when slavery de-
bates still raged, colonization schemes were still being hatched, and white
optimism still percolated for black extinction if emancipation had to
come, the possibility of living among and abiding black judges, politi-
cians, and schoolteachers was, for many, unimaginable.2

By de cade’s end the unimaginable had become reality, and the pros-
pect of settlement and incorporation of African Americans added ur-
gency and confusion to what many whites already saw as a desperate
situation. “Now, far more than at any time hitherto, the white people of
the United States . . . seem to be particularly interested to know precisely
what manner of man the negro [sic] is,” proclaimed one writer in his 1868
introduction to The Negroes in Negroland; The Negroes in America; and
Negroes Generally, a timely collection of previously published state-
ments by some of the most respected Eu ro pe an travelers to Africa and
American men of renown. “Of these American writers, those from the
North are here more particularly referred to; and it is trusted that the
reader will ponder well the words of such truly able and representative
men as John Adams, Daniel Webster, Horace Mann, Theodore Parker,
Samuel George Morton, William Henry Seward, and others of scarcely
less distinction.” In a nutshell, “disinterested” and authoritative white
men the world over, from Eu ro pe an colonists and anthropologists to
American presidents and statesmen, had the same warning to dispatch,
according to Hinton Rowan Helper: “Negroes” with their “crime- stained
blackness” could not rise to a plane any higher than that of “base and
beastlike savagery.” Helper presented his collection of expert opinions as
an archaeologist uses fossils to reconstruct some prehistoric creature for
the world to behold with gratitude that it no longer walks the earth. In



Helper’s case, the caption for posterity read: terrible things await a na-
tion bent on handing ballots to beasts. “Seeing, then, that the negro does,
indeed, belong to a lower and inferior order of beings, why in the name
of Heaven, why,” he pleaded with his readers, “should we forever de-
grade and disgrace both ourselves and our posterity by entering, of our
own volition, into more intimate relations with him? May God, in his
restraining mercy, forbid that we should ever do this most foul and wicked

Helper’s warning failed. Reconstruction proceeded, but not before
the seeds of dread, planted by Helper and many other post- emancipation
writers, spread across the nation like crabgrass in June. When Shaler be-
gan writing about the Negro Problem after federal troops had with-
drawn from the South, after ex- Confederates had returned to power, and
after the nation had set itself on a path of reconciliation, those seeds con-
tinued to produce apprehension about a future fraught with peril. “The
forecast of the unprejudiced observer was exceedingly unfavorable. Every
experiment of freeing blacks on this continent,” Shaler wrote with seem-
ing exasperation, “has in the end resulted in even worse conditions than
slavery brought to them.” Haiti and Jamaica were perfect demonstra-
tions of how blacks’ “defects” could wreak havoc on civilization. Hai-
tians had once belonged to a colonial society of great “fertile lands”
and “great industries of sugar and coffee culture” built on “mild slavery.”
But with a corrupt government and a failed economy, “the black race
[had] fallen through its freedom to a state that is but savagery with a lit-
tle veneer of Eu ro pe an customs.” These were “a people without a single
trace of promise except that of extinction through the diseases of sloth
and vice.” Jamaica was just as bad. It had once been a “garden land of
the tropics,” the “British of the South,” but had now become a land of

America must take heed, Shaler continued. Friends of the race who
had not simply fought for blacks’ freedom but also demanded their
“complete enfranchisement as American citizens,” who by blind faith and
by declaration tried to “fi t them for a place in the structure of a self-
controlling society,” did not realize that “resolutions cannot help this rooted
nature of man.” “The real dangers that this African blood brings to our
state,” Shaler cautioned, lay in “the peculiarities of nature which belong
to the negroes as a race.” Unlike in “our own race inheritance,” black brains
stopped developing sooner, leaving “the negroes” with an animal nature
unaltered by the “fruits of civilization.” The results were devastating: blacks



were incapable of controlling their sexual impulses; they were unable to
work together for a common purpose; and, most importantly, they had
no power to delay gratifi cation and plan for the future. Despite their
“charming nature,” their “quick sensibilities,” and their “present Ameri-
canized shape,” these “peculiarities” were easily overlooked by those who
did not “know the negro by long and large experience,” and who falsely
believed that they were like them. With patience and “the opportunity
to search closely into the nature of this race, they will perceive that the
inner man is really as singular, as different in motives from themselves,
as his outward appearance indicates.” “There can be no doubt,” Shaler
proclaimed, “that for centuries to come the task of weaving these Afri-
can threads of life into our society will be the greatest of all American

To some readers of Shaler’s many race- relations articles, which spanned
some twenty years beginning in the 1880s, Shaler might have been mis-
taken for a typical southern racist with a penchant for anti- black rhetoric
and a fondness for scolding northerners for their radical excesses during
Reconstruction caused by their belief that “the negro is only a black
white man.”6 These readers would not have been totally wrong; he had
much in common with writers like Helper. Shaler was a son of the South,
born in 1841 in a slaveholding community in Kentucky, where his father
practiced medicine. Reared in an environment of “southern racial pater-
nalism,” he certainly knew fi rsthand the customs and habits of the Old
South.7 Beyond that, however, Shaler saw himself as a “friend of the Ne-
gro.” He supported emancipation. He was a vocal supporter of industrial
education for freedmen, drawing extensively on the expertise and per-
sonal observations of General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, a white com-
mander of a black regiment during the Civil War, found er of Hampton
Agricultural and Industrial Institute in 1868, and Booker T. Washington’s
mentor. Although Shaler accepted legalized segregation as a short- term so-
lution, he rejected it in the long run.8 These positions marked him and
many of his contemporaries, to varying degrees, as late- nineteenth- century
racial liberals.9

Shaler also came to intellectual maturity in a far different milieu than
the southern one in which he was reared. He attended Harvard for his
undergraduate and graduate training, becoming a professor in paleontol-
ogy at the university in 1870. As a young naturalist he was trained by or
personally met some of the leading American and Eu ro pe an race scien-
tists of the day, including Louis Aggasiz, G. Stanley Hall, and Charles



Darwin. Through their infl uence and his own talents, Shaler built a ca-
reer in the North that touched not only the lives of an estimated seven
thousand Harvard graduates, but also the lives of countless others through
his numerous articles in pop u lar monthlies.10 Historian John Haller notes
that Shaler’s “views about mankind, half scientifi c, half opinion and rec-
ollection, gave him a position of im mense authority in the ripening of
American attitudes on race.”11

With one foot in the past and one foot in the future, Shaler was at the
leading edge of post- emancipation racial science. He was one of the fi rst
naturalists and race- relations experts to call for the greater use of social
scientifi c methods, particularly social statistics, to mea sure the behav-
ioral characteristics of black people.12 Key individuals, such as the pio-
neering racial demographer Frederick L. Hoffman, would make major
contributions to the social scientifi c study of black people, answering
Shaler’s early call precisely because they made novel use of statistics, es-
pecially racial crime statistics. Equally important, Shaler was one of the
fi rst scientists of his stature and infl uence in the post- emancipation pe-
riod to leverage his northern credentials against his homegrown southern
sympathies in a call for national reconciliation— what he called “a union
of endeavor on the part of those of North and South, of ex- slaveholder
and ex- abolitionist alike”— in the scientifi c study of the Negro Problem.
“In many ways Shaler’s concern for the Negro typifi ed the change taking
place in the New En gland mind in the late nineteenth century,” writes
Haller. “Shaler accepted no justifi cation for slavery, but he felt too much
importance had been made of the southerner’s sin and not enough of the
Negro’s place in nature.”13

The post- emancipation period demanded a fresh and immediate in-
quiry into the new reality of black freedom in America. What grade of
humankind were these Africans in America? What quality of citizenship
did they truly deserve? What manner of coexistence should be tolerated?
These were the burning questions that animated the minds of many white
Americans, especially scientists, journalists, and reformers, a generation
after the Civil War.14 These pioneering post- emancipation writers set out
to lead the way in analyzing this brand- new situation while producing
new knowledge about the true nature of black people.

Since Thomas Jefferson had famously penned Notes on the State of
Virginia in 1787, numerous American scientifi c and lay writers had spec-
ulated about the natural traits and tendencies of blacks and their funda-
mental differences from whites. Before emancipation, this had been a



constantly evolving discourse tied to ideological perspectives on various
aspects of black enslavement and re sis tance.15 But never before had race
experts faced an intellectual challenge of the scale of mass freedom that
so clearly demanded fresh insight. Now in freedom, many of the experts
reasoned, blacks would have to rise or fall on their own virtues or vices,
no longer benefi ting from American slavery, which many like Shaler praised
as “the mildest and most decent system of slavery that ever existed.”
Since blacks’ vices by far outweighed their virtues, the experts claimed,
without the “strong control” of their masters the freedmen would “nat-
urally” tend over the coming generations “to revert to their ancestral

On one level, such thinking demonstrates the urgency for Shaler’s genera-
tion of race- relations writers to understand what, exactly, blacks’ “ancestral
condition” was. On another level, their a priori belief in black inferiority—
that “the inherited qualities of the negroes to a great degree unfi t them to
carry the burden of our own civilization,” as Shaler explained— meant that
they really wanted to know the specifi c ways these inherited qualities
made blacks harmful or helpful to America as citizens, not as slaves.17 They
set out to revisit and revise old race theories based on the new reality of

The monumental shift from slavery to freedom meant more than the
transformation of slaves into freedmen— the realization of the hopes and
prayers and re sis tance of four million people; it also meant a paradigm
shift in the terms used to discuss, debate, and deal with them. The slavery
problem became the Negro Problem. What began, in Shaler’s words, as
the historical problem of “African negro blood that an evil past” had
“imposed” on the nation turned into a contemporary crisis centered on
an array of social issues related to what places blacks would fi ll and at
what pace they would enter the modern urban world as citizens.

Using new data from the 1870, 1880, and 1890 U.S. census reports,
the earliest demographic studies to mea sure the full scale of black life in
freedom, these post- emancipation writers helped to create the racial
knowledge necessary to shape the future of race relations. Racial knowl-
edge that had been dominated by anecdotal, hereditarian, and pseudo-
biological theories of race would gradually be transformed by new social
scientifi c theories of race and society and new tools of analysis, namely
racial statistics and social surveys.18 Out of the new methods and data
sources, black criminality would emerge, alongside disease and intelli-
gence, as a fundamental mea sure of black inferiority. From the 1890s



through the fi rst four de cades of the twentieth century, black criminality
would become one of the most commonly cited and longest- lasting justi-
fi cations for black in e qual ity and mortality in the modern urban world.

Throughout the fi rst half of the nineteenth century, before freedom ar-
rived, much of what passed as racial knowledge in the United States was
rooted in the context of slavery and relied on personal observation as the
basis for mea sur ing the physical and social characteristics of black peo-
ple. Beginning in the 1830s in response to the abolitionist movement,
proslavery writers, many of them slaveholders, sought to justify chattel
slavery as the natural state of existence for blacks.19 In addition to what
they claimed to see with their own eyes, they drew on the received wis-
dom of the day: a combination of Old World travel literature on African
savagery; New World race- making through colonial and state slave laws;
the pseudoscientifi c race ranking of Enlightenment naturalists, such as
Carolus Linnaeus’s Systemae Naturae and Johann Friedrich Blumenbach’s
On the Natural Variety of Mankind; and plain old common sense, given
the daily reality of the master- slave relationship as a self- evident and
God- sanctioned legitimation of white over black. It all seemed the natu-
ral order of things.20 Southern lawyer William Drayton, for example,
wrote in an anti- abolitionist pamphlet in 1836 that “personal observa-
tion must convince every candid man, that the negro is constitutionally
indolent, voluptuous, and prone to vice, that his mind is heavy, dull, and
unambitious; that the doom that has made the African in all ages and
countries, a slave— is the natural consequence of the inferiority of his

Proslavery writers’ personal observations went far toward mobiliz-
ing the intellectual and po liti cal justifi cation for perpetual slavery and
eventual secession. Since so much hinged on their anecdotal claims in an
ideologically charged and highly politicized context, their credibility and
authority were constantly subject to challenge. Southerners generally as-
sumed that northern writers— scholars trained in northern universities or
journalists or reformers for northern publications such as the Atlantic
Monthly— were sympathetic to blacks. Northerners assumed the oppo-
site about southern writers. That is why Hinton Rowan Helper, heir to
this problem, was so explicit about the credibility and objectivity of his
sources, highlighting their spatial distance from slavery and their status
as men of character and high principle who stood above the fray and
whose opinions could be trusted. Even though the sectional differences



that had culminated in war never perfectly matched the ideological dif-
ferences between northern and southern race- relations experts, writers
tended to assume that they did. Although anecdotal evidence remained a
key source of racial knowledge well into the twentieth century, it left writ-
ers vulnerable to regional suspicions and accusations of sectional bias,
leading gradually to greater desire for and reliance on “scientifi c” evidence
to overcome this credibility gap.22

The scientifi c effort to prove beyond doubt just how and why African
Americans were inferior began in earnest among nineteenth- century sci-
entists of the human body. Historians of scientifi c racism have variously
called these men naturalists, physiognomists, anthropemetrists, physi-
cians, and biologists because of their common efforts to mea sure every
aspect of the human body in search of fundamental racial differences.
Setting the gold standard for this research early on by linking cranial ca-
pacity to racial fi tness, Samuel George Morton, a Philadelphia physician
and naturalist and one of Helper’s experts, began amassing eight hun-
dred human skulls in 1820, the largest collection in the world. In 1849
he published fi ndings that the En glish, the Germans, and the American
whites were superior racial groups compared to American blacks, Chi-
nese, and Indians. He based these fi ndings on the volume of shot pellets
or pepper seed it took to fi ll the skulls represented by each racial group.
Although Morton himself later admitted that he had not accounted for
the physical size and gender differences of those who had once been at-
tached to the skulls— a serious lapse in his research methodology— his
work was incredibly infl uential.

With the groundbreaking 1859 publication of Charles Darwin’s On
the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation
of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life, the pursuit of racial knowledge
through the scientifi c study of the body reached unpre ce dented heights.
Many scientists followed the path blazed by Morton and Darwin, search-
ing for the holy grail of racial difference in brain size, gray matter, skin
color, genitalia, body odor, hair texture, head shape, facial shape, and jaw
angle, to name a few.23

Still others combined personal observation with the imprimatur of sci-
ence, as did Josiah C. Nott, an Alabama physician, a student of Morton’s,
and the leading American ethnologist in the 1840s and 1850s. As a medi-
cal doctor, Nott was one of many clinical researchers at the cutting edge
of racial research throughout the nineteenth century.24 Much of his “ex-
pertise” came from observing patients in his medical practice, from which



he “verifi ed” polygenesis, the early- nineteenth- century religious theory
that God had made blacks as a separate and distinct species of humans
far beneath whites among His creations.25 Nott believed that blacks were
closer to primates than to whites. In correspondence with slaveholders
and others interested in his work, the highly respected scientist liked to
call his research the “nigger business” or “niggerology.”26

As much a proslavery writer and racist propagandist as he was a sci-
entist, Nott was not alone. “Many a racist awaited breathlessly some
scheme of race classifi cation which would withstand the testing methods
of science and was prepared— once such a method was found— to pile
mountains of ad hoc theory concerning the character and temperament
of the races onto any discoveries concerning their mea sur able physical
differences.” Even when proof of such physical differences eluded them,
writes Thomas Gossett, racist scientists assumed mental differences: “They
did not really need proof for what they knew was there.”27 By the latter
half of the nineteenth century, scientifi c research had become an irresist-
ible temptation for opponents of black freedom.28

Despite this popularity, by the 1880s the best scientifi c efforts to prove
the physical inferiority of African Americans had fallen short. Some lead-
ing scientists slowly recognized that variations within so- called races
matched or exceeded those found between them.29 This fact did not hin-
der the blind faith of most Americans, including a rapidly growing seg-
ment of northerners, that “negroes” were nearly subhuman.30 But it did
continue to undercut the many assertions of black inferiority by a grow-
ing cohort of white supremacists. White supremacist members of the Ku
Klux Klan, the Knights of the White Camelia, and other terrorist groups
in the South who shed the blood of black Republicans and enterprising
black sharecroppers did not care about scientifi c corroboration.31 Across
the nation, however, white supremacist scholars of the new humanities
and social science disciplines, who modeled themselves on the natural
sciences, looked to societies, past and present, as the in de pen dent vari-
able by which to mea sure the real fundamental differences between the
races.32 Just as Shaler had done with Haiti and Jamaica, most of these
historians, economists, anthropologists, po liti cal scientists, and sociolo-
gists drew on and contributed to Anglo- Saxon civilizationist discourse, a
global and Eurocentric spin on white supremacy. They extolled the Anglo-
Saxon origins of democracy and modern po liti cal institutions, of which
white Americans of En glish and German ancestry were the descendants
and the natural- born leaders of the United States.33 As Shaler put it,



“Every American, born to the manner of his kind, feels the world open to
him” and “when called on [will] be ready for statecraft.”34

These new scholars of race and society shifted the scientifi c study of
race toward a behaviorist paradigm, mea sur ing inferiority not just by
physical differences but also by the historical and contemporary behav-
ior of “primitive” races in civilized societies.35 That is, they used evidence
of po liti cal, economic, and social status found in society to shore up the
physical evidence found in the body.

In nineteenth- century industrial America, the great scientifi c discover-
ies and technological innovations that unleashed the full potential of
fossil fuels and set the United States on a course to be the world’s leading
manufacturer and fi rst modern superpower also produced overwhelming
economic misery, disease, and death among coal miners, canal diggers,
railroad workers, and men, women, and children who populated facto-
ries across the country. In e qual ity in the shape of unpre ce dented wealth
and epidemic poverty called into question the basic principle of a liberal
society that all individuals possessed the sacred right to pursue their
dreams based on their own abilities and ambitions. While “rapacity, con-
spicuous waste, and in e qual ity were becoming as American as apple pie,”
in historian David Levering Lewis’s words, captains of industry and their
po liti cal allies considered themselves to be walking examples of modern
industrial society at its best.36 But the messy fact that millions demanded
a fairer share of money and power created the need among elites to ex-
plain and justify their success. They could not sustain for long their pluto-
cratic control in a democracy based on universal white male suffrage
without ideological justifi cation. Some decided that “a little socialism
[was] now in order to avoid too much later.”37 Elites turned to universities
and the new social sciences for a knowledge base for the defense of their
ideological program.38 As historian Dorothy Ross observes, they “be-
lieved the survival of the Republic virtually depended on their success.”39

In this emerging social Darwinist context, all evidence of domination
in society by one group over another— as explained by Herbert Spencer,
the most infl uential found er of American sociology and creator of the
term “survival of the fi ttest”— came to be seen as a natural consequence
of that group’s inherent superiority.40 In e qual ity based on exploitation,
coercion, duplicity, and genocide were subsumed within an understand-
ing that the oppressed were dominated because of their own inherent
weaknesses. Scientifi cally speaking, then, industrial elites naturally domi-
nated the working poor, Anglo- Saxons naturally dominated the Celts



and Mediterranean peoples of Eu rope, and whites naturally dominated
blacks in America. “The superiority of a race cannot be preserved with-
out pride of blood and an uncompromising attitude toward the lower
races,” proclaimed Edward A. Ross, an avowed Anglo- Saxonist and pio-
neering sociologist, at one of the earliest annual meetings of the Ameri-
can Academy of Po liti cal and Social Science.41

According to the dictates of Anglo- Saxonism, all lower races were not
to be handled in exactly the same way. Although each race had its unique
weaknesses, “colored” races in general were to be treated very differently
from Eu ro pe an races because the latter were within the pale of civiliza-
tion.42 “The problem of the proletariat, of the distribution of wealth and
education, the dangers arising from the great social congestions in our
cities, the diffi culties of uniting one social order [out of] diverse branches
of the Aryan peoples, are trials which we share with every important state
in the civilized world,” explained Shaler. Eu ro pe an immigrants were indig-
enous whites; they were assimilable not just culturally and eco nom ical ly
but biologically as well. “We can see how En glish, Irish, French, Germans,
and Italians may, after a time of trouble, mingle their blood and their mo-
tives in a common race, which may be as strong or even stronger, for the
blending these diversities.”43 In this formulation, as post- emancipation
writers wrestled with the relative challenges of incorporating various Eu-
ro pe ans “races” versus “Africans” into a rapidly growing U.S. economy,
Anglo- Saxonism was indistinguishable from white supremacy. In the words
of W. E. B. Du Bois, a student of Shaler’s and the fi rst black social scientist
to attain national status as a race expert:

[The] widening of the idea of common humanity is of slow growth
and to- day but dimly realized. We grant full citizenship in the
World Commonwealth to the “Anglo- Saxon” (what ever that may
mean), the Teuton and the Latin; then with just a shade of reluc-
tance we extend it to the Celt and Slav. We half deny it to the yel-
low races of Asia, admit the brown Indians to an ante- room only
on the strength of an undeniable past; but with the Negroes of
Africa we come to a full stop, and in its heart the civilized world with
one accord denies that these come within the pale of nineteenth-
century Humanity.44

What ever geology Du Bois learned from Shaler at Harvard, he did not
imbibe Shaler’s view of the Negro Problem.45 Numerous scholars have
demonstrated that at the moment the Negro Problem was becoming a



major subject of social thought and social scientifi c investigation, even as
social Darwinists, Anglo- Saxonists, and later eugenicists produced vol-
umes of literature on the inferiority of southern and eastern Eu ro pe ans,
late- nineteenth- century race- relations writers began to clearly articulate
the modern foundations of white privilege.46

Being on the white side of the color line in the late nineteenth century
was by no means adequate protection against oppression of all sorts,
including racial violence. In the urban North, xenophobia and nativist
violence were daily facts of life among, and against, various Eu ro pe an
immigrants competing eco nom ical ly, po liti cally, and socially for a small
share of the wealth accruing to mostly native- born whites.47 Neverthe-
less, in a world where blackness presumptively defi ned savagery, white-
ness had its privileges.48 In Rayford Logan’s classic study of the white
racial attitudes portrayed in major newspapers and literary magazines of
the North between the end of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow, a
period he called the “nadir,” he wrote that “the ‘belligerent’ Irishman, the
‘tight- fi sted’ Scotsman, the ‘dumb’ Swede were inherently less objection-
able than the ‘lazy, improvident, child- like, irresponsible, chicken- stealing,
crap- shooting, policy- playing, razor- toting, immoral and criminal’ Negro.”49
The anti- immigrant expressions of free blacks of the antebellum North
also testifi ed to the advantages of Eu ro pe an newcomers; they observed
fi rsthand the adoption of anti- black racism by new immigrants and
the steady erosion of job opportunities for blacks. “Every hour,” wrote
Frederick Douglass, “sees us elbowed out of some employment to make
room perhaps for some newly- arrived immigrants, whose hunger and
color are thought to give them especial favor.”50 In his recent study of
late- nineteenth- and early- twentieth- century Italian migration to Chi-
cago, historian Thomas Guglielmo echoes the arguments and observa-
tions of Logan and Douglass:

In the end, Italians’ many perceived racial inadequacies aside, they
were still largely accepted as white by the widest variety of people
and institutions— naturalization laws and courts, the U.S. census,
race science, anti- immigrant racialisms, newspapers, unions, em-
ployers, neighbors, realtors, settlement houses, politicians, and po-
liti cal parties. . . . For much of the turn- of- the century and inter-
war years, then, Italians were white on arrival not so much because
of the way they viewed themselves, but because of the way others
viewed and treated them.51



Although social Darwinism and nativism were defi ning ideological
forces in the Gilded Age, they were not universally embraced by all social
scientists. Many northern sociologists were “deeply committed to the
study of social issues, and their basic stance was one of social reform.”52
In par tic u lar, they proactively sought to aid a new cohort of urban re-
formers called progressives who wanted to stem the violence, social dis-
order, and class confl ict among native- born white Americans and new
Eu ro pe an immigrants. Together as scholars and activists, sometimes one
and the same, they highlighted the need for reform of many social ills
from sanitation to food regulation, from inadequate building codes to
tenements, from monopoly power to po liti cal corruption, from alcohol-
ism to prostitution. Like their reform counterparts, many northern soci-
ologists believed that white immigrants possessed enough latent talent
that, with outside help, they were capable of overcoming their shortcom-
ings. Most believed that Eu rope’s lower races, though uncouth, were still
the benefi ciaries of Eu ro pe an civilization and were therefore much far-
ther along on the evolutionary scale of progress than Africans who, as
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel had argued earlier in the nineteenth cen-
tury, were still in a state of nature.53 On their way to a higher plane of
civilization in the United States, new immigrants’ advance in the “strug-
gle for mastery” would take place in the northern inner city, as Anglo-
Saxons’ had triumphed in the Great Plains.54 On the northern inner- city
frontier, however, it would be urban progressives rather than the U.S.
Army that would help to make their settlement possible through social
reform. Yet in both places Native Americans and African Americans were
either outside the boundaries of reform or stood in the way.

White progressives, it must be said, were unifi ed only in their typically
middle- to upper- class backgrounds, their high level of education, their
belief in knowledge- based reform and advocacy, and their commitment
to serving primarily the interests of white communities. Otherwise, they
varied widely in temperament, in style, in the causes they pursued, in
their belief systems, in their po liti cal affi liations, and in their views of
black people.55 By region, southern progressives tended to support indus-
trial education for blacks. They often complained about the negative
consequences of Jim Crow segregation, the isolation of blacks, and the
loss of contact with white society; they tended to be among the few
southerners who quietly criticized lynching as a “necessary evil.”56 Northern
progressives were like their southern counterparts in their commitment
to funding black education in the South, in their ambivalent ac cep tance



of segregation, and in their intermittent expressions of disgust for lynch
mobs.57 Beyond that, however, they tended to have a limited view of the
conditions facing black northerners and to varying degrees often prac-
ticed segregation and discrimination in the same communities in which
they actively helped whites.58

Ray Stannard Baker, a northern journalist, observed the growing ex-
clusion of blacks from northern reform efforts— what he called the ex-
tension of the color line from the South to the North. In his 1907 study,
Following the Color Line: American Negro Citizenship in the Progres-
sive Era, Baker reported on the racial attitudes of northerners in several
cities, including Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, New York, Chi-
cago, and Boston. “In Boston, of all places,” he wrote:

I expected to fi nd much of the old [antislavery] sentiment. It does
exist among some of the older men and women, but I was sur-
prised at the general attitude which I encountered. It was one of
hesitation and withdrawal. Summed up, I think the feeling of the
better class of people in Boston (and elsewhere in Northern cities)
must be stated: We have helped the Negro to liberty; we have
helped to educate him; we have encouraged him to stand on his
own feet. Now let’s see what he can do for himself. After all, he
must survive or perish by his own efforts. . . . Northern white people
would seem to be more interested in the distant Southern Negro
than in the Negro at their doors.59

Gone were the days of New En gland’s fi rebrand antislavery activists and
writers such as William Lloyd Garrison and radical Republicans such as
Thaddeus Stevens and Charles Sumner. In reference to Garrison’s dimin-
ishing infl uence as early as 1884, black journalist T. Thomas Fortune
wrote, “There are no ‘Liberators’ today.”60

Many northern white progressives rejected social Darwinism among
whites while simultaneously espousing some variation of racial Darwin-
ism among blacks, limiting their effectiveness as advocates of reform for
blacks. According to Gossett, “It is an ironic fact that the men who chal-
lenged the conclusions of Social Darwinist individualism, who champi-
oned the cause of the lower classes and argued that their low state was
not generally to be explained by their poor heredity, were, if anything,
more given to racist theorizing than were their opponents . . . men whom
we generally think of as liberals and who did the most to loosen the grip
of the social and economic laws propounded by Spencer and [William



Graham] Sumner accomplished part of their task by appeals to race
theory.”61 Even progressives, whose liberal credentials on racial matters
were not in question, at times and especially in relation to black crimi-
nality disseminated anti- black ideas. Two years before Baker published
his widely read book on the nationalization of the color line in the Pro-
gressive era, he condemned lynching because it degraded white men to
the level of black men. “The man who joins a mob, by his very acts, puts
himself on a level with the negro criminal: both have given way to brute
passion. For if civilization means anything,” he wrote, “it means self re-
straint,” otherwise “the white man becomes as savage as the negro.”62

In short, northern white progressives were often, or at various periods
in their intellectual development and civic pursuits, liberals and racists.63
In his critique of Richard Hofstadter’s 1944 analysis of progressives,
Lewis writes that Hofstadter was indifferent to the subtleties of “the left
and right wings of Progressive reform.”64 The same can be said of much
of the scholarship on progressives with regard to a recognition of two
camps separated by how much they resisted the status quo on race rela-
tions. The smaller of the two camps, comprising the fi rst generation of
modern racial liberals, eventually helped to spearhead or lend their fi nan-
cial support to nascent civil rights organizations, such as the National As-
sociation for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), founded in
1910. NAACP found ers were responding to increasing northern racial vio-
lence in the fi rst de cade of the twentieth century and to the outcries of local
black activists.65 But in many instances, northern white progressives ne-
glected to think systematically about black people as one more struggling
group like Italians, Rus sians, Jews, or poor native whites who needed their
help. Consequently, whether by choice or unwittingly, many northern white
progressives failed to act proactively on blacks’ behalf. To be sure, there
were courageous men and women who transcended the moment.

The Great Migration altered this general pattern of neglect, but
the Progressive era was over by then. Refl ecting the infl uence of post-
emancipation writers like Shaler on their racial attitudes, many northern
sociologists had pro- southern sympathies, according to historical sociol-
ogist John Stanfi eld, and “rarely inquired into black life mainly because
they assumed that blacks were the South’s problem.” Many of them also
believed that northern blacks were the primary source of their own prob-
lems.66 As Frank Blackmar, a University of Kansas sociologist, put it,
“Owing to his ignorance, superstition, indolence, childish nature, and
racial characteristics, he is his own worst enemy.”67



Shaler acknowledged the disinterest of his northern colleagues by call-
ing for more of them to become involved, uniting “ex- abolitionist and
ex- slaveholder alike.” But until the Great Migration era, many of them fol-
lowed the ideological temper of the times and left the bulk of the initial
charting of the Negro Problem to southerners. Beginning in 1895, within
the fi rst fi fteen volumes of the American Journal of Sociology, sociolo-
gy’s premier academic journal, the Negro Problem “was little discussed
and not defi ned as reformable,” according to historical sociologist James
McKee. “From the 1890s on, the North was so focused on its own prob-
lems, particularly those of the new corporate economy and the new mas-
sive wave of immigrants from Eu rope, that it had little concern for the
blacks in the South.”68 Lewis adds, “[T]he new northern wisdom in race
relations counseled the sons and daughters of the abolitionists that it was
unrealistic to expect African- Americans to mea sure up fully to obliga-
tions of citizenship, that it was both kinder and more expedient to en-
trust them to solutions devised by the white South.”69 This does not un-
dercut the claims made above that a national discourse on the Negro
Problem was ascendant at this time. It does, however, emphasize the sec-
tional differences at play within the discourse as various reformers set
out to save the nation by enacting Jim Crow in the South and American-
ization in the North. Many northern sociologists pursued a proactive
agenda on behalf of white immigrants and struggling native whites, just
as southern sociologists pursued a proactive agenda on behalf of white

The Negro Problem or Race Problem was, then, according to those
who used these terms, partly an extension of the reconstitution of new
economic roles for new groups in society, partly a product of a growing
belief that black people could not and should not be assimilated as truly
free members of a white society, and partly a new intellectual synthesis of
the two. The vicious backlash against black southerners who were at-
tempting to assert their freedom in every arena of life during and after
Reconstruction gradually unfolded as a tale of national progress, of the
triumph of a stronger race over a weaker race. Nearly every manner of
anti- black terror, oppression, and exploitation, from lynching to convict
leasing to po liti cal disenfranchisement, brought forth new intellectual ef-
forts of racial justifi cation.70 The very health of the nation depended on
legitimate and unprejudiced policies of subjugation when workable in
light of African Americans’ newly granted constitutional rights, and malign
neglect otherwise. “I am far from blaming the Southern whites for their



action in summarily excluding the enfranchised race from po liti cal ad-
vancement,” Shaler wrote, as the long shadow of Jim Crow began to
spread across the nation in the 1890s. “The ignorance of these Africans,
their general lack of all the instincts of a freeman, have made this course,
it seems to me, for the time at least, imperatively necessary.”71 The sci-
ence of racial inferiority and the politics of racial subjugation converged
in new ways in the 1890s.72

The new social scientifi c imperative of the late nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries was to save the nation by mea sur ing black inferiority
through any sign of African Americans’ failure to dominate or to lead or
even to survive in modern society. These new scholars hoped that post-
emancipation demographic reports, with their tallies of births, deaths,
morbidity, and prisoners, would prove to be key indicators of black fi t-
ness or lack thereof. “Unhappily for our inquiry there is a lack of statisti-
cal data on which we can hope to base a defi nite conclusion as to the
physical condition of the negroes of the southern States,” Shaler wrote in
1890, just before the twelfth census was published.73 Although the tenth
census of 1870 provided the fi rst large- scale data source on the general
health and well- being of black people after slavery, it fell short for two
reasons. First, given the challenges of counting the population of freed-
men in the midst of the chaos and devastation after the Civil War, the
sampling methods used were ultimately deemed too unreliable.74 Second,
like the 1870 data, the 1880 data were considered poor predictors of the
future of the race, a future that would be shaped by children who were
born outside of slavery, who had not been properly trained and cared for
by benefi cent masters, and who would be in their twenties by the time the
1890 census was published. The year 1890 was thus a crucial milestone,
marking the twenty- fi fth anniversary of the end of slavery, and initiating
the fi rst of many historical signposts social scientists used to evaluate the
progress of black people.75 Since most post- emancipation writers believed
that slavery had sustained black people and protected them from their
own defective biology and savage ways, this would be the fi rst census to
show how the race was truly faring on its own.76

The publication of the 1890 census was undoubtedly a highly antici-
pated event. Francis Amasa Walker, superintendent of the 1870 and 1880
censuses, wasted no time getting the word out in an 1891 article, “The
Colored Race in the United States.” Even before the population returns
had all been counted, since only the “fi gures for all the late slave States”
and Kansas were available, Walker used his Washington contacts to gain



access to the data.77 Table 1 presented the percentage of the “colored”
population from 1790 to 1890. Though the “colored” population had
grown ten times as large in absolute terms over this period, from 757,208
in 1790 to an estimated 7,500,000 in 1890, the fi gures, more importantly,
showed blacks as a steadily declining population in relative terms: from
the high- water mark of nearly 20 percent of the overall population in
1790, to roughly 14 percent on the eve of emancipation in 1860, to just
under 12 percent in 1890.78 From these fi gures Walker predicted con-
tinual declines in the future, leading “toward reducing the relative im-
portance of this element in the population of the country.” He claimed
that the fear in the 1870s and 1880s of a possible “negro supremacy”
because, according to some estimates, the black birthrate outpaced the
white birthrate was unfounded. The “facts . . . show that the anticipa-
tions which so many Americans” have formed of the colored popula-
tion increasing to a “very high point, have little foundation in recent

Walker’s optimistic interpretation of the early data has been identifi ed
by several scholars of scientifi c racism as the “black disappearance hy-
pothesis,” and Walker is recognized as the fi rst social scientist to interpret
the 1890 census data as a ray of hope that blacks were steadily moving
toward extinction in the United States.80 In Walker’s view of the relative
decline in the population, the real sign of trouble for blacks was their high
rate of mortality, especially in the urban North. Untrained and outmatched
by white immigrants, Walker said, the race faced a virtual death sentence
in the most advanced cities in America. “It will be seen from the forego-
ing data,” he concluded, “that the colored population of the United
States is at the present time maintaining” its slight absolute growth “only
by means of a very high birth rate, just a little in excess of a very high
death rate. . . . Indeed, in the case of an untrained and ill- developed race,
any cause, whether diminution of marriages or per sis tence in the crimi-
nal practices, which diminishes the birth rate is more than likely to ac-
celerate the death rate.”81

Contemporaneous racial Darwinist and white supremacist scholars—
some with liberal and northern credentials— explained this movement
toward extinction as the natural fate of a primitive race, struggling to
survive on its own in an advanced civilized society. They would also mar-
shal and interpret statistical data to repudiate a new variation of the old
abolitionist charge, soon to be reignited among the fi rst generation of
black scholars and their white liberal allies, that racism and racial in e qual-



ity were important factors contributing to blacks’ apparent inferiority.82
Among race- relations experts, a new social scientifi c discourse on the
Negro Problem had begun, set in motion by a racial data revolution.

In his 1890 Atlantic Monthly article “Science and the African Prob-
lem,” Shaler perfectly articulated the imperative of this new moment. The
need, he recognized, was for racial researchers to move beyond anthro-
pometric and anecdotal evidence and to embrace the new racial demo-
graphic data. “By taking a broad statistical view of the fi eld, it will be
possible to found our conclusions on much surer ground,” regarding
African American potentiality. “Statistics will lead the way to a new under-
standing of black people’s ‘true racial capacity,’ ” he wrote, and he called
for new research on morbidity and mortality.83 Other scholars, especially
American sociologists, were also on the cusp of promoting statistics as
the key to “accuracy and precision” in unlocking the mysteries of various
population changes in modern industrial society.84 Richard Mayo- Smith,
a Columbia University social scientist who was an avid promoter of sta-
tistics and trained some of the most successful economists of the period,
wrote that “the sociologist must be acquainted with the technique of sta-
tistics, both the form of question and the methods of tabulation. He should
seek to reduce his observations as far as possible to statistical form in
order thereby to gain accuracy and precision.”85 Statistics, Mayo- Smith
advised in a separate article, would put the “United States . . . in a position
to analyze to better advantage than ever before the effect of race character
upon institutions and of races upon each other.”86

Sociologist Tukufu Zuberi notes that nationwide population statis-
tics, which were “institutionalized by the mid- 1800s,” became a crucial
source for social scientists in the late nineteenth century. “Especially impor-
tant in this regard,” he writes, “were their use of census data and the inno-
vation of survey sample methods.”87 Since the search for certainty among
racial scientists had been a continuous struggle throughout the nineteenth
century, they embraced the new positivism in the social sciences as a way
to close the credibility gap rooted in the sectionalism of the late war and
its aftermath.88

With the ascendance of “statistical Anglo- Saxonism” at the “fore of
the human sciences” and reform in the 1890s, abstract ideas of universal
suffrage and abstract principles of equality, which had proven false and
dangerous in the catastrophe that was Reconstruction, would no longer
shape the future of race relations.89 Statistical data on the absolute and
relative growth of the black prison population in the 1890 census, for



example, would now be analyzed and interpreted as defi nitive proof of
blacks’ true criminal nature. Such empirical evidence could then justify a
range of discriminatory laws, fi rst targeting blacks, then punishing them
more harshly than whites.90 It is important to note that Shaler did not at
this point add criminality to his list of black facts to study, like disease
and death, though within ten years he did, following a de cade of the
highest number of lynchings of black people in American history.91

As the twentieth century approached, it was left to others to justify
this latest trend in racial terror, targeting black criminality for the newest
statistical proof of black savagery and pouring racial crime statistics into
the foundation of modern race- relations discourse. In the meantime,
Shaler saw the handwriting on the wall even if he could not yet read it
all. “It is clear that we are in the midst of a great darkness, which can be
illuminated only by patient inquiry.” Those who are best equipped to
save the nation by helping to lead us in the “composition of our ideal
society,” Shaler concluded, are those who are interested in the Negro
Problem and have data rather than just words to share with us.92


With the 1896 publication of Frederick L. Hoffman’s Race Traits and
Tendencies of the American Negro, a tour de force in the annals of post-
emancipation writing on the Negro Problem, statistical data on black
criminality secured a permanent place in modern race- relations discourse
in the United States for the fi rst time. Race Traits was the fi rst book-
length study to include a nationwide analysis of black crime statistics,
making it arguably the most infl uential race and crime study of the fi rst
half of the twentieth century. In his tone and in his fi ndings, Hoffman, an
actuary and statistician for Prudential, the insurance giant based in Newark,
New Jersey, presented his work as innovative and essential. “Crime, pau-
perism, and sexual immorality are without question,” he proclaimed, “the
greatest hindrances to social and economic progress, and the tendencies
of the colored race in respect to these phases of life will deserve a more
careful investigation than has thus far been accorded to them.”1 Hoff-
man’s rise to prominence, and the making of Race Traits and its intrigu-
ing aftermath reveals how racial criminalization linked to crime statistics
helped usher in the age of Jim Crow.

Picking up where others had left off, Hoffman’s pioneering statistical
analysis of black criminality was embedded within a broader analysis
and explanation of increasing black mortality rates as previously observed
by former census superintendent Francis A. Walker.2 In Hoffman’s path-
breaking formulation, crime was a major factor in the high mortality rate
and was presented as a key fi nding in the black disappearance literature.
Hoffman’s emphasis on the innate self- destructive tendencies of black
people, now a quarter- century removed from slavery, fueled his unequiv-
ocal argument that blacks’ social and economic conditions, still largely
attributed to white control, had absolutely nothing to do with black
criminality. To drive this point home further, Hoffman touted his status


W R I T I N G C R I M E I N T O R A C E :





as a northern- based race- relations expert. He highlighted data from the
urban North, specifi cally Philadelphia and Chicago, to demonstrate that
black criminality was as high in the racially liberal North as it was in the
emerging Jim Crow South. The timing of the publication of Race Traits—
the year the U.S. Supreme Court affi rmed white superiority and signed
off on segregation as the law of the land in Plessy v. Ferguson— coupled
with the book’s novel use of the statistical method and its cogent writing
made the book the “most infl uential discussion on the race problem to
appear in the late nineteenth century.”3 As it happened, Walker contrib-
uted to the im mense success of Hoffman’s study as an offi cer of the
American Economic Association, the most prestigious social science or-
ga ni za tion in the nation, which published the book in its journal.4

The success of Race Traits also resulted from the way Hoffman mar-
keted himself as a foreigner. His credibility was doubly secured by his un-
familiarity with American race relations and his reliance on data rather
than words, as Harvard scientist Nathaniel S. Shaler had so presciently
advised. “Being of foreign birth, a German, I was fortunately free from a
personal bias which might have made an impartial treatment of the sub-
ject diffi cult,” Hoffman wrote, emphasizing that he had limited his analysis
to the “exclusive use of the statistical method” and had “in every instance”
simply given the facts. “In the fi eld of statistical research, sentiment, preju-
dice, or the infl uence of pre- conceived ideas have no place. The data which
have been brought together in a con ve nient form speak for themselves.
From the standpoint of the impartial investigator, no difference of inter-
pretation of their meaning seems possible.”5 Given that nearly all race-
relations writers of the late nineteenth century—self- identifi ed experts on
the Negro Problem— were tied to or associated with ideological posi-
tions rooted in the sectional confl icts of the Civil War and Reconstruc-
tion periods, Hoffman claimed that as a new arrival he had no blood on
his hands.

Hoffman was indeed a German immigrant to the United States, land-
ing at Castle Garden in New York City in 1884 as a jobless, penniless
nineteen- year- old unable to speak En glish. Although he may have appeared
to be one of Eu rope’s huddled masses, he was in fact from an upper-
middle- class family with Anglo- Saxon blood coursing through his veins.
He would have received a university education in his homeland but for
the untimely death of his father and his mother’s insistence that he im-
mediately begin working at the age of fi fteen. Shortly thereafter, Hoff-
man made his way to the United States in hope of making a mark on the



world. He arrived just as the Atlantic Monthly was publishing Shaler’s
fi rst article on “The Negro Problem.”6 Although it would take roughly
eight years for Hoffman to publish his own seminal article on the subject
and another four to position himself as its foremost authority, by 1896
he was far from being the “impartial investigator . . . free from personal
bias” he then claimed to be.

Hoffman traveled extensively throughout the United States during the
fi rst ten years after his arrival, trying to fi nd his stride in the business
world. Numerous dead- end and temporary jobs sent him to several cities
and states in the Midwest, the Northeast, and the Deep South. As an avid
reader of U.S. history and travel literature and a frequent visitor to muse-
ums, historical societies, and monuments, Hoffman became engrossed,
biographer F. J. Sypher notes, in the “landscape, the people, and the cul-
ture around him.” On his fi rst trip south in 1887, traveling from St. Louis
down the Mississippi River aboard the City of New Orleans, he was
captivated by the Southland’s beauty, noting in his diary that he had
passed through a “veritable gateway to Paradise” upon reaching Natchez,
Mississippi. He instantly fell in love with “the oleanders and magnolias,
and especially the orange trees, which reminded him of holiday times in
Germany, when his parents would receive oranges from southern Italy.”
But as any American well knew and Hoffman was quick to learn, when
it came to race relations the postbellum South could be as brutal as it
was beautiful. On the riverboat Hoffman witnessed, in his own words,
the “truly horrible brutality practiced upon the negro deck hands.”7 Per-
haps struck by the blatant contrast between his experience as a white
immigrant who had never been the victim of racial violence while work-
ing in or freely traveling across the nation, he was no longer free of the
taint of American racism. What was he to make of it?8

Hoffman would spend most of the next eight years, from 1887
through much of 1894, living in no fewer than six southern towns and
cities in Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia, experiencing southern culture,
planting southern roots, and learning southern race relations. During a
period of unemployment in 1888, he made a monthlong visit to the
Georgia Historical Society in Savannah, where he was fi rst introduced
to black mortality research conducted by a local physician.9 Eugene R.
Corson’s study, “The Future of the Colored Race in the United States from
an Ethnic and Medical Standpoint,” fi rst given as a lecture at the society
then revised and published in 1893, after the 1890 census data were pub-
lished, noted higher rates of deaths from disease among southern blacks



than among whites. This was a crucial fi nding, Corson maintained, given
that the whites in his study lived under the same environmental conditions
as the blacks. The difference, he argued, was the physical inferiority of
blacks. Hoffman’s reading of Corson’s lecture was a life- altering experi-
ence. “This discussion laid the foundation of a lifelong interest in the
mortality aspects of the so- called negro problem,” he later recalled.10

More watershed moments in Hoffman’s coming- of- age- in- the- South
story soon followed. In the summer of 1891, in Atlanta, Georgia, Freder-
ick Ludwig Hoffman married Ella George Hay. Reared in a “thoroughly
Southern family,” Ella was the daughter of a Confederate soldier and the
granddaughter of a plantation slave own er.11 The newlyweds quickly
settled down in Hampton, Virginia, where Hoffman became familiar
with Hampton Institute’s program of black industrial education and ra-
cial accommodationism. By 1892 Hoffman had fully immersed himself
in the “Negro question,” expressing his private thoughts on the “worth-
lessness of certain negroes” and imbibing the racially conservative views
of Frances Morgan Armstrong, a Hampton administrator and the daughter-
in- law of Hampton’s found er, General Samuel Chapman Armstrong.12
Unlike her father- in- law and southern white progressives in general, Arm-
strong seriously questioned whether industrial education by itself was
enough to correct blacks’ racial defects. After the general died in 1893
she continued his work, “but without believing in its merits,” according
to Sypher.13 Armstrong’s private repudiation of industrial education for
blacks, which she expressed to Hoffman, suggests that her beliefs were
more in line with racial Darwinists. Hoffman, ever the quick student,
learned much from Armstrong, who became his close adviser and confi –
dant and a major infl uence on his writing of Race Traits.14

His residence in Hampton and his relationship with Armstrong marked
the beginning of the end of Hoffman’s neophyte years as a southerner and
as a stranger to American race relations. A series of professional and intel-
lectual developments during his last years in the South inspired Hoffman
to combine his budding talent as a statistician in the insurance industry
with his budding passion for shaping future race relations. In  1890
Hoffman wrote to Ella that he had come to realize his professional pur-
pose in life. He saw in government statistics an effective means by which
to expose problems in society and to help guide reform.15 Although he was
concerned at that time with industrial conditions among the white work-
ing class in northern mill towns, his interest shifted to the Negro Prob-
lem during his residence in Hampton. In 1892 he began corresponding



with government offi cials, including Carroll D. Wright, a highly esteemed
economist, census offi cial, and commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of La-
bor, in order to collect statistical data on blacks’ economic, social, and
health conditions. His fi rst published article, “Vital Statistics of the Ne-
gro,” appeared in the April 1892 edition of The Arena, a Boston- based
progressive journal. Hoffman’s article was the fourth entry on the Ne-
gro Problem published by the journal subsequent to Shaler’s three 1890

In “Vital Statistics,” Hoffman expanded on Walker’s thesis that previ-
ous investigators had overestimated the “future colored population.”
Rather than analyze unreliable birthrate data as others had— the rec ords
were spotty and poorly kept— Hoffman turned to mortuary reports for
eight southern cities.17 He found that on average blacks died at nearly
twice the rate as whites. Although environmental conditions were a fac-
tor for all groups living in poverty, the “two main causes” of high mor-
tality among blacks were consumption and venereal diseases, which he
linked to their “inferior constitution” and “gross immorality [Hoffman’s
italics].” The data, including statistics from the U.S. Army during the
Civil War, clearly showed that more blacks than whites died of tubercu-
losis. In all these cases blacks and whites faced the same external condi-
tions, according to the U.S. surgeon- general from whom Hoffman quoted
directly in an 1889 report, demonstrating that the difference was the re-
sult of “a race proclivity to disease and death.”18

In the expert opinion of the nation’s foremost medical authority and
Hoffman, health care discrimination plus the physical, emotional, and
psychological toll of racial oppression apparently had nothing to do with
black health and mortality disparities.19 Although Hoffman liked to de-
clare otherwise, it seems the data did not speak for themselves since there
was more than one way to interpret them. As for venereal disease mortal-
ity, Hoffman had no actual data. Instead, he asserted that “any physician
who practiced among the colored people” would attest that as many as
75 percent of them were “cursed” with a sexually transmitted disease. He
followed up the anecdotal evidence with more death tables, showing
that, across the board, black babies and black women died at higher
rates than their white peers. From his perspective, every statistic or ex-
pert testimony was scientifi c proof of inferiority and degeneration. “Thus
we reach the conclusion that the colored race is showing every sign of an
undermined constitution, a diseased manhood and womanhood; in short,
all the indications of a race on the road to extinction.”20 In his fi rst article,



Hoffman was on his way to shaping racial statistics into a powerful,
full- blown narrative of black self- destruction, racial decay, and the futil-
ity of reform. He asked rhetorically, why waste the nation’s resources on
a “vanishing race”?

With the forces of logic, reason, and statistics on his side, Hoffman
appeared to foreclose the possibility of seeing blacks’ situation any other
way. Yet within the following year, in 1893, he presented a completely
opposite interpretation of a high mortality problem among whites. In
their case he blamed society and called for economic intervention. Sui-
cide, the most literal act of self- destruction any individual can commit,
was on the rise in the United States, and Hoffman collected mortality
statistics to prove it. “Suicide and Modern Civilization,” also published
in The Arena, was, according to Hoffman, “the fi rst time . . . the [suicide]
statistics for American states and cities” had ever been presented.21
Across the country, especially in the urban North where state and county
agencies kept the best rec ords, suicides had risen dramatically since the
1860s.22 Massachusetts, the epitome of America’s Puritan past and in-
dustrial future, recorded over 900 suicides in the last half of the 1880s,
compared to 394 “self- killings” in the fi rst half of the 1860s, a 130 per-
cent increase. Connecticut’s rising suicide rate, Hoffman found, was even
more startling, growing 216 percent over a similar period. Always strik-
ing in its grandeur, New York City held the dubious honor of being the
suicide capital of America in the late 1880s, recording 1,188 suicides that
represented a 52 percent increase over the 1870s. Philadelphia and Balti-
more had far fewer suicides but saw the rate of “voluntary destruction”
increase by roughly 70 percent over the same period. If every suicide and
attempted suicide were actually recorded, Hoffman wrote in a dire tone,
“the army of those who seek in suicide a relief from earthly troubles
would assume alarming proportions.” The “plain but impressive language
of statistics” had given “a picture of the darkest side of modern life.” The
stresses and strains of modern civilization were to blame, Hoffman
wrote, and had contributed to increasing rates of insanity and brain dis-
eases. According to an expert Hoffman cited, these individuals were vic-
tims not of “their own vices,” but “of the state of society into which the
individual is thrown.” Hoffman agreed, insisting that the “total amount
of misery and vice prevailing in a given community” was a manifestation
of something fundamentally wrong in society. “The study of statistics of
suicide, madness, and crime is one of the utmost importance to any soci-
ety when such abnormal conditions are on the increase,” he wrote in a



plea for reform. “When such an increase has been proved to exist, it is
the duty of society to leave nothing undone until the evil has been
checked or been brought under control.” The “health of the people” must
come before the “wealth of the people.” Hoffman concluded that “We
must be far from truly civilized as long as we permit to exist, or accept as
inevitable, conditions which year after year drive an increasing army of
unfortunates to madness, crime, or suicide. . . . It is the diseased notion
of modern life— almost equal to being a religious conviction— that mate-
rial advancement and prosperity are the end, the aim, and general pur-
pose of human life. . . . It is the struggle of the masses against the classes.”23

Hoffman interpreted whites’ self- destructive behavior as a conse-
quence of a diseased society, not of a “diseased manhood and woman-
hood.” White criminality was a response to economic in e qual ity rather
than a response to a “race proclivity.” On the white side of the color line, it
would take nothing short of “emergency mea sures” to save modern civi-
lization from itself.24

Hoffman’s emergent advocacy was bidirectional. On the one hand, he
interpreted the data on black mortality as a race problem, a call to do
nothing. On the other hand, he interpreted the data on white mortality as
a social problem, a call to do everything possible— to “leave nothing un-
done.” Taking one extreme position, then the other, Hoffman was be-
coming an outspoken partisan in debates about America’s future well
before he began writing Race Traits. Historian Lundy Braun writes that
“he shared with other Progressive- era reformers . . . a faith in the exper-
tise of middle- class professionals” to infl uence “the culture of knowledge
production in the United States,” and to “shape policies of the state and
civil society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”25 His
tremendous infl uence in these areas was defi ned in part by his choice,
and the decisions of many others, to see blacks’ problems as uniquely their
own, just as he chose to see whites’ “struggle for mastery” as society’s
problem. In a society where the ideology of white supremacy was ascen-
dant, Hoffman saw no inconsistency in his thinking. In his earliest writ-
ings he was not a social Darwinist in the sense that he thought helping
the weak was antithetical to social progress and nature’s plan; the prob-
lem was helping a race of people outside the pale of civilization who had,
according to his interpretation of the latest data, proven themselves to be
permanently inferior to all whites, including Eu ro pe an immigrants like
himself. “The city negro brought into direct competition with the white
race has usually but one avenue out of his dilemma— the road to prison



or to an early grave,” he wrote in an article following the suicide re-
port.26 In this racial Darwinist formulation, permanent racial in e qual ity
and premature death among blacks was a scientifi cally sound solution to
the Negro Problem, and a progressive means to economic equality among
whites through a more effective use of social resources.

In relation to the recurrent economic depressions of the late nineteenth
century and related immigration and labor problems among whites, Hoff-
man’s career was propelled by his attempt to outfl ank late- nineteenth-
century racial liberals with novel racial statistics. Nondiscrimination
laws in the 1880s forced insurance companies to offer blacks the same
benefi ts for the same premiums that were guaranteed to whites. Pruden-
tial balked at the new laws and hired Hoffman in 1894 because of his
expertise in the fi eld of black mortality. The company wanted him to
prove on actuarial grounds that discriminating against blacks was justifi –
able. “Prudential and Hoffman aimed to turn the racial fantasy of the
extinction hypothesis into hard scientifi c numbers that could be deployed”
for the purposes of profi t and prejudice.27 It was in this context that
Hoffman made his most original contribution to the analysis of new ra-
cial demographic data by zeroing in on black criminality. Two years later
he would elevate it to the national stage of race- relations discourse in an
effort to silence northern racial liberals who had not yet been swayed
into accepting black inferiority through biological evidence, such as small
brains and diseased bodies.

Hoffman’s decision to focus explicitly on black criminality was likely
infl uenced by his encounter with a debate between two prison doctors on
why black convicts died in prison at much higher rates than white con-
victs.28 In the February 3, 1894, edition of The Medical News, R. M.
Cunningham, a former Alabama prison physician, reported that “the
negro mortality was three times greater than white,” based on exami-
nation of “some 2,500 convicts” over several years ending in 1890.29
Although, according to Cunningham, the site of investigation was a fi rst,
since no comparative racial study and explanation of mortality differ-
ences among prisoners had hitherto been attempted, the results con-
fi rmed previous research. The “well- known facts” of blacks’ physical de-
fi ciency and asymmetrical development— their small thoracic regions
versus their large stomachs and penises— predisposed them to diseases
such as tuberculosis. “All one has to do is to see 300 or 400 negroes naked
in a large bath- house, and then step through a door and see 75 or 100
white men in the same condition, to convince him of the correctness of



this view.” The statistical fact of black men dying in prison was written
into the observed evidence of inferiority found in the body. Like life in
the army, prison life was supposedly free of racism, eliminating it as a
factor in the mortality differences. “This is certainly true at the place
whence the foregoing statistics were obtained.” That 85 percent of the
prisoners were black, when before emancipation 99 percent of Alabama’s
prisoners were white, and that more than fi ve times “as many negroes as
whites [ were] committed for crime” had nothing to do with discrimi-
nation. According to Cunningham, Alabama’s laws were “impartially
administered so far as race is concerned.”30 These disparities were also
observable in northern prisons, where racial equality was a given, he ex-
plained as yet another proof that blacks were at the root of their own

In rebuttal, M. V. Ball, a prison doctor at Eastern State Penitentiary,
which housed Philadelphia’s convicted felons, wrote that Cunningham’s
data were accurate but his interpretation was all wrong. Black prisoners
were indeed far more likely than whites to die of tuberculosis in a Penn-
sylvania prison, as in other northern prisons, but the causes were related
to childhood poverty, unsanitary living conditions, and poor hygiene. “In
the early years are sown the seeds of tuberculosis,” Ball wrote, “which
require but the confi nement of prison to mature and develop.” He added
that mortality statistics did not generally “take into account social dis-
tinctions,” therefore masking the effects of poverty on populations that
disproportionately suffered from it. Ball cited as an example data from
the New York Board of Health “for various tenement districts” that re-
vealed that childhood mortality rates among struggling Italian immi-
grants were similar to those of struggling blacks, and were much higher
than for the city in general. “Make the conditions favorable for the negro
from childhood up, and then fi rst can we say that” blacks are more
disease- prone. “The criminal nature of the negro must be viewed in the
same light,” Ball continued. Before ascribing the overrepre sen ta tion of
blacks in Pennsylvania’s prisons or in Georgia’s or in Mississippi’s to
their inferiority, racial prejudice must be taken into account. “In the
South, where lynch- law is most commonly dealt out to the negro, we
might attempt to ascribe this greater criminality to lack of fair treatment,
and prejudice on the part of the white man; but in the North we are sup-
posed to be exempt from this accusation.” Although Ball hesitated to say
that northern racism was potentially as important to assessing black
criminality as southern racism, he was certain that the current state of



statistical analysis left much to be desired. “In criminal statistics, as in
medical statistics, we do not compare classes.” Until we do, he concluded,
“I would refer the differences” to environmental conditions rather than
to “physical distinctions.” “Until the so cio log i cal factor is studied and
taken into account, the so- called hereditary and racial characteristics as
witnessed in the adult are liable to lead to wrong conclusions.”31

If there was one moment when Hoffman, the young, ambitious,
German- born statistical maven, had to step back and either reconsider
his interpretation of racial statistics or charge ahead, fortifying his ideas
with more forceful language and emphasis, this was the moment. This
debate did not begin as his fi ght, but it most certainly ended that way
when he published a rejoinder to Ball’s article in the September 22, 1894,
issue of The Medical News. Hoffman attacked Ball’s every point with no
fewer than twelve proofs of counter- data and counter- testimony. Most of
the data and expert opinions he cited were recycled from his 1892 arti-
cle, but this time his language was far more pointed and expressive, re-
vealing a strong desire to eliminate any possible reason for interpreting
the data in social terms or in a manner similar to his own position on
white suicide and criminality. His strongest and most consistent argu-
ment against Ball was to unequivocally assert the total absence of racism
and discrimination as determinative of the health and welfare of blacks
in American society. Because “the negro is placed under exactly the same
conditions, social and economic, as the white race,” there was no way to
explain the mortality and criminality differences other than their “race
proclivity to disease and death.” “Any city in the South will show that
year after year, for the past twenty years,” blacks died at rates 25 percent
to 100 percent higher than whites. Rec ords from the army presented
similar data as “proof so convincing that it will be hardly necessary to
add anything further in support of the theory of distinct race characteris-
tics.” Moreover, the surgeon- general, “a recognized authority,” Hoffman
continued, had come to the same conclusion “in such an emphatic
manner.”32 Even the British troops in the West Indies outlived blacks in
an environment where blacks had an advantage, “as life in the West In-
dian Islands is to the negro a paradise on earth, being an out- door rural
life, with little manual labor,” he wrote, echoing Shaler’s words about
Haiti and Jamaica.33 Back in the United States, actuarial data “by all the
life- insurance companies” confi rmed that blacks on average died ten to
twelve years younger (in their early twenties) than whites. With their
economic incentive to seek healthy clients regardless of race and to per-



form routine “medical examination[s],” Prudential Insurance company’s
50 percent higher payout to the benefi ciaries of black policyholders was
yet “another proof of the permanency” of racial difference. Hoffman
continued, writing in an arrogant tone to show that Ball had missed or
had refused to acknowledge what was plain for all to see: “Need more
proof be brought forward to maintain the assertion that the negro and
the white man differ fundamentally. . . . I could quote authority after
authority to prove that such is really a fact.”34

That Hoffman felt compelled to go to such lengths to refute Ball,
given that it was not his research that had been directly challenged, dem-
onstrates how passionately he believed that demographic evidence was
the smoking gun for which so many racial scientists and race- relations
writers, such as Shaler, had been looking.35 But this was not just about
one individual’s pursuit of scientifi c certainty in solving the Negro Prob-
lem. Hoffman’s was not the only voice of white absolution for the sins
of America’s founding fathers and mothers, nor was his the only voice
speaking of black degeneracy, black savagery, and black extinction in the
1890s. He kept extremely good company in this regard, from scientists
to academics to journalists to religious leaders to American states-
men.36 Rather, this was about how one individual could make a differ-
ence in redefi ning a “scientifi c” problem and in pushing the boundaries
of conventional knowledge and understanding into new research areas.
At this time social scientists were attempting to raise their academic
profi le by becoming professionalized, by founding academic journals,
and by adopting empirical methods to give their fi ndings the veneer of
scientifi c certainty like those of their se nior colleagues in the natural
sciences.37 With a real knack for spotting emerging statistical trends in
the United States and with a little help from his Eu ro pe an counterparts,
Hoffman identifi ed key areas of demographic research, sometimes based
on entirely new data that others had not yet noted or had only casually

With black crime, like white suicide, Hoffman took Cunningham’s
and Ball’s lead into the realm of black prison and arrest statistics and put
himself on the cusp of yet another original contribution. Left with one
fi nal proof in order to dismiss all of Ball’s interpretations, Hoffman cited
a French physician’s 1889 study that tied the physical differences between
West Indians and “the white man” to “distinct social aptitudes,” noting
that “a similar study of the negro criminal in this country would lead to
similar conclusions.”38 This was Hoffman’s fi rst published comment on



“the negro criminal,” demonstrating his dedication to searching for the
data and to fi lling what was an obvious void in debates about the scientifi c
origins of black disease, death, and self- destruction. A far more robust and
pioneering crime analysis was to follow in the book. In the meantime,
Hoffman haphazardly noted, without citing dates or using tables, wide
racial disparities in Chicago arrest rates and Pennsylvania prison rates.39
Unlike work on black mortality, the large- scale study of black criminality
from the statistical standpoint was mostly uncharted territory.40

Anecdotal, anthropological, and journalistic assessments of black
criminality had informed nineteenth- century pop u lar opinion and social
practices.41 Colonial laws targeted unsupervised gatherings of enslaved
men and women and conspiring free blacks to ensure against black up-
risings. Antebellum blacks were often subject to discriminatory policing
even as they suffered violence periodically at the hands of native- born
white and immigrant mobs in northern cities.42 Since nine out of ten
blacks were enslaved until the late nineteenth century, the scientifi c mea-
sure of black criminality fi rst awaited freedom, then reliable data. As late
as 1893, as indicated by the absence of any mention of blacks in one of
the fi rst textbooks on what would later be considered American crimi-
nology, An Introduction to the Study of the Dependent, Defective and
Delinquent Classes by University of Chicago social scientist Charles R.
Henderson, quantitative research on black criminality had not yet begun.43
Given how much Hoffman seemed to delight in pioneering the compila-
tion and pre sen ta tion of vital statistics on a national scale, he probably
consulted Henderson’s book before proceeding with his own study. The
likelihood is further demonstrated by noting just how tightly drawn was
the intellectual circle that encompassed Hoffman, Henderson, and oth-
ers. In the second edition of The Dependent, Defective and Delinquent
Classes, Henderson wrote on “the Negro factor” for the fi rst time and
cited Hoffman’s Race Traits, which had been published in 1896, three
years after the fi rst edition.44

Another important report on the national crime situation that lacked
statistical data on black criminality appeared the same year as Hender-
son’s fi rst edition, and Hoffman likely read it. The report was written by
his colleague at the U.S. Bureau of Labor, Carroll D. Wright, from whom
Hoffman had obtained data before writing his fi rst race article.45 Wright
linked crime to unemployment and the exploitation of unskilled and un-
educated workers. His only reference to African Americans was a slim
mention in a discussion of general trends in industrial nations in the



nineteenth century where, he argued, crime rose as a natural consequence
of the transition from feudalism to wage labor and from slavery to free-
dom.46 It seems likely that Hoffman noted the absence of vital statistics
on black crime in Wright’s article, then studied Wright’s argument that
preventing white crime required better protection of the white working-
class against the ravages of economic depressions in the industrial mar-
ketplace. “The shutting down of the mines of Pennsylvania, or the reduc-
tion of work therein,” Wright wrote, “throws large bodies of men out of
employment. . . . Crime is the result, and the criminal statistics swell into
columns that make us believe that our social fabric is on the verge of
ruin.” Wright’s evocative language refl ects the growing compassion of
many American social scientists who, in the wake of a national recession
in the 1890s, began to argue against social Darwinism. They were also
arguing against the emerging biological determinism of Eu ro pe an crimi-
nal anthropology, which was gaining popularity due to the efforts of its
foremost promoter, Cesare Lombroso, an Italian prison inspector.47 On
the origins and solution to white criminality, Wright may have infl uenced
Hoffman directly, given the tone and tenor of his suicide article.

Wright and Hoffman shared the same school of thought.48 Society
and the government had a responsibility, both argued, to protect the
health and welfare of the white citizenry; otherwise crime, disease, and
death were inevitable results. As Wright put it, “The health of the work-
ers of a community is essential to their material prosperity, and the
health of a community has much to do with the volume of crime.” Within
the general population, among Anglo- Americans and new Eu ro pe an im-
migrants, the problems of disease, death, and self- destruction were rooted
in industrialization and modern civilization. Harry Vrooman expressed
similar views and was also a contributor to The Arena. A socialist writer
and or ga niz er of the Progressive Labor party, Vrooman argued that “the
whole problem of crime, as to- day expressed in society, is summed up in
the problem of poverty; we have churches enough, schools enough, moral
sentiment enough, to regenerate the world in a de cade, were it not for the
awful pressure brought to bear on nine tenths of the human race, which
all but forces them to be vicious.” Moreover society owed the “the great
army of unfortunates” not just economic security, but “goodwill” that
encouraged “respect [for the ethical code]” and an obligation “to sus-
tain . . . the social order.” In other words, sympathy and compassion for
working- class white Americans were as important as living wages and
humane working conditions. Vrooman took his analysis one step further



by attributing part of the blame for “Bowery crimes,” a reference to a
New York City immigrant slum, and “wage slave[ry]” to “Northern
greed” during the Reconstruction period. Under “negro domination,” he
wrote, a “black horde of practical savages” controlled by “Yankee pluto-
crats” plundered the South.49 Notwithstanding the challenge to universal
white economic mobility posed by free black labor, Hoffman, Wright,
and other progressives believed that at the nexus of crime and whiteness
there was only a class problem. There was no race problem.

Ball agreed entirely with the conclusion that race was not the determi-
nant factor in white mortality and white criminality, but he believed the
same held true for blacks. In response to Hoffman’s latest entry in what
had turned into a nearly yearlong debate in the pages of The Medical
News, Ball insisted for the second time, though much more forcefully,
that mortality and crime statistics in and of themselves could not be
trusted. “Figures in themselves mean nothing; they must be carefully ana-
lyzed and studied in connection with social conditions.” Without taking
into account a host of known “sociologic factors,” statistics were an in-
suffi cient basis upon which to “draw conclusions” and could easily be-
come misrepre sen ta tions of reality. Repeating a cliché, Ball wrote, “There
are three kinds of lies, someone has said, ‘white lies, black lies, and
statistics.’ ”50

From Ball’s perspective, the statistical lies told by Hoffman, Cunning-
ham, and others had little to do with the actual mortality and prison
data, which he admitted were not in “dispute.” There was no doubt that
more blacks than whites died of tuberculosis and went to prison, but
explaining why was the essential problem. Ball rejected the racial mean-
ing Hoffman obsessively gave to the statistics. He balked at Hoffman’s
omission of other kinds of demographic data that showed rates of mor-
tality among the Irish and Italians living in impoverished neighborhoods
of the urban North as similar to rates among blacks. According to Ball,
even the 1890 census data, when read with a different interpretive lens,
showed that “foreign- born whites and the children born of foreigners
have the same death- rate as the colored, because they often dwell in the
same surroundings and are under the same economic conditions.”51 Even
when mortality differences seemed to point to racial differences, Ball found
not biology, but more subtle environmental infl uences related to hous-
ing and hygiene. The extreme housing differences between whites of the
“wealthy classes” and blacks “who live in the alleys back of their man-
sions” accounted for huge disparities in mortality.52



In regard to crime statistics, environmental factors, such as the mis-
conduct and biases of criminal justice offi cials, were similarly as determi-
native, Ball continued. “All law- breakers are not sent to prison, and the
more infl uential the criminal, the less likelihood of conviction. The police-
court investigation in New York City shows us that morals cannot be
determined by the number of arrests, and that the most disorderly ele-
ment in New York City was most exempt from police interference.”53
Ball was citing the fi ndings of the Lexow Commission of 1894, the fi rst
blue- ribbon investigation of police corruption and violence in American
history, which made headlines at the same time his article appeared.
According to historian Marilynn Johnson, the New York State Legisla-
ture launched an investigation of the New York Police Department after
a series of high- profi le corruption scandals. The investigation “produced
more than ten thousand pages of testimony that detailed multiple cases
of police graft, vice protection, racketeering, and election fraud.” The in-
vestigation was nicknamed the “Clubbers Brigade” to highlight the con-
nection between corruption and brutality by police offi cers, a hundred of
whom appeared before the commission to explain their equal number of
assault convictions. Like Ball, a lawyer for the commission noted the
discriminatory effects of police misconduct. “Those in the humbler walks
of life were subjected to appalling outrages. . . . They were abused, clubbed
and imprisoned, and even convicted of crime on false testimony by police
and their accomplices. . . . The poor, ignorant foreigner residing on the
great East Side of the city has been especially subjected to a brutal and
infamous rule by the police.”54 For Ball, then, the circumstances affecting
disease and criminality among the “poor, ignorant foreigner” were likely
to be as “active in the negro.” Moreover, the tendency to compare blacks
to the “whole white race with its four or fi ve social divisions” exagger-
ated the racial distinctiveness of blacks, rendering invisible the common-
ality of “poverty and ignorance” among various subgroups. Such a method
is “not scientifi c,” he unequivocally asserted to Hoffman. “Thus, before
we can call characteristics racial and dependent upon distinct organic
differences, we must eliminate the sociologic factor.”55

But Hoffman hardly looked back as he wrote Race Traits and Tenden-
cies of the American Negro. In this full- length treatise on the racial dete-
rioration of black people in America published two years later, he never
explicitly acknowledged Ball’s warnings. While he made a few veiled ref-
erences to the environmental argument of “some authors,” he insisted
that the evidence of race deterioration was “indisputable” and that “no



difference of interpretation . . . seems possible.” With the notable addi-
tion of more mortality data, which he claimed had never been published
or had “never been duly considered by those who believe so fi rmly in the
all powerful effect of the ‘milieux,’ ” much of the book was an expanded
version of his previous articles.56

What was new in the book, however, was of no minor consequence.
His major innovation was in presenting for the fi rst time a statistical
“study of the negro criminal.” Whereas in slavery it was a “well- known
fact that neither crime [nor] pauperism” existed, he began, in freedom
the latest data positively proved otherwise. The 1890 census, according
to Hoffman, showed 24,277 “negro criminals” out of the nation’s 82,329
total prisoners, about 30 percent, and nearly three times the number of
black men and women in the general population (12 percent). Although
black men constituted more than 90 percent of all “colored prisoners”
( just over 22,000), both sexes were most likely to be incarcerated for vio-
lence, “the most serious of all crimes.” Out of nearly 7,000 men impris-
oned for hom i cide, just over a third, 2,512, were black men. Black women
made up nearly six in ten female prisoners convicted of murder, represent-
ing 227 women prisoners out of 393.57 For rape, “the most atrocious of all
crimes,” black men composed 41 percent of convicts. For property offenses,
arson ranked at the top among black men and women as a proportion of
the total, at 46 percent and 61 percent respectively. Hoffman thus praised
the “wisdom” of insurers in “restricting the amount of fi re insurance ob-
tainable by colored persons.”58 If the information in the book spoke for
itself, as Hoffman frequently claimed, it seemed at times to have been too
soft- spoken. The message apparently was worth repeating: black crimi-
nality justifi ed black proscription.

Regarding lynching, for example, Hoffman interpreted press accounts
of rape as justifying mob violence even as he admitted that there was no
statistical evidence to link the two. “The evidence on this point is not
such as would recommend itself to an investigation of this kind, in which
offi cial data are the main reliance,” he wrote.59 Instead he supplemented
“newspaper evidence” with “the opinion of those most competent to
judge,” including the Virginian historian Philip Alexander Bruce, whose
infl uential 1889 book The Plantation Negro as a Freeman was one of the
most heavily cited postbellum race studies. Bruce, quoted by Hoffman,
described the rape of white women by black men as “indescribably
beastly and loathsome,” without peer in the “whole extent of the natural
history of the most beastial [sic] and ferocious animals.”60 Although



Bruce claimed to be impartial, dispassionate, and free of a personal con-
nection to slavery, his book in general and his chapter on black criminal-
ity in par tic u lar represented the standard repackaging of proslavery be-
liefs for a postbellum audience.61

By relying on such experts, Hoffman combined crime statistics with a
well- crafted white supremacist narrative to shape the reading of black
criminality while trying to minimize the appearance of doing so. Thus the
innovative and enduring signifi cance of Hoffman’s crime analysis was not
only in presenting the data for the fi rst time, but also in setting the terms
and shaping the frame of analysis. Table after table of arrest and prison
statistics from cities across the nation, such as Chicago, Philadelphia,
Louisville, and Charleston (SC), and from states including New Jersey and
Pennsylvania, Hoffman proclaimed, all “confi rm the census data, and show
without exception that the criminality of the negro exceeds that of any
other race of any numerical importance in this country.” When “the ne-
gro learns to respect life, property, and chastity, until he learns to believe
in the value of a personal morality operating in his daily life, the criminal
tendencies . . . will increase.”62

Although anecdotally black criminality had already become a pop u-
lar mea sure of black progress and potential among postbellum writers, in
Hoffman’s seminal statistical formulation it secured a more fundamen-
tal and permanent role in future race- relations discourse. It was now nearly
impossible to read black crime statistics as symptomatic of the failed
promises of racial equality in the wake of the Civil War and Recon-
struction or, as Ball had suggested, to see crime beyond race as a so cio-
log i cal consequence of economic and social in e qual ity in the industrial
age. The construction of an avenue along which such thinking might
have traveled was postponed indefi nitely. Even suicide among blacks,
according to Hoffman and in contrast to suicide among whites, was
strictly viewed as pathological: “in most cases, to escape the consequences
of his crimes.”63 Ultimately, by framing black criminality as a key mea-
sure of black inferiority in the same way that his peers and pre de ces sors
had done through anatomical mea sure ments and mortality data, Hoff-
man wrote crime into race and centered it at the heart of the Negro

In Race Traits Hoffman brilliantly tied black criminality to a repudia-
tion of abolitionists’ and neo- abolitionists’ claims that with freedom, edu-
cation, and moral training blacks would gradually achieve equality with
whites.64 He framed black behavior as impervious to civilizing infl uences



by wedding increasing crime trends to the dramatic increase in black
schools and churches over the three de cades after slavery:

I have given the statistics of the general progress of the race in re-
ligion and education for the country at large, and have shown that
in church and school the number of attending members or pupils
is constantly increasing; but in the statistics of crime and the data
of illegitimacy the proof is furnished that neither religion nor edu-
cation has infl uenced to an appreciable degree the moral prog-
ress of the race. What ever benefi t the individual colored man may
have gained from the extension of religious worship and educa-
tional pro cesses, the race as a whole has gone backwards rather
than forwards.65

This was a powerful indictment of nascent liberal efforts for racial equal-
ity at the dawn of the Jim Crow era. Not only did Hoffman state that
education and religion were a waste of time and money, but he also im-
plied that they were harmful to the goals of racial uplift. The charge that
black education by itself was a stimulus to crime would follow in the
wake of Race Traits.66

It is entirely possible that, given the time Hoffman had spent at Hamp-
ton Institute, he owed some credit to Frances Morgan Armstrong for
emphasizing the futility of black education.67 “Unfortunately, for the
negro,” she stated, “the course of the race is infl uenced by those who
have fi lled his mind with false ideals, who commencing with ‘forty acres
and a mule,’ have ended with the prospect of an education in colleges or
industrial schools.” General Armstrong, with whom she disagreed, fi t this
description perfectly. The black crime problem, as diagnosed statistically
by Hoffman and subsequent writers, undoubtedly struck a blow at the
optimism of the liberal northerners who were major supporters of in-
dustrial education in the South and challenged their faith that education
was the key to solving the Negro Problem.68 From this point forward,
white philanthropic and reform efforts on behalf of racial advancement
would be evaluated to varying degrees by black crime statistics.

Hoffman’s book was exceedingly infl uential across the nation, espe-
cially among leading students of American demography.69 “The national
white consensus emerging at the turn of the century,” notes historian
David Levering Lewis, “was that African Americans were inferior human
beings whose predicament was three parts their own making and two
parts the consequence of misguided philanthropy.”70 Hoffman played no



minor part in building this consensus. Historian George Fredrickson
writes that Race Traits “became a prized source of information and con-
clusions for anti- Negro writers for many years to come,” in part because
of its practical value.71 Despite the few articles he had written as a newly
minted southerner, Hoffman was a relative unknown to the vast world of
race punditry prior to Race Traits. By 1896, however, he had remade
himself in print as a foreign- born resident of New Jersey with no obvi-
ous past or association with the South. He worked as a statistician for
one of the largest insurance companies in the country— an ostensibly
polemics- free line of work. In the tradition of an Alexis de Tocqueville,
he marketed himself as a clear- eyed, plainspoken, unbiased foreign ob-
server of American race relations and demographic trends. Unlike Shaler,
Hoffman had no obvious baggage to disclaim, but like him, Hoffman
sought to transcend sectional strife by winning northerners to southern-
ers’ points of view. He reminded his readers that “racial inferiority was
the keynote of the pro- slavery argument,” which had been falsely “ex-
plained away” by the abolitionists.72 With data and reason rather than
passion and emotion, Hoffman tried to remove the stain of southern
depictions of “black beasts,” dressing up black criminality for the North.
His citing of northern crime statistics and his use of Chicago Tribune
lynching statistics were subtle ways of drawing northerners’ attention to
their own color- blind evidence that revealed the growing specter of black
migrants “for whom,” he wrote, “vice and crime are the rule and honesty
the exception.”73

In 1896 Hoffman sounded a national call to action. “Today, more than
ever, the colored race of this country forms a distinct element and pres-
ents more than at any time in the past the most complicated and seem-
ingly hopeless problem among those confronting the American people.”
The migration of blacks to “all sections of the country” was resulting in
their increased population in “all the large cities,” a fact heretofore un-
recognized, Hoffman wrote, since “these tables, I believe, are the fi rst to
present with a considerable degree of accuracy the massing of the col-
ored population of northern and western cities.” The danger awaiting
these cities due to this migration was cumulative. First, the rate of black
population growth in large cities was faster than the rate for whites. Sec-
ond, blacks “crowded into a very few wards,” thereby creating segregated
neighborhoods resulting in an “Africa” in the city. Finally, the black neigh-
borhoods in northern cities were “as a rule . . . the most undesirable sec-
tions of the cities.” In Philadelphia’s “Africa” or Chicago’s, New York’s,



Boston’s, or Cincinnati’s, wrote Hoffman, “the colored population is found
to be living in the worst section of the city” where “vice and crime are the
only formative infl uences.” The time was now for “individual states” and
the “nation at large” to take heed of this “most serious aspect” of the
Negro Problem— its northern population growth. This increasing pres-
ence of “undesirable characters” with their “evil effect” on northern cit-
ies was “a serious hindrance to the economic progress of the white race.”
“In the plain language of the facts brought together,” Hoffman warned,
“the colored race is shown to be on the downward grade, tending to-
ward a condition in which matters will be worse than they are now.”74

The fact that northern city leaders already blamed much of their
crime on the slum communities of the foreign- born meant that warn-
ings about the criminal tendencies of impoverished black migrants would
have sounded more familiar than alarmist. Even the muckraking housing
reformer Jacob Riis, author of an 1890 classic study of New York tene-
ments and slum life, emphasized the common criminality of impoverished
immigrants and blacks. According to Riis, “As the Chinaman hides his
knife in his sleeve and the Italian his stiletto in the bosom, so the negro
goes to the ball with a razor in his bootleg.”75 When Hoffman announced
that Chicago’s “Italians, Polanders and Rus sians” lived under conditions
“without question more severe” than blacks, and blacks still showed the
“most decided tendency towards crime in the large cities,” he unequivo-
cally marked the black urban migrant as a criminal of exceptional mea-
sure. On this one crucial point, Hoffman seemed to directly answer Ball’s
earlier criticism that poverty trumped race because the Irish and Italians
showed similar death rates when compared to blacks in similar condi-
tions. “Of the various nationalities enumerated,” Hoffman wrote, “the
Irish and Italians show a percentage of arrests decidedly above the aver-
age, yet small when compared with that of the colored element.”76

In a milieu where environmental or so cio log i cal explanations of the
criminality of native- born and foreign- born whites were ascending along-
side the gradual segregation of northern blacks, Hoffman helped to le-
gitimate the further isolation of blacks as a dangerous race with excep-
tional problems.77 Historian and criminologist Jeffrey Adler observes
that, as black migration to Chicago gradually increased in the next de-
cade, “Chicagoans of Eu ro pe an extraction, including both recent mi-
grants and old- stock native- born Americans, often felt a powerful bond
of racial solidarity,” including a shared fear of blacks as criminals.
Most “white city dwellers” in Chicago and “other northern cities,” Adler



writes, “believed that African Americans were violent and deviant,” and
the whites sought various public policy mea sures to seal themselves off
from them.78 The fi rst modern race- relations expert to evince the statisti-
cal connections between black migration to the North, urbanization, and
criminality, Hoffman helped to certify the nationalization of the Negro
Problem. He smartly anticipated that these three factors taken together
would shape, to varying degrees, race- relations discourse into the next
century and beyond.

The impact of Hoffman’s ideas was detectable immediately following the
book’s publication. Among white reviewers, the reception ranged from

Figure 2- 1 “A Downtown ‘Morgue’ ” appeared in Jacob Riis’s How the Other
Half Lives to draw attention to the evil of New York’s saloons that fueled crime
and death rates. The large number of working- class white men of sordid
appearance and likely immigrant origin pose a sharp contrast to Hoffman’s
marking of the black man as an exceptional threat. Photo by Richard Hoe
Lawrence, c. 1890, Museum of the City of New York, The Jacob Riis Collection
(Riis 162)



adulation and critical acclaim to mixed praise.79 All agreed on Hoffman’s
exceptional talents as a statistician, and all noted the signifi cance of
blacks moving to the urban North, spreading vice, crime, and disease in
their wake.80 In one of social science’s premier northern journals, a white
reviewer acclaimed that Race Traits was a pioneering achievement. It was
a “most thorough and painstaking compilation” by a “competent” statisti-
cian to “deal with the vital and social statistics of the negro race in the
United States,” exclaimed Miles Menander Dawson, a New York actuary
and a frequent reviewer of insurance- related publications. Thoroughly con-
vinced by Hoffman’s fi ndings, Dawson summarized every section of the
book without a single critical comment. No other race committed as much
crime as blacks, wrote Dawson, despite the facts that about the same per-
centage of black children attended school as whites and almost the same
percentage of blacks and whites were active Christians. “Even in northern
cities, where abundant opportunities are given,” Dawson noted, blacks are
so ineffi cient that “comparatively few engage at skilled labor.”81 Hoffman’s
per sis tent efforts to render racism invisible were paying off.

Before launching into his own inspired denunciation of blacks, Fred-
erick Starr, a white anthropologist at the University of Chicago and a
proponent of Lombrosian criminology, praised Hoffman for being an
“unbiased foreigner” instead of a “prejudiced observer”— a recognition
of the stakes of post- racialism at the dawn of Jim Crow.82 Starr’s review,
“The Degeneracy of the American Negro,” was caustic, exhibiting the
passion that Hoffman had perhaps intended to ignite. Starr’s own sum-
mary of the “astonishing results” of “criminality in the two races” proved
that Hoffman had unambiguously made his point to some of his white
peers. “Conditions of life and bad social opportunities cannot be urged
in excuse,” Starr wrote, because immigrants’ conditions “are fully as bad
as for the blacks but their criminality is much less. The difference is racial
[Starr’s italics].” Starr reiterated Hoffman’s conclusions in his own un-
equivocal terms: “What can be done? Not much. . . . Less petting and
more disciplining is needed; fewer academies and more work- benches.
Recognition of white men and black men is fundamental. The desire to
turn bright black boys into ineffi cient white men should cease. It is im-
perative that we demand honesty toward the negro and decency from
him. But we may expect the race here to die and disappear; the sooner
perhaps the better.”83 Interestingly, the linking of crime to the folly of aca-
demic training reinforced an idea that Shaler had joked about in his 1884
article: A “little colored girl” had once said that “you can’t get clean corners



and algebra into the same nigger.” She was right, Shaler added, noting that
it was even “diffi cultly effected in our own blood. The world needs clean
corners, it is not so par tic u lar about the algebra [Shaler’s italics].”84 In the
near future, new evidence of black criminality would help to shape de-
bates about the state of black education in America.

Not all white readers or critics of Hoffman’s work, like Ball, uncondi-
tionally embraced his racialism even as they agreed that his data were
sound. A notable exception was biologist Gary L. Calkins of Columbia
University. This was somewhat ironic, given how much the fi rst genera-
tion of American social scientists modeled natural scientists, and how
much ideological support they drew from biologists in asserting the
constitutional inferiority of African Americans.85 Calkins described the
book as an “admirable work,” noting that Hoffman’s logic was “con-
vincing” and that his data clearly pointed to the “downward” trajectory
of the race. But he was far from convinced by Hoffman’s all- encompassing
racial analysis, arguing that “racial difference” might account for some
of the disparities between whites and blacks but “that it accounts for
all . . . is hardly proved by the facts produced.” The health- related dis-
ruptions of migration and urbanization make no racial distinctions, he
argued. “Nor must it be forgotten that a race suddenly thrown upon
their own resources under entirely new conditions, as were the negroes
after their emancipation, must necessarily suffer change of circum-
stances, regardless of race tendencies.” Likewise, their immorality, “which
is constantly increasing,” he added, “could” be viewed from the same

Such initial cautions by white researchers such as Calkins and Ball
gradually found greater currency among northern progressives when they
began, somewhat half- heartedly, to apply their immigrant environmen-
talism to African Americans as the Great Migration era approached.
For the moment, however, dissent was small by comparison to the atti-
tudes of many whites who were already animated by thoughts of south-
ern “black beasts” and who fully embraced Hoffman’s empirically based,
race- neutral depiction of a nationwide black crime problem.87 For the
moment, the bulk of the questioning of the new crime data and its racial
interpretations was left to a new cohort of black scholars, reformers, and

These middle- class and elite black women and men were young; many
had never been enslaved, and some had received fi rst- rate educations at
the most elite institutions in the nation.88 Ironically, they were members



of the generation captured by the 1890 census, the census that many sci-
entifi c racists had eagerly anticipated would prove the race’s inferiority
once and for all.89 Historian Glenda Gilmore calls them the race’s “best
men” and “best women” because they used their pedigrees and talents
as personal testimonies to the race’s infi nite capacity for citizenship and
excellence.90 They considered themselves “their own best argument,”
writes historian Deborah Gray White, against the charge of racial inferi-
ority.91 Not all of them actively desired to be antiracist leaders, but those
who did included Mary Church Terrell and the women who founded the
National Association of Colored Women in 1896, and W. E. B. Du Bois
and the men who launched the American Negro Academy in 1897.92 Al-
though they were hardly of one perspective or position on the Negro
Problem— 1895, for example, marked the rise of Booker T. Washington,
the white- appointed accommodationist leader of the race— they tended
to explain their circumstances quite differently than whites did, if for no
other reason than that they overwhelmingly asserted their hopefulness,
their humanity, and their inalienable rights to freedom and fairness.93
“The present seems dark to the negro and that there is an increasing dis-
content, is perfectly evident, still I am far from despairing of his success
in the future,” wrote William Saunders Scarborough, a professor of classi-
cal languages at Wilberforce University, the fi rst black author of a Greek
college textbook, the fi rst black member of the Modern Language Asso-
ciation, and a found er of the American Negro Academy. “If the South and
North, white and black, will unite on lines of justice and humanity to
man, the race question will work out its own solution with the least fric-
tion and best results.”94 Notwithstanding much intra- racial class and
gender friction, many elite black men and women, in the words of histo-
rian Kevin Gaines, “sought to refute the view that African Americans
were biologically inferior and unassimilable by incorporating ‘the race’
into ostensibly universal but deeply racialized ideological categories of
Western progress and civilization.”95

Ida B. Wells was the fi rst of this generation of black scholars and re-
formers to link the language of civilization with statistics to defend the
race against charges of criminality. She published her fi rst two pam-
phlets, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases (1892) and A Red
Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynchings in the
United States, 1892– 1893–1894 (1894), at the same time that Hoffman
authored his fi rst articles. Although neither cited the other’s work, Hoff-
man must have been aware of Wells’s work and her British antilynching



campaigns of 1893 and 1894 by the time he published Race Traits in
1896.96 In 1892 Wells was a primary school teacher, a journalist, and an
antiracist activist in Memphis who lost three close friends in a triple
lynching after they defended their grocery store against a mob of white
men intent on burning it to the ground.97 This was not an uncommon
occurrence. Professional and entrepreneurial blacks were frequent tar-
gets of mob violence in the South, especially when their commercial ac-
tivities weakened the grip of white business own ers who systematically
exploited blacks. For Wells, the tragedy and personal loss were extremely
diffi cult to accept, especially when the local white press applauded the
violence. That she had long borne witness to white journalists’ usual jus-
tifi cations for lynching as the only way to handle black criminals and
“Negro rapists” left her no option but to speak truth to power. In the
preface to Southern Horrors, she wrote, “Somebody must show that the
Afro- American race is more sinned against than sinning, and it seems to
have fallen upon me to do so. The Afro- American is not a bestial race. If
this work can contribute in any way toward proving this, and at the
same time arouse the conscience of the American people to a demand for
justice to every citizen, and punishment by law for the lawless, I shall feel
I have done my race a ser vice.”98

Historians of Wells’s life and times credit her for inventing “forceful
new arguments” and for being a “point of origin” in “American critical
thought on lynching and racism.”99 Gail Bederman writes that Wells
turned the Anglo- Saxon “discourse on whiteness, civilization, and manli-
ness” on its head by redefi ning lynching as an act of barbarity by white
men who “burned innocent black men alive for the ‘crime’ of sleeping with
willing white women, while they themselves brutally and boldly raped
black women.”100 In 1892 Wells’s printing press was destroyed by arson-
ists; threatened with mortal harm, she left the South forever. She became a
statistic, one of the soon- to- be- counted and much- discussed black mi-
grants, fi rst landing in New York, frequently visiting Philadelphia to draw
support from the city’s resourceful black religious and education leaders,
and eventually settling in Chicago for the remainder of her life. There, after
the turn of the century, she led a call for progressive- style crime prevention
and outreach among young black men who suffered the triple burdens
of labor- market discrimination, the stigma of criminality, and segregation
from white- and immigrant- only social welfare agencies.101

Like almost everyone else in the twentieth century, Wells later witnessed
and responded to the ubiquitous referencing of black crime statistics in all



manner of race talk, which she had less to do with in the 1890s than did
later black social scientists such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Kelly Miller, Monroe
N. Work, Richard R. Wright, Jr., Sadie T. Mossell, and Anna Thompson.102
In comparison to Hoffman, Wells neither identifi ed herself as a statisti-
cian nor focused on the 1890 census. Still, her method for compiling
lynching statistics was the same as Hoffman’s. In preceding him by two
years, she was doubtless one of the fi rst race- relations writers, black or
white, to analyze the Tribune’s lynching data. Though an overwhelm-
ingly white- on- white American tradition of vigilante “justice” from the
colonial period to the nineteenth- century Old West, lynching had only
become a racist blood sport in the 1880s and 1890s.103 On average in
these two de cades, “one person was lynched every other day, and two out
of three were black.” At the start of the twentieth century, lynchings fell
to one every four days, but 90 percent of the victims were African Ameri-
cans.104 Like Hoffman, Wells was keenly aware of how her personal
identity mattered to the reception of her study, proclaiming that her re-
search had come strictly from white newspaper sources. “Out of their
mouths,” she boasted defi antly in the opening pages of A Red Record,
“shall murderers be condemned.” The heart of her condemnation was
her meticulous reading, one by one, of press accounts of just over eleven
hundred black men, women, and children who were “hanged, shot and
roasted alive from January 1st, 1882 to January 1st, 1894,” of whom 31
percent were actually “charged with rape.”105

Her research fi ndings defi ed most whites’ understanding of lynching
(and even, to a lesser extent, the way some elite blacks viewed the matter).
Before Wells, few white people questioned the claim that the “majority”
of lynchings in the country were, as Hoffman put it, “undoubtedly” the
results of rape committed by black men.106 Wells’s aim was to debunk the
myth that nearly every lynching of a black man represented a statistic of
a ravaged white woman. She also wanted to challenge the emerging idea
that any evidence of black criminality in the North was obvious proof of
black inferiority, since many whites claimed that northern racism did
not exist. In her retelling of northern press accounts, she highlighted how
northerners contributed to the lynching craze and the scapegoating of
black suspects by fabricating their own stories of black predators in their
midst. In Philadelphia, for example, she told of an attractive and “well
educated” white girl from a “good family” who had been stealing from
her parents for some time. When a shadow of suspicion fell on the girl,
she lied to the “daily papers” that a “colored man” had “gagged” and



“bound” her and had stolen the money. In Cleveland, a mother and grand-
mother conspired to have a black handyman disposed of by accusing him
of “outrag[ing]” their four- year- old child. A preliminary hearing produced
no evidence, but revealed that the women had concocted the scheme to
avoid paying him a season’s worth of wages.107

Wells’s most provocative fi ndings involved the rape or attempted rape
of black women by white men. Of the dozen or so cases she cited, most
took place in the South, but a few were from the Midwest and the North-
east. Typically a white man or a “gang” of whites sexually attacked a young
black woman. If the men were arrested, they were either acquitted or
served minor sentences (far less than the many years similarly convicted
black men received if they were lucky enough to make it to prison). None
of them fell prey to a lynch mob. In Nashville, for example, Pat Hanifan
“outraged a little colored girl,” received a six- month jail sentence, and
then became a city detective. In Baltimore “a gang of white ruffi ans as-
saulted a respectable colored girl” who was out with her escort. Her date
was held down while she was raped. All were acquitted. “Colored women,”
Wells wrote bitterly, “have always had far more reason to complain of
white men in this respect than ever white women have had of Negroes.”108
In A Red Record, Wells exposed the enduring sexual violence perpetrated
against black women, begun in slavery, and the unacknowledged hypoc-
risy of the lynching hysteria.109 She exposed the double bind of racial and
sexual exploitation manifested in the fi gurative and literal dehumaniza-
tion and destruction of black bodies.110

Given Wells’s total repudiation of white supremacists’ explanations
for lynching and black criminality, it is easy to imagine Hoffman’s incre-
dulity when he came upon her work. It is not easy to imagine that he
never knew of her work. He was extremely well read, curious, and thor-
ough in his attempts to draw upon experts on topics of interest to him.
That Hoffman probably ignored Wells’s work is suggested by the fact
that Robert Porter, one of his peers and the superintendent of the 1890
census whose signature appeared on the title page of the report on crime
in the nation, publicly commented on the success of Wells’s British cam-
paign.111 Although Wells’s efforts created a storm of national controversy
and an international scandal, for the most part she was not taken seri-
ously by mainstream white race- relations writers like Hoffman, who from
the beginning dominated the social scientifi c discourse on black criminality.
Race and gender explain much of the “deafening silence,” according to her
biographer. Wells fi t into no neat categories. She was a “kind of po liti cal



exile.” She was too bold as a female public fi gure, too outspoken in criti-
cizing white women reformers for accepting lynching as a “necessary
evil,” too proud of her race to condone the conservative accommodation-
ism of Washington- type black male leaders, and ultimately too unladylike
and provocative in her sex talk for black club women. Her unequivocal
antiracism may have marginalized her the most.112

Other black men and women of Wells’s intellectual acumen and per-
sonal commitment to race work were slightly less marginal by compari-
son to Wells because they either believed that some blacks had racial
tendencies toward criminal acts or because some, as racial uplifters, were
more willing to traffi c rhetorically in the high- value currency of black
criminality so as to be taken seriously by whites.113 But regardless of
their gender or their class elitism or their rhetorical strategies, the fi rst
generation of professionally trained black social scientists, the vast ma-
jority of them men, were generally ignored by their white counterparts.114
They were also few in number.115 As one historian notes, in the early
years of mass freedom “scholarly speculation among African- Americans
was a luxury as rare as Mississippi snow.”116 From the 1890s until the
1920s, except when their words conceded, corroborated, or confi rmed
that blacks committed too many crimes— no matter their typically nu-
anced framing of the problem as primarily a symptom of industrial capi-
talism plus racism—“most white practitioners of racial science were able
to silence the opposition of black thinkers.”117 Historian Davarian Bald-
win explains that “the innovative Black scholarship on race relations was
different enough from most ideas within the traditional or gan i za tion al
structure of” the fi eld of sociology “that the work was systematically il-
legible, illogical and hence invisible.”118

Nevertheless, black scholars responded to Hoffman’s book with a
mixture of ambivalence, sharp criticism, and restrained outrage. Neither
W. E. B. Du Bois, the fi rst black Harvard- trained social scientist and the
fi rst black academic to gain national attention as a race- relations expert,
nor Kelly Miller, a pioneering black mathematician whose quantitative
training and interest in the Negro Problem led him to launch a sociology
department at Howard University, accepted Hoffman’s prediction or
Starr’s endorsement of their race’s impending disappearance.119 In his
review, Du Bois called it an “absurd conclusion” based on the “unscien-
tifi c use of the statistical method.”120 Although Miller fi rst conceded that
the book was the “most thorough and comprehensive treatment of the
Negro Problem, from a statistical standpoint,” rivaling in its ability to



“awaken” scientifi c interest in blacks what Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle
Tom’s Cabin had done to arouse “sentiment and generous feelings” for
the race, he then agreed with Du Bois that Hoffman’s conclusion was re-
ally a smokescreen for “a priori considerations.”121

Miller’s 1897 review, the fi rst published paper of the American Negro
Academy and itself a bestseller among African Americans, dissected the
book chapter by chapter, allowing none of Hoffman’s arguments to es-
cape scrutiny. For example, he discounted Hoffman’s entire treatment of
the North as proof positive of blacks’ hereditary shortcomings, arguing
that social “captivity” and “isolation” were far more characteristic of the
conditions facing the “Northern Negro.” Blacks in the North were “com-
pletely submerged,” he wrote. Their crime was primarily determined by
their “social degradation.” Not questioning the data but reversing Hoff-
man’s statistical logic, Miller said that the census “nowhere” proved “any
connection between crime and race but between crime and condition.”122
Northern black crime rates, from Pennsylvania’s prisoners to Chicago’s
arrestees, were “six to eight times greater” per capita than whites because
of racial discrimination.123 “The criminal outbreak under the circum-
stances is only natural.” If whites were to “exchange places” with blacks,
then “the same story would be narrated of” them.

To be sure, Miller did not discount “this high criminal record” as sim-
ply a myth or a product of statistical sophistry. On a very basic level, he
accepted Hoffman’s charge of excessive criminality as partly the respon-
sibility of blacks to fi x. This was one of the earliest indications of the
powerful rhetorical and ideological currency of black crime statistics
even among African Americans. It is important, however, to note— for
this was a point frequently ignored by Miller’s white peers— that to ad-
mit that blacks played a role in the crime problem was not to concede
racial inferiority but to insist that everyone had a part to play in the solu-
tion. Ultimately, Miller saw the problem in universal terms, both histori-
cal and so cio log i cal, that he believed held true for all groups: “The Jews
in Egypt labored under circumstances remarkably similar to those of the
American Negro” as they struggled to survive amid their own moral and
physical “degeneracy” in the wilderness of freedom for forty years after
emancipation. “Luckily for the Hebrews, there were no statisticians in
those days. Think of the future which an Egyptian phi los o pher would
have predicted for this people! And yet out of the loins of this race have
Sprung the moral and spiritual law- givers of mankind. We should not be
discouraged because the Negro does not make a bee- line from Egyptian



bondage to the Promised Land beyond Jordan. . . . If all the misdeeds of
any people or individual were brought to light, the best of the race would
be injured and the rest would be ruined.”124

Along similar lines, Du Bois found much of Hoffman’s data “interest-
ing and valuable,” but considered his interpretations highly suspect.
There was no inherent reason why Hoffman had to emphasize “the bad
as typifying the general tendency” of the race. Clearly the statistics
showed mixed results: “increasing intelligence and increasing crime” as
well as more wealth and more poverty. “Such contradictory facts are not
facts pertaining to ‘the race’ but to its various classes, which development
since emancipation has differentiated.” Like Miller, Du Bois suggested an
alternative reading of the data in both universal and antiracist terms.
It was “natural” among “all races,” he wrote, to experience in a “single
generation” more material progress than moral progress. After all, the
“dazed freedman” could comprehend the urgency of work “much easier”
than how to rebuild the family life and moral foundation destroyed by
slavery. The “younger generation” only turned to crime in the face of
“dogged Anglo- Saxon prejudice” by which they were “subjected to dif-
ferent standards of justice” than “white malefactors.” “To comprehend
this peculiar and complicated evolution, and to pronounce fi nal judg-
ment upon it, will take far greater power of analysis, niceness of inquiry,
and delicacy of mea sure ment than Mr. Hoffman brings to his task.”125

Du Bois’s superior education, including a Harvard Ph.D. plus three
semesters at the University of Berlin— the crème de la crème of aca-
demic training in the social sciences— prepared him to see the irony in
Hoffman’s German background and his “unscientifi c use of the statistical
method.” Turning the tables on Hoffman, the former student of Max
Weber pointed out that in Hoffman’s “own German fatherland” high
death rates matched or exceeded those of blacks in the United States.126
Were residents of Munich also headed for race extinction? What of Mon-
treal, Naples, Belfast, Budapest, Breslau, and Madrid, which “all have
shown within a few years, death rates equal” to or in excess of “Ameri-
can Negroes in cities”? Was illegitimacy among the inhabitants of Rome,
Munich, Stockholm, Paris, and Brussels the beginning of the end of mo-
rality among Eu rope’s elite races, given that their rates of out- of- wedlock
childbirths were higher than the “Negroes of Washington [D.C.]”? The
bottom line, argued Du Bois, was that the study of black life needed
much more investigation at the local level and “from par tic u lar points
of view.”127



This was precisely Du Bois’s point in “The Study of the Negro Prob-
lem,” an address delivered at a meeting of the American Academy of Po-
liti cal and Social Science in the fall of 1897, several months after his re-
view appeared.128 By this time Du Bois was an assistant instructor at the
University of Pennsylvania and was conducting the fi rst- ever book- length
so cio log i cal investigation of an American city. The study was “a break-
through achievement,” the seminal text on urban sociology, not soon to
be matched by the research of the nation’s inaugural sociology depart-
ment at the University of Chicago, founded in 1892.129 It seems an un-
likely coincidence that his groundbreaking study, The Philadelphia Ne-
gro, was launched about the same time Hoffman’s book was making
headlines since, as Du Bois recalled many years later, he was brought to
Philadelphia to conduct research to investigate the “theory” that the city
“was going to the dogs because of the crime and venality of its Negro
citizens.”130 Having already completed the fi eldwork at the time of the
annual meeting— 835 hours of interviewing in 2,500 house holds, the life
histories of 10,000 men, women, and children— Du Bois told his white
peers that the “manifest and far- reaching bias” of race- relations writers
should no longer substitute for the pursuit of a “reliable body of truth,”
that “deep, fi erce convictions” must no longer guide the “uncritical study
of the Negro.” Systematic investigation of facts must supplant widely held
opinions based on “faith [rather] than of knowledge.”131 “Intensive stud-
ies” should be conducted in “limited localities” by “competent and respon-
sible agents.” The use of “any general census,” he warned fi nally, was likely
to lead to “dangerously misleading” conclusions.132

Without naming names, Du Bois paused to highlight Hoffman’s work
as a case in point. The “foreigner’s views, if he be not exceptionally as-
tute, will depend largely on his letters of introduction”; like American
pseudo- experts whose credibility is secured only by “birthplace and par-
entage,” he will “fail” to capture the complexity of the Negro Problem
and will “succumb to the vulgar temptation” to turn any “little contribu-
tion” into “general conclusions as to the origin and destiny of the Negro
people in time and eternity . . . Thus we possess endless fi nal judgments
as to the American Negro emanating from men of infl uence and learning,
in the very face of the fact known to every accurate student, that there
exists to- day no suffi cient material of proven reliability, upon which any
scientist can base defi nite and fi nal conclusions as to the present condi-
tion and tendencies of the eight million American Negroes; and that any
person or publication purporting to give such conclusions simply makes



statements which go beyond the reasonably proven evidence.”133 Unsur-
prisingly, given its dramatic rise as a national topic of discussion and de-
bate, Du Bois singled out black criminality as a research area that was
thoroughly awash in myth, ste reo type, and ignorance. “It is extremely
doubtful,” he complained, “if any satisfactory study of Negro crime and
lynching can be made for a generation or more, in the present condition
of the public mind, which renders it almost impossible to get at the facts
and real conditions.”134

On that cool November day in Philadelphia, as Du Bois instructed
a mostly white audience of social scientists and reformers on how to
study the Negro, he may have found himself uncertain about how his own
ongoing intensive study of Philadelphia’s black criminals would be re-
ceived by the public. By suggesting that no real knowledge could be as-
certained for several years to come, he appeared to be hedging against
his own contribution to reifying in white people’s minds that too many
blacks had “criminal tendencies.” Even as he critiqued the “fi nal judg-
ments” of his white supremacist peers, he knew that eight months earlier
he himself had verged perilously close to being guilty as charged.

Du Bois’s March 5, 1897, speech “Conservation of the Races,” deliv-
ered at the inaugural meeting of the American Negro Academy, put crime
at the forefront of the Negro Problem.135 Before the racial gifts of the
American Negro—“our physical powers, our intellectual endowments,
our spiritual ideals”— could be realized in that “broader humanity which
freely recognizes differences in men” without in e qual ity, we must seek
unity and purifi cation, Du Bois told an august gathering of Talented Ten-
thers, the upper crust of the educated black elite. “Weighted with a heri-
tage of moral iniquity from our past history, hard pressed in the eco-
nomic world by foreign immigrants and native prejudice, hated here,
despised there and pitied everywhere; our one haven of refuge is our-
selves.” But eight million people can rise to greatness only by fi rst being
“honest, fearlessly criticizing their own faults, zealously correcting them.”
We must put an end, he continued, to po liti cal corruption, materialism,
crime, and immorality. We must be “united to keep black boys from loaf-
ing, gambling and crime; united to guard the purity of black women and
to reduce the vast army of black prostitutes that is today marching to
hell.” Members of the black vanguard must “bravely face the truth, not
with apologies, but with solemn earnestness.” Wagging a proverbial fi n-
ger at poor southern blacks, his words nearing a crescendo, Du Bois
stated that “a note of warning” should echo “in every black cabin in the



land” that “unless we conquer our present vices they will conquer us; we
are diseased, we are developing criminal tendencies, and an alarmingly
large percentage of our men and women are sexually impure.”136

Many historians see “Conservation” as a remarkable demonstration
of Du Bois’s youthful embrace of racial essentialism, a view that all blacks
were endowed with the same special gifts only needing to be unlocked
from the inside, part antidote to Hoffman’s charge of self- destructive
race traits. Lewis observes that Du Bois later looked back on this per-
spective as “something of an embarrassment.”137 What has not received
the same attention in this speech, however, are Du Bois’s earliest thoughts
on black criminality. These profoundly signifi cant ideas occupied a cen-
tral place in his initial engagement with the race- relations discourse. The
crime problem was so important to him at the outset of his scholarly and
activist career that in his coming- out speech before his black mentors and
esteemed peers, he recommended making crime fi ghting their top prior-
ity: “We believe that the fi rst and greatest step toward the settlement of
the present friction between the races— commonly called the Negro
problem— lies in the correction of the immorality, crime and laziness
among Negroes themselves, which still remains as a heritage from slav-
ery. We believe that only earnest and long continued efforts on our own
part can cure these social ills.”138

The fact that Du Bois was still writing The Philadelphia Negro is cru-
cial to capturing the complexity and tensions in his early crime analysis.
This was an experimental period in Du Bois’s intellectual development.139
As a twenty- nine- year- old budding social scientist, he tried to approach
the race problem by resisting preconceived conclusions. The “diffi culties
of studying so vast and varied a subject are so large that the fi rst work to
be done should be rather of an experimental or preliminary nature,” he
wrote two months after the “Conservation” speech in a letter to Carroll
D. Wright, the census offi cial who had worked with Hoffman years be-
fore and was now seeking Du Bois’s expertise for an economic report on
black southerners.140 Du Bois was, after all, setting out to practice what
he preached against in Hoffman’s work.

But Du Bois could not entirely expunge his personal views from his
own scholarship, a limit he recognized and fully admitted in the opening
pages of The Philadelphia Negro.141 From “Conservation” to the Ameri-
can Academy of Po liti cal and Social Science address to the fi nal Philadel-
phia report, there is an unmistakable tension between his elitist sensibil-
ity and Victorian concern about individual moral accountability, and his



professional view of crime as a “tangible phenomena of Negro Preju-
dice.” In The Philadelphia Negro, Du Bois did not hesitate to moralize
against the young black gamblers and prostitutes of Philadelphia’s cor-
rupt Seventh Ward, or to wage a full- scale rhetorical attack on the im-
morality of poor black southerners.142 In Du Bois’s early writings, in
Hoffman’s writings, and in the writings of many others who succeeded
them, the data and discourse on black criminality at this founding mo-
ment masked the full range of ideological differences among many white
and black race experts. When the statistical reality of black criminality
was fi rst making its way along the information railway of the industrial
age, the critique of racism and the critique of racial inferiority were con-
stantly overlapping. As numerous scholars have emphasized in their
studies of racial uplift ideology, more often than not black elites’ intra-
racial appeals for unity and progress in the Progressive era depended on
one- sided jeremiads against poor and disreputable blacks.143

Contemporaries could hear or read in these statements the same con-
demnation of blackness, if that is what they chose to do. For example,
among Hoffman’s many proofs of crime and immorality as race traits, he
wrote, “That an im mense amount of concubinage and prostitution pre-
vails among the colored women of the United States is a fact fully admit-
ted by the negroes themselves.”144 He also cited evidence from the ground-
breaking book Hull House Maps and Papers. The fact was “so forcibly
brought out” by Jane Addams and Florence Kelley, Hoffman wrote, that
wherever large numbers of blacks lived in the urban North, “houses of
ill- fame and dives of the lowest order abound.” Compiled by two white
liberal pioneers of the settlement house movement, Hull House Maps was
a proto- Compstat analysis, mapping vice and crime in Chicago’s slum
communities for the ultimate purpose of community- based crime preven-
tion.145 Context made all the difference in how both black and white ex-
perts expected their crime analyses to be interpreted and understood.

Du Bois claimed that The Philadelphia Negro was fi rst and foremost
a seminal study of the history and sociology of a black community in the
urban North. It was the fi rst of many local “intensive,” systematic inves-
tigations of the facts and real conditions of black life in America. “The
world was thinking wrong about race, because it did not know,” Du Bois
wrote years later, refl ecting on his initial scholarly engagement with race-
relations discourse. “The ultimate evil was stupidity.”146 The Philadel-
phia Negro was the fi rst step in his multistep knowledge program to end
the Negro Problem. With this purpose in mind, Du Bois produced an



unpre ce dented in- depth analysis of the class structure of black Philadel-
phia. Considering the whole as greater than the sum of its parts, the four
classes he identifi ed— the “aristocracy of the race” (12 percent), the “hard-
working, good- natured people” (52 percent), the “poor and unfortunate”
(30 percent), and the “submerged Tenth (6 percent)”— amounted to a pow-
erful rebuttal to the sweeping negative generalizations against all blacks,
especially the charge of criminality. Du Bois saw the problem of black
criminality much like the way Hoffman had characterized white criminal-
ity, as an “unfortunate” consequence of economic conditions. “We have
here the [statistical] record of a low social class, and as the condition of
a lower class is by its very defi nition worse than that of a higher, so the
situation of the Negroes is worse as respects crime and poverty than that
of the mass of whites.” In the wake of a “period of fi nancial stress and in-
dustrial depression,” he continued, black and white crime both increased,
but less so for whites “by reason of their richer and more fortunate up-
per classes.”147 Even his use of the term submerged shifted partial re-
sponsibility away from this “lowest class of slum elements” by implying
that these individuals were oppressed by means other than just their own

Within this frame of analysis, Du Bois intended for crime to be seen as
“a phenomenon that stands not alone, but rather as a symptom of count-
less wrong social conditions.” In an unfl inching chapter- long investiga-
tion of the serious crimes of the “submerged Tenth,” Du Bois described
mostly young black men who typically stole or assaulted others; who
tended to be “ignorant,” southern- born, repeat offenders; and who lived
“in such [an] environment that they fi nd it easier to be rogues than hon-
est men.” Yet all of the lawlessness did not alter his assessment that rac-
ism was the “vastest of the Negro problems.” He reminded readers that
since the colonial period these “perpetrators” had been subject to all the
handicaps of being poor and black defendants in the criminal justice sys-
tem. He redefi ned race traits as temporary defi ciencies rooted in the
moral debasement of slavery. He linked emancipation and northern mi-
gration to the universal experience of displacement and strain, like the
wilderness period for the Hebrews of the Old Testament. He emphasized
ongoing, not simply historical, acts of white discrimination in every
sphere of black life. Beyond the “ordinary,” all of these were aggravating
causes of black criminality. According to Du Bois, they were the factors
that made black people’s crimes both excessive and peculiar. Otherwise,
the heart of the Negro Problem was not crime but the exclusion of black



people from within the “pale of nineteenth- century Humanity.” In the
work’s fi nal pages, he wrote:

We have, to be sure, a threatening problem of ignorance but the
ancestors of most Americans were far more ignorant than the
freedmen’s sons; these ex- slaves are poor but not as poor as the Irish
peasants used to be; crime is rampant but not more so, if as much,
as in Italy; but the difference is that the ancestors of the En glish
and the Irish and the Italians were felt to be worth educating, help-
ing and guiding because they were men and brothers, while in
America a census which gives a slight indication of the utter disap-
pearance of the American Negro from the earth is greeted with
ill- concealed delight. . . . This is the spirit that enters in and compli-
cates all Negro social problems and this is a problem which only
civilization and humanity can successfully solve.

As was commonly expressed on the white side of the color line, Du
Bois wanted Philadelphia’s black crime problem to be greeted as a cause
for concern and intervention rather than as a celebration of internecine

Far less noted by historians was Du Bois’s initial linking of crime fi ght-
ing to racism.149 Even in “Conservation,” Du Bois did not simply wag a
fi nger at black criminals and prostitutes, though the tone and tenor of his
rhetoric suggested otherwise. He combined his primary call for an anti-
crime self- help solution with a secondary call for whites to end racism.
“We believe that the second great step toward a better adjustment of the
relations between races,” he stated, is the color- blind recognition and re-
warding of talent in the “economic and intellectual world.” In The Phila-
delphia Negro, he tipped the balance toward equal responsibility, calling
for a dual approach to the crime problem: “The Duty of the Negroes”
was to fi rst make every effort “toward a lessening of Negro crime” in
spite of racial oppression; “[t]he Duty of the Whites” was to eliminate
prejudice and discrimination in spite of “intermingling” with a “race so
poor and ignorant and ineffi cient as the mass of the Negroes.”

That the Negro race has an appalling work of social reform before
it need hardly be said. Simply because the ancestors of the present
white inhabitants of America went out of their way barbarously to
mistreat and enslave the ancestors of the present black inhabitants
gives those blacks no right to ask that the civilization and morality



of the land be seriously menaced for their benefi t. . . . But if their
[whites’] policy in the past is parent of much of this condition, and
if to- day by shutting black boys and girls out of most avenues of
decent employment they are increasing pauperism and vice, then
they must hold themselves largely responsible for the deplorable

From “Conservation” to The Philadelphia Negro, even as he thought out
loud and committed words to the page, the two sides of the problem
were approaching inseparability in Du Bois’s mind.151 The complications
in his own thoughts thus led him to doubt what the “public mind” was
able or even willing to comprehend that November day before the American
Academy of Po liti cal and Social Science.152

Du Bois’s admonition against Hoffman’s brand of racial analysis, two
years before the fi nal publication of The Philadelphia Negro, seems to
have been his attempt at saying that it was possible to criticize bad be-
havior among blacks without eliminating racism as a major factor and
passing fi nal judgment on the inferiority of the entire race. Elsewhere
during this period he would begin to express his personal despair over
the tendency of whites to simplify the race problem and to see in the
struggle and “strivings of the Negro People” justifi cation for prejudice. In
one of his most famous essays, fi rst published in the August 1897 issue of
Atlantic Monthly, midway between his “Conservation” speech and his
American Academy of Po liti cal and Social Science address, Du Bois fi rst
described his own sense of living behind the veil, of being defi ned by others
as a “problem.”153 “It is a peculiar sensation, this double- consciousness,
this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of
mea sur ing one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused con-
tempt and pity.” He then linked the racialized oppression of black people
in America to an enduring conundrum:

A people thus handicapped [by centuries of enslavement and degra-
dation] ought not to be asked to race with the world, but rather
allowed to give all its time and thought to its own social problems.
But alas! While sociologists gleefully count his bastards and his
prostitutes, the very soul of the toiling, sweating black man is dark-
ened by the shadow of a vast despair. Men call the shadow pre-
judice, and learnedly explain it as the natural defense of culture
against barbarism, learning against ignorance, purity against crime,
the “higher” against the “lower” races. . . . But the facing of so vast



a prejudice could not but bring the inevitable self- questioning, self-
disparagement, and lowering of ideals which ever accompany re-
pression and breed in an atmosphere of contempt and hate.154

Here, before The Philadelphia Negro was fi nished, was the fi rst arti-
culation of the self- fulfi lling prophesy of racism, poverty, crime, and in e-
qual ity in modern America. Still, the Philadelphia study was Du Bois’s
most important scholarly contribution, an exegesis of this most compli-
cated phenomenon. He opened the Souls of Black Folk, his most widely
read publication— in which he intoned that “the problem of the twentieth-
century is the problem of the color- line”—with a reprint (and slight revi-
sion) of the 1897 Atlantic Monthly essay. For many years to come, in
numerous reports, essays, speeches, and editorials, he would press his
two- pronged solution to the crime problem, shifting emphasis and blame
ever so slightly to suit the biases and “stupidity” of his audiences.

Immediately following the completion of The Philadelphia Negro, Du
Bois’s tendency to move back and forth between emphasizing the need for
self- improvement and emphasizing an end to racism, depending on the
complexion of the audience, is perfectly illustrated by an article and a
speech he gave in the same year. The article, “The Negro and Crime,” ap-
peared in the May 18, 1899, issue of the In de pen dent, a northern liberal
magazine. In responding to an earlier article in the publication that had
blasted blacks for their vices (“the negro is the mongrel of civilization”),
Du Bois fi rmly insisted that the history of slavery and the emancipation
experience went a long way toward explaining the “Negro criminal
class”—“it is astounding that a body of people whose family life had been
so nearly destroyed . . . should in a single generation be able to point to so
many pure homes.” He then listed and explained four additional causes in
the order of their signifi cance: convict leasing, discrimination in southern
courts, mob violence, and “the drawing of the color- line.”155

By contrast, a few months later he delivered a speech, “The Problem
of Negro Crime,” at the Atlanta Negro Historical Society. According to
a caption accompanying the January 1900 reprint in the Bulletin of
Atlanta University, the address was “handled in such a way to make a
deep impression upon those who heard.” Du Bois began by asserting that
the strictest test of the “Negro’s progress is that of his criminal record.”
Citing the 1890 census, he said, “despite, then, all the discrimination and
all other excuses that might be brought there can be no reasonable doubt
but that the Negroes of this land furnish two or three times as many



criminals proportionately as the whites.” In his usual way, he linked
crime to the natural disruption of the emancipation period and concluded
with fi ve self- help recommendations: “establish better homes”; “educate
our children”; inculcate a faithful and honest work ethic regardless of how
menial the job; associate with “decent people” only; and unite with white
Georgians to open a juvenile reformatory to keep young people from the
“prison and chain gang.” Herbert Aptheker, who fi rst collected and as-
sembled Du Bois’s voluminous body of work, observes that around 1904
Du Bois “rejected” the views he expressed that day. In an October 1940
address, Du Bois publicly refl ected on his change of perspective at that

Still, despite all the moralizing and data crunching about black crimi-
nals, Du Bois’s The Philadelphia Negro was “shamefully neglected.”157
The book never came close to attracting as large an audience as Hoff-
man’s Race Traits. It did not become a nonfi ction bestseller. It did not turn
race- relations discourse on its head. Although it was reviewed in a few
academic periodicals, it was ignored by the American Journal of Sociology
(AJS).158 No mention of the book appears in that journal until 1903, when
it was listed among texts used at Hampton Institute as part of a survey of
sociology curriculums around the country.159 Nearly a de cade passed be-
fore it was fi rst cited in the footnotes of an AJS article.160 As late as the
1930s, not even the University of Pennsylvania’s sociology department
offi cially acknowledged, as historians Thomas Sugrue and Michael Katz
write, “the most signifi cant research in the history of the department.”161
It neither infl uenced a generation of sociology students nor garnered Du
Bois critical praise and scholarly adulation befi tting his accomplishment.
It was an ominous sign, no less clear than in Ida B. Wells’s case, of the
outcome for a black race- relations expert or reformer who refused to let
racism off the hook.

To be sure, Du Bois’s Philadelphia research helped secure his next posi-
tion at the historically black campus of Atlanta University. But in Lewis’s
assessment, he became a “scholar behind the veil.” He wrote and super-
vised thirteen major research studies between 1898 and 1910, unmatched
by most peers in quantity and quality, most of them cutting- edge reports
that dissected all aspects of black life in the South. Du Bois nevertheless
became an increasingly marginal fi gure to northern research foundations
that repeatedly passed him over to fund white race experts who did not
have a tenth of his training or experience.162 Only with historical hind-
sight culminating around the centennial anniversary of The Philadelphia



Negro’s publication have Du Bois’s scholarly contributions been posthu-
mously recognized within the academy. A 1991 appraisal of his work in
the American Economic Review notes that “the extent of descriptive and
statistical detail in Du Bois’s studies is rarely matched even today.”163 Re-
fl ecting on the legacy of his exclusion from the “white car of scholarship,”
historian Ira Katznelson writes that American social science and history
have suffered “intellectual conformity and normative bankruptcy” by fail-
ing to include the “fi rst rate work” of Du Bois and other black scholars
“relegated to the outer limit or edge of social standing.”164

Du Bois’s work was not totally unappreciated by white race- relations
writers of his day. A review in the American Historical Review, the lead-
ing journal of historians, praised Du Bois for his candor. “He is perfectly
frank, laying all necessary stress on the weaknesses of his people, such as
their looseness of living, their lack of thrift, their ignorance of the laws of
health, the disproportionate number of paupers and criminals among
them as compared with the whites.” The anonymous reviewer’s only criti-
cism was that some of his conclusions were overly optimistic that the
Negro Problem could be solved in social terms. Du Bois had not suffi –
ciently considered the saliency of racial inferiority. Speaking for the pro-
fession, the reviewer concluded, “We believe that separation is due to
differences of race more than of status.”165 Du Bois’s crime rhetoric did
draw attention, but not exactly in the ways he had intended.

In September 1899 Walter Willcox, one of the most infl uential econo-
mists of his generation and the chief statistician of the United States
Census Bureau, delivered one of his most widely quoted papers, “Negro
Criminality,” before the American Social Science Association meeting in
Saratoga, New York.166 The New England- born professor from Cornell
University, promising a “fair- minded, clear- sighted and outspoken posi-
tion,” asked his audience to reconsider their ideas about racial bias in the
nation’s criminal justice system. Reminding them of familiar southern
examples of racism, such as juror discrimination and sentencing bias, he
asked whether the same arguments could hold true in the North. “Does
it take less evidence to convict a Negro here, or is a Negro’s sentence for
the same offense likely to be longer? Such claims have never to my
knowledge been raised.” He then cited the latest prison data that showed
that black prisoners in the North had higher per capita rates of incarcera-
tion than in the South (69 versus 29 of every 10,000 residents). In light
of the numbers, there was not an obvious answer to his question other
than the presumption among these good- hearted northern academics that



northern racism could not explain the difference. So as to be clear, he
stated: “These facts furnish some statistical basis and warrant for the pop-
u lar opinion, never seriously contested, that under present conditions in
this country a member of the African race, other things equal, is much
more likely to fall in to crime than a member of the white race.”167 In
other words, what many already believed to be true was now proven.

Willcox then cited the opinions of “representative Negroes” from the
July 1898 annual Negro Conference at Hampton Institute. “The criminal
record of the colored race in all parts of the country,” Willcox quoted, “is
alarming in its proportion.” Like Booker T. Washington’s annual Tuske-
gee conferences, Hampton’s annual gatherings were intended to show
southern moderates and northern philanthropists the benefi ts of indus-
trial education as a worthy movement for black self- help or, as the New
York Times noted in its coverage, “the aim in regard to each [topic dis-
cussed] was to fi nd the faults for which the negro was responsible and
to see how to supply the lack or fi nd the remedy.”168 Given African Amer-
icans’ own testimonies, then, racism was less the problem than racial in-
feriority. Considering that slavery “was never established” in the North,
and that across the region the percentage increase of blacks going to
prison was even greater than in the South, Willcox argued that the na-
tional black crime problem could no longer be ignored. “In these fi gures,
one fi nds again some statistical basis for the well- nigh universal opinion
that crime among the American Negroes is increasing with alarming ra-
pidity.” In a fi nal attempt to dispel any remaining doubt about his con-
clusions, he read Du Bois’s note of warning in “Conservation” and said,
“I may quote the concession of the Negro who is perhaps doing as much
as any member of his race to throw light upon its present condition.”169

At the dawn of the Jim Crow era, writing crime into race became the
latest trend among race- relations writers across the country. Hoffman’s
innovation of using crime statistics had helped to overcome the long-
sought- after scientifi c goal of credibility within racial scientifi c discourse.
Many of Hoffman’s pre de ces sors, who had once struggled to distance
themselves from the charge of proslavery bias while objectively acknowledg-
ing the “feral state” to which blacks had returned since freedom, welcomed
the “new scientifi c study of the negro.” G. Stanley Hall, for example, a pio-
neering Harvard psychologist, found er of the American Journal of Psychol-
ogy in 1887, and one of Shaler’s mentors, described this period as a terrifi c
opportunity to embrace the new social science research because it was a
“more solid and intelligent basis” on which to end the sentimental notion



of racial equality. Racial “differences are coming to be better under-
stood,” he wrote, “so that what is true and good for one is often false
and bad for the other.” As “an abolitionist both by conviction and de-
scent,” Hall instructed black people to stop “sympathiz[ing] with their
own criminals” and to “accept without whining patheticism and corrod-
ing self- pity [their] present situation, prejudice and all.”170 With a grow-
ing body of evidence of the excessive crime rates of black people every-
where they could be counted— despite, or because of, the underlying social,
po liti cal, economic, and racist realities underlying those statistics— the
idea of black criminality quickly became a fundamental mea sure of black
progress and potential in modern America.

Hall’s racialized vision of crime prevention— a call for a separate so-
lution to crime among blacks— was emblematic of how the idea of black
criminality shaped the thinking of many white reformers, including neo-
abolitionists and progressives, in this era. White criminality was society’s
problem, but black criminality was black people’s problem. Such think-
ing contributed to discriminatory social work approaches and crime-
fi ghting policies in black communities, with devastating consequences,
including the worsening of social conditions. Among whites, struggling
neighborhoods were considered a cause of crime and a reason to intervene.
Among blacks, they were considered a sign of pathology and a reason for
neglect. Against the grain, Du Bois called crime “a sinister index of social
degradation and struggle.”171 Black criminality, he insisted, should be
solved using “the very remedies which the world is using on all submerged
classes” with “goodness,” “beauty,” “truth,” and “faith in humanity.” Such
differences between Du Bois’s vision and Hall’s refl ected the malleability
of the concept depending on one’s racial ideology.172

Still, the idea fl ourished even as some raised doubts about the accuracy
of the census crime data as a source for comparing the criminal tendencies
of different groups. One of the fi rst academics in the United States to have
“statistics” attached to his title, the pioneering University of Pennsylvania
professor Roland P. Falkner, believed that comparative analysis “should
be thorough, systematic and reasonable.” More than a scientifi c issue, he
wrote, “it is a matter of the gravest practical importance” since “pop u lar
interest” in crime is chiefl y concerned with “the greater criminality of the
foreign- born and colored elements as compared with the native and
white.” He argued that the census would have been more accurate if it
had reported the total number of prisoners received during the year ver-
sus the population on a single day. The new method, he proposed, was



able to account for new offenders who had served a short sentence but
had been released before the census enumeration. It also avoided double-
counting prisoners with sentences of one year or more. Falkner pointed
out that by mea sur ing new commitments instead of population, sentencing
bias would have been eliminated. “If one class receives longer sentences
than another, or commit classes of crimes for which longer sentences are
given it will appear unduly magnifi ed in the census report.” Falkner con-
cluded that the 1890 census had distorted the criminal tendencies of dif-
ferent groups. Blacks were shown to have committed more crimes than
their total share and immigrants fewer.173

Falkner anticipated many of the criticisms of early prison and police
data made by late- twentieth- century scholars. But, as social science histo-
rian Lawrence Rosen has pointed out, these limits were not generally
“obvious to the criminologists and criminal statisticians of the nineteenth
and the early years of the twentieth century.” Their “uncritical generaliza-
tions,” therefore, have to be understood in the historical context in which
they informed early- twentieth- century pop u lar and public policy under-
standings of criminality.174 Similarly, historian Daryl Michael Scott warns
contemporary scholars that too frequently social science “studies written
prior to World War II have been interpreted not in light of the intellectual
and po liti cal debates that prompted those research projects, but in con-
nection with proposals and policies that originated during Lyndon John-
son’s Great Society.”175 Signifi cant doubts about the accuracy, reliability,
and interpretive use of crime statistics for comparisons of racial groups
did not emerge among white social scientists until the 1920s and 1930s in
the midst of a nationwide campaign to standardize arrest statistics, culmi-
nating in the Uniform Crime Reports.176

In the meantime, Willcox acknowledged Falkner’s doubts about the
census data in a footnote. He agreed that prison statistics “exaggerated
the criminal tendencies of Negroes” but felt that this distortion was off-
set by the fact that comparing prisoners to “persons of all ages” tended to
“understate the true criminality of a race.” This was a weak defense since
age distortion— population infl ation due to the inclusion of children and
the elderly— impacted all races, which he also admitted. The sentencing
distortion still adversely singled out blacks. Willcox nevertheless “[brought]
the facts home” by ending his statistical proof of black criminality with a
quotation from Du Bois.177

Black race- relations writers often contributed to the crime discourse
with the intent of challenging white supremacists’ interpretations.178 As



Du Bois’s and Wells’s works demonstrate, black crime experts often used
crime data and racial violence as symptoms of oppression to focus pre-
cisely on the “conditions of life” in the North and South that many white
race- relations writers often dismissed. At times, however, they also unwit-
tingly contributed to the writing of crime into race.

Monroe N. Work, for example, a graduate student at the University
of Chicago and soon to be its fi rst black sociologist, answered the chal-
lenge to the race posed by Hoffman’s research.179 Complementing Du
Bois’s Philadelphia fi ndings, Work launched his own intensive fi ve- month
study of black criminality in Chicago from November 1897 to May 1898,
which was published in late 1900. Focusing primarily on arrest statistics
since 1872, he confi rmed the then well- known trend that black criminal-
ity was proportionately highest in the North and was increasing.180 He
also found that black Chicagoans were arrested on average six times
more frequently than immigrants. Written in a dry, clinical voice more
characteristic of empirical reports today, “Crime among the Negroes of
Chicago: A Social Study” was nearly devoid of antiracist tones and must
have confi rmed what many readers of the American Journal of Sociology
believed to be true. In a somewhat incoherent fi nal section, however,
Work disagreed with Hoffman’s “position that the negro is retrograding”
by countering that blacks were “making progress in civilization.” If the
“hypothesis of his social advancement” was true, the graduate student
tentatively suggested, the black man’s crime is due to his “transitional
state from a lower to a higher plane” and the “economic stress” accom-
panying it. Work observed that 75 percent of Chicago blacks “had, or
gave, no occupation” at the time of their arrests compared to 38 percent
of whites. In addition to economic factors that increased black criminal-
ity, Work added the causes of crime “common to all races” and “the race
characteristics peculiar” to blacks.181

In comparison to Du Bois, Wells, Kelly Miller, and the future work of
Richard R. Wright, Jr., what ever nod to racism Work intended by his
fi nal comments could not have been very convincing. Like other black
writers, he mistook white social scientists’ ability to cite white criminal-
ity as a symptom of the ravages of the industrial economy and modern
civilization—“common” causes— as an invitation to apply the same logic
on their side of the color line. Ultimately, the crime research and espe-
cially the intra- racial appeals for moral betterment by many black writ-
ers and reformers often achieved the opposite effect, reifying the ten-



dency among most whites “to believe the worst about Negro character
and prospects.”182

The premium placed on the work of black writers whose crime dis-
course explicitly confi rmed white supremacists’ beliefs and practices was
on full display in the reception of William Hannibal Thomas’s 1901
book, The American Negro: What He Was, What He Is, and What He
May Become. The Ohio- born black missionary, educator, and journalist
in the postbellum South based his study on twenty- fi ve years of personal
observations. His methodology alone should have made his work mar-
ginal by the standards of the audience for whom he claimed to be writ-
ing, especially since he dismissed the reliability of existing data to mea-
sure the “actual crime instinct in the negro.”183 Nevertheless, the book
was, according to the author, an indispensable “contribution to Ameri-
can sociology.” Speaking directly to “American white people,” Thomas
gave his readers more justifi cation for depicting the race as criminal than
any “accurate” statistic could ever have accomplished by itself. His most
recent biographer writes that Thomas’s “list of negative qualities of Negroes
seemed limitless.”184 Unmatched in his racist rhetoric by any other black
writer of his day, Thomas insisted that the majority of blacks were men-
tally retarded, “savage[s] at heart,” and amoral—“unable practically to
discern between right and wrong.” Most “negroes” were an “intrinsically
inferior type of humanity” who preferred a “low order of living” and
whose history was a “record of lawless existence, led by every impulse
and passion.” Equating the sum of black humanity to apes, Thomas wrote:
“Really, the inferiority of the negro in mind, morals, judgement [sic], and
character is such that there is no doubt that some very plausible confi r-
matory evidence of the justness of the simian theory of human origin
might be derived from a close inspection of his demeanor.”185

Controversial and attacked by the vast majority of African Americans
of every ideological perspective, The American Negro was hailed by many
whites as the most authoritative treatise to date on African American in-
feriority.186 Even before the manuscript had been accepted for publica-
tion by the Macmillan Company, Franklin H. Giddings, one of the found-
ing fathers of American sociology, the found er of Columbia University’s
sociology department, and the third president of the American So cio log-
i cal Association, wrote in his reader’s report that the book was the most
complete, detailed account of the American Negro ever published: “As a
so cio log i cal study it is one of the most valuable things to [be] put in the



hands of genuine students of american [sic] conditions that I know
of.”187 As news of its forthcoming release hit the market, the book was
hailed not only for its thorough treatment, but for its objectivity as well.
The writer “presents his subject without an atom of the sentimentality
which has so often proved a blemish in many books otherwise most ex-
cellent,” announced the New York Times book review section a month
before the book’s release.188

More impressive still was the fact that the author was a black man.
After the book appeared in print, the New York Times gave it another
rave review: “Mr. Thomas is probably, next to Mr. Booker T. Washington,
the best American authority on the negro question” because of his race
and his enlightened perspective on his own people. “No white man has
ever so far as we can remember, arraigned the freedman with such scath-
ing denunciation of his faults and vices” as Thomas. “Such a jeremiad,
delivered by one belonging to the very race against which it is hurled,
carries unmistakable conviction of the writer’s sincerity and knowledge
whereof he speaks.” Thomas’s observations lead to a “mental vision” of a
“sinister and terrible fi gure still to be dealt with in our social economy.”
Finally cutting to the book’s most damning observation, the unsigned
review noted that there was nothing whites could do to help, “since
the most ignorant and degraded examples of freedmen are to be found
in the North, where they have enjoyed every advantage around them
unrestricted. What better proof of racial incapacity is needed?” With-
out a fundamental change in the “negro’s” nature, the situation was nearly

Thomas’s observations, like Hoffman’s data, revealed as much about
the hardening of racial categories in the new century as they attempted
to explain why crime was a growing problem in black communities.190
The inseparable linking of the two social categories of race and crime
was not inevitable; it was the conscious result of several writers’
attempts to expand defi nitions of blackness beyond physical traits,
historical association with slavery, and nineteenth- century romanticiza-
tion of blacks as a child race. White or black writers who could marshal
crime statistics from government data with alarmist predictions about
the future of the race in urban places, especially northern cities, plus tie
in a compelling narrative of the historical and biological factors that
made American Negroes fundamentally different from American
whites, and fi nally repudiate charges of racism, were sure to be noticed
by many.191



In the same vein as the New York Times, C. C. Closson, a white re-
viewer for the Journal of Po liti cal Economy, praised Thomas as a candid
and courageous black writer. Recommending the book, Closson wrote
that despite some of Thomas’s tendencies to exaggerate, “unfortunately,
there is probably too much of truth in the picture.”192 Although the
American Journal of Sociology never reviewed Du Bois’s so cio log i cal
treatise, it did review Thomas’s. Ironically, the reviewer, Richard R.
Wright, Jr., a theology student at the University of Chicago and a pioneer
black Social Gospeler on the city’s South Side, panned the book for high-
lighting only the worst elements of the race. “His book is as fair a char-
acterization of the race as a detailed description of the slums and dens of
vice of Chicago would be of the whole city,” he wrote.193 It may or may
not have been considered a mistake by the journal to give Wright the op-
portunity to denounce the book. But in light of the high praise it received
among whites Wright’s review likely corroborated, for some at least, a
sense that Thomas’s study stood alone against a rising tide of black “sen-
timentality.” Putting Du Bois in the ranks of those with a “rosy faith in
the negro’s prospects,” one critic jointly reviewed The Philadelphia Ne-
gro and The American Negro, giving the edge to Thomas. “Professor Du
Bois’s statistics are worthy of careful study,” but “they are a little weak in
the pages devoted to showing that the negro is not so criminal as he is
popularly represented to be.”194 That Du Bois was even compared to
Thomas— two “negroes” of equal talent— was a sign that his credibility
among white social scientists was in free fall. Du Bois nonetheless pointed
out that the enthusiastic reception of Thomas’s “virulent criticisms” was
not at all surprising. “Mr. Thomas’s book is a sinister symptom” of the
times, witnessed in “the exigencies of the book market” and the “more or
less unconscious Wish for the Worst in regard to the Negro,” he ex-
plained. “If the Negro will kindly go to the dev il and make haste about it,
then the American conscience can justify three centuries of shameful his-
tory; and hence the subdued enthusiasm which greets a sensational arti-
cle or book.”195

The excitement surrounding The American Negro revealed just how
quickly black criminality had captured the nation’s imagination after
1896. To be sure, southern rhetoric about black criminals— racist justifi –
cations for lynching, convict leasing, prison farms, and chain gangs—
preceded Hoffman’s book. But in the wake of new national crime statis-
tics, especially northern prison and arrest data from Philadelphia, Chicago,
and New York, southern claims of blacks’ criminal nature were fi nally



exorcized of the ghost of their Confederate past. In the wake of the new
crime discourse, Shaler’s call for the scientifi c “union of endeavor on
the part of those of North and South, of ex- slaveholder and ex- abolitionist
alike” was fi nally being answered, even from the pen of a black man.196

Southern white writers wholeheartedly welcomed the new lines of com-
munication as an important step toward national reconciliation. Thomas
Nelson Page’s 1904 book, The Negro: The Southerner’s Problem, was one
of the earliest and most explicit attempts in the new century to convince
northern readers that white southerners were not inherently any more
racist or violent toward blacks than northerners were. Page was a descen-
dant of the Virginia planter class and a pop u lar fi ction writer of the Old
South. He explained that “deep racial instincts are not limited by geo-
graph i cal bounds”; the increasing numbers of northern lynchings and
mob attacks on “wholly innocent” and “unoffending Negroes” were proof
of that. Southerners only appeared more brutal, reasoned Page, because of
the “greater number of Negroes in that section.”197

Page effectively used population and crime statistics the same way a
Prudential Insurance statistician had in 1896: where blacks are, crime
will follow. The ex- chief of the Census Bureau, Willcox, had helped clear
the way for Page’s argument by showing that black criminality in the
North was increasing at a higher rate than in the South. Clearly, Willcox
argued, a racially biased southern criminal justice system could not ex-
plain higher black criminality in the racially liberal North.198 Either the
North was not as tolerant of blacks as federal policy and some northern
writers had made it appear, Page added, or black criminality brought out
the worst in everyone. To argue the latter, Page relied on “the most re-
markable study of the Negro which ha[d] appeared.” Referring to Thomas’s
book, he ominously boasted:

His chapter on this subject will be, to those unfamiliar with it, a
terrible exposure of the depravity of the Negroes in their social
life. . . . Unfortunately for the race, this depressing view is borne
out by the increase of crime among them; by the increase of super-
stition, with its black trail of unnamable immorality and vice; by
the hom i cides and murders, and by the outbreak and growth of the
brutal crime which has chiefl y brought about the frightful crime of
lynching which stains the good name of the South and has spread
northward with the spread of the Negro ravisher.199



With his northern readers at full attention at the “frightful” thought
of more “Negro ravishers” and more northern lynchings— based con-
vincingly on the “depressing view” of an “open- minded” black expert
and increasing crime rates— Page made black criminality a rallying cry
for national reconciliation. In his view, the fact that both sections of the
country were vulnerable to being “drag[ged] down” by the “debased”
Negro threatened the nation’s future and whites’ racial supremacy. “No
country in the present state of the world’s progress can long maintain it-
self in the front rank,” he wrote, “and no people can long maintain them-
selves at the top of the list of peoples if they have to carry perpetually the
burden of a vast and densely ignorant population.” With ten million
Negroes within its borders, the South needed understanding, not repudi-
ation, from the North.200

Two years earlier, in 1902, Thomas Dixon, Jr., a southern lawyer, min-
ister, and playwright, wrote a best- selling novel similarly focused on na-
tionalizing white southerners’ views on black criminality.201 According
to a reviewer, The Leopard’s Spots: A Romance of the White Man’s Bur-
den was meant to justify white supremacy to northern readers by pre-
senting as “vividly as possible the faults and crimes current among the
Negroes of the South.”202 At the book’s climax, a black man was burned
at a stake for having raped and murdered a white woman. “Plainly the
design is that the reader,” a reviewer wrote, “shall exclaim in his indigna-
tion, ‘I too would have helped to do the same, under the same circum-
stances!’ ”203 The “circumstances” portrayed by Dixon gave the book’s
eye- catching title its signifi cance, implying that there was no possibility
of changing black people’s brutal nature through philanthropy and edu-
cation. By Dixon’s rendering, then, the outlook was grim if northerners
continued to try to elevate Negroes to the same level as whites. The two
grand themes found in The Leopard’s Spots— national unity and black
retrogression— reached hundreds of thousands of Americans through its
print run of nearly one million books.204

Dixon’s work, with its commercial success, and Page’s book, which
followed shortly, demonstrated the increasingly pop u lar appeal of think-
ing about black criminality and white responses on a national scale.
Dixon’s other bestseller, The Clansman, which was adapted for the big
screen and became one of the fi rst motion picture blockbusters as The
Birth of a Nation, put the lynching of a black rapist at the heart of a na-
tional narrative about exterminating the danger within.205 The general



recognition of this trend in pop u lar culture and social scientifi c thought
inspired a major roundtable at the 1907 annual meeting of the American
So cio log i cal Association in Madison, Wisconsin. Some of the most promi-
nent sociologists in the country gathered to hear and discuss Alfred Stone’s
paper, “Is Race Friction between Blacks and Whites in the United States
Growing and Inevitable?” Stone, a southern sociologist and a Mississippi
plantation own er “who controlled the lives of hundreds of black tenants,”
wanted his northern colleagues to be very clear about one thing.206 Race
prejudice was inevitable, but it was not a southern white phenomenon or
a northern white aberration, he stated. It was the natural “antipathy” of
whites, “an inherited part of his instinctive mental equipment,” to the
presence of a fundamentally different and inferior race. “The proposition
is,” Stone continued “too elementary for discussion, that the white man
when confronted with a suffi cient number of negroes to create in his mind
a sense of po liti cal unrest or danger, either alters his form of government
in order to be rid of the incubus, or destroys the po liti cal strength of the
negro by force, by evasion, or by direct action.”207

Stone’s paper only implied a connection between black criminality and
black inferiority as a source of race friction. Apparently stating that ex-
plicitly might have been too elementary, since four of the eight socio logists
who published responses to Stone’s paper— Walter Willcox of Cornell
University, U. G. Weatherly of Indiana University, J. W. Garner of the Uni-
versity of Illinois, and Edwin L. Earp of Syracuse University— interpreted
black criminality as the center of the problem. Willcox referred to it as a
“rough index of race friction.” Weatherly spoke of it as one of the most
obvious indications of black inferiority: “Patience and toleration toward
[the black man] are diffi cult when the facts that come most to the atten-
tion of the average white are those of crime, unthrift, and po liti cal corrup-
tion.” Garner tied black criminality to migration and urbanization, while
Earp, expressing the most liberal interpretation, saw it in relation to a
lack of economic opportunities.208 In a subsequent review of Stone’s con-
ference paper after it had been repackaged in Studies in the American Race
Problem along with others of his essays (and Willcox’s “Negro Criminal-
ity”), Frank Blackmar, a University of Kansas sociologist, praised the book
for “being the most valuable contribution yet appearing on the race prob-
lem in the United States.” Impressed by the race- relations interpretations
of his esteemed northern colleagues, Blackmar added, “Owing to his igno-
rance, superstition, indolence, childish nature, and racial characteristics,”
the black man “is his own worst enemy.”209



This roundtable discussion, published in the May 1908 issue of the
American Journal of Sociology, crystallized the way in which African
American criminality had gradually helped to bridge deep divisions over
the meaning of black freedom since the end of slavery and Reconstruc-
tion, opening new lines of communication between the North and the
South in search of a national solution to the race problem. In light of the
conclusions reached at the Wisconsin meeting, Lewis writes, a “grim truth”
emerged that “the march of science and industry tended to exacerbate
race relations in the North as well as the South.”210 Two months later, in
this “climate of national victimizing,” New York feminist writer and evo-
lutionary theorist Charlotte Perkins Gilman offered her own “suggestion
on the Negro Problem.” Since the problem was “the question of conduct”
or preventing those “who are degenerating into an increasing percentage
of social burdens or actual criminals,” she recommended state- run forced
labor camps.211

The race writers who conducted major studies or seminal works with a
new emphasis on crime as the Negro Problem at the dawn of the Jim
Crow era identifi ed the transition from slavery to freedom as the origin
of the problem. Frederick Hoffman argued that it was a “well- known
fact” that crime did not exist during slavery, but in freedom, and espe-
cially in large cities, blacks were being reduced by their inferiority and
immorality to “the anti- social condition” that “before many years will be
worse than slavery.” Walter Willcox insisted that slavery had not built up
moral capital in black people; therefore they were unprepared and irre-
sponsible in freedom. W. E. B. Du Bois believed that crime was a normal
result of a “vast and sudden change like that of emancipation,” especially
for those “unable to adjust themselves to the new circumstances.” Wil-
liam Hannibal Thomas noted that slavery had effectively restrained the
“abeyant passions of [negroes’] undisciplined nature.” Thomas Nelson
Page observed that slavery had civilized the “savage from the wilds of
Africa.” It was precisely the blacks who had not grown up in slavery,
whom he called the “new issue,” who were fueling black crime rates.
Thomas Dixon, Jr., like Page, pointed out that crime was an immediate
consequence of the loss of southern whites’ control during Reconstruc-
tion.212 While it is obvious that these writers did not all agree about
whether slavery had bred crime— Du Bois called crime a “heritage of
slavery”— or had restrained it, they did agree that the present situation
represented a sharp break from the past.



Many white race- relations writers hoped to blaze a research trail to
solve the Negro Problem by writing crime into race. In the pro cess, they
also hoped to save the nation by using black criminality as a rhetorical
bridge to heal deep sectional divisions and distrust rooted in the postbel-
lum era. These writers saw vital racial statistics as a pathway to certainty
and serenity. Beginning with Hoffman, they wanted their fellow Ameri-
cans to see the indisputable evidence of black criminality as the key to
binding the nation together in a campaign to keep the “negro” in his place.

Although the notion of black people as a race of criminals was perva-
sive and ubiquitous, the future was not all bleak. Some white race ex-
perts were not entirely convinced despite the new crime statistics. Like
most black scholars and reformers, they resisted the temptation to com-
pletely dismiss “conditions of life” and racism as factors in the crime
problem. M. V. Ball had been among the fi rst northern whites to call the
racialization of crime statistics into question, just as Ida B. Wells had
been among the fi rst southern black women to do the same. Even the
pop u lar science writer and Harvard scholar Nathaniel Southgate Shaler,
who had done as much as any northern race- relations expert in the post-
bellum period to call for statistical investigations of black inferiority,
balked at the new crime data. “The statistics of crime are not in such
form as to make it clear in what regards they depart from the averages of
the white population,” he wrote in a 1900 Pop u lar Science Monthly ar-
ticle. Even the most horrifying crimes, Shaler believed, were not “pecu-
liarly common among the blacks.” Given that of fi ve million black men
“probably not one in ten thousand” was guilty of rape, and given that
rapes by white men tended to be underreported, Shaler was “inclined to
believe that, on the whole, there is less danger to be apprehended from
them in this regard than from an equal body of whites of the like social
grade.”213 Shaler’s speculation that white men were as guilty (if not more
so) of rape as black men was surely perceived by some whites as an act of
racial treason. Wells’s work might have infl uenced him.

Seeing the arc of the discourse after nearly twenty years had passed
from Shaler’s fi rst article on “The Negro Problem,” the self- described racial
liberal took an optimistic view of “the future of our American negroes.”
Though still a “half- savage people” and an “unexplored race,” Shaler re-
mained hopeful that over time, through industrial training and with the
“masterful race’s” help, blacks could become “valuable citizen[s].” That
black people actually had the inherent capacity for citizenship, in Shaler’s
assessment, was a repudiation of the racial Darwinism of Hoffman and



many others, and spoke to the shifting winds of the discourse among
northern liberals. Du Bois’s efforts, like Wells’s, it seems, were not totally
in vain. A dim light was beginning to shine on northern racism. “Sambo,”
Shaler wrote, was deprived “of opportunities in all the higher walks of
life” in the North and the South. “In this matter there are but two courses
open to us— one of folly, the other of wisdom. We may leave the black
people to work out their own salvation as best they may, to lie as a mass
at the bottom of our society. . . . Or we may set to work” with knowl-
edge and strength to meet the great challenge ahead.214

Although Shaler passed from the world a few years later, in one of his
last articles he renewed his call to solve the Negro Problem and to save
the nation. But this time, well into the Progressive era, he was insisting
that a rising cohort of racial liberals pursue a middle ground between
racial research and racial reform:

A necessary part of the work of true emancipation of the negro is
a careful inquiry into the history and former status of the people.
Such an inquiry, placed and kept in good hands, is a necessary pre-
liminary to sagacious action. It may serve to unite the men of all
parts of the country in a work that so nearly concerns us all. There
is not, nor is there likely to arise, a situation that so calls for intel-
ligent patriotism as this we are sorely neglecting. We may go far
away and rear an empire with our armies; but if we leave these, our
neighbors, without a fair chance to develop the good that is in them,
we shall have lost our real opportunity for great deeds— mayhap we
shall fi x among us evils that in the end will drag us down.215


As if inspired by Nathaniel S. Shaler’s parting words, one year after his
call for a change in direction, a University of Chicago sociology graduate
student joined the black crime debate, publishing a series of articles titled
“The Criminal Negro” in The Arena, the favorite progressive journal of
Shaler, Frederick L. Hoffman, and many others. Frances Kellor was the
fi rst white female social scientist to publish a major study of black crimi-
nality, and more importantly the fi rst bona fi de racial liberal to seriously
investigate the subject following W. E. B. Du Bois.1 In her 1901 publica-
tions she used more ink writing specifi cally on black criminality than any
other white racial liberal to that point.2 Whereas Hoffman had come to
the fore as an innovative racial Darwinist and Shaler as a nationally re-
nowned natural scientist whose homegrown southern sympathies and
rosy views of slavery trumped his abolitionist credentials, Kellor made
her debut as a northern- born- and- bred liberal scholar with working-
class roots, a deep commitment to real- world reform, and an optimistic
view that the black crime problem was not insurmountable.3

Kellor was at the leading edge of a new direction in the national black
crime discourse. Directly responding to the groundbreaking and infl uen-
tial work of Hoffman, Du Bois, Walter Willcox, and Jane Addams,4 she
reframed the debate over heredity and environment as an open research
question, staking an a priori claim to a middle ground between the two:
“The problem of the causes of crime resolves itself into one of heredity
and environment” that “racial tendencies alone cannot explain.”5 Kellor
conducted a battery of anthropometric and psychological tests on ninety
black female prisoners in eight southern states, comparing their body
sizes and shapes, their sensory sensitivity, and their memory capability
against her fi ndings on sixty- one white female prisoners in “northern in-
stitutions.” At the time of publication, she was also beginning to conduct


I N C R I M I N A T I N G C U L T U R E :





some of the fi rst race experiments at Tuskegee by mea sur ing black female
college students in order to compare them to the prisoners.6 Until Kellor,
no one had attempted to identify a black criminal type in the United
States. Following Cesare Lombroso’s criminal anthropological methods
on Italian prisoners, she found no biological evidence that such a type

Kellor’s methods were unusual among mainstream white American
sociologists, who leaned heavily toward an environmentalist view of white
criminality, as was true of her mentor, Charles R. Henderson, author of a
pioneering textbook in American criminology.7 Within the still relatively
new black crime discourse, by reproducing Lombroso’s methods she at-
tacked head- on the presumption that the black masses showed physical
or mental traits that revealed criminal natures. By actually testing the
theory, she was able to disprove it.8 She was then able to move toward an
environmental critique of the causes of black criminality, the true focus
of her research.

“The Criminal Negro” was the fi rst scholarly attempt by a white
northern liberal to highlight southern conditions in relation to the na-
tional discourse on black criminality.9 It revealed two systems in the United
States: one northern, one southern; one reformatory, one punitive; one
white, one black. “Only the North sustains theories worthy of the name
criminal sociology, and only the North has adopted the reformatory
idea,” Kellor wrote. “The South is still in the age of revenge and pun-
ishment. Its system is neither systematic nor scientifi c. This is true” be-
cause “its criminal class is largely negro.” With 90 percent of all African
Americans residing in the South, Kellor painted a striking picture of a
corrupt, vindictive, and racist criminal justice system that tailored its
discriminatory laws through the county fee system, the all- white jury,
felony enhancements targeting black agricultural workers, the chain gang,
convict leasing, and the prison farm for the purposes of extracting fi nan-
cial profi ts from the bodies of black men, women, and children.10 There
were fewer than a handful of reformatories, she added. No kindergar-
tens, no crime preventive agencies, nor any of the many progressive and
constructive infl uences taking root among white northerners were avail-
able to black southerners. Tragically, in such circumstances and amid the
poverty of large black families, even in the North, she revealed, the black
man “has been left to look out for himself” while “we deplore and com-
ment upon the morality of the negro.” Yet “think of the cost and atten-
tion often required to save one [white] child in the North!” These were



the circumstances, she emphasized like Hoffman’s nemesis of old, M. V.
Ball, that the census with its “bare statistics” could not explain. Implicitly
repudiating Hoffman’s work and explicitly questioning Willcox’s denial
of northern racism, Kellor argued that crime statistics had not proven
that blacks were “incapable of advance.” “The negro is more disadvanta-
geously placed than is any other class in America,” she concluded. “It is
impossible to estimate the persistency of racial traits or of the limitations,
mental or physical, imposed by racial development, until a parallel envi-
ronment is removed; that is, the environment must be shown to be of
such a nature that it offers every opportunity for development and im-
provement. In no phase of the negroes’ life— domestic, social, industrial,
po liti cal, or religious— does this appear to be the case.”11

Kellor’s analysis anticipated a new line of inquiry among northern
progressives that linked black criminality not to hereditarian theories of
race but to the absence of environmental interventions like those prolif-
erating among whites in the urban North. By calling attention to the
failure of whites to help black families overcome the “deteriorating infl u-
ences” of city life, and by demonstrating through her anthropometric
analysis that blacks had no biological defects that prevented their rising
to meet the demands of an “advanced civilization,” Kellor, like Du Bois,
refocused the debate back to the old abolitionist question of what re-
sponsibility whites had in solving the Negro Problem.12 Her work pre-
saged two important changes in the black crime discourse that would
gradually emerge among northern white racial liberals during the fi rst
two de cades of the twentieth century. The fi rst was the appeal for “reme-
dial mea sures” in solving the Negro Problem, including expanded eco-
nomic opportunities, education, social work, and crime prevention.13
The second was the rejection of biological determinism, including rede-
fi ning racial traits as cultural traits, a paradigmatic shift in the science of
race that placed African Americans once and for all within the pale of
civilization, at least in the minds of most liberal social scientists. The
German- born anthropologist Franz Boas, the found er of cultural plural-
ism over these years, deservedly received much of the credit for this trans-
formative moment.14

The intellectual landscape did not change overnight. William Hanni-
bal Thomas’s acclaimed The American Negro was published the same
year as Kellor’s articles, and The Leopard’s Spots by Thomas Dixon, Jr.,
and The Negro: The Southerner’s Problem by Thomas Nelson Page soon
followed. Hoffman’s 1896 predictions of blacks’ eventual extinction due



to inferior biology and self- destructive behavior were still very much in
keeping with the dominant racial scientifi c discourse. Consequently, his
ideological response to black migration and crime when it was but a
trickle near the turn of the century remained a source of comfort to
many northern and southern race experts seeking common ground in the
spirit of white supremacy and national reconciliation. Even when that
trickle turned to a fl ood at the onset of World War I, launching the Great
Migration— the largest relocation of African Americans (a half million)
prior to the World War II period— Hoffman’s initial linking of migration,
urbanization, and criminality remained a salient framework within which
numerous experts continued to debate and discuss race relations. More-
over, as a national crime expert Hoffman remained extremely infl uential
for many years to come, continuing to be the nation’s premier source for
the statistical reproduction of black criminality fi gures outside of census
reports until the creation of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports in the
1930s.15 Praising his 1915 annual reports on hom i cide statistics, a re-
viewer for the American Statistical Association wrote, “That the only ef-
fort to present this branch of criminal statistics for the country as a
whole is left to be undertaken year after year by a single individual in
unoffi cial life is no less a tribute to Mr. Hoffman than it is a condemna-
tion of the various agencies of government which should be concerned
with accumulating and interpreting this information.”16 Part of his lon-
gevity was explained by the continued marginalization of black race-
relations experts within the social sciences.

When Du Bois debated Hoffman’s ideas around the turn of the cen-
tury, he rejected the notion that blacks were racially inferior. Du Bois
admitted that their criminality was high, their morals lacking, and their
letters wanting, but these were not irrefutably racial traits. Du Bois and
most other black race- relations writers countered the issue of the Negro
Problem with evidence of racism and in e qual ity, or instances of race
progress, or themselves as their own best examples.17 Equally important,
black race- relations writers expressed their moral outrage about the fail-
ings and misdeeds of their social inferiors, emphasizing intra- racial class
and culture distinctions as evidence that biology was not the problem.
They described black women’s high employment rate as an invitation to
moral decay in the domestic life of black families. A working mother
could neither nurture her children nor prevent them from falling into
“evil ways.” Underpaid black women domestics were constantly at risk
for sexual immorality through the advances of white male employers



who offered extra pay for sexual favors or a better paying job in prosti-
tution. Black men’s high unemployment rate and reputation for low effi –
ciency led, black writers claimed, to idleness, drunkenness, and gambling.
Assault or hom i cide were the by- products of bad friends, bad wine, bad
bets, or a nasty brew of all three. Black men with decent jobs as ser vice
workers in hotels or restaurants picked up the vile habits of white men
who vacationed in vice but did not live there. These otherwise hardwork-
ing black men imitated the worst habits of those they served without
knowing how to break the cycle. The black house hold too often needed
lodgers to pay the rent, an unfortunate breach of the sanctity of home,
marriage, and family; too often the moral structure collapsed under the
weight of too many people living too freely in too little space. The unsus-
pecting children, especially girls, would eventually be victimized by male
boarders and thus start down the road to lives of sexual depravity. Chil-
dren who were fortunate enough to keep their privates hidden from the
stares and groping of strangers were still invaded by the “vicious ele-
ments” and “immoral characters” they passed daily on their neighbor-
hood streets.18

Nevertheless, any evidence of northern black criminality or immoral-
ity presented by African Americans was fi ltered into the mainstream so-
cial scientifi c discourse as defi nitive “proof” of black inferiority. It did
not matter to many of their most infl uential white peers that the black
race- relations experts had intended their discourse and data to be inter-
preted within a broader critique of racial in e qual ity and industrializa-
tion. The black writers had taken their cue partly from white writers,
who located the source of white pathology in the economy. Even when
white experts understood their intentions, their ideas were often dismissed
as sentimental bluster. Upon reviewing Du Bois’s most widely read col-
lection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk, a classic of modern American
literary realism and a canonical text of African American existentialism,
Carl Kelsey wrote, “Not until he ceases to go about with ‘chips on his
shoulders’ as it were, will he gain the infl uence to which his mental at-
tainments entitle him.” Kelsey, a prominent University of Pennsylvania
sociologist and a visible player among Philadelphia’s white racial liber-
als, sometimes collaborated with local black reformers such as James
Stemons, a journalist, antiracist activist, and pioneering crime fi ghter.19
Yet Kelsey dismissed Du Bois’s personal expressions of racial victimiza-
tion. “No doubt it is strange to ‘be a problem,’ he wrote, “yet one who
knows the educational opportunities afforded Professor Du Bois, fi nds it



hard to appreciate” his claims that prejudice is so widespread and debili-
tating. For black elites, promoting themselves like walking billboards for
the race’s mettle sometimes backfi red, as evidenced by the thoughts of
even some sympathetic whites who confl ated the exceptional opportuni-
ties of a tiny minority with the circumscribed options of the masses. “The
author is too much inclined to emphasize the bad,” Kelsey concluded as
he dismissed Du Bois’s prediction that the twentieth century would be
defi ned by the color line.20 Not until the 1920s, in the wake of wide-
spread racial violence across the urban North and mounting evidence of
racist police violence and corruption, were national black crime experts
able to construct a lasting alternative antiracist discourse.

For the moment, the trappings of the dominant racialist crime dis-
course limited the effectiveness of African Americans’ rhetorical strate-
gies. At the national level, race continued to trump class as the language
of black inferiority until the culture concept was born. Between 1896
and the beginning of the Great Migration, writing crime into race had
become more than the sum of white and black writers’ data, discussion,
and debate. Race- relations writers had inscribed criminality onto nearly
every aspect of black people’s existence. That crime became linked to
migration, to education, to politics, to housing, and to philanthropy re-
veals the pervasive infl uence of those who had forced the question to the
nation of whether African Americans should continue to have access to
social resources at all. “What have the thousands of churches and schools
and colleges, maintained at the cost of more than a hundred and fi fty mil-
lion dollars, produced?” asked Thomas Nelson Page. “We may inquire
fi rst: Has the percentage of crime decreased in the race generally?”21 Un-
til the Great Migration period ended, the underlying premise of criminal-
ity as the sine qua non of racial inferiority was extremely diffi cult to sur-
mount. By debating the meaning of high versus low criminality or increasing
versus decreasing crime rates, black writers unwittingly reinforced the
importance of crime in defi ning black life.

Still, they had few options, given that the crime discourse framed seri-
ous policy proposals about the future of black life in America. Hoffman’s
and Page’s linking of crime to education, for example, became part of a
national debate about literacy as a stimulus to crime among blacks.22 In
the spring of 1904, Atlanta University held the Ninth Atlanta Conference
on crime among Negroes in Georgia. Its published proceedings, Some
Notes on Negro Crime, edited by Du Bois, was one of the fi rst major stud-
ies to feature the opinions of southern black educators and reformers and



a few southern white allies who examined the subject of crime in the South
in relation to a broad range of social issues. According to Du Bois and the
conference experts, “illiterate Negroes . . . furnish more of the criminals
than those who read and write.” More importantly, because there was
such little difference between the “wholly illiterate” and those “who [could]
just barely read and write,” Du Bois added, the “full degree in which igno-
rance causes Negro crime” was not clearly shown by the statistics.23 He
was subtly arguing that the poor quality of education for blacks rendered
the classifi cation “literate” too imprecise to be a reliable mea sure of the
education levels of Negro criminals. In a letter Du Bois wrote to the edi-
tor of the Nation two winters before the Atlanta conference, he was
more insistent that even the so- called literate Negro prisoners were barely
educated. He revealed that of 24,277 black prisoners, fewer than 40 per-
cent were considered literate, and only 321 of those “had any education
above that of the common schools.”24 Kellor’s mental tests of black
women prisoners corroborated Du Bois’s fi ndings. Those “classed as liter-
ate on the prison rec ords,” she wrote, “in no exact sense could be regarded
as able to read and write.”25

After Du Bois failed to end the literacy- as- crime debate in 1902—
when he cited the specifi c section and page number of the 1890 census
where it was shown that the literate black population (42.9 percent) was
underrepresented in the black prison population (38.8 percent)— he tried
again in the 1904 conference proceedings. This time he relied on the
opinion of a southern white man. Perhaps he was modeling white writ-
ers’ co- optive strategies, just as Ida B. Wells had cited white press accounts
of white rapists.26 Du Bois quoted Clarence H. Poe, a white southern edi-
tor of the Raleigh Progressive Farmer, whose article had fi rst appeared in
the February Atlantic Monthly. Poe began by acknowledging the “oft
repeated charge” that literate Negroes were more criminal than illiterate
ones. He traced its origin to a speech given at a meeting of the National
Prison Association in 1897; from there, Poe wrote, “it was printed in one
of our foremost magazines, the North American Review (Philadelphia),
in June 1900.” Fiction substituted as fact, according to Poe, the “charge”
toured the South from a Georgia governor’s public address, to a Missis-
sippi preacher’s “broadcast over the South,” and through the pages of
“scores of [news]papers.” Poe quoted the following rant against Negro
education from a southern editorial: “To school the Negro is to increase
his criminality. Offi cial statistics do not lie, and they tell us that the Negroes
who can read and write are more criminal than the illiterate. In New



En gland, where they are best educated, they are four and a half times as
criminal as in the Black Belt, where they are most ignorant. The more
money for Negro education, the more Negro crime. This is the unmistak-
able showing of the United States Census.”27

Nearly a de cade before the North Carolinian bristled at his fellow
southerner’s distortion, the New Jersey- based Hoffman had used the
same statistics to argue similarly that “education ha[d] utterly failed to
raise the negro to a higher level of citizenship, the fi rst duty of which
[was] to obey the laws and respect the lives and property of others.”28
But Hoffman and the southern editorialist were both mistaken. “To
make the matter plain,” Poe cited the same numbers Du Bois had used in
the Nation. He also admitted, like Du Bois, that only in western states
was there a slightly larger proportion of literate prisoners to the illiterate,
but since the West had only 1 percent of the nation’s black prisoners, no
general conclusions could be drawn.29

The argument that Du Bois was refuting for the second time, albeit
using Poe’s testimony, had signifi cant staying power because no one could
deny that black crime rates were higher in the North or that the North
had better schools for blacks. The presumption that white supremacy did
not rule in the North— that blacks in the Land of Lincoln had as much
freedom as their able minds and bodies entitled them to— weighed heav-
ily among writers and readers who had been seduced by racial Darwinist
thinking. The way this mind- set works, explained Howard University
professor Kelly Miller, is that where “legal pro cesses are acknowledged
to be fair, and where the Negro has the fullest educational opportunity,
he shows a criminal rate three to four times as great as his ignorant and
oppressed brother in the South. And the conclusion is hastily reached
that education makes the Negro a criminal.” Miller refuted the reasoning
behind the conclusion not just because it was a fl awed deduction based
on statistics, but because it was a prejudiced opinion against blacks. He
argued that although blacks in Massachusetts had been fi ve times more
likely in 1890 to serve time than their Mississippi counterparts, the “white
man in Massachusetts [had been] ten times as criminal as the white man
in Mississippi.” Miller wrote indignantly, “Shall we discount the superior
education of the white man in the Bay State because he seems to be only
one- tenth as saintly as his less enlightened white brother on the banks of
the Mississippi? Or shall we foster the bliss of ignorance only when it is
found under a black skin? Ordinarily one would explain the high crimi-
nal rate of the Northern States on the ground of congested population



and more stringent enforcement of law; but logical pro cesses seem to be
of no avail against sweeping assertions to the detriment of the discredited

Clearly, Miller believed that the dehumanization of black people was
a prerequisite for the “bliss of ignorance” that substituted for nonracial-
ist, environmentally focused statements that explained high crime and
good schooling. Did not population density and better policing in the
North affect blacks as it did whites, Miller asked, but for strictly viewing
all blacks’ behavior through the lens of racial inferiority? So much racist
reasoning depended on perspective. Race seemed the least signifi cant expla-
nation for criminality and education when, from a national perspective,
Miller compared per capita education costs. In Massachusetts twenty- fi ve
dollars was spent on education per white person; in South Carolina just
under four dollars per capita was spent on whites and about seventy- fi ve
cents per capita on blacks. Miller had effectively exposed the underlying
manipulation of statistics to bolster racist interpretations, specifi cally
those that relied on the North as a sort of proving ground, ostensibly free
of slavery’s past and white supremacy’s present, to illustrate just how
futile it was to try to change “the leopard’s spots” or black people’s inferior

For years to come, counterevidence continued to be collected to show
that educated African Americans were in fact law- abiding citizens. To
use Kelly Miller’s words, graduates of black colleges were no more likely
to be criminals than “the alumni of institutions for the white race.”32
Gilbert Stephenson, a southern white municipal judge, polled offi cials
at common schools, high schools, industrial schools, and colleges about
the number of black graduates known to have committed crimes. He also
asked prison wardens how many black inmates were skilled mechanics.
“The rec ords of the South, as a whole, show that ninety percent of the col-
ored people in prisons are without knowledge of trades,” wrote Stephen-
son. Based on Stephenson’s study, educated blacks were far from over-
represented in the South’s prisons.

In a separate study, Booker T. Washington conducted a similar inves-
tigation of black skilled workers in prison. One Alabama warden told
him, “There is not a man in this prison that could draw a straight line.”33
As for the typical primary, secondary, or college graduate, school offi cials
knew of very few who had turned to crime. In its fi rst thirty- fi ve years,
Tuskegee had fewer than a half dozen graduates out of over two thou-
sand who had “been arrested, convicted, or in any way charged with a



crime.” Hampton claimed four prisoners who had actually graduated
and fi ve who were dropouts; Fisk recorded only one.34 At the pinnacle of
higher education, Ray Stannard Baker wrote in 1907 that “no Negro
student has ever disgraced Harvard and that no students are more or-
derly and law- abiding than the Negroes.”35 Despite increasing rates of
literacy and ever- growing numbers of blacks attending school, tracking
the criminal careers of black students kept black writers on the defensive
and reinforced the appropriateness of using crime to mea sure black
progress. James K. Vardaman, Mississippi’s proudly racist governor, made
the stakes painfully clear with his advice that “on the strength of [crime]
statistics” southern states were “perfectly justifi ed . . . in refusing to edu-
cate [blacks] at all.”36

Even as the crime discourse continued to fuel the spirit of white su-
premacists determined to spread Jim Crow across every sphere of Ameri-
can society, it also pricked the conscience of a small number of northern
progressives. “There must be a world of irony in the heart of the seeing
Negro who reads in the papers the lurid descriptions of his own crime,
while he lives in [New York’s] Tenderloin district and looks out upon
its . . . daily dangers” and “temptations” presented by “other races,” wrote
Mary White Ovington, a leading white settlement house advocate and a
social survey researcher who specialized in documenting the struggles of
northern African American families.37 Although Ovington had begun her
career as a social reformer after visiting London’s East End slums, then
plunging herself into the work of the Greenwich House, New York’s fi rst
settlement for the struggling white and immigrant poor, shortly thereaf-
ter she became an infl uential researcher and advocate for the northern
black urban poor. “She knows more about it than anyone I know,” wrote
an admiring Du Bois, who, according to his biographer deserved much of
the credit for Ovington’s background knowledge and inspiration. Over
many de cades she was Du Bois’s closest white “confi dante and advisor,”
beginning with her moral and fi nancial support for his research program
at Atlanta University not long after Souls had appeared. Ovington felt “it
was impossible to read him and not be moved.” She also became a found-
ing member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People (NAACP).38

With some nudging from their black peers, a small number of white
liberals like Kellor and Ovington increasingly recognized the lop sided
nature of urban progressivism. They began to see their own desire to help
struggling and self- destructive whites— the “great army of unfortunates”— as



an incongruity worthy of further investigation, if not more. “The one class
in the North with which the negro child is comparable,” observed Kellor,
“is the laboring class crowded in tenement districts. The habits, training,
and opportunities are somewhat alike.” Of those among both groups who
ended up in reformatories, many are “largely [trained] in the street or in
depraved homes.” But “the agencies in the north reach whites far more
effectively than they do negroes.”39 Reformers such as Kellor and Oving-
ton began to see the inconsistency between a hopeful vision of white
criminality as largely a symptom of industrial capitalism and a reason to
intervene, and a pessimistic view of black criminality and the futility of

From this consciousness- raising among northern white racial liberals
came the seeds of a counter black crime discourse sown in the years lead-
ing to the Great Migration. In the midst of expanding black communities
within or on the borders of much larger immigrant communities in the
urban North, new cultural explanations emerged among an infl uential
core of white liberal writers and reformers to reinterpret the places blacks
would fi ll and at what pace they would enter the modern urban world as
citizens. In this changing context, Franz Boas’s new cultural anthropol-
ogy laid the groundwork as the most infl uential social scientifi c source
for rethinking blacks’ potential to become full participants in American

Although Boas’s cultural anthropology would not become widely
known until the 1911 publication of The Mind of Primitive Man, his sci-
entifi c ideas began to raise new questions and new doubts about heredity
and environment as early as 1905. Based on his interpretations of an-
thropological accounts of the great cultural achievements of past African
civilizations, Boas argued that there was no evidence to “countenance the
belief in racial inferiority which would unfi t an individual of the Negro
race to take his part in modern civilization.” Boas presented his early
ideas in a special issue of Charities magazine, the premiere journal of
northern charity workers and philanthropists. He was one of twenty- two
contributors to a remarkable collaboration of nationally recognized
white and black social reformers and a few leading race- relations experts
sharing, for the fi rst time since the abolitionist era, their own perspec-
tives on the crisis of “the Negro in cities of the North.”40 “We do not
know,” Boas explained to his liberal peers, “of any demand made of the
human body or mind in modern life that anatomical or ethnological



evidence would prove to be beyond the powers of the Negro.”41 Like
Kellor’s publications, Boas’s 1905 article would signal a new “scientifi c
presumption” that “the Negro has the inherent capacity for progress, for

With Boas’s rejection of biological determinism, a fresh set of perspec-
tives on black criminality and new arguments for racial advancement
entered the race- relations discourse. Boas’s interest in attacking biologi-
cal racism was motivated in part by his primary concern with nativism in
the urban North and related policy debates on restricting immigration.
The assimilation of southern and eastern Eu ro pe an immigrants was ulti-
mately his central focus, as it was for the vast majority of Progressive era
reformers.43 Yet his 1911 treatise, The Mind of Primitive Man, undoubt-
edly opened the door for blacks to be accepted as full participants in
America. Along with some of the most infl uential and outspoken north-
ern progressives, Boas argued that black inferiority was not innate but
was a temporary state perpetuated by whites’ “social neglect.” The Mind
of Primitive Man thus marked a crucial transition moment for new cul-
tural explanations of black criminality.44

As white racial liberals, Boas and those he infl uenced made great
strides toward justifying racial equality in the urban North. In contrast
to white racial Darwinists, including southern sociologists (or apolo-
gists), they constructed an alternative stage on which crime among blacks
could be seen as a social problem rather than a biological one, as some-
thing temporary and reformable rather than innate and fi xed. In light of
modern capitalism’s contradictory forces of expanded economic opportu-
nities and social freedoms as well as new forms of misery and blight, these
northern liberals brought blacks closer to their pro- immigrant struc-
tural critiques. For example, they recast black juvenile delinquency and
prostitution partly as social dramas shaped by white racism and white

Still, they stopped short of where they went for white immigrants. They
used culture as both a salve and a sieve, to mediate the line between racial
oppression based on hereditarian theories of black inferiority and unam-
biguous color- blind appeals for social, economic, and po liti cal reform. Fac-
ing institutional racism and intensifying segregation and discrimination
by the public at large, many racial liberals ultimately capitulated. By re-
placing biology with culture, sociologist Tukufu Zuberi argues, they did
not overcome the problem of essentializing differences among groups. It



“was a move from one type of essentialist perspective, the biological evolu-
tionary, to another type of essentialist perspective, the cultural. This shift
witnessed the birth of assimilation and a focus on unproductive behavior
of the unassimilated as a dominant perspective— in a word, a return to view-
ing the ‘Negro as a [peculiar] problem.’ ”45

The limits of their cultural perspective were most clearly visible in
discussions of black criminality and immorality. For all the new possi-
bilities suggested by Kellor’s crime analysis, there remained a dark side:
“The negroes’ criminality is that of an undeveloped race. That of the
whites is more characterized by a capacity born of development. There
are few professionals among the negroes, and there are no truly ‘great
criminals.’ They may be ‘prominent,’ but the two are not identical. The
negroes’ crimes show an absence of social and personal responsibility,
and are the outgrowth of impulse rather than of well- laid plans and com-
plicated schemings.” As Kellor discounted race traits and made signifi –
cant strides toward an environmental or so cio log i cal perspective on
black criminality, part of her analysis reifi ed the inferiority of blacks even
as criminals. “Negroes are notorious thieves, but they remain months
and years in stockades that would not hold ordinary northern safe blow-
ers twenty- four hours.”46 In this transitional formulation, not only were
African Americans second- rate criminals but the sources of their criminal-
ity were peculiar by comparison to whites. Black prostitutes, for example,
were viewed differently from native whites and immigrants. They were
not yet seen as victims of industrialization and its attendant dangers as
were the young white factory girls and domestic servants no longer under
the protective gaze of their mothers.47 Black women’s problem, Kellor
wrote, was that they yielded “to white men quite as readily as in slavery.”
Even the constructive agents in the black community were not like their
white counterparts, shining the light of salvation and education on the
“wage slaves” of the urban North. Instead, “negro teachers and ministers
are frequently the most immoral of their race,” she explained.48 Kellor’s
crime- as- culture proto- analysis foreshadowed the way the new discourse
would continue to explain why black people’s criminality was still funda-
mentally different from that of whites and immigrants.49 The new term
capacity signaled a new language to measure historical and social differ-
ences between blacks and whites. Terms that would come to be defi ned as
cultural concepts attempted to place blacks on the same plane as whites,
even if at the bottom.



The writing of crime into culture, then, became a counter- discourse
that was deeply fl awed not because it inherently examined the crimes
and immorality of individual blacks but because it emphasized the
cultural distinctiveness of black thieves, rapists, and murderers. Their
ancestral victimization as the children and grandchildren of ex- slaves
tied them to both an exceptional past and a peculiar present. Immi-
grants from dozens of Eu ro pe an cities had their own distinctive histo-
ries of oppression and subjugation, but their trans- Atlantic voyage and
landing at Ellis Island helped to wash away those distinctions. Rela-
tively speaking, Progressive era social reformers were more willing to
look beyond the “unproductive” behavior of the immigrant masses, ex-
cuse it, or do something about it than was generally the case with black

These liberal social reformers did not ignore the illegal and immoral
offenses of the transplanted either. Frederic Bushee, a leading Boston
settlement worker and author of a pioneering 1903 study of immigrant
life in the New En gland capital, described the Irish and Italians as the
most criminal elements in the city, “excepting the Negroes.” The Irish had
the highest rates of petty crime, and the Italians topped the list for major
felonies. “There is a moral degradation among Irish families as a result of
drink which is not found among other nationalities,” he wrote. “For quar-
rels which are serious affairs, for fl ashes of anger which mean a knife
thrust, one must go to the Italian quarters.”51 Harvard economist William
Ripley, who wrote the preface to Bushee’s study, had his own nativist
theories about the inferiority and criminality of the new immigrants:
“The horde now descending upon our shores is densely ignorant, yet dull
and superstitious withal; lawless, with a disposition to criminality; ser-
vile for generations, without conception of po liti cal rights.”52 Yet Bushee,
Ripley, and many others insisted on seeing past the moral turpitude, vio-
lence, and “disposition to criminality” in all of its ethnic dimensions
among the newcomers.

With a vision of Eu ro pe an immigrants as “Americans in Pro cess,”
many immigrant reform advocates insisted on focusing on the promises
rather than the perils of assimilation. Bushee described the Irish and the
Italians as extremely likable people despite their fl aws. The Irish were es-
pecially well suited for contributing “many valuable traits to the American
people.” With their “happiness,” “love of plea sure,” and fondness for
“games and sports,” he wrote, “it is fortunate that they possess the char-

Figure 3- 1 “How Criminals Are Made” captures the environmental critique
of crime made by Progressive era social reformers as they focused on helping
struggling white and immigrant inner- city families. From the 1907 Annual Report
of the Central Howard Association, courtesy of the Newberry Library.



acteristics which make them easily assimilable” in spite of their “weak
personal characteristics.” The Italians had good bones, he added, but
needed a bit more direction and guidance. “They are a simple peasant
class who respond readily to their environment.” Yet they could not be
“allowed to continue in unwholesome conditions,” for “we may be sure
the next generation will bring forth a crop of dependents, delinquents,
and defectives to fi ll up our public institutions.”53 Put another way, “the
great problem for us in dealing with these immigrants,” Ripley stated, is
not that of their nature but of their nurture. . . . They are fellow passen-
gers on our ship of state; and the health of the nation depends upon the
preservation of the vitality of the lower classes.” Citing Chicago’s Hull
House and Boston’s South End House as two of the nation’s pioneering
and premiere inner- city crime prevention agencies to be emulated, Ripley
called for more playgrounds, schools, libraries, and all the “uplifting in-
fl uences of these sorts to meet the needs of the women and children of
the immigrant classes.”54 It was also in the nation’s interest, added Wil-
liam S. Bennet, a plainspoken congressman from New York and a co-
panelist at a 1909 immigration conference where Ripley made his remarks,
to cease stigmatizing immigrants as a race of criminals. “Learn to treat
the individual immigrant not as one of a nationality at all,” he said, “and
not allow the crime of one Italian, in a moment of passion to weigh for
any more than the crime of an American.”55

Like the legions of lesser- known settlement workers, most of whom
were tireless college- educated white women who dedicated a tremendous
amount of time and money to helping the less fortunate, many immigrant
spokespersons were far less sanguine about the future of black people.56
“The Negroes in general reveal the faults of an immature race,” a conse-
quence of the “evil effects” of slavery, which had saddled them with “pe-
culiar forms of immorality.” Their assimilation in the foreseeable future,
Bushee advised, was not “desirable.”57 These urban reformers and immi-
grant advocates were not the exceptions, the historian Allen Davis noted
in his classic study of social settlements, in an era when most “thought of
the progressive movement as for whites only.”58 They were not the women
and men who, at a minimum, investigated the conditions of African Amer-
icans in the midst of immigrant communities, recognizing that the fate of
black people was in some way connected to the fate of poor white and im-
migrant urbanites. The racial liberals— Kellor, Boas, Ovington, Addams,
and a handful of others— were exceptional in this way. In her recent study



on “settlement folk,” historian Mina Carson explains further: “The [typi-
cal] settlement leaders also showed what today we would see as ‘blind
spots’ in their identifi cation and condemnation of major social problems.
In its fi rst forty years the settlement movement did not ameliorate, or even
directly address, white society’s systematic discrimination against black
Americans. Though several of the white found ers of the NAACP had
settlement connections, institutionally the settlements failed to make any
signifi cant contribution to white Americans’ consciousness of racism or to
furthering black peoples’ rights and opportunities.”59 Among most lib-
eral social reformers, among those deeply immersed in the on- the- ground
work of establishing beachheads against the degradation of white youth
and immigrant families, black criminality confounded the theory and the
practice of racial equality.

Over time, white immigrants’ escape from the slums by way of eco-
nomic and social privilege—“becoming Caucasian”— and progressives’
successful immigrant- focused legislative and social reforms raised and
reinforced doubts about blacks’ cultural readiness.60 Most native whites
and their newly minted cousins embraced these doubts because to them,
perceptually, black life in urban ghettos was stagnant, if not dangerous.
Even white racial liberals yielded to the contradiction that America guar-
anteed all of its citizens a fair shake when they knew, better than most, of
“the world of irony” blacks faced daily on the tenement streets.61 Like
Ovington, they knew that whiteness was the precondition.62 On the one
hand, these exceptional race reformers— those who would gain their
neo- abolitionist stripes as supporters of new civil rights organizations—
helped to open a small number of settlements for black neighbors by
1910, while encouraging black reformers to open more of their own.63
On the other hand, in an era when white supremacy was ascending, this
was a surrender to segregation and a deeply fl awed solution at best.64
Black northern reformers had neither suffi cient fi nancial resources nor
the sympathy of white philanthropists, who were interested mostly in in-
dustrial education for southern blacks, to fund the scale of work needing
to be done.65 “The settlements founded by the blacks themselves were
the poorest equipped, the most severely underfi nanced and understaffed,
and the shortest- lived.”66 Besides, immigrants were not left to save them-
selves. Carl Kelsey’s admonishing of Du Bois for his expressive antira-
cism in Souls of Black Folk was a telling sign of the liberal crime dis-
course to come. Prejudice, he wrote, “will cease when the blacks can
command and compel the respect and sympathy of the whites.”67 For



even the most sympathetic white social reformers, focusing on black
criminality— even through the lens of Boas’s new cultural pluralism—
was a rhetorical and programmatic solution; it rationalized their gradu-
alist approach to racial equality and limited black reform efforts.68

Kelsey was among the nearly two- dozen white and black liberal experts
called on by Charities magazine in 1905 to provide a “suggestive survey”
of the “typical facts” found among “Negroes in the northern cities.”69 This
collaborative effort marked the moment when the North offi cially became
the universally accepted proving ground of African American fi tness for
citizenship in modern America. For all the ways in which crime had in a
de cade become the linchpin of a national social scientifi c debate about
black inferiority, with northern crime statistics commonly cited as defi ni-
tive proof, northern liberal reformers were now ready to weigh in. “The
Negro’s worth as a citizen is to be tested in the great cities of the north as
nowhere else in the world,” wrote Charities contributor Fannie Barrier
Williams, a black club woman and a vocal proponent for settlement work
in black communities. The reformers “have begun to recognize that if the
ever- increasing Negro population is treated and regarded as a reprobate
race, the result will be an increase of crime and disorders of all kinds that
will grow more and more diffi cult to handle and regulate.”70

The editors of the special issue likewise expressed a sense of hopeful-
ness and optimism and a desire to avoid emphasizing “statistical inquiry”
and the perspectives of the “more bitter elements of the race confl ict,”
citing “Mr. Page” as Exhibit A. Along with Charities’ editor Edward T.
Devine, secretary of New York’s Charity Or ga ni za tion Society (COS),
which sponsored the journal, and managing editor Paul Kellogg, many of
the most infl uential progressive reformers in the nation edited the issue,
including Hull House’s Jane Addams, the housing muckraker Jacob Riis,
and University of Pennsylvania po liti cal scientist Simon N. Patten, who
was Devine’s mentor and encouraged him to found Columbia Universi-
ty’s School of Social Work.71 As leaders and innovators of urban reform
movements, the editors privileged the value of local knowledge derived
from clinicians, from people on the ground who could speak as social
workers, probation offi cers, visiting nurses, ministers, and educators.
Some of these men and women were already or soon to become national
race- relations experts, such as Kellor, Du Bois, Ovington, Boas, Booker
T. Washington, and John Daniels, a white Boston settlement worker
who wrote In Freedom’s Birthplace: A Study of Boston Negroes, a
1914 sequel to Bushee’s immigrant study. Their contributions added to



the credibility of the reports, but this was really about local knowledge
in the ser vice of shedding light on a regional controversy in the midst of
a national debate.72

At the heart of the reports, according to the editors, was the problem
of “deprivation.” Whether in Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, or the
border cities of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., the contributors had
shown time and time again, black people lacked both opportunity and a
sense of responsibility. For example, northern discrimination among in-
dustrial employers and unions kept black men on the economic margins
of society in Boston, according to Daniels, and in Chicago, observed
Richard R. Wright, Jr.. At the same time, too many recent southern mi-
grants were deprived of the requisite fi tness for industrial work. These
“industrial scavengers” exhibited the “Negro traits of instability, and eat-
drink- and- be- merriness,” wrote Daniels, contributing to their limited job
prospects. Lillian Brandt, an in- house white researcher for the New York
COS, similarly observed that the single young black men and women ar-
riving in the urban North were “seeking employment in conditions to
which they are unaccustomed,” which explained some of their “excessive
criminality.” Kelsey noted that some of the male migrants had no inten-
tion of working at all; instead, they had come in search of social intimacy
with white women. “Possibly he hears the boast in the North [that] a
Negro may enter a restaurant and be waited on by a white girl.” Others,
Kelsey continued, were “ex- convicts and otherwise undesirable individu-
als” on the lam from southern law enforcement.73

Whether black men arrived in trouble or ended up that way, Francis
Kellor added that many black women migrants “left [their] happy- go-
lucky, cheerful life in the South” only to end up “drift[ing] into immoral-
ity.” They often had the best of intentions, but partly due to their “igno-
rance,” their infl ated ambitions, (“to them going to Philadelphia or New
York seems like going to Heaven”), and the “sharks” posing as legitimate
employment agents many became prostitutes.74 To do something, Kellor
gave up her scholarly career shortly after publishing “The Criminal Negro”
to become a full- time reformer. She helped found the National League
for the Protection of Colored Women, with branches in Philadelphia and
New York. Kellor had always had one foot in the academy and the other
in the reform community. Her research on southern prisons and Tuske-
gee had been funded by Celia Parker Woolley, a leader of the Chicago
Women’s Club and a local white settlement worker who, along with Ida B.
Wells, opened the Frederick Douglass Center to promote interracial



harmony through tea parties and parlor lectures.75 Kellor’s protective
league aimed to “rescue” black female migrants at ports and train de-
pots before they were lost to prostitution. The league was among the
earliest of the small number of Progressive era agencies established to
help black migrants. It was absorbed by the National Urban League
(NUL) in 1910.76 In the context of explaining why black people were
falling short or, as the Charities editors wrote, “are not yet fi tted to sur-
vive and prosper in the great northern cities to which so many of them
are crowding,” an Alabama black educator corroborated the connection
between northern migration and criminality.77 “It is the shiftless and
unstable who make no effort to take advantage of the superior opportu-
nities of the North, and whose only ostensible purpose is to seek social
and moral degradation under the guise of domestic employment,” wrote
William E. Benson in a self- serving bid to promote his southern indus-
trial school and Booker T. Washington’s philosophy that blacks were
best suited for the South and should cast down their buckets where they

The most explicit linking of black criminality and the movement of
blacks to northern cities in the special issue was made by another black
educator, J. H. N. Waring, principal of Baltimore’s High and Training
School and also a physician. Using the language of an epidemiologist,
Waring stated that crime among blacks was like a disease spreading at an
alarming rate, no less direful than “the white plague of tuberculosis.”
With no desire to be a “prophet of evil,” Waring nevertheless predicted
“that some future day, unless conditions are defi nitely and radically changed,
a Black Plague . . . will affl ict us as one of the legitimate fruits of our
present sowing of the seeds of indifference to the welfare of the millions
of ignorant, half- taught, badly- housed, poorly- fed, and despised blacks
in our population.” Waring obviously expressed far less ambivalence
about why blacks were not mea sur ing up in the North, defi ning criminal-
ity much more clearly in relation to racism and neglect than to some un-
derlying pathology migrants carried with them. He focused on racial
disparities in education, housing, and law enforcement. “Schools for white
children fulfi ll all the requirements of the ideal school and thousands of
dollars are spent annually to make them architecturally beautiful, to
adorn them with libraries and works of art, and to furnish instructors of
the highest ability and skill.” But black schools, he complained, were often
“dilapidated buildings . . . abandoned by the whites as unfi t for further
use.” Like the schools, black neighborhoods also suffered from a lack of



“conscience of the American people.” “City fathers” thought nothing of
licensing liquor stores in “almost every colored neighborhood.” The po-
lice frequently locked up “boys of tender age” with “hardened and de-
praved criminals, when a word of advice or reprimand would have served
the purpose of the law.” Instead, they have “done much to take away their
sense of shame and self respect and really start them on criminal careers.”
With all of this, Waring surmised, “the wonder is not that there are
so  many criminals, but that there are any colored people who value
honesty, honor, chastity and virtue!”79 The racial disparities also trou-
bled William L. Bulkley, a fellow contributor and a black principal of a
Manhattan elementary school: “With the white child in America,
everything industrial, civil, po liti cal, and social is possible. What of the

In the main, the Charities reports sent mixed signals about the condi-
tions of life for African Americans in the urban North. Rooted in per-
sonal observation and survey research, the white and black liberal con-
tributors shared a common recognition that life was hard for black
newcomers to the urban North. In one of the earliest publications of its
kind in the Progressive era, white liberal testimonies of racism above the
Mason- Dixon line corroborated the claims of black writers who cried
foul, but faced charges of sentimentality and bias by their racial Darwin-
ist counterparts. Yet the editors’ framing of the report suggested that white
northerners were part of the problem but less the solution. With criminal-
ity and immorality as the fully accepted units of mea sure ment, the editors
billed the studies as a report card on how far black people had come in
taking advantage of northern opportunities while “surmount[ing]” their
own “diffi culties.” That many of these diffi culties were self- infl icted (crime)
and self- induced (inability to compete) raised serious doubts about the
extent to which racism was the core problem. Some went so far as to argue
that racism was justifi able.81 Kelsey, for example, stopped just shy of de-
fending economic discrimination when he wrote that white people across
the nation were beginning “to demand effi ciency, and the Negro is more
and more left to himself to work out his salvation.” To be sure, ambiva-
lence and intimation characterized the editors’ tone and Kelsey’s, and
were similarly notable in studies by Kellor and Daniels.

As an emerging counter- discourse to the likes of “Mr. Page,” the white
liberal vision was still not easily reconcilable with Waring’s perspective
or those of the other black contributors to the report, with the exception
of Benson and Washington, who were pro- southern critics of northern



migration. Fannie B. Williams, for example, was as optimistic a northern
black reformer as any who contributed to the report, citing the opening
of two new community agencies in Chicago— the Frederick Douglass
Center and the Trinity Mission— as promising signs of change. But even
she felt the need to remind her white liberal peers that black northerners
could not do it alone. “It might be inferred that the colored people are
quite capable of taking care of themselves and advancing their own con-
dition in every direction. Let us not be undeceived [sic] in this,” she wrote.
“In every community the Negro is practically dependent, for nearly ev-
erything of importance, upon the dominant race.” That black people are
segregated in “the worst portions of the city,” limited to the worst jobs
despite “merit” and “education,” and are even being replaced at the bottom
of the job chain by new immigrants, she continued, were not conditions
they alone could reverse. The Negro “is the victim of more injustice than
is meted out to any other class of people.” The real problem among
blacks was their lack of “preparation” to deal with segregation and rac-
ism when those around them “among other nationalities” found “elevat-
ing and liberalizing infl uences.” This was an entirely different kind of in-
effi ciency or lack of training than what many white liberals had in mind.

For blacks overcoming their own diffi culties or working out their
own salvation was no simple matter of self- help and personal responsi-
bility, according to Williams, when the spirit of the age was a “lowering
of that public sentiment that formerly was liberal and more tolerant of
the Negro’s presence and efforts to rise.” Moreover, the churches, the
most dominant institutions of “moral uplift” in black communities, were
in most cases, she wrote, saddled with “oppressive indebtedness.”82 “My
friends,” the bottom line is “that society . . . is doing everything that
heart and brain can devise to save white young men and white young
women, while practically nothing is being done for the colored young
men and women, except to prosecute and punish them for crimes for
which society itself is largely responsible.”83

But if black inferiority was still viewed as a justifi cation for racism
even among northern white liberals such as the Charities editors and con-
tributors, then according to Boas’s new “scientifi c presumption,” it was
not to last forever. Most intellectual historians who have studied the con-
struction of race within the social sciences have granted Boas the high
honor of turning the direction of race writing on its head.84 The German-
born Jewish immigrant had experienced fi rsthand the consequences of
racial ideology. In Germany of the late 1880s “antisemitism had become



an important po liti cal force,” writes historian George Stocking, “and
Boas had felt its impact personally— his face bore scars from several duels
he had fought with fellow students who had made antisemitic remarks.”85
Based on studies and lectures he had begun in the early 1890s, Boas’s
fi rst major book- length publication, The Mind of Primitive Man, helped
lay the foundation for a generation of new thinking about the progress
and poverty of blacks.86

The Mind of Primitive Man was a quasi- manifesto for social activism
in the sense that it was or ga nized as a chapter- by- chapter attack on the
widespread scientifi c belief that heredity trumped environment in ex-
plaining the causes of social and economic in e qual ity. As a leading pro-
ponent of the belief that Eu ro pe an immigrants and African Americans
were not racially inferior, Boas argued unequivocally that physical and
mental traits could not be judged fairly by the racially imbued categories
of “civilized” and “primitive” without properly accounting for differ-
ences in a people’s history, social conditions, and habits of life that af-
fected their bodies and minds. Moreover, he argued, physical and mental
traits were not only alterable but were in fact not pure repre sen ta tions
of the races. He made the point, which is now scientifi c orthodoxy, that
there were more ge ne tic variations among individual members of racial
or national groups than there were between the groups. That is why,
Boas explained, it was not hard “to fi nd among members of the Ameri-
can race, for instance, lips and nose which approach in form those of the
negro [sic]. The same may be said of [skin] color.”87

That racial categories were hardening at this moment put Boas’s state-
ments directly at odds with an increasing public desire to believe in racial
purity. White southerners were hysterical over the threat of “social equal-
ity” or what they took to mean the apocalyptic possibility of black men
“ravishing” white women and passing on their “degenerate” traits to a
“pure” white race.88 A small but vocal group of white northerners lead-
ing the eugenics movement were equally apoplectic about “degenerate”
new immigrant types mixing their inferior blood with old- stock Americans.
In 1911 the eugenics movement had just begun to infl uence national
public policy through its work with the Dillingham Commission on Im-
migration. In fact, the 1909 conference where Ripley, Bennet, and Kelsey
expressed their pro- immigrant sentiments in rebuttal to the latest fi ndings
of leading American eugenicist Charles V. Davenport, whose Long Island
laboratory attracted hundreds of thousands of dollars from wealthy phi-
lanthropists, was part of the national debate leading to the U.S. Senate



investigation, which was named for its chairman.89 In the commission’s
published reports, Boas wrote his dissenting opinion that no “biological
chasm” separated old Americans from new immigrants.90 Although, like
most others in the mainstream social scientifi c and reform communities,
Boas’s work was intended primarily for the benefi t of new immigrants,
his rejection of racial determinism had an incremental and profound im-
pact on the study of black life among liberal race- relations writers. This
was due primarily to his ability to expose not only the fallacies of su-
premacist assumptions about race, but also about culture.

Boas argued that neither race nor culture was fi xed by heredity. His
defi nition of culture was rooted in civilizationist discourses that judged
Eu ro pe an or African societies by their historic achievements— their gov-
ernments, technology, arts, and mastery over nature. Accordingly, cul-
tural traits, like physical and mental traits, were shaped by environmen-
tal factors— climate, geography, natural disasters, war, and conquest.
Boas’s key intellectual move was to argue based on anthropological evi-
dence, citing the historic achievements of African civilizations before Eu-
ro pe an colonization, that there was no “close relation between race and
culture.” Instead, the future of the Negro would be determined not by a
biological imperative but “on the basis of history and social status,” a
history, Boas insisted, that was civilized and prosperous before Eu ro pe an
contact. “In short,” Boas concluded, “there is every reason to believe that
the Negro when given facility and opportunity, will be perfectly able to
fulfi ll the duties of citizenship as well as his white neighbor.”91 Racial
Darwinists had already turned toward the use of vital statistics to prove
that blacks’ inferior social status was a refl ection of their biological infe-
riority, but since many racial liberals were suspicious of their methods,
Boas’s research presented them with an alternative historical and scien-
tifi c rationale for using social resources in the ser vice of cultural rather
than racial change. If Hoffman gave whites a reason for keeping a safe
distance from blacks in the present, Boas gave them a reason for living
next door in the future.

On another level, however, Boas erased the color line and replaced
it with a culture line. Not in the sense that he supported another form
of segregation— to the contrary, he had argued forcefully for the total
inclusion of blacks into America’s social fabric— but in the sense that
he still linked inferior behavior with black people. He did not frame
black pathology in universal terms like Ida B. Wells with her emphasis
on white- on- black crime, or like Du Bois with his emphasis on high



mortality and illegitimacy rates across Eu ro pe an cities, or like Kelly
Miller with his rhetoric of Hebrews struggling in the wilderness on their
way to the promised land. Nor did he do what countless settlement
workers and progressive reformers did to deemphasize pathology and na-
tionality among various Eu ro pe an immigrants by linking their fates to
poor native- born white Americans struggling in the midst of massive de-
mographic, economic, and social changes. As much as he had argued that
in a global context American blacks were culturally more Eu ro pe an than
African, Boas also made it painfully clear that in a national context blacks
were culturally inferior to all whites: “Undesirable traits . . . are at present
undoubtedly found in our Negro population.”92

Du Bois’s large body of research on class differentiation among Afri-
can Americans in the North and South and in urban and rural commu-
nities did not factor into Boas’s blanket charge of cultural inferiority.93
Boas, however, was not backpedaling on his debunking of racial deter-
minism. To insist that black people’s fates were not determined by their
biology, that they had the inherent capacity for equality, and that they
needed white people’s support and greater opportunities to succeed
were about as radical a set of precepts as any white scientist had uttered
in the age of Jim Crow segregation. Nevertheless, he was stating to his
readers what he considered the obvious in order to illustrate the conse-
quences of their social neglect. “There is nothing to prove that licentious-
ness, shiftless laziness, [and] lack of initiative, are fundamental charac-
teristics of the race,” Boas wrote. “Everything points out that these
qualities are the result of social conditions rather than of hereditary

Still, for many readers, culture was race even if the anthropological
evidence showed otherwise.95 By pointing out negative traits that had
historically defi ned black people, Boas confi rmed many white readers’ a
priori suspicions of blacks, with their “peculiar” or exceptional diffi cul-
ties, even if they were now supposed to accept some of the blame. Failing
to follow an important ingredient in the rhetorical assault on ideological
racism, as demonstrated by the universal terms of his black counterparts
and his white progressive peers, Boas undercut the value of his fi ndings.
Not until the 1920s would a new generation of scholars, with Melville
Herskovits and Zora Neale Hurston in the forefront, begin to have a
tremendous impact on dispelling many late- nineteenth- and early- twentieth-
century racial myths about African and African American culture and



Historians have noted that for all of Boas’s pioneering racial egalitari-
anism, he was still very much a man of his times. Stocking argues that
“given the atmospheric pervasiveness of the idea of Eu ro pe an racial su-
periority,” Boas’s work amounted to an attack on orthodox racial beliefs
rather than a “staunch” petition for racial equality. “Despite his basic
liberal humanitarian outlook, he was a white- skinned Eu ro pe an writing
for other white- skinned Eu ro pe ans at the turn of the century, and he was
a physical anthropologist to boot,” writes Stocking.97 Historian Vernon
Williams describes a “Boasian Paradox,” identifying the contradiction
between “his philosophical egalitarian sentiments” and his tentative ac-
know ledg ment that although most African Americans remained cultur-
ally inferior to whites, “in a just society” they would eventually approach
equality. Given the repeated references beginning in 1894 to the cultur-
ally determined “undesirable” traits of African Americans in his speeches,
personal correspondence, and minor publications, culminating in The
Mind of Primitive Man in 1911, Boas’s “racial vision [up to that point]
had severe limitations.” Most importantly, then, in the context of the his-
tory of ideas about African American criminality in modern America, the
work of these scholars suggests that for Boas black immorality and cul-
tural inferiority was a rhetorical bridge between a dominant racist dis-
course and an emerging racial liberal discourse. Williams consequently
concludes that Boas “fi rst adumbrated the position of modern- day liber-
als” that with cultural advancement and opportunity blacks could achieve

Writing crime into culture, therefore, represented a transition for so-
cial scientists and reformers who were beginning to explain black crimi-
nality in terms of environment rather than biology. In other words, it was
the initial product of twentieth- century racial liberals’ fi rst successful at-
tempts to defend the humanity of blacks and their right to fair play in
American society, and at the same time to concede that blacks were still
suffi ciently inferior behaviorally or socially to warrant special attention,
but not necessarily special help. This shift in argument articulated by
Boas did not mark a clean break from writers who had failed to privilege
the logic of an environmentalist view over their own racial prejudice. To
the contrary, northern white progressives had placed structural problems
at the forefront of their own reform activities. Yet at the turn of the cen-
tury, they had shown relatively less interest or willingness to address ur-
ban problems complicated by segregation and discrimination that fa-
vored Eu ro pe an immigrants over blacks. That began to change for a smaller



cohort after two hundred thousand southern blacks moved to the North
and West between 1890 and 1910, nearly tripling the black population
in New York State alone.99 By the second de cade of the twentieth cen-
tury, some white racial liberals forged new interracial bonds and as-
sumed greater commitments to the struggle for racial equality. Within a
one- year period ending in 1910, for example, they helped to create the
NAACP and the NUL— the two premier interracial civil rights organiza-
tions of the twentieth century.100

As a founding member of the NAACP, one of Du Bois’s closest white
allies, and a colleague of Boas, Mary White Ovington embodied the up-
per limit of racial liberalism in the Progressive era. Her study, Half a
Man: The Status of the Negro in New York (1911), was the second major
so cio log i cal study of black life in the urban North behind Du Bois’s The
Philadelphia Negro, published more than a de cade before. Boas, who
had worked with many settlement workers, including Ovington, on the
Greenwich House Committee on Social Investigations that sponsored
her study, wrote the foreword to Half a Man. He described her work as
a “most painstaking inquiry” into blacks’ “social and economic condi-
tions, [that] brings out in the most forceful way the diffi culties under
which the race is laboring, even in the large cosmopolitan population
of New York.” He framed her study as an explicit rebuttal to “claims
that the Negro has equal opportunity with the whites and that his fail-
ure to advance more rapidly is due to innate inability.” Finally, Boas
signaled that because anti- Negro ideology was so pervasive and segre-
gation on the rise— as demonstrated by Ovington’s book— African Amer-
icans would have to rise to a level “infi nitely greater” than that “demanded
from the white.”101

Ovington’s discussion of crime in Half a Man was similar to her
Charities article. She began with her observations of the interaction
between “colored children” and “their mischievous young white neigh-
bors.” Along the streets bordering tightly packed neighborhoods of a
growing population of southern migrants and native black New Yorkers,
some black children picked up the bad habits of their immigrant and
white neighbors. Ovington wrote that of those who did, “many outdo
the whites in depravity and lawlessness.” Yet deeper within these neigh-
borhoods, she suggested, the opposite was true: “The colored child, espe-
cially if he is in a segregated neighborhood is not greatly inclined to
mischief.” Contrary to her own integrationist interests and those of her
fellow members of the NAACP, Ovington suggested that with respect to



criminality blacks might be better off by themselves. “My own experi-
ence has shown me that life in a tenement on San Juan Hill is devoid of
the ingenious, exasperating dev iltry of an Irish or German- American neigh-
borhood.” While “there is plenty of crap shooting, rarely interfered with
by the police,” she conceded, “there is little impertinent annoyance or

Ovington rejected the narrowly focused racial reasoning of many
writers by identifying the development of some black children’s aggres-
sive behavior as a response to a racist social environment. These boys
and girls learned how to be tough because of their interaction with white
children, she explained. “To hold his own with his white companions on
the street or in school, the Negro must become pugnacious, callous to
insult, ready to hit back when affronted.” Ovington also revealed a cru-
cial aspect of black parents’ responsibility to their children that did not
register as family values capital among racial Darwinist and pro- immigrant
writers: teaching black children to defend their self- pride and personal
respect against racial insults from old and new Americans. She wrote of
the lessons taught and learned by parent and child respectively: “Many
are like the little girl who told me that she did not care to play with white
children, ‘because,’ she explained, ‘my mother tells me to smack any one
who calls me a nigger, and I ain’t looking for trouble.’ The colored chil-
dren aren’t looking for trouble. . . . They believe if they had a fi ght, it
wouldn’t be a fair one, and that if the policeman came, he would arrest
them and not their Irish enemies.”103

Apparently black youth also learned well their lessons about how to
respond to the police, according to Ovington. She regretted how “harsh-
ness, for no cause but his black face, has been too frequently bestowed
upon the Negro by the police” and was “especially noticeable” in inter-
racial confl icts when a “white offi cer, instead of dealing impartially with
offenders, protected his own race.”104 In her Charities report, Helena Titus
Emerson, a white New York kindergarten teacher, noted the same prob-
lem for black youth in a neighborhood dominated by Italians, Germans,
and “the least desirable type of shiftless Irish.” “The attitude of the [white]
public school teachers is not always impartial,” she wrote, “and police
protection [of black children] is so often inadequate that, during the spring
months, especially, there are such frequent clashes between the colored and
white boys on the streets, that they sometimes assume the proportions of
ju nior race riots. Even the little kindergarten children have been shamefully
abused, and many an anxious parent has to accompany his boy on the



street lest he be attacked by several white boys and be unable to reach
school.”105 In the midst of New York City race riots in 1900 and 1905,
Ovington described how policemen had abdicated their responsibility to
dispense color- blind ser vice and protection, resulting in an object lesson
for youth: the indiscriminate mass arrests of blacks being attacked by
white mobs.106

In November 1911 Du Bois, now research director for the NAACP
and editor of its national Crisis magazine, listed in the monthly four un-
related incidents of police offi cers’ excessive use of deadly force against
blacks. In states ranging from Pennsylvania to Florida, he wrote, “there
are perhaps a half dozen other cases of this sort during the month.” He
also noted fi ve cases in which blacks had committed the “slaying of of-
fi cers.”107 Self- defense may have been the cause in some of these in-
stances. Based on dozens of letters written by black suspects and con-
victs to the NAACP in the 1920s, self- defense was one of the most
frequently cited causes of interracial hom i cide of white male citizens
and police offi cers by black men.108 In cities across the nation, such vio-
lent confrontations with police offi cers would continue to show black
children and adults alike that justice was, in Du Bois’s words, “For
White People Only.”109 On streets where black offenders and victims
were perceived to be equally dangerous, clear limits were set on the
actualization of blacks’ rights to due pro cess and equal protection un-
der the law. “As it is,” wrote Ovington, “there is no safety for any Ne-
gro in this part of the city at any time.”110

By highlighting the corrupting infl uences of “mischievous” immigrant
neighbors, hostile youth armed with racial epithets, and racially abusive
police offi cers, Ovington had broadened the social context in which
black juvenile delinquency could be explained. Playing by the rules was
clearly more than the product of black children’s inherent capacity for
self- control. To some extent their behavior, whether good or bad, was de-
pendent on their interactions with whites of all ages. This was an atypical
argument before a typically racist audience. “The average white resident
in northern cities,” migration historian Florette Henri writes, “was con-
vinced that blacks had an innate proclivity toward crime.” She explains
that their certainty was derived from baseless talk, biased and inaccurate
news reporting, and crime statistics with too much fi ne print. Such perva-
sive thinking about blacks, Henri notes, even affected “some Negroes.”
For example, a black probation offi cer in Pittsburgh discovered her egre-
gious error in concluding that the black juvenile delinquency rate had



doubled in the previous year when she subsequently discovered that it
had in fact “considerably decreased.”111 Nonetheless, Ovington knew
from personal experience how many white New Yorkers believed that
blacks, especially southern migrants, were preprogrammed to be inferior.
According to this line of thinking, Ovington sardonically concluded,
“there is nothing evil” that blacks are “not at the bottom of.”112

Whereas Ovington had rightly targeted northerners’ racialist views
on black criminality, she was not immune from them. Seemingly puzzled
by the “very large percentage of crime among colored women” and an
“unduly large percentage of disorderly depraved colored” girls, Oving-
ton was less certain about the current social origins of black female
criminality than of male “colored prisoners.” Given their low social sta-
tus, she wrote, black men’s criminality was “no higher” than could be
expected. But her ambiguity about black women was unmistakable when
she declared that “depravity among the girls and improper guardian-
ship” were “the race’s most serious defects.” She meant that black girls
had an exceptional record of being charged by the Children’s Court for
sexual improprieties, and their mothers were too often negligent about
properly supervising them.113 In her review of Half a Man, Sophonisba
P. Breckinridge, a Chicago po liti cal scientist and settlement house re-
former, observed that black women were “peculiarly subject to degrad-
ing temptation.”114

These gendered charges were not unique to black females. Ovington
knew that poor native- white and immigrant girls were subject to the same
“degrading temptation.” Northern progressives like Jane Addams, the pa-
tron saint of the settlement movement and a founding member of the
NAACP; Louise De Koven Bowen, a Hull House donor and administra-
tor and a leader in the child- saving movement; and Kellor saw these prob-
lems to varying degrees as a direct consequence of industrialization.115

Addams was particularly outspoken in her 1912 study of prostitution,
A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil. She linked the rapid changes of a
modern industrial economy, with its unpre ce dented need for mothers
and their daughters to contribute cash wages to the house hold, to a rise
in prostitution. From the reformers’ perspective, working mothers left
too many young children without adequate moral guidance. In other
cases, mothers who managed to stay at home often could not avoid
sending their daughters out to work, exposing them to the morally cor-
rupting “cheap theaters and dance halls” or the evil designs of unscrupu-
lous men. This was especially true for many immigrant girls, according to



Addams. Since factory work was undesirable due to its dangerous con-
ditions, brutal hours, and low wages, and given the lures of the burgeon-
ing mass consumer culture and its attendant pressure to look fashionably
“American,” prostitution, in a moment of “utter weariness and discour-
agement,” was a ready alternative. By and large, Addams was unequivo-
cal in her stance that the roots of prostitution were found in the broadest
economic, social, and po liti cal context. She could not separate this “so-
cial evil” from the inadequacies of industrial legislation, trade unionism,
police regulation, and po liti cal corruption. Ostensibly frustrated after
pointing out that it was the state’s responsibility to eradicate prosti-
tution, Addams asked, “Is it because our modern industrialism is so
new that we have been so slow to connect it with poverty and vice all
about us?”116

Three years earlier Addams had examined the evils of modernization,
urbanization, and industrialization among Chicago’s white and immi-
grant youth, many of whom were clients of Hull House. In The Spirit of
Youth and City Streets, she focused primarily on a startling rise in male
juvenile delinquency and sharply criticized the ravages of modern city
temptations such as dance halls, saloons, poolrooms, fi ve- cent theaters,
gangs, and drugs. Sorely lacking wholesome recreation, Addams observed,
these children had few constructive outlets for their youthful energy and
their “spirit of adventure.”117 In Chicago’s hardscrabble neighborhoods,
far from the Midwestern farms and Old World villages, their “sex sus-
ceptibility” was getting the better of them. “The newly awakened senses
are appealed to by all that is gaudy and sensual, by the fl ippant street
music, the highly colored theater posters, the trashy love stories, the
feathered hats, the cheap heroics of the revolvers displayed in the pawn
shop windows,” she wrote. Recreation could win the war on vice, but the
battle had to be led by city leaders.118 “We certainly cannot expect the
fathers and mothers who have come to the city from farms or who have
emigrated from other lands to appreciate or rectify these dangers.” Nor
could “we . . . expect the young people themselves” to kill the “cancer”
of “modern city conditions.”119

Against tremendous odds, Addams and her Hull House staff worked
with the new Juvenile Court of Chicago, founded in 1899 as the fi rst mod-
ern alternative to youth incarceration. The goal was to save thousands of
children from becoming hardened criminals.120 The Spirit of Youth was
originally to be titled “Juvenile Delinquency and Public Morality” or
“Juvenile Crime and Public Morals,” but Addams felt that these titles



were “too so cio log i cal.” They evoked statistics that missed the human
element and the pathos of the growing white- youth- urban- crime prob-
lem.121 In Addams’s case and emblematic of how northern progressives
generally wrote about white criminality and juvenile delinquency, senti-
mentality was a good thing.122 “She has established a point of view at
once sympathetic and optimistic which must characterize all efforts at
improvement,” wrote J. P. Lichtenberger, a University of Pennsylvania
sociologist and a departmental colleague of Carl Kelsey. “The book will
do much good.” A review in the American Journal of Sociology con-
curred, adding that “sociology has published a classic. So exquisitely and
poetically has Miss Addams revealed the precious stuff of which young
hearts are made . . . that we gladly give her book a place besides Words-
worth’s great Ode.” Because of “her singularly comprehensive experi-
ence Miss Addams has rendered a notable ser vice to society, which is just
now coming into full consciousness of its long- neglected obligation to

Citing dozens and dozens of cases, Addams knew fi rsthand that “many
city boys” had been arrested and brought before the court for everything
from playful vandalism to murder. She especially singled out a range of
offenses along the city’s railroad tracks— throwing rocks at trains, break-
ing signal lights, setting fi res, stealing from freight cars, and committing
armed robbery— as a way of “illustrating the spirit of [youthful] adven-
ture” in relation to the locomotive, the ultimate symbol of modern indus-
try. Many other instances turned tragically violent. A Polish youth shot
and killed an Irish boy after a gang of Irish youths came to his house
seeking retaliation for his “whipping” one of their own. “This tale could
be duplicated almost every morning,” Addams wrote. “What might be
merely a boyish scrap is turned into a tragedy because some boy has a
revolver.” Chicagoans were growing “heartsick” over the mounting trage-
dies. Within the past month, another teenage boy, a transplant from a
“little farm in Ohio . . . had shot and killed a policeman while resisting
arrest and was now awaiting the death penalty.” He was one of “the best
type of Americans, whom we boast to be the backbone of our cities,”
Addams noted somberly, as she tried to reconcile white youth violence
with the rhetoric of Anglo- Saxon superiority.124

Gang- and drug- related crimes, she continued, were also out of con-
trol. The “cocaine habit” had noticeably spread in recent years. A Hull
House investigation in 1904 discovered a gang of truant and unem-
ployed neighborhood boys addicted to the drug. “They stole from their



parents, ‘swiped junk,’ pawned their clothes and shoes– did any desperate
thing to ‘get the dope,’ as they called it.”125 Drugs were not the only means
of satisfying their “desire to dream and to see visions” that had potentially
deadly consequences. Inspired by a movie and taking “Dead Men Tell No
Tales” as their mantra, three boys, “aged nine, eleven and thirteen” con-
spired to rob and murder the neighborhood milkman. Fortunately, the
bullet missed him. Numerous youth robberies and burglaries had been a
direct result of the fi ve- cent theater or the “house of dreams,” Addams
explained. All told, fi fteen thousand youths had been arrested and brought
before the Juvenile Court in the past year. Most of them “had broken the
law in their blundering effort to fi nd adventure” and “self expression.”126

Girls were counted in that number. Gangs of thieving young women
were “discovered in Chicago last June” roaming the city streets, picking
pockets, and shoplifting. Others were found on the precipice of prostitu-
tion after “revolt[ing] against the monotony of [factory] work.” One
young lady regularly sought refuge in dance halls. “I just had to go to
dances sometimes after pushing down the lever of my machine with my
right foot and using both my arms feeding it for ten hours a day—
nobody knows how I feel some nights.” The partying ended when a sym-
pathetic man befriended her, only to try to steer her into prostitution.
“Of course, I threatened to kill him,” she told Addams; “any decent girl

For Addams, the situation born of the spirit of youths who were mis-
directed and unsupervised in the nation’s cities called for a change in the
nation’s priorities. Is everyone “so caught in admiration of the astonish-
ing achievements of modern industry that they forget the children them-
selves?”127 Addams focused on the apathy, neglect, and exploitation
facing white and immigrant youth in Chicago; the experiences of black
boys and girls were nearly completely absent from her antimodernist

However, in her follow- up study, A New Conscience and an Ancient
Evil, Addams, like Ovington, did not exclude black women, showing them
as victims of the same “modern industrialism” affecting white women.
To their credit, both recognized that racism made matters worse. As Ov-
ington explained, “She gets the job that the white girl does not want.
[Ovington’s italics]”129 Domestic work, the least attractive and lowest
paid occupation for women, represented black women’s subordinate po-
sition in the labor market.130 In New York City, for example, 90 percent
of black working women were domestics or personal servants, compared



to 40 percent of the white women in the workforce.131 Black women’s
employment options in Philadelphia, Chicago, and elsewhere were no bet-
ter. Jobs in factories, workshops, department stores, and hotels open to
black women were “extremely limited,” according to Addams. “The ma-
jority of them,” she wrote, “therefore are engaged in domestic ser vice and
often fi nd the position of maid in a house of prostitution or of chamber-
maid in a disreputable hotel, the best- paying position open to them.”132

Historian Elizabeth Clark- Lewis’s study of African American domes-
tics in Washington, D.C., offers a fi rsthand account of a black woman
who recalled “making money all the time” in a “joint” that illegally sold
liquor and “had gambling.” So consistent was Beulah Nelson’s income
compared to that of her brother and his wife, with whom she lived,
that she was able to use her earnings to prevent her family’s eviction by
paying the “back rent, rent due, and two months ahead.”133 Although
Nelson had sought out her own “best- paying” job, many newly arrived
southern migrants were sent unknowingly to such scandalous places by
employment agencies, observed Louise De Koven Bowen, president of
the Juvenile Protection Association of Chicago. In fact, Bowen wrote, the
same agencies “would not take the risk of sending a white girl to a place
where, if she was forced into a life of prostitution, the agency would be
liable to a charge of pandering.”134 Based on its assessment of the situa-
tion, the Chicago Vice Commission of 1911 concluded that “The preju-
dice against colored girls who are ambitious to earn an honest living is

By contrast, historian Roger Lane asserts that most black prostitutes,
at least in Philadelphia, were not victims of broader social barriers.
“Only a small fraction of them were physically forced into the life,” he
writes. Lane speculates that “the rest of them were there by choice” be-
cause black women preferred the additional freedom prostitution gave
them over the “sexual harassment and the loss of dignity” endemic to
domestic work.136 Historian Kevin Mumford challenges Lane’s portrayal
of black women’s autonomy in prostitution, suggesting that sexual rac-
ism prevailed even within prostitution. Black women were paid less over-
all and were more often limited to streetwalking, the most degrading sex
work.137 Nevertheless, compared to the wider “fi eld of employment”
for white women, black women’s search for respectable and legitimate
work was clearly circumscribed by racial discrimination, despite any in-
dividual preferences black women may have exercised when accepting
domestic work in a “disreputable” place.138



Still, the association of black women with vice transcended the perils of
limited economic opportunity for women and racial discrimination against
blacks. Because the bugaboo of statistical disproportion now framed crime
among blacks as excessive and unnatural, and most signifi cantly as a re-
fl ection of the fundamental difference between blacks and whites, sympa-
thetic writers like Boas, Kellor, Ovington, and Addams turned to culture
rather than biology to account for this difference. Because these racial
liberals truly believed that most blacks were indeed culturally inferior to
most whites, they did not shrink from incriminating black culture, even
as they passionately rejected the biological determinism of such conser-
vative colleagues as Eleanor Tayleur, who in 1904 wrote in a progressive
journal that a black woman had the “brain of a child and the passions of
a woman steeped in centuries of ignorance and savagery, and wrapped
about with immemorial vices.”139

Beyond racial liberals’ recognition of the limited employment options
for black women, they emphasized culture to explain black women’s dis-
proportionate fall into prostitution. Ovington did this when she called
sexual activity among black girls in New York city a racial defect. The
historical reason for the defect, as expressed by “Negroes themselves,”
she wrote, was that slavery had fundamentally handicapped the black
family to the point where “it is inevitable that numbers of their women
should be slow to recognize the sanctity of home and the importance of
feminine virtue.”140 Addams agreed entirely with this long- view explana-
tion for present- day cultural inferiority. “Confessedly,” she wrote, blacks
have “the shortest history of social restraint.” Coupling their “belated”
moral development with current social conditions, Addams concluded that
the results were not surprising: a “very large number of colored girls en-
tering a disreputable life.”141

In a February 1911 editorial for the fi rst volume of Crisis, Addams’s
focus on the innate cultural weaknesses of black women compared to
their white and immigrant counterparts is striking. The editorial was an
early contribution to the NAACP in her role as a “spearhead” of the new
interracial movement against racial violence and the further erosion of
black po liti cal and civil rights. She began by acknowledging the growing
problem of residential segregation in northern cities. It is clear, she wrote,
“that not only in the South, but everywhere in America, a strong race
antagonism is asserting itself, which has various modes of lawless and
insolent expression.” But the problem was not just racism, she continued;



it was that “in every large city we have a colony of colored people who
have not been brought under social control”:

One could easily illustrate this lack of inherited control by com-
paring the experiences of a group of colored girls with those of a
group representing the daughters of Italian immigrants, or of any
other Southern Eu ro pe an peoples. The Italian girls very much en-
joy the novelty of factory work, the opportunity to earn money
and to dress as Americans do, but this new freedom of theirs is
carefully guarded. Their mothers seldom give them permission to
go to a party in the eve ning and never without chaperonage. Their
fathers consider it a point of honor that their daughters shall not be
alone on the streets after dark. The daughter of the humblest Italian
receives this care because her parents are but carry ing out social
traditions. A group of colored girls, on the other hand, are quite
without this protection. If they yield more easily to the temptations
of a city than any other girls, who shall say how far the lack of so-
cial restraint is responsible for their downfall? The Italian parents
represent the social traditions which have been worked out during
centuries of civilization. . . . it is largely through these customs and
manners that new groups are assimilated into civilization.142

Within the progressive black crime discourse, Addams attacked rac-
ism but simultaneously excused it on the grounds that African Americans
lacked suffi cient “inherited” resources to deal with the challenges of
modern city life. Within the progressive white crime discourse, Addams
framed immigrant crime and immorality as social problems wholly di-
vorced from any inherited defects of the Old World. Nationality as a fac-
tor explaining juvenile delinquency in Chicago hardly registered in The
Spirit of Youth except when Addams described instances of interethnic
violence. In this plea for public recreation, her silence on group defi cien-
cies and ethnic patterns of criminality among immigrant newcomers was
matched by her silence on the plight of inner- city black youth. Black
youth victimization was rendered totally invisible, as were the added ef-
fects of racial violence directed at black youths by their white counter-
parts, as Ovington and Fannie B. Williams had observed. Indeed, Addams’s
only mention of a black person in relation to the dangerous temptations
of city living was of a “colored man, an agent of a drug store,” who had
gotten several neighborhood kids hooked on cocaine.143 Yet in “Social



Control” she clearly used Italian immigrants’ whiteness (or Eu ro pe anness)
as a mea sure of their superior fi tness and assimilability—“worked out
during centuries of civilization”— in a way that was meant to stress the
temporal backwardness of “colored people.” Moreover, the spirit of her
comments to a mostly black readership gave a false impression that mod-
ernization and industrialization were not “wreaking [the] foundations of
domesticity” among the nation’s urban white and immigrant youth.144
Were the happy, well- adjusted, and well- supervised “Italian daughters”
of her NAACP editorial different from those in her other writings, one
ten- hour shift away from prostitution? One can only speculate about
whether Addams worried about fueling black sentimentality (or the ex-
cuse of racial victimization) and distorted the picture of young immi-
grant women so as not to excuse the immorality of young black women.

Without a doubt, Addams brought attention to black po liti cal and
civil injustices, the horrors of lynching, and the evils of segregation and
“race antagonism.”145 At times, she even gave direct assistance to anti-
racist campaigns to end de facto segregation in the urban North. In 1903,
after Wells sought her assistance, for example, Addams successfully called
upon infl uential white Chicago elites to put an end to a movement for
segregating Chicago’s public schools.146 But in regard to delinquency and
crime, Addams did not write about black youth the same way she wrote
about white and immigrant youth. At the moment when black migration
to the North was the subject of intense debate linked to what many be-
lieved was an impending crisis of black criminality nationwide, she did
not include blacks in her repeated calls for public recreation, which she
argued was a silver bullet against “the number of arrests among juvenile
delinquents.”147 Addams’s inconsistency may be partly explained by the
fact that, according to Davis, she drew inspiration and guidance from
the pioneering research on adolescence and juvenile delinquency of psy-
chologist G. Stanley Hall.148 Hall, a self- identifi ed abolitionist and a pro-
ponent of scientifi c racism and segregated crime prevention, instructed
black people in 1905 to stop “sympathiz[ing] with their own criminals”
and to “accept without whining patheticism and corroding self- pity
[their] present situation, prejudice and all.”149

In most cases when the stark realities of antiblack violence were not
foremost in the minds of white progressive race- relations writers, black
criminality and immorality remained tangible signs of black pathology
even among the most committed racial liberals. In the cases of Addams
and Ovington, the implication of highlighting excessive immorality among



black women was that social, economic, and po liti cal reform might not
be enough to reverse blacks’ cultural inferiority, especially since it was
the duty of women to nurture the moral character of their families and
therefore their race.150 As necessary as structural reforms were overall
in the context of black and immigrant communities in or on the borders
of vice districts, liberal race- relations writers still suggested that black
women needed an additional dose of moral tonic to help save their race.
My argument that Boas had erased the color line only to unintentionally
replace it with a culture line helps to explain the contradictory assump-
tions underlying progressives’ limited on- the- ground reforms aimed at
blacks on the eve of the Great Migration. When Kelsey wrote in 1909 that
“much is now charged to the Negro, as a Negro, which should be charged
to the Negro as an ignorant and untrained man,” he was calling for a fun-
damental shift away from a biological determinism that he recognized as
racist to a cultural determinism that he and other liberals recognized as
race neutral or color blind.151

The problem, however, was that black male ignorance and ineffi –
ciency, like black female ignorance and immorality, were defi ned in rela-
tion to slavery and to white civilizationist discourses that already ranked
all blacks at the bottom. Therefore black reform, by historical, so cio log i-
cal, and philosophical defi nition, ought to be separate and distinct since
blacks, as the logic dictated, could rise to a higher plane only through
their own struggle following emancipation. All whites of what ever na-
tionality were, by defi nition (through centuries of struggle in the wilder-
ness of Eu rope and colonial America), already on a higher plane capable
of being saved by others.152 When children are born to broken homes,
when “the natural prop is gone, the normal limb removed,” wrote Mabel
Rhoades, a white University of Chicago graduate student in one of the
fi rst so cio log i cal investigations of the Chicago Juvenile Court, “we have
always to make the best possible substitute,” helping “the patient . . . get
about to do his [or her] share of the great world’s work.”153 Progressive
era social reformers had come to intellectual maturity in a highly pater-
nalistic and racialized milieu. That some of them as “friends of the
Negro” represented a nascent neo- abolitionist movement in the urban
North does not negate the fact that by incriminating black culture, they
legitimized piecemeal urban reform efforts on behalf of blacks.

Too often white reformers settled for indexing racial injustice rather
than fi ghting it. For example, Jane Addams could point out the perilous
consequences of residential segregation for black families without ending



the practice of segregated activities at her own Hull House. Historian
Thomas Philpott argues in his study of Chicago’s reformers that “in the
main, settlement houses served blacks separately or did not serve them at
all. Most settlement workers, like most reform- minded people and most
Chicagoans, generally were racists, or, if not, they were conformists:
They went along.”154 Even as late as the 1920s, when Chicago’s black
population had more than tripled to nearly 110,000 people and the fl ow
of Eu ro pe an immigration had been cut off by World War I and the Na-
tional Origins Act of 1924, Hull House continued its policy of “exuding
interracial good will but including almost no Negroes.” By 1930 only
about one- third of private welfare agencies in Chicago were willing to
use 1 percent of their bud gets to fund ser vices for blacks.155 In New York
in 1929, the Children’s Aid Society reported that Harlem had “only 15
percent of the recreation facilities it needs.”156 African American reformers
continued to insist that blacks not only had very few places for construc-
tive leisure activities but that they also could not improve conditions
without help.157 George Edmund Haynes, a Columbia University– trained
black sociologist and the fi rst research director of the NUL, insisted that
the problems of black “maladjustment” must be fi xed by “methods simi-
lar to those that help other elements of the population.”158 In a 1913
race- relations progress report commemorating the fi ftieth anniversary of
the Emancipation Proclamation, Haynes described the failure of liberal
intervention as the “sequel of segregation”:

To make the view of the urban situation among Negroes full and
clear, a number of conditions which exist in some cities but are
absent in others should be included in the list. In many cities the
sequel of segregation means less effective police patrol and inade-
quate fi re protection, in others it means unpaved streets, the absence
of proper sewerage and lack of other sanitary supervision and re-
quirements. . . . Playgrounds in Negro neighborhoods are so rare
as to excite curiosity, and or ga nized play is just being heard of in
the Negro world. . . . In these efforts for self- realization in the city
the Negro needs the fair dealing, the sympathy and the coopera-
tion of his white brother. For the problem of his adjustment is only
a part of the great human problem of justice for the handicapped
in demo cratic America.159

Yet almost no public facilities used by whites, like beaches and play-
grounds, were open to blacks without serious risk of mortal harm. In the



Great Migration period and beyond, cities across the urban North expe-
rienced wholesale white- initiated attacks on their black residents. In the
Red Summer of 1919, Chicago, one of more than twenty cities to see race
riots, experienced unpre ce dented racial violence ignited by whites’ ston-
ing to death a black child who crossed an aqueous color line at a public
beach on Lake Michigan.160 Although racial violence was a constant re-
minder of the limits of racial reform among the white masses, ironically
those limits were in part shaped by reformers’ ambivalence about blacks’
cultural— albeit moral— fi tness. At the grassroots level of social work,
white settlement workers largely failed to put their own ideals into ac-
tion when it came to black neighbors. In the spirit of documenting racial
disparities, Bowen revealed the paucity of crime prevention agencies
open to African Americans. In a 1913 report for Chicago’s Juvenile Pro-
tection Association, she observed that even when “colored people” did
attempt various efforts to assist “dependent and semi- delinquent colored
children,” they did not have suffi cient resources, all the more disturbing,
she noted, since “all the public rec ords give a high percentage of Negro

Some observers came to see the ways in which racial violence substi-
tuted for social reform. Six years before Chicago’s South Side beach be-
came ground zero for the racial confl agration that enveloped the city,
Bowen reported that a “little colored boy” had been “mobbed” the previ-
ous summer. She also noted in her 1913 investigation that blacks had
begun a campaign to open a “model dance hall,” but whites in the vicin-
ity objected on the grounds that it would be a “public nuisance,” and
“[t]his effort toward better recreation facilities had to be abandoned.”162
At a 1920 meeting of the NUL, Bowen continued to emphasize the
missed opportunities to include African Americans in all manner of
inner- city social work. “We are not apt to think of the negro as an im-
migrant, but in reality he occupies the same position as does the for-
eigner who comes to us from other shores, except that the negro’s posi-
tion is more diffi cult, for he is subjected to racial discrimination, and
while no limitations are imposed upon the children of the immigrant, this
unfortunately, is not true of the negro.”163

Even a white southern reformer stated in 1914 that it was just “good
business economy to save . . . [Negro] children from vagrancy and crime”
through public taxation, not to mention that in his opinion “playgrounds
with directors [ were] cheaper than penal institutions or probation offi –
cers.” Thus it did not make sense to Charles H. McCord that during



1912 cash- strapped “Negroes” in Atlanta spent in excess of $100,000 in
“fi nes and stockade sentences” related to crime. That money plus “lost
time and lawyers’ fees,” he calculated, could have bought a “fi fty- acre tract
of land” to be developed into a “park for Negroes with green houses, wild
animals, and a boating lake and swimming pool.”164 S. Waters McGill,
a Nashville, Tennessee, YMCA offi cial, captured the situation experi-
enced by many blacks across the nation in verse:

Plenty of room for dives and dens,
Glitter and glare and sin;
Plenty of room for prison pens,
Gather the criminals in;
Plenty of room for jails and courts—
Willing enough to pay;
But never a place for lads to race,
No never a place to play.
Plenty of room for shops and stores,
Mammon must have the best;
Plenty of room for the running sores
That rot in the city’s breast;
Plenty of room for the lures that lead
The hearts of our youth astray;
But never a cent on a playground spent,
No never a place to play.165

Whereas southern cities provided far fewer resources to combat juvenile
delinquency for black or white youth, in northern cities white youth were
still the overwhelming benefi ciaries of public and private assistance.166

Following the poet’s lead, historian Elisabeth Lasch- Quinn takes re-
formers to task for their “faulty interpretation of black culture” and
“failure to address the problems of blacks.” She argues that despite set-
tlement workers’ personal knowledge of poverty and discrimination,
their “debilitating depiction of the black individual as lacking the most
basic capacity for self- control buttressed the settlement movement’s fail-
ure to redirect its efforts from white immigrants to black migrants.” His-
torian Anne Meis Knupfer agrees, adding that “although Breckinridge,
Addams, and Bowen had also expressed strong disapproval of such seg-
regative practices, their actual involvement in establishing and sustaining
the African American settlements, missions, girls’ homes, and orphanages
was minimal.” As a result, Lasch- Quinn concludes that white settlement



workers “largely ignored” black migrants, calling instead for “black self-
improvement organizations, which they thought would begin the slow
‘civilizing pro cess.’ ” Meanwhile, for white immigrants they sought struc-
tural changes in the “local po liti cal economy and provision of social
ser vices.”167

Additional studies by Dorothy Salem, Anne Firor Scott, and Judith
Trolander that compare the involvement of white settlement workers
with black neighbors with their involvement with whites and immigrants
confi rm the pattern.168 “Huge private donors” were key to the efforts of
settlement workers, but “fund- raising for agencies to serve blacks was
diffi cult,” writes Trolander. For whites, “it was the settlement workers’
ability to move within the two worlds of the wealthy and the working
class that gave them their unique identity.” Bowen, for example, donated
more buildings to Hull House out of her own pocket than there were
black settlement houses opened in Chicago during the Progressive era.169
Her contributions amounted to more than a million dollars, a sum equal
to more than twenty- one million dollars in 2008 dollars.170 From local,
state, and national politicians to the wealthiest men and women of the
industrial age, from beat cops to visiting nurses, from probation offi cers
to real estate developers, white settlement workers had access to power,
resources, and spheres of infl uence impossible for middle- class and elite
black reformers to match.171 By almost unanimous consent, dollar for
dollar, black communities stood most in need.

Whether research dollars or seed money to cover the salaries and op-
erating expenses of social welfare agencies were at stake, African Ameri-
can reformers were especially disadvantaged. Even Du Bois, the most
prolifi c and accomplished black social scientist of the Progressive era,
often complained about the diffi culties of raising money to conduct the
work he hoped to accomplish. It was a core struggle in his life as a
scholar and activist, according to his biographer. “Without money, both
scholarship and advocacy faltered.” David Levering Lewis notes that not
only did Du Bois frequently complain about losing research funds to
white race- relations writers with far less experience and more sanguine
views of racism, but his money worries also threatened to keep him from
attending scholarly conferences because of the cost of travel.172

Similarly, Ida B. Wells described the fi nancial challenges she faced in
trying to open a crime prevention agency in the heart of a South Side
Chicago vice district. The idea had come to her while conducting a men’s
Bible class at Grace Presbyterian Church. Among young men, “ranging



from eigh teen to thirty years of age,” Wells facilitated topics relevant to
their experiences, including the spread of racial violence in the North. In
the summer of 1908, in Springfi eld, Illinois, about two hundred miles
south of Chicago, a white woman accused a black man of assaulting her.
In the manhunt for a suspect, three random black men were lynched and
three others were shot. Although many African Americans defended them-
selves, many of their homes were burned to the ground, and as many as
two thousand black residents were driven from town.173 The Springfi eld
riot led directly to the founding of the NAACP. The violence, Wells re-
called discussing with her young male charges, “seemed to be becoming
as bad in Illinois as it had hitherto been in Georgia.” The following year,
Will “Froggie” James was lynched by fi ve hundred townspeople who
fi red bullets into his body as it hung from a downtown arch in Cairo,
Illinois. His lifeless body was then decapitated (his head placed on a
fence post) while his remains were burned to ashes. Horrifi ed, Wells be-
came determined to reach out to black men in trouble with the law and
began visiting black male prisoners in Joliet Penitentiary.174 Out of her
conversations with the prisoners and the young men in church, Wells re-
solved to establish the Negro Fellowship League to extend a “helping
hand” to new arrivals in the city’s seedy settlement zone— because “with
no friends, they were railroaded into penitentiary,” she recalled saying to
the Bible group. The league “would be on the lookout for these young
people. . . . To this all were agreed, but as we had no money, they could
not see how it could be brought together.”175

Although Wells was a major fi gure in the black club woman’s move-
ment with many contacts among leading white club women, only luck
allowed her to fi nd a wealthy donor for the league. Shortly after the church
meeting, she attended a fi ve- hundred person banquet as an invited speaker
of the Congressional Union Church at the luxurious Palmer House hotel
in downtown Chicago. Another speaker was J. G. K. McClure, the head
of the Chicago Theological Seminary, whose topic was “The White Man’s
Burden.” According to Wells, in his statistically rich speech about black
people as a national problem he said: “Even here in Chicago, which is the
black man’s heaven, although he is less than 3 percent of the population,
last year he furnished 10 percent of the crime.” Wells remembered that
right then the presiding offi cer of the church whispered to her that he
expected her to challenge McClure’s statement. At fi rst she demurred,
since her subject was lynching and the need for fair trials and color- blind
justice, plus she had not come to debate. But then she changed her mind,



thinking that no wonder “race prejudice seemed to be growing in Chi-
cago if that was the sort of addresses being given.”176 Wells told the audi-
ence that the statistics were misleading if they led people to assume that
blacks were the “most criminal of the various race groups in Chicago. It
does mean,” she insisted, “that ours is the most neglected group. All other
races in the city are welcomed into the settlements, YMCA’s, YWCA’s,
gymnasiums and every other movement for uplift if only their skins are
white. . . . Only one social center welcomes the Negro, and that is the
saloon. Ought we to wonder at the harvest which we have heard enu-
merated to night?” Among those listening was Mrs. Victor F. Lawson, the
wife of the own er and publisher of the Chicago Daily News, who told
Wells that she was “so surprised” to fi nd out that her husband’s “several
thousand dollars” had been given to support segregation at the YMCA.177
The Lawsons were outraged. After several months passed, Mrs. Lawson
decided to bankroll the Negro Fellowship League for one year. She in-
sisted, however, on being an anonymous benefactor because she told
Wells she had given to a “colored church” in the past and as a result had
been overwhelmed by “others soliciting aid.” The league opened in May
1910, complete with a lodging facility, a reading and game room, and an
employment bureau. Mrs. Lawson supported the league for three years
until her death in 1912. With her passing, so too did the agency. Her hus-
band withdrew funding, insisting that it should have been “self- supporting”
by that time.178

For grassroots reformers and black social workers, acquiring the nec-
essary funds to open, run, and sustain a settlement or community center
was extremely diffi cult. “The settlements for ‘colored people’ never had
the capacity to provide black Chicago with adequate, much less equal
ser vice. Several white settlements were in a position to relieve the strain
on black centers by opening their own doors to blacks who lived nearby.”
Instead, they tended to “follow the color line.”179 Many scholars have
observed that when black settlements and other social welfare agencies
were opened with the fi nancial assistance of white philanthropists, the
racial vision of the white benefactors and board members often clashed
with what black reformers had in mind.180 Progressive era black social
workers in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Boston, and
across the South were frequently forced to choose between no funding or
molding the programming of the institutions to accommodate the per-
spectives of their white sponsors. “Over and over again, the pattern re-
peated,” writes historian Deborah Gray White.181



For example, when Wells worked with Celia Parker Woolley, the
wealthy white leader of the Chicago Women’s Club and sponsor of Fran-
ces Kellor’s groundbreaking crime research, to open the Frederick Doug-
lass Center in 1905, Wells assumed she would be tapped as the fi rst direc-
tor. To her surprise, Mary Plummer, a luminary among local representatives
of the suffragist movement and the wife of George W. Plummer, one of
Chicago’s top corporate lawyers, was put in charge.182 Wells went along,
becoming vice president. As Woolley had planned, the Douglass Center
was intended to focus mainly on promoting interracial dialogue.183

In the wake of the Atlanta race riot of 1906, the dialogue between
Wells and Plummer imploded over a disagreement about the riot’s causes.
The violence had claimed the lives of twenty- fi ve black people, with hun-
dreds more injured, and not a single white person was arrested (out of
thousands involved, including members of the police and the state mili-
tia).184 Director Plummer, like white Atlantans, justifi ed the racial vio-
lence because of the purported behavior of black criminals and rapists.
After hearing J. Max Barber, an Atlanta- based black journalist, give fi rst-
hand testimony of the events, Plummer replied, “I do not know what we
can say about this terrible affair, but there is one thing I can say and that
is to urge all of you to drive the criminals out from among you.” When
Wells challenged her statement and reminded her of all she had told her
about lynching over “these years,” Plummer retorted, “Have you forgot-
ten that 10 percent of all the crimes that were committed in Chicago last
year were by colored men?” Besides, she added, “every white woman
that I know in the South has told me that she is afraid to walk out after
dark. I hope some day to fi nd out for myself if it is true.” With that, the
interracial dialogue ended. “There was nothing more for me to say,”
Wells recorded in her autobiography.

Wells’s memory may have distorted Plummer’s actual words, but not
the spirit of the exchange. Plummer left the Frederick Douglas Center
due to resentment of Wells’s challenging her authority, and Wells left be-
cause Woolley, the funder, still wanted a white woman in charge. In Wells’s
assessment, the center was never the same after she departed.185 “A
source of outrage and frustration,” White observes, “the racism of some
of the nation’s most progressive white women reveal[s]” the limits black
women reformers faced in doing the very thing they were encouraged to
do. Saving their own in a context where all reformers, black and white,
depended on the philanthropic and po liti cal support of white elites left
African Americans at a distinct disadvantage.186



There were dire consequences for blacks given this disparity in the
scale and nature of progressive reforms. For example, what began as a
series of local attempts to save women from prostitution became a na-
tional movement and one of the twentieth century’s “great crusades,” cul-
minating in the Mann Act of 1910.187 Also known as the White Slave
Traffi c Act, its prosecutors targeted foreign- born whites and African Amer-
ican men for transporting white women across state lines “for the purposes
of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purposes.” Al-
though the act itself was written in color- blind language, the racialized
term white slavery culturally and po liti cally prescribed victimization for
whites only.188

The term white slavery had long been a trope of the nineteenth-
century labor movement. To emphasize the industrial exploitation of the
northern white working classes, labor leaders linked them rhetorically
to a state of debasement associated only with black chattel slavery or
the experiences of the racialized “Other.”189 The same idea worked in
much of the writings of anti- vice crusaders.190 Like Indian captivity nar-
ratives, white- slave narratives exploited white middle- class “anxieties”
stimulated by the “migration of rural and small- town girls to the new
urban wilderness.”191 According to historian Mark Connelly, at the heart
of the tracts lies the sexual victimization of “beautiful native American
country girls” by “dark” men or, as the author of America’s Black Traffi c
in White Girls wrote, a “foaming pack of foreign hellhounds.”192 As in
Addams’s writings, “almost all of the white- slave tracts include discus-
sion of the plight of immigrant white slaves, who are treated quite sym-
pathetically.”193 “Alien women and girls” were the only group named in
the legislation itself.194 The pop u lar success of the tracts helped to lead
to a U.S. Senate investigation in 1909– 1910, and the Mann Act passed
soon after.

Black women’s perceived moral shortcomings or racial “defects” dis-
qualifi ed them from the protective status of the law. As late as 1997, no
historian had published evidence of a single Mann Act prosecution of a
white man for “endangering the morals of a black woman,” writes Mum-
ford. “The racial basis of the movement— the exclusion of black women
from the category of the deserving and redeemable— created a social
policy that effectively relocated vice” in segregated black communities
“and, ultimately, led to the abandonment of black prostitutes.”195 Ac-
cording to the fi ndings of the Chicago Vice Commission in 1911, that
also meant that white prostitutes were “invariably driven” into black



neighborhoods by the police, adding to the “demoralizing example[s]
and infl uence for the colored youth of both sexes.”196

In contrast, Kellor’s National League for the Protection of Colored
Women, which based its work on the perception of southern black women’s
moral weakness and ignorance of northern city life, represented the height
of white progressives’ attempts to save black women from prostitution.197
According to Hazel Carby, an interdisciplinary scholar of black female
migration in the early twentieth century, Kellor’s efforts appeared “on
the surface” to be a defense of black women’s “female virtue but it is
quickly evident that she does not believe that women have any moral fi –
ber or will of their own that can be mobilized in the defense of their own
interests.” The problem was “located in black women themselves.”198
Because of Kellor’s views, Lasch- Quinn adds, she “helped further racist
assumptions about the inferiority of blacks by blaming them for their
situation.”199 Paradoxically, these two antiprostitution movements at the
federal and the local levels represented two sides of the same coin, one
that distinctly criminalized black women. In both cases the basis for
black women’s criminalization was their well- intentioned sponsors’ be-
lief in black cultural inferiority.

The confl uence of victim blaming and expert knowledge of historical
and structural inequalities by a reformer intimately connected with set-
tlement houses reached its clearest expression on the eve of the Great
Migration in John Daniels’s In Freedom’s Birthplace: A Study of the Bos-
ton Negroes (1914). After conducting six years of research (1908– 1913)
at the Robert Gould Shaw House in Boston, Daniels wrote with the ut-
most authority. The Shaw House was a segregated spin- off of the South
End House, where Daniels had initially worked with Frederic Bushee
beginning in 1904. Daniels’s study picked up where Bushee’s 1903 pro-
immigrant study left off.200 Like Du Bois’s The Philadelphia Negro and
Ovington’s Half a Man, Daniels’s In Freedom’s Birthplace was a seminal
investigation of the history and sociology of African Americans in a ma-
jor northern city. In 1915, a year after the book came out, a reviewer
called the books by Daniels and Ovington the “two most notable” mono-
graphs to appear in “the last few years” on “the Negro problem in vari-
ous northern communities.”201

Daniels began by tracing the earliest presence and achievements of
black Bostonians from the colonial period, through the revolutionary
era, to the moment when the great antislavery agitator David Walker
rose to national prominence with his 1829 Appeal. Giving credit to



Walker, “a leader among his people,” and Frederick Douglass, “the most
remarkable of them all,” for inspiring William Lloyd Garrison, Daniels
narrated Boston’s abolitionist movement as a triumphant era of blacks
taking the lead in their own march toward freedom. “Thus, while by his
part in the [American] Revolution,” he wrote, “the Negro had contrib-
uted to his consequent emancipation throughout the North, by his part
in the Civil War he himself proved the decisive factor in the establish-
ment of his freedom throughout the nation.” For all of this, by 1895,
with the passage of the Massachusetts civil rights act that prohibited dis-
crimination in all public arenas, blacks “had been made fully equal.”
White Bostonians were so pleased with race relations that, according to
Daniels, “pop u lar sentiment with reference to the emancipated people
was generous to a degree of indulgence.” Without a hint of sarcasm or
insincerity, Daniels wrote, “the fact of being a Negro actually counted as
an element of advantage,” conferring “special sympathy and help.”202

But in the wake of the “wretched exhibition” of black inferiority dur-
ing the Reconstruction period and the passing away of the “Old Guard”
in the North, the high tide of racial harmony in Boston was gradually
heading back to sea. Like so many of his racially liberal peers, Daniels
acknowledged that segregation and discrimination were on the rise in the
North and that white northerners had begun to embrace the southern
view. Like most of them, he also justifi ed the change in “sentiment.” At
the sight of the “ignorant” and “uncouth,” and “indeed brutish” new mi-
grants from the South, white Bostonians could not help but recoil. “Never
before had Boston experienced the Southern Negro en masse.” Here
Daniels paused for a bit of historical revision, noting that actually the
“escaping slaves of Abolition days were suffi ciently abject specimens,”
but most had been “kept out of sight” and had been over- shadowed by
the “highly refi ned type” of Negro. But now, he explained, “in the face of
the black horde” invading the North since the war the “present back-
ward conditions” of the “race” were plain for all to see. The current
problem was not the “possession of . . . rights and privileges” but “rather
the underlying equipment for the proper exercise of such rights and
privileges.” “Nothing could be more unquestionable than the inherent
weaknesses” of Negroes. So “morally backward” was the race that “to
go into any extended citation of fi gures to prove that there is a more pro-
nounced tendency to immorality and criminality among the Negroes
than among the whites would be superfl uous. That such is the case may
be, indeed must be presumed.”203



As was true in the assessments of so many of Daniels’s peers, evidence
of blacks’ criminality and immorality fundamentally called into question
how much whites could and should do to help them. Daniels insisted
that the future would now depend not on “the bestowal of favor from
without, but upon their own in de pen dent effort from within.” Even
white “settlements, clubs and classes of a social ser vice nature” could not
be blamed for the many agencies that “make it a hard- and- fast rule to
have nothing to do with” Negroes. Among the majority, “it is more prac-
ticable” to adopt the “segregation plan” given the “general backwardness
of Negroes, and the prevailing disinclination of the whites to be thrown
into close association with them.”204 The real heavy lifting had to be
done by blacks alone; doing it was the only effective path to “self-
dependability,” despite the fact that, as he noted, social work conducted
by Boston’s black club women was “of necessity of humble proportions.”
Struggling fi nancially, they could count only on periodic fundraisers and
dues not more than “twenty- fi ve cents a month.”205

Financial hardships aside, “the future of the Negro people,” Daniels
emphasized, called for fundamental improvement in “moral stamina.”206
In every way, or gan i za tion ally, po liti cally, industrially, and morally, Dan-
iels stated plainly, blacks were the “most backward group in the commu-
nity.” All evidence of their base social status was a refl ection of their
“actual” inferiority, best mea sured by their pathology: “The Negro’s dis-
proportionate commission of crime and his fl agrant sexual laxity are but
two of the most obvious outcroppings of a generally discernible moral
and ethical undevelopment, by which he is characterized.” Moreover,
Daniels, like Addams, suggested that blacks were “centuries of civiliza-
tion” behind. He wanted his white readers to be clear that this pathology
was not their fault and that his book was not yet another abolitionist
attack on white racism as the cause. Citing Phillis Wheatley, Prince Hall,
and David Walker, Daniels wrote that since “far back in the colonial
days, the plaint that he was the object of contempt and ill- usage was
raised by the Negro himself,” and for too long was “fostered” and “in-
dulged” by a “small minority of the white population.” Given the “sorry
spectacle” of Reconstruction and the “great numbers of raw and uncouth
Negro immigrants” in Boston and across the nation, the sentimental cry
of black victimization had to cease. Contrary to the “pathetic and mono-
tonous refrain” of those who blamed their condition on prejudice, race
hostility was, he argued, “roughly commensurate with extreme racial



So as not to be mistaken for a retrograde racial Darwinist or a liberal
turned neoconservative, Daniels smartly turned to the most infl uential
liberal social scientifi c research on race in the Progressive era. Incorpo-
rating Boas’s groundbreaking research into his own, he insisted that “ra-
cial differences” were not biological, “nor can it be presumed that . . .
this inferiority is necessarily permanent and insurmountable.” After all,
he noted, blacks and whites practically looked alike, spoke the same lan-
guage, practiced the same religion, and were patriotic. “Except for color
and certain other physical characteristics— the American Negro is very
closely like the native white American.” Even if one conceded that dark
skin, “a strong natural odor, and kinky hair,” were suffi ciently offensive
to warrant special attention, he added, it was “hardly probable” that
prejudice would exist if blacks were, in fact, superior to whites in “knowl-
edge and attainment.”208 The problem was not with the exceptional blacks
whose “individual attainment really bears witness to,” in Boasian terms,
“the latent capacity of the Negro in general.” It was “the past and . . . the
present [of] the average Negro” who “has always been and still is inferior
to the average white man” that proved the rule.209 Boas had also used the
fact of exceptional blacks who “outrun their [white] competitors” to
discredit biological determinism, since variations within the race often
exceeded those between races, while still insisting that blacks’ “average
achievement will not quite reach the level of the average achievement of
the white race.”210

In 1914, exactly a half century before the legislative victories of the
modern civil rights movement would come to be known as the Second
Reconstruction— a fi nal act of national will to exorcize America of the
ghost of her Jim Crow past— there was no irrational or unjustifi ed rac-
ism, according to Daniels. Save for a few racist individuals, the free mar-
ket dictated race relations in the Progressive era:

In Boston, as is the case in most American communities, affairs
regulate themselves very largely on a simple business basis of sale
and purchase, with material means, rather than race or color, as
the determining element. The fact that the Negro is steadily becom-
ing better able to pay for privileges is his best guarantee of possess-
ing these privileges. Restaurants and theaters, for instance, fi nd
that a Negro’s money goes as far as a white man’s profi ts. A cab
driver deems it wiser to pick up a fare from a Negro than to let his
vehicle stand idle. Stores of all kinds, even the most select, see no



good reason for declining to sell their wares to members of this
race. Banks draw no color line in accepting deposits.

And for the right price, he added, the Negroes can live anywhere they
choose, including “superior white neighborhoods.” The bottom line,
Daniels argued, is that for those without the means to “pay for privi-
leges,” those who are barred from the marketplace of American dreams,
“the aversion in question is based upon recognition of the Negro’s past
and present inferiority.” Unambiguously ascribing white prejudice and
discrimination to black inferiority, Daniels concluded that “It is not race-
feeling. It is not color- feeling. It is inferiority- feeling.” White people “feel
and act toward him accordingly.” When “his present incapacities” disap-
pear, so too will the “Negro problem.”211

U. G. Weatherly, an Indiana University sociologist, positively reviewed In
Freedom’s Birthplace in the American Journal of Sociology, describing
Daniels as a “clear, incisive critic, whose virile sympathy for the Negro is
always held in check by his discriminating candor.”212 University of
Pennsylvania sociologist J. P. Lichtenberger, who had praised Addams’s
The Spirit of Youth, likewise considered In Freedom’s Birthplace among
the best “local studies of the Negro Problem” ever written.213 Although
Addams’s book was commended precisely for its sympathetic tone and
for the “good” that it would do on behalf of white youth, Lichtenberger
hailed Daniels’s book for its frank honesty. It is “one of the most unbiased
studies we have seen.” Highlighting Daniels’s fi nding that the “actual infe-
riority” was the root problem behind “the prevailing prejudice,” he en-
dorsed Daniels’s conclusion that the most good would come when black
people helped themselves.214 Had Lichtenberger reviewed Frederic Bush-
ee’s study of Boston at the beginning of the Progressive era, he might
have noted the striking similarity between Bushee’s claim that black as-
similation was undesirable and Daniels’s recommendation a de cade later.215
Until African Americans embraced segregation and took the necessary
time “to make a history for” themselves, Daniels argued, they were not
“yet prepared to be received fully, or even in major degree, within the
general fabric and or ga ni za tion of the white community.”216 A major litmus
test for credibility among liberal experts on the Negro Problem was the
degree to which one conceded blacks’ shortcomings.

Such ideas were forged not only out of the groundbreaking research
on race relations in the urban North of Frances Kellor, Frederic Bushee,



Carl Kelsey, Franz Boas, the many Charities contributors, and settlement
workers such as Mary Ovington, Jane Addams, and John Daniels, but
also out of the close professional relationships of these individuals. These
northern white race- relations experts reviewed each other’s work, vetted
and corroborated each other’s fi ndings, collaborated on specifi c projects,
worked in the same academic departments, and shared national leader-
ship positions in social scientifi c and reform communities. J. P. Lichten-
berger and U. G. Weatherly, for example, later served together as presi-
dent and vice president of the American So cio log i cal Association in
1921.217 The intellectual and professional ties that bound these individu-
als together inspired mutual respect for each other’s ideas. Their collabo-
ration fueled their willingness to write crime into culture. They were re-
sponding to their black peers and critics, as was so clear in the special
issue of Charities and in the work of Addams and Daniels. The perspec-
tives of W. E. B. Du Bois and Fannie B. Williams and Ida B. Wells were
subsumed by these writers even as they moved beyond, or devalued, anti-
racist critiques. From the opening of the Progressive era to its waning
days on the eve of World War I and the Great Migration, black criminal-
ity had become not just a universal tool to mea sure black fi tness for citi-
zenship; it was also a tool to shield, to varying degrees, white Americans
from the charge of racism, helping to determine the degree to which
whites had any responsibility to help black people.

By the standards of liberal race- relations discourse in the wake of
Boas’s The Mind of Primitive Man, much of their work was recognized
as, in Lichtenberger’s reading of Daniels’s study, “decidedly optimistic.”
Unlike Frederic L. Hoffman, they emphasized that neither black inferi-
ority nor white racism were “irreducible nor necessarily permanent.”
Although the full impact of Boas’s turn toward cultural determinism
within the liberal race- relations discourse was still in the making at the
time In Freedom’s Birthplace was published in 1914, it was clear that
liberal social scientists of the Progressive era were rejecting racial deter-
minism in favor of a new language of racial in e qual ity. Rather than “race
traits and tendencies” to defi ne the permanency of black pathology, the
new term “inherent capacity” emerged among these writers to emphasize
the remedial nature of black pathology.218 In this counter- discourse there
was a way out.

For the fi rst time since the days of abolitionism, this small cohort of
northern racial liberals of the Progressive era began to acknowledge north-
ern white racism even as they remained deeply ambivalent about black



immorality and criminality. Boas, for instance, reminded his readers that
they could not fairly judge blacks’ missteps without recognizing that
society “does not give us [whites] a chance to step out of its limits.”219
Ovington scolded her audience for constantly making generalizations
(“we classify and mea sure and pass judgement [sic]”) about “colored
Americans” when “we white Americans” do not do the same “concern-
ing ourselves.”220 In brief moments, even their ambivalence receded be-
fore the double standards increasingly in vogue. Bowen, for example,
told whites not to make the Negro “the universal scapegoat.” “When a
crime is committed,” she explained, “the slightest pretext starts the rumor
of a ‘Negro suspect’ and fl aming headlines prejudice the public mind
long after the white criminal is found.”221 An editor of a religious paper
in Newark, New Jersey, confi rmed Bowen’s statements, noting that “the
[daily] reader sees after the name of a lawbreaker the word ‘Negro’ or
‘colored,’ ” but “never sees the word ‘white’ in this relation.” To illustrate
for whites the cumulative negative impact of linking race with crime, the
editor added “white” to every headline in the morning paper for four
consecutive days in 1911. Fifty headlines were revised; these fi ve were
some of the most interesting:

six on stoop shot by man (white) across street; shoots
detective four times and is shot twice himself (white);
burglar (white) son of banker admits looting eigh teen
homes; ex- policeman (white) caught passing “phony”
check; and policeman (white) accused of extortion.

Adding to the saliency of the editor’s observations was the fact that no
crimes committed by blacks had been reported in the four days of analy-
sis. Sarcastically, the editor concluded, “If it were not for the whites, the
papers would not be worth reading.”222

Daniels was ideologically on the center- right of this emerging liberal
discourse, which was still a counter- discourse rather than the prevailing
one. Given the segregation and discrimination African Americans experi-
enced in their own communities and not on some pages of liberal reform
literature, Daniels’s work veered close to the type of wholesale black de-
nunciation made by racial Darwinists, in spite of his liberal credentials.
For this reason, Lasch- Quinn calls his work “insidious.”223 Daniels wanted
to incorporate and move beyond what Boas and his other liberal peers
had just begun to do. His ideas clearly resonated with the increasing bit-
terness and disappointment many white northerners felt in the face of the



falsity of Hoffman’s predictions. The African American population contin-
ued not only to grow as the twentieth century unfolded, but also to spread
northward, pressing for equality in America’s modern metropolises against
all odds— biological, cultural, and environmental.

In a 1910 essay, as both a personal and a fi gurative testament to
black survival in spite of the white contempt facing black northerners,
Du Bois described in bitter prose the “deep and passionate hatred,” which
he witnessed as a new arrival to New York City shortly before joining
the national staff of the NAACP. “I sit and see the souls of the White Folk
daily shriveling and dying in the fi erce fl ame of this new fanat i cism,” he
wrote. In lieu of an American tradition of moral greatness in the world,
“whiteness” was becoming the new mea sure of the nation’s “thought
and soul”:

Are we not coming more and more day by day to making the state-
ment, ‘I am white,’ the one fundamental tenet of our practical mo-
rality? Only when this basic iron rule is involved is our defense of
right nationwide prompt. Murder may swagger, theft may rule and
prostitution fl ourish, and the nation gives but spasmodic, intermit-
tent and lukewarm attention. But let the murderer be black or the
thief brown or the violator of womanhood have but a drop of Negro
blood, and the righ teousness of the indignation sweeps the world.
Nor would this fact make the indignation less justifi able did not
we all know that it was blackness that was condemned, and not

Here was a picture of modern urbanity in black and white strikingly at
odds with Daniels’s portrait of a color- blind urban America.

Daniels’s work was made possible by the contradictions Boas and
other racial liberals had failed to surmount. They pursued limited reforms
for blacks in spite of their knowledge and their efforts to save whites from
the disintegrating tendencies of modern capitalism that spawned crime
everywhere in urban America. The examples were blatant and abundant:
Corporations bribed city offi cials in exchange for their votes on the ap-
proval of new trolley lines; ward bosses owned or held interests in saloons
where illegal gambling made them rich; po liti cal banquets were indistin-
guishable from black- tie events for or ga nized criminals; judges, juries,
bail bondsmen, and bailiffs sold protection to the well- to- do; police regu-
lated prostitution and policy syndicates by controlling competition in
exchange for middle- class incomes; lawyers and accountants negotiated



Figure 3- 2 “American Logic” depicts the way that the NAACP’s Crisis magazine
began to explicitly identify a double standard in the crime discourse. The “logic”
dictates that crime distinguishes class among whites but treats blacks as an
undifferentiated racial group. Crisis, June 1913.

and recorded the illegal transactions of well- paying clients; small busi-
ness own ers fenced the booty of petty thieves; pharmacists increased
their profi tability by selling over- the- counter cocaine; bellhops, boot-
blacks, cabdrivers, and waiters brought together buyers and sellers of il-
legal goods and ser vices; and nearly all consumers favored the cheaper
prices of stolen merchandise.225 Nevertheless, more than any group in
society, blacks were blamed for America’s fundamental need to have win-
ners and losers or haves and have nots.226 Of the future to come in cities
across the urban North, historian Thomas Sugrue has written that “De-
troit’s postwar urban crisis [in the 1940s] emerged as the consequence of
two of the most important, interrelated, and unresolved problems in
American history: that capitalism generates economic in e qual ity and that
African Americans have disproportionately borne the impact of that
in e qual ity.”227

One of the lessons learned during the Progressive era was that on the
white- side of the color line compassion was crucial to reform. It was a cen-
tral theme in the work of muckraking journalists, liberal social scientists,
and sympathetic settlement workers as they pooled their talents and fought
against the ravages of economic, social, and po liti cal in e qual ity in the in-
dustrial age. Because of the crisis of white crime and immorality in the ur-
ban North, these compassionate men and women called for citywide help
and fi nancial support. For sentimental and sympathetic progressives, white
crime and poverty statistics signaled a call to action. In most instances,
progressives used them to justify intervention against the ideology of social
Darwinist neglect. With nationality so much a part of global industrializa-
tion, they looked beyond race, beyond the distinct histories of each group,
whether Rus sian Jews escaping violence or southern Italians escaping eco-
nomic subjugation. Liberal reformers did not call for parochial crime pre-
vention to address the par tic u lar circumstances of each immigrant group’s
racial and cultural baggage. Settlement workers, for example, fought ecu-
menically against the social causes of native white and immigrant criminal-
ity. They fought, as Du Bois described in 1904, “by all the ways in which
goodness and beauty and truth creep into the human heart.”228



African American researchers and reformers during the Progressive
era might have been known as progressive leaders in their own right had
they had the resources and infl uence of their white liberal peers. As much
as they were in the moment, they were not of it. They were so marginal
as to be nearly invisible. The fi nancial constraints they faced, the color of
their skin, and the fact that they advocated for a group considered by
most white liberals to be, at best, a “ward of civilization,” as Lichten-
berger put it, left them fi ghting for social work and crime prevention
with one hand tied behind their backs. Even when money may have mat-
tered most, the in effec tive ness of their short- lived organizations was not
only a testament to the intractability of the economic and social prob-
lems impacting many black communities, but it also reinforced white lib-
eral notions that incriminating black culture was the best approach to
paving the way for civilization building. For those only recently brought
into the light of civilization, the best way to improve their inherent re-
sources for social control, to become assimilable, as Addams and Kelsey
suggested, was to build cultural “capacity” by internally working out their
own salvation.

The contradiction between racial liberals’ soft pitch for self- segregation
as the key to moral regeneration, and by extension racial advancement,
and their hard line against racial terror and southern- style segregation
was masked by their willingness to listen to and engage black writers and
reformers.229 Most other white reformers and social scientists of the
Progressive era wrote off black experts for being too sentimental and
hopelessly biased and for coddling their own criminals. Equally impor-
tant, these few racial liberals also lent their support to the constitutional
fi ght for racial equality. But the fragile nature of their arguments and
their ambivalence cannot be ignored. Their ambivalence made it easier
for more reactionary forces to simply ignore black suffering and to defi ne
most that was good in the world as “white.”

Ida B. Wells’s experiences with white club women in Chicago revealed
the growing frustration of black researchers and reformers who exposed
the cracked foundations of modern racial liberalism. Wells not only chal-
lenged the “tendency” of white liberals “to be condescending and self-
congratulatory about their ventures into race- relations,” in the words of
her latest biographer Paula Giddings, but she also linked the double stan-
dards in the crime discourse to the realities of the deepening crisis of ra-
cial in e qual ity and racial violence.230 Her protestations were increasingly
seconded by others. The mild- mannered George Edmund Haynes, who



would become the fi rst research director for the NUL in part because he
was not a fi rebrand, wrote in 1913, “Professions of demo cratic justice in
the North, and deeds of individual kindness in the South, have not” been
enough to reverse the rising tide of segregation across the nation.231 Du
Bois had predicted in 1910 that if things continued on the same trajec-
tory, trouble would appear on the horizon. “Eastward and westward
storms are brewing— great, ugly whirlwinds of hatred and blood and
cruelty,” he wrote nearly a de cade before the Red Summer of 1919. “I
will not believe them inevitable. I will not believe that all the shameful
drama of the past must be done again today before the sunlight sweeps
the silver seas.”232

In Philadelphia, where Du Bois fi rst thrust himself into the “shameful
drama of the past” and fi rst studied from the inside out the modern ma-
trix of race, crime, and in e qual ity, storm clouds were indeed brewing. In
the City of Brotherly Love where, Dr. Ball, the local prison doctor, had
fi rst debated Hoffman, the future of race relations was being shaped one
random act of neglect, isolation, and violence at a time. A metropolis of
the nation, the birthplace of modern democracy, and an iconic symbol of
the American creed tied to a history of extending liberty to all who might
seek it, Philadelphia was the perfect place to see on the ground how the
future of race relations came to pass.


Philadelphia’s settlement house workers were positioned on the front
lines of crime prevention during the Progressive era.1 They dealt with the
specter of crime and criminals every day, pursuing crime prevention as
part of their efforts to improve immigrants’ and, to a lesser extent, blacks’
lives in northern cities. In addition to fi ghting the structural causes of
crime, such as bad housing, po liti cal corruption, poor policing, and vice,
they made moral reform a priority. By focusing on the moral character of
the poor people they served, settlement house workers also stigmatized
behavior. Because of their faith in their ability to change individuals’ lives
while also seeking reforms in public policy, their focus on individual be-
havior shifted some attention away from interpreting crime as symptom-
atic of structural inequalities. Where African Americans entered into this
equation, individual moral reform of native- born whites and Eu ro pe an
immigrants gave way to limited racial reform or no reform at all.

Philadelphia was home to the largest population of African Ameri-
cans in any northern city during the Progressive era, a major destination
of southeastern migrants. In raw numbers, it fell to second in black pop-
ulation behind New York in 1920 and then to third behind Chicago in
1930. Through the 1930s, the proportion of African Americans in Phila-
delphia outpaced its big- city competitors on average by a factor of two
to one.2 As a city with a rich tradition of nineteenth- century Quaker lib-
eralism and black elite institution- building, its northern- born black pop-
ulation was among the earliest targets of the so cio log i cal and statistical
crime gaze as a baseline from which to mea sure what southern black
migrants did with their freedom in the urban North. In Frederick L.
Hoffman’s work, in W. E. B. Du Bois’s groundbreaking The Philadelphia
Negro, and in numerous other studies, Philadelphia was one of the most
important black- criminality research sites in the nation.


P R E V E N T I N G C R I M E :





During Du Bois’s eighteen- month stay while researching in a notori-
ously rough neighborhood at the College Settlement House beginning in
1897, he was never assaulted or robbed, although he noted that crime was
all around him and his young bride, and he sounded almost surprised at
their good fortune. Writing about the people among whom he lived, Du
Bois vividly described the fl uidity with which working- class life and
crime melted together:

The corners, night and day, are fi lled with Negro loafers—able-
bodied young men and women, all cheerful, some with good na-
tured, open faces, some with traces of crime and excess, a few
pinched with poverty. They are mostly gamblers, thieves and pros-
titutes, and few have fi xed and steady occupation of any kind.
Some are stevedores, porters, laborers and laundresses. On its face
this slum is noisy and dissipated, but not brutal, although now
and then highway robberies and murderous assaults in other parts
of the city are traced to its denizens. Nevertheless the stranger can
usually walk about here day and night with little fear of being
molested, if he be not too inquisitive.3

Du Bois’s immersion in the haunts of criminals may have brought him
close to danger, but his tame experience was more the rule than the ex-
ception for settlement house residents.

Susan Wharton, a board member at the College Settlement House, il-
lustrates the sensitivity that some white settlement house reformers brought
to the subject of crime among immigrants and blacks. In the opening para-
graphs of the 1900 annual report of the Starr Centre, she described the
situation in far more nuanced terms than did many writers like Hoffman,
who were strictly on the outside looking in. That Wharton lived only a
few blocks away from the people to whom she attended in South Phila-
delphia may have given her a discerning eye. “That many persons living in
this neighborhood are criminals in the eye of the law cannot be denied,”
she wrote, “that many are not criminals, and are striving to lead a right
life in the face of fearful conditions, is equally certain.”4

South Philadelphia was home to a wide array of southern and eastern
Eu ro pe an immigrants, southern black migrants, and white and black old
Philadelphians. Characteristic of preindustrial walking cities, Philadel-
phia’s neighborhoods south of Market Street— the main dividing line
between the northern and southern halves of the city— were separated by
insurmountable class barriers no wider than a typical brick- laid street.



Pine Street, for example, was a visible border separating poverty from
prosperity. Many of the homes beginning at Pine and proceeding north
were built for the wealthy in the early nineteenth century. Wharton lived
one- third of a block north of Pine on Clinton Street. Built in 1836, Clin-
ton was a model street for wealthy families who wanted to escape the
hustle and buzz of the downtown business district just four major blocks
to the north at Market Street. The homes on Clinton, with their “care-
fully designed doorways and the contrast of white trim against red brick,
enhanced by overhanging shade trees, made this one of the most charm-
ing streets in the city.”5

Poverty had its model thoroughfares as well. To children especially,
south of Pine Street was a world unto itself; Pine represented the end of
the known universe.6 Lombard Street extending from the Delaware
River, the city’s easternmost border, to Broad Street, where City Hall was
built at the intersection with Market Street between 1870 and 1900, was
a major corridor of dilapidated homes, disorderly houses, and charity
experiments. At 7th and Lombard, the Starr Centre, established in 1897,
stood at an intersection of municipal neglect, limited economic opportu-
nity, and social isolation. It was home to some of Philadelphia’s most
troubled residents.

Through her daily work at the settlement house, where she transcended
the enormous barriers of class, space, and time to help South Philadel-
phia’s poor blacks and immigrants, Wharton noted in 1900 that the area
surrounding the center had been a laboratory for social reform, a place
where “literally all kinds of experiments ha[d] been tried” but without
positive effect. Instead, the people here were “more dependent [and]
more conscious of being objects of pity,” which left them with less moti-
vation and fewer reasons to be hopeful. “From the ineffectual raid of the
police to the sentimental almsgiving of the visitor,” Wharton wrote,
seemingly exasperated, “everything seems to have had its day.”7 The 1907
annual report of the Starr Centre mocked the per sis tent poverty at its
doors when it noted that the only luxury that could be found in this slum
were the “abundant children.”8 Four years later little had changed; the
center remained in “a district with a good deal of bad history, and an
insistent present need for uplifting forces.”9

The Starr Centre was not the only uplifting agency on Lombard
Street. The venerable Mother Bethel church stood at 6th and Lombard as
a beacon of hope and an outward sign to old black residents that things
really did change, despite how much they appeared to stay the same. The



men and women who supported the church had done more than survive;
they had prospered to the extent that they were able to build a bigger
and more charitable church.10 Mother Bethel, built by Richard Allen in
1816, was the fi rst church of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.)
denomination. The country’s fi rst in de pen dent black denomination in the
North, it had successfully severed all ties to the white Methodists of
Philadelphia who had subjected their fellow black Christians to institu-
tional racism.11

Almost perfectly centered between Mother Bethel and the Starr Cen-
tre, half a block south of Lombard on 7th Street, was the headquarters of
the Octavia Hill Association (OHA). Neither a settlement house nor a
church, the OHA, founded in 1896, was a housing renewal or ga ni za-
tion and another attempt to improve neighborhood conditions. On and
around Lombard Street and deeper into South Philadelphia, the OHA
targeted the most “insanitary, delapidated [sic], and over- crowded dwell-
ings” for complete renovation through purchase or management.12 Using
its motto—“Philanthropy and 4 per cent”— the OHA set out to raise funds,
buy property, renovate both the physical condition of the housing and the
moral fi ber of the tenants, and give its supporters a 4 percent return on
their philanthropic investment. More than any other progressive reform
or ga ni za tion in Philadelphia at the time, the OHA illustrated the extent
to which poverty did not evoke passionate reform from private or public
sources. In the context of limited local government attempts to fi ght pov-
erty and social Darwinism, the OHA made charity an investment rather
than a handout.13 Noting in a 1902 pamphlet how important decent hous-
ing was to the health of a city and the “standard of the citizens toward their
work and toward the city,” an offi cial wrote that it was “almost hopeless
to expect a man who is living under bad conditions to do anything worth
while [sic].”14

The Starr Centre and the OHA shared more than a common concern
for inspiring impoverished South Philadelphians to respectable living
through modest structural improvement and moral uplift; the Starr Cen-
tre also rented from the OHA. The director of the OHA, Mrs. William F.
Jenks, resided on the 900 block of Clinton Street with Susan Wharton.
These reformers and their agencies in par tic u lar were clearly cut from the
same progressive cloth. Primarily as vehicles of neighborhood improve-
ment, the agencies conducted a wide range of anticrime activities, if seen in
the broadest light. That is, in the pro cess of implementing standard pro-
gressive reforms such as social and moral training, industrial education,



fi scal management, housing improvement, and po liti cal reform, neigh-
borhood reformers attacked the root causes of crime. The Starr Centre,
for example, offered classes in parenting, provided supervised recreation,
and visited homes as three direct attempts at improving the moral envi-
ronment of at- risk youth. Too many young children, reformers noted,
were left at home alone or under the care of adolescents who could not
properly behave themselves, let alone adequately supervise their younger

Wharton described the methods and goals of one of the Starr Centre’s
premier programs. Consisting entirely of black families, the Coal Club
was a cooperative discount- buying program. Rather than having indi-
viduals buy coal by the bucket at the most expensive rates, the Starr
Centre bought coal in bulk based on weekly collections from club mem-
bers. Each member then received his or her share of coal at the discounted
rate. Although the immediate goal of the Coal Club was member savings,
visitors achieved the more signifi cant objective through weekly collections.
Wharton wrote, “Our visitors go nominally to collect savings, [but] really
to infl uence the lives of the families among whom they visit.”15 Home visit-
ing formed the centerpiece of the Starr Centre’s work among “the sub-
merged tenth.”16 In exchange for modest social ser vice benefi ts through
direct contact and infl uence, evil habits and conditions were literally
checked at the front door.

The Octavia Hill Association’s complement to the Starr Centre’s Coal
Club visitor was the friendly rent collector. As the own er or manager of a
renovated property, the OHA sent trained female rent collectors to do so-
cial work and raise tenants’ standard of living.17 In many cases, the OHA
limited its remodeled housing and direct contact to those who were appar-
ently redeemable and “deserving.” “All of our tenants are thoroughly in-
vestigated before they are accepted,” announced an offi cial.18 In buildings
whose tenants were identifi ed as “lawless” or whose premises were used
for “immoral purposes,” renovations waited until the riffraff departed or
were evicted. Property acquisitions might even be delayed where a negligent
own er condoned bad tenants. OHA offi cials, for example, waited until a
“well- to- do negro” died before buying his property in 1903. Then they
evicted “a disreputable class” of his black tenants who riotously drank and
gambled “often on the very steps of the houses.” The OHA replaced the
evicted tenants with “very poor Polish immigrants who . . . proved satis-
factory and very appreciative of their homes.”19



It comes as no surprise that the OHA drew a sharper line than did the
Starr Centre between tenants considered likely criminals and the respect-
able poor. Money may have mattered most in OHA’s case since it spent
thousands of dollars to acquire and renovate its properties. It seems that
from the association’s perspective, it was one thing to make affordable,
decent housing available to poor people by eliminating slumlords and
absentee landlords; it was quite another to turn around and give the im-
proved housing to misbehaving tenants who were unlikely to pay their rent
on time or at all. In this way, crime prevention viewed broadly in the con-
text of Progressive era reforms was often limited to “deserving” individuals,
an action that simultaneously stigmatized the “undeserving,” leading to
further social isolation and in e qual ity for a subgroup of the poor.20

In their public addresses and pamphlets, OHA reformers in par tic u lar
highlighted criminality to the point that it sometimes overshadowed the
miserable conditions that had caught their attention in the fi rst place. Their
rhetoric sometimes betrayed their stated concern for moral uplift through
housing reform because it seemed to justify excluding the people who
needed decent housing most. For example, in a 1902 pamphlet the OHA
characterized the Irish tenants in one of its properties as “destructive.”
Citing individual examples, the writer gave the impression that Irish men
and women were heavy drinkers. While the men worked as longshore-
men during the day, the women traffi cked in illegal liquor or rented space
for gambling. Worse still, their children did not attend school, and many
of the truant boys were in gangs that stole lead pipes to sell as scrap and
that vandalized vacant houses.21 A pamphlet titled “Distinctive Features
of the Octavia Hill Association” mentioned the 1903 purchase and reno-
vation of a disgraceful heap passing as a four- story brick house that had
been occupied by a “low, shiftless class of negroes, living without super-
vision or control.”22 In a third case, at a 1913 meeting of the National Civic
Federation in Washington, D.C., convened to discuss that city’s alley hous-
ing situation— where the poorest of the poor lived— the OHA bragged of
its successful housing reform in two predominately black courts behind
Mother Bethel church. “These two courts were of large notoriety and har-
bored some of the worst elements of the neighborhood,” noted the OHA

This last statement fi t with the overall conclusions drawn by experts
on the alley housing problem in Washington, D.C., that the costs to the
nation’s capital of too few decent homes were disproportionately high



rates of illegitimacy, mortality, and crime among blacks. Albeit in a small
mea sure, the OHA had contributed to a national forum that emphasized
improving bad housing as much as it did eliminating black criminals. To
be sure, the district’s housing reformers were on the side of the little people.
They answered “nay” to the question of whether the people of the alleys,
many of whom were “shiftless” and “some vicious,” deserved capital pun-
ishment for their “shortcomings.”24 Yet their practices refl ected the type
of slippery thinking that shifted criminality from being considered a
symptom of structural in e qual ity to being considered the cause. The criti-
cal fact was that there was not enough adequate housing, regardless of
people’s overall respectability. That criminals could be found among the
struggling black poor of D.C. or Philadelphia was not a legitimate justifi –
cation for poor people’s miserable housing conditions.

Reformers’ judgments regarding crime among blacks as an excuse
for inaction seem harsh, given the bleak social and economic conditions
people faced, and considering that the reformers were intimately familiar
with the almost conspiratorial neglect of po liti cally impotent neighbor-
hoods by city offi cials and the blatant exploitation by real estate own ers
and their agents. The OHA’s carefully prepared investigations for local
business leaders, regional conferences, and the Pennsylvania state legisla-
ture demonstrate its commitment to publicizing the need for housing re-
form, but at the cost to blacks of confl ating slum conditions and crimi-
nality. In a 1916 summary of its latest research regarding the general area
surrounding its headquarters, the OHA stated: “Densest negro popula-
tion, dangerous for women to go into, surface drainage of the most fl a-
grant and revolting kind, privy vaults almost universal.”25 As much as
crime was a legitimate concern among reformers, the police, and resi-
dents in par tic u lar, there was no obvious connection between the need
for indoor plumbing and the potential for harm to women in a crowded
black neighborhood— unless, to mostly native white reformers, one ipso
facto meant the other.

That was precisely the thinking of the University Settlement House of
the University of Pennsylvania, which announced the near completion
of a new settlement house at 26th and Lombard in May 1906. Just east of
the university campus and across the Schuylkill River, the University
Settlement stated proudly that it was “not doing slum work.” “The boys
and young men” whom it sought to uplift were of a distinctly better class
than those found in a “low, fi lthy, quarter of a city or town, a street or
place where debouched [sic] and criminal persons live or resort.”26 The



reference was to an area like 7th and Lombard, where the Starr Centre
and OHA were located— an area that in addition to its “fi lthy” conditions
and crime also had a large, struggling black population. Consequently,
for University of Pennsylvania students who “avail[ed] themselves of the
opportunity to study human nature from every conceivable point [of]
view,” one view was not represented because poor blacks were not among
the “young men and women on the east bank of the river.”27 If they had
been, the area would have been considered a slum and therefore off lim-
its, according to the University Settlement’s own defi nition. “Slum devel-
opment,” an internal report noted, was “most characteristic in neighbor-
hoods invaded by [a] low grade negro element.”28

Whether they redlined these communities or not, many of Philadel-
phia’s early settlement workers showed little reluctance to narrowly de-
fi ne black residential areas in terms of their crime. The Eighth Ward Settle-
ment House, founded in 1897, the same year as the Starr Centre, and
located about fi ve blocks away, specialized in helping “low grade negro[es].”
According to its head social worker, Francis R. Bartholomew, the surround-
ing community was almost entirely all black, with the Negro “at his worst.”
Here, she wrote, was a “degraded” community that was an embarrassment
to its race. Bartholomew argued that because there were few exceptional
blacks in the neighborhood, evildoing confi rmed pop u lar images of a
crime- infested community. The combination of real crime in the neighbor-
hood and the ste reo type of innate black criminality was, in her opinion,
“the most serious menace to the progress of the Negro race.”29

To Bartholomew, as to so many other racialist writers of the post-
Reconstruction period, crime had become a defi ning characteristic of
the Negro Problem. Southerners used crime to justify disfranchisement,
lynching, and Jim Crow segregation; northerners used it to justify mu-
nicipal neglect, joblessness, and residential segregation. To an extent,
race and crime experts at the national level were blind to the com-
plexities of local causes and conditions. With a few exceptions like Jane
Addams, Susan Wharton, and some of the contributors to the 1905
Charities report on black conditions in northern cities, many nationally
recognized experts did not live among the people they studied. Instead,
they relied heavily on Census Bureau statistics and recycled data from
local experts that supported their interpretations.30 Therefore, the char-
acterizations of black neighborhoods by reformers like Bartholomew
and offi cials at Octavia Hill and University Settlement traveled well be-
yond city limits.



Bartholomew’s spirited concerns about crime, however, cannot be
easily categorized as the product of her own racism. She blamed a
“degraded white element”— corrupt white male politicians and white fe-
male prostitutes— for contributing to the bad moral condition of the
neighborhood.31 Wharton agreed entirely with this assessment of whites
as contributors to the downward trajectory of the community, stating that
in general whites took advantage of blacks. Through insurance schemes
and below- market wages, whites worked blacks “for everything they are
worth.” Taking into consideration the “pessimistic attitude of the public,”
newspapers’ negative portrayals of blacks as “dishonest and easily infl u-
enced,” and a segregated housing market where many blacks are “fortu-
nate if they fi nd themselves in a decent alley,” Wharton concluded that the
“repressive policy of our cities is fast making criminals.”32 During the fi rst
de cade of the twentieth century, in Manhattan’s San Juan Hill district, a
mixed black and immigrant community, settlement house reformer Mary
White Ovington observed that even immigrant youths degraded black
youths by way of fi sticuffs and racial epithets.33 Even though these local
observers offered nuanced depictions of crime in black neighborhoods
and often disagreed with national experts about who or what was ulti-
mately to blame, they helped to cement black criminality as a founda-
tional problem built into the very structure of urban black communities.

The extent to which this root crime problem represented a racial
problem for blacks can also be mea sured by contrasting settlement work-
ers’ views of crime among immigrants and native whites in Philadelphia.
Unlike black neighborhoods, poor white neighborhoods were not so easily
characterized by the predominance of one foreign group. Although Phila-
delphia had mixed areas of blacks and immigrants prior to the Great
Migration as did New York City and Chicago, blacks were still more
segregated in the city than any one foreign group.34 With the exception
of Casa Ravello, opened for Italians in 1907 by the Starr Centre, no
other settlement house studied here claimed to serve the needs of a single
nonnative group.35 Many settlement houses in Philadelphia were similar
to Jane Addams’s Hull House, which served all immigrants’ needs on
Chicago’s polyglot West Side.36 As long as the neighborhoods themselves
were mixed, the settlement houses were also mixed. Therefore, because
of their heterogeneous populations, immigrant communities were more
diffi cult to stigmatize by the criminality of one group. Immigrant groups
were occasionally singled out for their racial inferiority, as was the case



in a 1910 memorandum by OHA offi cials describing Polish Catholics as
a “race more ignorant than Jews and with much lower standards of liv-
ing.”37 But by and large, and in comparison to African Americans, whole
immigrant neighborhoods were almost never condemned because of an
easily identifi able misbehaving foreign element.

The College Settlement House (CSH) was one of Philadelphia’s oldest
privately run social work agencies. Three branches were located deep in
South Philadelphia, either on or near Christian Street (a half mile south
of Lombard), which marked a corridor for social work primarily among
immigrants. Head social worker Anna F. Davies referred to this inner- city
area as the nation’s new frontier with “perils more destructive than the
western frontiersman ever knew.”38 The 1904 annual report of the CSH
described the neighborhood conditions at its riverfront branch at 502 S.
Front Street this way: “cheap lodging- houses, saloons and furnished-
room houses, it stands against a background dark with economic and
moral depression and depravity.”39 Although the annual report mentioned
that native whites, Jews, Italians, and Irish lived in the area, no group
was blamed for the “wharf rats” and “gutter rats” that “discredited” the
neighborhood. The CSH pointed out that its volunteers stood guard at
the branch, “letting in the right ones and keeping out the wrong ones,”
but there was no attempt to stigmatize the race, ethnicity, or nationality
of troublemakers who were turned away more than others.40

Instead CSH offi cials emphasized troubled race relations between
groups. A “drunken” Irish woman randomly mocked a Jew when she
“pulled his beard.” He attempted to cane her in response, but hit the wrong
person, resulting in an exchange on the “relative merits of Jew and Chris-
tian.” In another skirmish of epithets, an Irish vendor called a Jewish woman
a “Christ Killer” because she offered him fi ve cents rather than six for a
box of strawberries. Native white children also showed fl ashes of anti-
Semitism when they frequently threw things at Jewish peddlers.41

Police offi cials recognized the CSH’s attempts to minimize intergroup
confrontations through activities at the house, even if they could not agree
on how effective the activities were at reducing crime. In one instance, a
police lieutenant praised the CSH, noting that “we don’t have nearly so
many boys arrested since that house was opened.”42 But in another in-
stance, a police offi cer jokingly commented, “Yes, you have ’em in there
singing and things like that [but] then they come out and go through
somebody’s pockets.”43 CSH offi cials argued that this behavior was a



Figure 4- 1 Photo depicting the impoverished youth of the Friends Neighborhood
Guild. Note that nearly every child is without shoes and without nationality. 1901
Annual Report of the Friends Neighborhood Guild, courtesy of the Friends
Historical Library of Swarthmore College.

refl ection of the need for “better grade Americans” to teach “good”
Americanization rather than “bad.”44 Because of the impact of po liti cal
corruption and vice, CSH offi cials believed that responsibility for street
crime was “far more widely distributed throughout the community than
[was] readily acknowledged.”45

On the other side of Market Street, completely across town in North
Philadelphia, the North House Association (NHA) had been helping its
largely native white and immigrant neighbors fi nd jobs and improve their
moral character since the 1870s. The NHA described the people who used
its facilities as the “stagnant backwater of humanity.” Although the NHA
was more explicit that the newest arrivals— Russian Jews and Polish
Catholics— were “neither good neighbors nor good citizens,” its staff
could not decide whether the newcomers had “ruined the neighborhood,
or conditions of life here [had] ruined them.” Shifting attention away
from the new immigrants, the NHA pointed out that the majority of the
people in the neighborhood living in the worst housing were in fact
“worn- out Americans.” White men of few skills, without ambition or the
desire for training, who lacked steady work but often drank their wages,
these people were, according to the NHA, physically and mentally
“stunted” and “entirely undeveloped morally.” But as troubled as the
men were, the NHA, unlike the OHA or University Settlement House,
did not view their “immorality” as a justifi cation for not trying to help
them. Furthermore, they were not deemed a menace to the progress
of the white race, nor were their Rus sian or Polish counterparts represen-
tative failures.46

White settlement houses chose not to defi ne their work in racial terms.
For example, the Friends Neighborhood Guild (FNG) defi ned its North
Philadelphia “mission work” in terms of saving the children of the poor
from the “classes of the indifferent poor and even criminals.”47 Despite
working primarily among “ignorant and work- driven” foreign groups,
the FNG identifi ed its goals as “civic and social progress” rather than as
racial progress.48 Prior to the 1920s there were almost no blacks in-
volved with the FNG, which may partly explain the absence of racial



rhetoric. In that sense, downplaying racial characteristics was consistent
with the Americanization goals of most settlement houses. The FNG en-
visioned its immigrant young people becoming full- blooded Americans.
Through summer fi eld trips to the Zoological Gardens, Atlantic City, and
West Point Academy, offered as “reward[s] of merit” for good attendance
and behavior, FNG offi cials broadened the horizons of their future fellow
citizens. Some were even taken to the nation’s capital. After completing a
three- day trip to Washington, D.C., in June 1901, one of four teenagers
who visited President William McKinley told his mother, “I’ll be the bet-
ter all my life for that trip.”49 The trip may or may not have changed the
young man’s life forever, but it certainly suggested to him and other na-
tive white and immigrant youth at the FNG how much was in store for
the well behaved.

These small examples of positive reinforcement speak volumes about
the optimistic attitude of many settlement workers toward wayward native
white and immigrant youth, especially since, according to FNG rec ords,
so many of them were in trouble with the law. In response, the FNG ob-
tained a probation offi cer in 1903 to investigate children’s cases and
advise them in court.50 After more than a de cade, young people were still
getting in trouble with the law, according to an FNG report that indi-
cated that the importance of the FNG as a crime- prevention agency
was not to be understated, “witnessed by the number of boys of all ages
who must report to the probation offi cers who have their eve ning offi ce
hours at the FNG.” That same year, after “much debate,” the FNG
installed pool tables at its headquarters for boys to meet “night after
night, rather than on street corners, or in commercial pool rooms.”51
Thirteen- and fourteen- year- old working girls were also targeted for
crime prevention. Concerned that too many attended the “cheap dances
and theaters of the neighborhood” with their “done- up hair,” the FNG
established a Department for the Older Girls, subjecting them to “moral
and educational talks.”52 The “sex susceptibility” and “spirit of adven-
ture” among Philadelphia’s white female youth began to draw as much
thoughtful attention as Addams was calling for in Chicago.53 The FNG
even did “rescue” work. Young women “found to be living an immoral
life” were sent to the Society to Protect Children from Cruelty, where
it was hoped, they would be placed in “good homes.”54 Considering the
amount of time and energy the FNG devoted to crime prevention among
immigrants, its reluctance to link race (or ethnicity) and crime is all the
more striking when compared to organizations dealing with blacks.



Figure 4- 2 “The Washington Party” captures the Americanization project among
the older boys of the Friends Neighborhood Guild in real time. From the slum to
the White House, their visit to President William McKinley demonstrates the
powerful resources that settlement house workers marshaled to enrich the
American dreams of Eu ro pe an immigrants. 1901 Annual Report of the Friends
Neighborhood Guild, courtesy of the Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore

The social workers and probation offi cers in the midst of the daily
grind of crime prevention within settlements like the FNG may not have
seen their good works as the building blocks of white privilege. Righting
the wrongs of troubled teens by showing them that playing by the rules
might lead them all the way to the White House was no minor demon-
stration of their humanity and worth as future law- abiding citizens. The
message was that the sky was the limit. The same could hardly be said for
African Americans, whether at- risk youths or the most respected black man
in America. Four months after the FNG teens visited President McKinley,
and one month after his assassination, Booker T. Washington dined with
President Theodore Roo se velt at the White House. The “Dinner Incident,”
as it was billed by the press, was intended to be a gesture of goodwill by
the new president and an opportunity to secure Washington’s help in



selecting a few conservative black Republicans for federal appointments
in the South. It turned into a racial scandal. Southern journalists and poli-
ticians howled in outrage and described the dinner as an affront to white
supremacy. So did some white northerners. In response to the incident, a
New Jersey letter to the New York Times cautioned, “The Anglo Saxon
race and the negro must reach their destinies in this country along paral-
lel lines, let us trust, but with the lines never approaching to social unity.”
Washington never again dined at the White House, and a generation would
pass before any other black man did. Although the national press buzz
quieted after a few weeks, echoes of the event resounded for years. The
New York Times reported in March 1905, for example, just as Roo se velt
was about to be inaugurated for a second term, that a white high school
student in a Washington, D.C., En glish class chose to demonstrate how to
use the word debased in a sentence by writing “Roo se velt debased him-
self by eating with a nigger.”55 Whether at the level of presidential poli-
tics or local crime prevention, Progressive era racism was not an ab-
straction, even if the dots did not always connect clearly.

The complicated ways in which white progressive reformers responded
to the needs of immigrants versus blacks were rarely as stark as the picture
drawn by national race experts like Frederick Hoffman and John Daniels
or as suggested by the “Dinner Incident.”56 Reformers did not necessarily
go out of their way to ste reo type and discriminate against poor blacks,
though some obviously did. Instead, many paid no attention to a group of
impoverished blacks that suffered greater isolation and in e qual ity than im-
migrants. If poverty and social isolation were the only conditions for re-
ceiving social welfare assistance, African Americans would have been the
overwhelming recipients in many city agencies, but even in the same neigh-
borhoods, many organizations turned the other way.

The subtle ways in which broader notions of black inferiority wid-
ened the gap between white reformers’ views of black criminality and their
views of immigrant criminality may be understood in one sense as the
difference between an instinctive thought pro cess and a refl exive one. For
example, in his 1907 study of race relations, journalist Ray Stannard Baker
described being struck by the “greater prejudice against the coloured man”
in regard to his criminality as compared to the immigrant. A Philadelphia
grand jury presentment, he wrote, had called for “some mea sures” to be
taken against a “crime wave” perpetrated by the “undesirable alien and the
irresponsible coloured person.” The newspaper reported the story under



the headline “Negro Crime Abnormal” and made absolutely no mention
of “the alien” at all. “When I inquired at the prosecutor’s offi ce about the
presentment,” Baker recalled, “I was told: ‘Oh, the dagoes are just as bad
as the Negroes.’ ”57 When confronted face- to- face with such contradic-
tions, many white progressives may have said the same, but in more ways
than one— as writers and as reformers— their actions spoke louder than
their words.

Consequently, there were clear differences in the way that settlement
house workers defi ned black people’s behavior as a racial problem in
addition to a moral problem. The added element of racial thinking set
blacks apart from immigrants and native whites, which intensifi ed the
stigmatization of black crime and made successful crime prevention among
blacks appear more improbable and unlikely. This was so much the case
that some settlement houses either avoided blacks altogether, like the
University Settlement House, or deemed some blacks too unworthy for
reform, like the Octavia Hill Association, or, in the case of the Eighth
Ward Settlement, focused so heavily on the need for racial advance-
ment that structural reform in a black neighborhood was barely on the

This third effect marked the clearest difference in crime prevention on
behalf of immigrants and native whites compared to blacks. Despite the
common strategy of rhetorically attacking the structural causes of crime
but in reality pursuing goals that emphasized individual moral reform,
organizations like the College Settlement House and Friends Neighbor-
hood Guild still promoted avenues of opportunity for immigrants and
native whites. Historian Thomas Philpott describes a similar situation in
Chicago: “Among social workers and reformers, none were more con-
scious of Negro conditions than the leaders of the settlement movement.
No other group of whites was so concerned about blacks nor so free of
contempt for them. If the settlement workers were not ready to treat Ne-
groes the same as other ethnic groups, then no white Chicagoans were.”58

The racial thinking and rhetoric of progressive reformers that often
accompanied crime prevention among blacks was a refl ection of and a
contribution to the growing racism and segregation that black Philadel-
phians increasingly faced during the fi rst de cade of the twentieth century.
In other words, blacks’ social and economic status in the urban North was
on a downward trajectory compared to the status of new immigrants.59
Blacks, therefore, could not afford to yield any ground to conservative

Figure 4- 3 Staged charity photo of black children as pickaninnies, complete
with protruding bright white eyes, eating watermelon in the yard of the
Pennsylvania Society for Protecting Children from Cruelty. The racialized
depiction of needy black youth draws on pop u lar racist imagery as a stark
reminder of the fundamental differences in black and white poverty. Charities,
October 7, 1905.



interests who never doubted blacks’ innate criminal tendencies and in-
ability to survive in the industrial North, nor could struggling blacks
avoid being victims of what Wharton observed was the “repressive pol-
icy of our cities [that] is fast making criminals.”60 Too many “friends of
the Negro” in Philadelphia were ultimately too ambivalent about ra-
cial differences, as opposed to nationality differences, to stem the tide of
black repression, thereby in effec tive ly preventing crime among blacks.
Instead, they emphasized the need for racial progress, albeit through self-
improvement rather than structural reform.61

Unlike several of their contemporaries in the local settlement house move-
ment, some reformers in Philadelphia approached the twin evils of re-
pression and crime with a much clearer understanding of their mutual
dependence. During the Progressive era they emerged as part of a broader
movement of interracial organizations on the national level, such as the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (1910) and
the National Urban League (1910), and of local organizations in Phila-
delphia, such as the Association for the Protection of Colored Women
(1905), the Armstrong Association (1908), and the Association for Equal-
izing Industrial Opportunities and League of Civic and Po liti cal Reform
(1910). Within the context of these national and local movements to stem
the tide of repression against blacks, many reformers placed black crimi-
nality at the heart of their work.

When the leaders of what would become the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People decided to issue a call for a confer-
ence on racism in 1909, disfranchisement and racial violence had been
sweeping through the South for over two de cades.62 Given that each south-
ern state from Texas to North Carolina had adopted the equivalent of
omnibus anti- black legislation, there was no end in sight to the South’s
white supremacy campaigns. From the North’s perspective, the South had
a monumental race problem, but most white northerners were inclined to
do little about it. Since the Supreme Court had offi cially sanctioned seg-
regation with its landmark “separate but equal” ruling in the 1896 case
of Plessy v. Ferguson, the North had been justifi ed in leaving the South
to its own devices. There were, however, white northerners who were
sympathetic to the plight of black southerners and who contributed
time, money, or both to industrial education. Booker T. Washington,
principal of Tuskegee Institute, had made his famous “Separation of the
Races” speech in Atlanta, Georgia, the year before the highest law of the



land codifi ed second- class citizenship for African Americans. Washing-
ton’s speech helped defi ne the times, advising blacks to forsake their po-
liti cal rights and social freedoms by learning how to use their hands ef-
fi ciently and profi tably. Washington, Tuskegee, and industrial education
in general became major targets for white northerners who turned away
from the South’s abrogation of the Constitution’s Fourteenth and Fif-
teenth amendments to look toward the training of a vast pool of pro-
ductive “free” black agricultural and industrial workers. Following in
the wake of the Civil War’s hideous devastation, many whites, northern
and southern, thought that the nation fi nally appeared to be moving
forward as one.

Whites were not mistaken. The most telling sign of this new national
unity was an increase of racial violence in the North. The small minority
of white northerners and infi nitesimal number of blacks who signed the
call for a race conference in Cooperstown, New York, had already seen
much bloodshed in May 1908 with the “eighty injuries, six fatal shoot-
ings and two lynchings” from a race riot in Springfi eld, Illinois, home of
Abraham Lincoln.63 Naming their conference after Lincoln, they wrote
in the conference call that the nation had failed to “live up to the obliga-
tion imposed upon it by the Emancipation proclamation” because of a
“spread of lawless attacks upon the [N]egro, North, South and West.”
Recognizing widespread public apathy in the face of such violence, the
call warned that “silence under these conditions, mean[t] tacit approval.”64
The call set out to reignite the fi re of nineteenth- century abolitionism and
marshal the advanced scientifi c guard of twentieth- century progressivism
in order to uphold the civil and po liti cal rights of millions of Americans.

The list of signers was impressive, including Ida B. Wells, Jane Addams,
and W. E. B. Du Bois. In addition to attending as Philadelphia’s own na-
tional expert at the conference, Susan Wharton of the Starr Centre was a
participant in this new movement. It probably came as no surprise to
other Philadelphia reformers that Wharton identifi ed with the nascent
NAACP, given her exceptional commitment to blacks and their point
of view.

By the time the NAACP became a formal or ga ni za tion in 1910,
Wharton had begun to sever most ties with the Starr Centre after receiv-
ing lukewarm support for her proposal to open a new center for blacks
in the Thirtieth Ward.65 While pursuing her plans, the Starr Centre’s
board members expressed their unwillingness to broaden the or ga ni za-



tion’s reach to accommodate the shifting population of blacks from the
Seventh Ward to the neighboring Thirtieth Ward.66 In 1912 board mem-
bers voted to offi cially break all fi nancial ties to Wharton’s new branch,
concluding that it was “unwise . . . to undertake at present so large a
work for the Colored People.”67 Their decision appeared to be more than
a practical matter of funding. It was consistent with the increasing segre-
gation in Philadelphia that pushed blacks west and north from their his-
toric home in the Seventh Ward. The Starr Centre’s head social worker,
Jane Rushmore, admitted in 1910 that economic conditions in Philadel-
phia were worsening for blacks while “race prejudice is always vigor-
ously pushing them back.” She also hinted that the Starr Centre would
do even less for blacks who had not moved because experience had shown
that working with the “slum negro” was not a “useful fi eld.”68 Explaining
Rushmore’s comment, Lucy Barber, a student of white Philadelphia re-
formers, argues that the “spread of an ideology of racial segregation
in Philadelphia” also contributed to the failure of “social ser vices to dis-
tinguish between personal failures of individual blacks and group oppres-
sion.”69 Because Philadelphia’s mixed immigrant and black neighbor-
hoods were giving way to segregation, settlement houses and other social
agencies in South Philadelphia were free to concentrate on a growing
population of immigrants. The Starr Centre had already opened its Casa
Revello branch for Italians in the winter of 1907, noting in an annual
report that Italians were victims of “circumstance” and were “isolated
among those with whom they ha[d] come to dwell.”70 Disdain for the
“slum Negro” and uncertainty about whether blacks were victims of cir-
cumstance or agents of their own suffering led the Starr Centre to abandon
them four years later. Wharton’s experience as a former board member
and worker at the Starr Centre, and now as head social worker of the
newly opened Whittier Centre for the Study and Practical Solutions of
Negro City Problems, gave the Lincoln Conference an updated perspec-
tive on Du Bois’s fi ndings of a de cade before.

As a mea sure of the changing times among social workers, Du Bois
noted in his Philadelphia research that charity work among blacks was
fairly generous by comparison to job opportunities. By 1910 both were
in short supply. In the late 1890’s, he explained how shamelessly many
Philadelphians barred blacks from good jobs, yet supported charity. “The
same Philadelphian who would not let a Negro work in his store or mill
will contribute handsomely to relieve Negroes in poverty and distress,”



Du Bois wrote. After citing dozens of specifi c examples of qualifi ed blacks
denied jobs because of their skin color, Du Bois made a convincing argu-
ment that most white Philadelphians preferred two kinds of blacks— the
common laborer and the charity case. Barely hiding his outrage at this
injustice, Du Bois strongly suggested that crime was the city’s “penalty”
for its prejudice: “How long can a city say to a part of its citizens, ‘It is
useless to work; it is fruitless to deserve well of men; education will gain
you nothing but disappointment and humiliation?’ How long can a city
teach its black children that the road to success is to have a white face?
How long can a city do this and escape the inevitable penalty?”71
Similarly warning about the danger to northern cities resulting from the
Negroes’ “economic handicap,” Kelly Miller, a Howard University soci-
ologist, wrote in 1906 that “When these cities are threatened with such
frightful death rate and crime rate among this neglected class they should
remember that it is but the logical outcome of the hard industrial lot.”72
That Du Bois named this not- so- easily- detected paradox “contempt and
pity” before the turn of the century reveals the quick pace of Philadel-
phia’s embrace of black repression during the next de cade.73 Looking
back from Wharton’s perspective at the time of the conference, Philadel-
phia’s overall feeling toward blacks might then have been more accu-
rately described as contempt and loathing.

James Stemons, a Philadelphia postal clerk, writer, and reformer, also
brought new evidence of northern repression to the Lincoln Conference.
As Du Bois had done earlier, Stemons complained loudest about the
failure of northern industries to open decent jobs to blacks. Besides work
in domestic and personal ser vice, “what opportunity,” he asked, “has the
average Negro for working to make an honest living in any northern lo-
cality?”74 Even ser vice work was disappearing for many blacks.75 “Negro
waiters” were no longer being employed in many “fi rst class hotel[s] or
restaurant[s],” according to Stemons. Choosing instead to take advan-
tage of surplus labor from the new immigration, especially in New York
and Philadelphia, these places often showed their contempt for blacks
by displaying Jim Crow signs on menus and “conspicuous places” that
read “None but white help employed in this establishment.” The same
movement was afoot in the employment of “colored domestics,” Stemons
continued. Newspaper classifi eds revealed their shrinking job prospects:
Blacks placed the majority of ads “asking for domestic positions, both
males and females,” while a “large percentage” of postings read “none but



white need apply.” Concluding his speech, Stemons said that elevating
the industrial status of blacks to be equal to “other citizens” was a “prob-
lem which demands the immediate attention of this conference.”76

As a local race man, Stemons spoke about what he knew. He had so-
licited local employers to hire qualifi ed black workers; campaigned for
Pennsylvania Demo crats during the presidential election of 1908; written
articles for newspapers; edited his own journal for a short time, for
which he was featured in the 1908 Colored Directory of Philadelphia;
and begun to network among black and white clergymen in order to
bring his ideas to fruition. Stemons’s credentials were all the more im-
pressive because in 1897 he had come to Philadelphia, penniless and
friendless, to seek fi nancial support for his Industrial Rights League,
which had failed the year before in Ohio. He left Cleveland, stopped a
short time in Buffalo, New York, and eventually decided to make his
mark in the City of Brotherly Love, where he hoped his would- be fol-
lowers would be more generous. Originally a Midwestern migrant from
Hutchison, Kansas, all he had when he arrived in Philadelphia, other
than the clothes on his back, was a solution to the race problem, an ear-
nest commitment to apply it, and a letter from a white clergyman vouch-
ing for his sincerity.77

Early on, Philadelphians proved as eager as others to hear his oratory,
but as unwilling to bankroll his plans. To survive, Stemons worked as a
janitor at a downtown theater and as a waiter at a fi rst- class hotel, and
he eventually became a full- time postal clerk in 1909, where he may have
worked until retirement. To supplement his income and give voice to
his ideas, Stemons attempted to publish an autobiographical novel that
remains a 750- page manuscript to this day. He successfully published a
book called The Key in 1916, an expansion of a 1907 pamphlet.78 Oth-
erwise, Stemons constantly struggled fi nancially to become a full- time
reformer. Lamenting another failed attempt to publish a manuscript, his
sister wrote that she “long[ed]” to see him be rewarded “in a material way”
for his “divinely inspired” commitment to solving the race problem. “I
have never heard or read of such a life of sacrifi ce as yours,” Mary Stemons

Stemons was indeed exceptional as a working- class black intellectual.
Few reformers of the day could match his experience at the end of a broom-
stick or at working overtime to be able to buy a “decent suit” for a con-
ference. Few working- class blacks could say they had written books or



discussed important matters with prominent national fi gures like Woodrow
Wilson, William Jennings Bryan, and Booker T. Washington.80

At the Lincoln Conference, in addition to the problem of employment
discrimination, Stemons also addressed Wharton’s main concern that
northern blacks were being abandoned or neglected by social ser vice
agencies. Stemons saw this problem in a broader context. He argued that
the North and South had joined “upon a policy of submerging the race”
based on the widespread belief that “the Negro must work out his own
salvation.” In an unpublished manuscript that Stemons wrote sometime
before the conference, he attacked this policy by harshly criticizing one
of its foremost architects, Booker T. Washington.81 Washington had also
acknowledged Stemons’s criticisms in a letter to him.82 The heart of Ste-
mons’s critique of Negro self- improvement and Washington’s bootstrap
philosophy was that it did not apply to millions of white workingmen
for whom society had the “greatest concern.” With no barriers placed
on their ambitions, Stemons proclaimed, “no thought is ever suggested
that the toiling white millions should work out their own salvation, ex-
cept through the active aid and sympathy of every constructive element
of society.”83

Stemons exaggerated the generosity of American industrialists and
philanthropists toward millions of “toiling” whites, but the spirit of
progressivism could be deceptive. Stemons knew with certainty that it
did not apply equally to blacks in places like Philadelphia. Even a de-
cade before, when noting that charitable organizations preferred to
help black dependents more than ambitious workers, Du Bois also noted
that more than 90 percent of charity agencies discriminated to some
degree against blacks.84 Of the roughly 10 percent remaining, “protec-
tive, rescue and reformatory work” was “not applied to any great ex-
tent” among blacks. In other words, very few agencies in Philadelphia,
including many settlement houses, were trying directly to save black
children from becoming juvenile delinquents or adults from becoming

Outside of the limited crime prevention conducted by a small number
of settlement houses, the best that could be said was that many liberal
reformers supported industrial education in the South. Stemons consid-
ered this to be part of the problem. Since the early nineteenth century,
Quakers had been among the most active supporters of abolition and
were instrumental in making the Underground Railroad a safe passage to
Philadelphia and beyond. Before the Civil War, Quakers established



schools in Philadelphia, such as the Institute for Colored Youth founded
in 1842, to help educate free blacks. Sixty years later, inspired by the ex-
ample of Booker T. Washington—“a man sent of God,” according to
principal Hugh M. Browne— Quakers remade the institute into a normal
school, called Cheyney, to train “colored teachers” for “Christian Indus-
trial Tuskegee.”85 Before then, during the postbellum period, Quakers had
turned their attention to the South, opening Christiansburg school in
Cambria, Virginia, in 1865.

According to the Friends’ Freedmen’s Association, Christiansburg
was a unique southern school because its “fi nances [ were] entirely han-
dled by a strong Board of Managers in Philadelphia.” But the school’s
supporters became discouraged in 1896 because they felt that classical
education for southern blacks had been squandered on “unworthy ob-
jects” who migrated north and “drifted into the slum life.” Worse still, a
few had committed “atrocious crimes.”86 Although there is no evidence
that the school’s managers were infl uenced by the publication of Hoff-
man’s Race Traits, the timing of their concerns could not have been bet-
ter. Suggestive too was their language stating that such “gloom[y]” con-
ditions had raised one of the “greatest questions of this country”: what
to do to solve the “great Negro problem.” To save the school and pre-
sumably the nation, Booker T. Washington was brought in to help. Based
on his recommendations, one of his former assistants was hired to serve
as principal, making half of the new teachers graduates of Hampton or
Tuskegee. The newly staffed and retooled Christiansburg Industrial Insti-
tute had three educational goals: building character, teaching common
En glish, and vocational training.87

The immediate success of Christiansburg’s transformation heightened
Washington’s appeal among Philadelphia Quakers because it fed into the
logic that liberal educators should no longer contribute to the creation of
black criminals. Because of industrial education’s focus on character
building, “troublesome” blacks would have good reason to stay in the
South. Those blacks in the North unwilling to go south to be properly
educated would be left to work out their own salvation. In this sense,
industrial education in the South was an anticrime solution, and for many
white liberals in the North it represented the upper limit of reform among
blacks. In 1906, several years before Wharton decided to leave the Starr
Centre, she also supported the Hampton- Tuskegee model of race prog-
ress. She invited Washington to speak at the Starr Centre and at board
meetings on several occasions. When she defended blacks against white



prejudice, she argued that no Hampton or Tuskegee graduates could be
found in jails or prisons. Seeing the Hampton- Tuskegee model as a pana-
cea for blacks’ problems at that time, she bemoaned, “Would that we had
a Tuskegee in our midst.”88

Not everyone agreed. One New York critic of Boston’s Reform League
summed it up this way: “These Boston people beat me. They will have
mass meetings and raise money to help Mr. Washington educate the ‘nig-
gers’ down South, but they will let a decent Northerner starve before they
will give him a chance to earn an honest living.”89 Wharton herself had
to deal with opposition to Tuskegee. During a Starr Centre board meet-
ing in May 1905, Washington offered scholarships to Tuskegee to
troubled young men from South Philadelphia as opportunities to get
their lives together. Of the four recipients, three ran away from the indus-
trial and agricultural training camp within weeks of the start of the fall

While Washington was canvassing Philadelphia, trading scholarships
for fi nancial support, Tuskegee’s stock was soaring in some northern lib-
eral circles. The preceding year’s national debate over whether black
crime rates increased with education, pitting Du Bois against Mississippi
governor James K. Vardaman in a series of speeches and published arti-
cles, brought to light a signifi cant body of research into the criminal rec-
ords of the alumni of black colleges.91 President Roo se velt, widely con-
sidered to be liberal on most race matters, added to the national media
attention in a series of keynote addresses extolling the crime- fi ghting vir-
tues of Hampton and Tuskegee. At Hampton’s commencement on May
30, 1906, Roo se velt expressed his sincere appreciation for the school’s
“self- help mission” and its commitment to educating blacks on “how to
conduct themselves with self- respect [as] hard working, intelligent, law-
abiding citizens.” The essence of this training, he emphasized, was the
building of character in the entire race. Pointing to the outstanding achieve-
ments of the school’s teachers and administrators, Roo se velt continued,
“You have sent out from Hampton Institute in all something like 6,000
graduates, and, if I have remembered rightly, there are but two of whom
you have record[ed] as criminals.” Then he looked at the students and
issued a stern warning to not let their school down: “The negro criminal,
no matter at whose expense the par tic u lar crime may be committed, is a
hundredfold more dangerous to the negro race than to the white race,
because he tends to arouse the bitter prejudices for which, not he alone,



but the whole race, will suffer. In the interest of the colored folks see to it,
you colored men here, that you war against criminality in your own race
with a par tic u lar zeal, because that criminality is in the ultimate analysis
a greater danger to your race than any other thing can be.” In a gradua-
tion speech at Tuskegee the year before, Roo se velt was even more frank
in his repudiation of racism and his injunction to black college graduates
to fi ght the criminality within: “[A]bove all, vice and criminality of every
kind, are evils more potent for harm to the black race than all acts of op-
pression of white men put together.” With these presidential ideas spread-
ing around the country from the champion of the little guy, no wonder
northern liberals were eager to see Hampton and Tuskegee as a solution
to the black crime in their midst.92

Many of Philadelphia’s liberal whites were huge supporters of indus-
trial education in the South, in part because they believed it was an effec-
tive long- term solution to crime.93 At a March 1907 meeting of the Soci-
ety of Friends in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, Herbert Welsh,
a Quaker education reformer, gave an address on “Some Present Aspects
of the Negro Problem.” Passionately arguing for Hampton and Tuskegee
to be “multiplied” around the nation, Welsh began by praising Hampton’s
found er, General Samuel Chapman Armstrong, for seeing that “slavery
was not all bad.” According to Welsh, Armstrong built Hampton on slav-
ery’s good aspects: religious and mental training, “knowledge of handi-
crafts,” and a “fair, practical education.” What Armstrong did not believe
in and what Hampton did not do was to treat the “negro” as an equal but
recognized that as a “lower [and] . . . weaker race,” the “negro” needed
character building from the start, according to Welsh.94 But many in the
North had not been as visionary as Armstrong, he continued, and had
failed the Negro and the nation by educating him like a white man and
granting him the right to vote.95 Welsh told his northern audience that
they had now become impatient with blacks and showed a “constant will-
ingness to admit” that southerners had been correct. “In condemning the
negro you may point to thousands of the ignorant, degraded, immoral
negroes; you may say these people will not work; the proportion of crime
among them is unduly large; you may give them, and with justice, an
exceedingly bad name,” Welsh proclaimed, but “on the other hand,”
Hampton and Tuskegee with their positive results have already shown
the nation the way to eliminate its “heavy burden of negro ignorance
and vice.”96



A month before his address, Welsh sent a copy of his speech to Du
Bois at Atlanta University and to H. B. Frissell, principal of Hampton, to
get their feedback. Du Bois agreed with Welsh’s main points and espe-
cially liked his idea of channeling more federal money into education, in
spite of the fact that Welsh made this argument on the premise that edu-
cating blacks should be a national priority akin to national defense, de-
fending against an “internal peril.”97 Du Bois’s only disagreement with
Welsh was his singular focus on the Hampton- Tuskegee model. He thought
there should be funding for primary education, industrial high schools
like Hampton and Tuskegee, and university training.98 Perhaps out of
respect to Du Bois, Welsh appears to have changed his speech by men-
tioning Atlanta University as an example of a successful school, despite
the contradiction with his main point.99

Principal Frissell, General Armstrong’s successor at Hampton and a
prominent southern white paternalist, unequivocally supported indus-
trial and agricultural schooling for blacks in the South but disagreed
with Welsh’s idea that the “general government” should become involved.
He argued that too much work needed to be done by northern reformers
before southern whites would accept broad federal intervention in the
education of blacks. “Friends of the Negro” had done “comparatively
little . . . for instance, in the city of Philadelphia,” he wrote, “and yet
crime is increasing at a tremendous rate and a feeling of bitterness is be-
ing engendered against the blacks.” Philadelphians needed to start a
“general movement toward the improvement of the conditions of the
Negro race” before pursuing further support for industrial education in
the South. The work in the South, Frissell continued, was indeed “being
hindered more by the crime of the black man in the North, and the very
unfortunate conditions under which he has to live there, than by any
other cause.”100 Frissell had apparently been observant on his trips to
Philadelphia to conduct Hampton meetings, but his conclusions were not
pop u lar among northerners, which may explain why he had no effect on
Welsh’s speech.

Frissell’s willingness to hold northerners accountable for black repres-
sion and crime may also explain why Stemons, who made similar argu-
ments, was almost shut out of the Lincoln Conference and was not al-
lowed to make his entire speech.101 Stemons believed that some northern
leaders had read his work and had become determined to silence him.102
William Walling, one of the main conference organizers and eventual



founding member of the NAACP, who had promised to include Stemons
on the program in the fi rst place, suggested later that his associates had
decided to limit “radical” speakers.103

About the same time that Frissell personally cautioned Welsh to tend
to his own backyard, Stemons published a pamphlet, The North Holds
the Key, that he called “the crowning article of my life”; it was his fi rst
opportunity for widespread exposure and in some ways his last.104 Stemons
argued provocatively that the North’s failure to open industrial opportu-
nities to blacks contributed directly to po liti cal disfranchisement and
racial violence in the South. As long as the North continued to advise
“the South [on] how to deal with the Negro” rather than providing fair
opportunities, he wrote, the majority of blacks would remain in the South
because of the abundance of work. White southerners would therefore
continue to treat blacks with impunity because blacks had few employ-
ment options outside the South.105

Many race leaders may have balked at Stemons’s words for two rea-
sons. The most obvious reason was that he had insulted liberal whites like
Welsh who had devoted considerable time and resources to the Negro
Problem.106 Even if they agreed that they had neglected their own black
neighbors, they could still justify it because no more than 10 percent of the
black population lived among them. Moreover, black leaders were more
concerned about conditions in the South, as represented by followers of
Washington. Those in the opposing camp represented by Du Bois’s Niag-
ara Movement agitated for civil and po liti cal rights to the exclusion of
broaching the economic question.107 Therefore, by the time Stemons en-
thusiastically advised Walling to put his ideas about “the question of the
Negro’s industrial disadvantages in the North” before the conference orga-
nizers, many leaders were probably already opposed to him. After being
disappointed with his limited speaking time, Stemons huffed, “I have never
seen the race in a worse light than at this conference— that is, I mean for
arrogance and opposition to all who do not subscribe to all they say.”108

By the spring of 1909, despite this disappointment, Stemons had be-
come most successful at linking industrial repression and black criminal-
ity. Ostensibly, no other person in Philadelphia, following Du Bois’s de-
parture to Atlanta, was as committed to publicizing this dual problem.
Stemons came into contact with people at all levels of the city, from black
church members to the mayor. Although his direct infl uence on public
policy is impossible to mea sure, he clearly brought together infl uential



like- minded people to fi ght black crime and increase job opportunities.
At the intersection of these two critical issues, Stemons and others helped
to draw a line between those whom they defi ned as the ambitious and
law- abiding and the shiftless and vicious, a line they felt would counter
the negative portrayal of the race as criminal. With the discerning eye of
an informed public, they believed the fl oodgates of industrial opportu-
nity would open.

Beginning in the spring of 1907, Stemons noted that important people
had begun to take a sincere interest in his anticrime work.109 An editorial
response to Stemons’s article “Why Crime Increases among Negroes” in
the Philadelphia Public Ledger praised him for describing “the real
‘negro problem.’”110 The editors were rightly seduced by Stemons’s
claim that as long as white employers refused to hire blacks and white
employees refused to work beside them, crime among blacks would con-
tinue to rise. “With a feeling of hopelessness in the face of such odds, as
well as of resentment against such treatment, many Negroes are turning
against society with the reckless desperation born of despair.”111 Warning
the city to take heed of Stemons’s words, the editors wrote that the
Negro “can afford to remain isolated and oppressed better than the com-
munity can afford to have him remain so, an unassimilated element of
discord and danger.”112 Anything the editors had not gleaned from the
actual article was clarifi ed at a meeting with Stemons the day before the
editorial’s publication. Also in attendance were the editors of the Phila-
delphia Press, unnamed “prominent colored men,” and the well- respected
sociologist Alfred Holt Stone, who was at the time writing Studies in the
American Race Problem.113 Stone, a Mississippian, shared Stemons’s
opinion that northerners were as guilty as southerners of fomenting a
“race problem” because they would not hire blacks for good jobs. Indus-
trial opportunity was “the ‘door of hope,’ ” Stone wrote, “upon whose
cruel closing follow idleness and crime, vice and destitution, vagrancy and
death, for the masses of the race.”114 Having Stone at the meeting cer-
tainly would have impressed the newspaper editors, making them more
likely to take Stemons seriously.

Stemons also began to build a modicum of support among black clergy-
men. Charles Albert Tindley, pastor of East Calvary Methodist Epis-
copal, was moved by Stemons’s crime article in the Public Ledger.115
Tindley’s church was among the most active black institutions in charity
work, especially among poor southern migrants. His direct contact with
struggling blacks in Philadelphia clearly exposed him to the need for ex-



panding economic opportunities and crime prevention.116 Tindley also
drew people to him through his innovative music ministry. He is best
known as the father of gospel music, having written several of the most
pop u lar gospel hymns of all times, including “We’ll Understand It Better
By and By,” and directly infl uencing the late Thomas Dorsey.117

To be sure, many other black churches were surrounded by poverty,
vice, and crime, but most of them appear to have avoided outright crime
fi ghting. That had not always been the case, according to Du Bois. Black
churches in Philadelphia had gained a reputation for crime fi ghting in
the nineteenth century. As early as 1809, they had responded to an in-
crease of crime when the gradual abolition laws began to take effect
and too many freedmen along with immigrants began “to congregate.”
But a hundred years later, the situation churches faced was very different
because of the growth of the black population through migration, the
increased number of churches, and intensifi ed competition for saving
souls. A small but steady stream of migrants, primarily from Mary land
and Virginia, also helped to intensify internal class and status divisions
among blacks.118 Ties that had bound together the small black commu-
nities of mostly native- born Philadelphians in the nineteenth century
gave way to larger and more diverse communities in the twentieth. The
result, historian Robert S. Gregg argues, was that churches felt greater
pressure to hold on to their congregations for fear of losing them to
other churches.119

Du Bois also observed that pastors feared losing their saints to new
forms of entertainment and the most pop u lar leisure activities in the
city. Baseball, moving pictures, vaudev ille, theater, and dancing increas-
ingly competed for the attention of church members on late Saturday
nights and Sunday afternoons. These amusements were often attacked
by clergy, but their “precepts against specifi c amusements [ were] often
violated,” Du Bois wrote.120 Pastors may have sermonized against the
evils of vice and unsupervised recreation, but they did not necessarily
mount offensive weapons against them. Richard R. Wright, Jr., black so-
ciologist and editor of the Philadelphia- based Christian Recorder, a
journal of the A.M.E. denomination, also pointed out that most churches
tended to avoid social work “chiefl y because of lack of money.”121 Yet
in 1912 Wright counted about six churches, including Tindley’s East
Calvary, that had suffi cient resources to develop institutional features
aimed at improving economic and social conditions in the communi-
ties they served. Two were exceptional, according to Wright. The Berean



Presbyterian Church, headed by Matthew Anderson, an Oberlin and
Prince ton graduate, featured a kindergarten, industrial training school,
trades association, and building and loan association and sponsored con-
ferences on educational, social, and economic issues. Henry L. Phillip’s
Protestant Episcopal Church of the Crucifi xion was also unique because
of its homeless shelter and novel approach to the “amusement question.”
To combat the evils awaiting blacks on the streets and in the dens of secu-
lar establishments, the Church of the Crucifi xion went “against the general
view of Negro Christians in establishing a poolroom and eve nings for

Aggressive crime fi ghting by black churches may have been counter-
productive or at the very least may have produced limited results. The
working- class Philadelphians who crowded into the storefront churches
of the Baptists were especially vulnerable to being labeled criminals be-
cause of their proximity to crime in their daily lives.123 To fend off the
stigma of criminality based on the white public’s racist assumptions,
some church laymen wanted nothing to do with rescue and reform work.
For others, physical closeness to criminals and vice may have implicated
family members or even themselves, resulting in a passive attitude or
ambivalence. Surely some members gambled on the “numbers” at the
very least.124 Although pastors may not have supported illegal lotteries
and games of chance, they could understand the desperate desire of their
members to take a shot at winning. The bottom line was that, on a prac-
tical level, many churches had to tolerate the complexities of urban pov-
erty, where parables of good versus evil rang truer inside the sanctuary
than outside.

Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham’s research on the women’s movement in
the national or ga ni za tion of black Baptists provides some clues about
what may have characterized the upper limit of anticrime work within
Baptist churches in Philadelphia, and perhaps among other denomina-
tions. Following instructions of their national leaders, local Baptist women
likely pushed for sports, music, and other recreational programs within
their Philadelphia churches “as alternatives to the street’s allurements,”
especially jazz music and public dance halls. Some local churches may
have even punished members for “immoral” behavior committed outside
the church. At Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., for example,
“individuals caught dancing, imbibing alcoholic beverages, or engaging
in other ‘improper’ behavior were literally delivered a summons to come
before the church for censure,” according to Higginbotham.125 Although



all her examples of this type of direct intervention come from southern
cities, where religious communities may have been stricter than those in
Philadelphia, it is likely that some northern churches adopted southern
practices as migration increased. The fact that in response to migration
Baptists became the largest denomination in Philadelphia between 1900
and 1910 strongly suggests that local churches yielded some ground to
the newcomers.126

Often overlooked by critics who claimed that black leaders coddled
and protected criminals was the anticrime work of pastors and laymen
outside of the church.127 In fact, many church leaders wore multiple hats
in their communities. Henry Phillips, rector of the Church of the Cruci-
fi xion, served on the board of the Starr Centre before the Wharton
branch was formed; he later became the only black member of the city’s
fi rst vice commission and was the fi rst president of the Association for
the Protection of Colored Women (APCW). The APCW’s executive sec-
retary, a black woman named Sadie W. Layten, served as the president of
the Women’s Convention of the National Baptist Convention. As part of
a regional network of branches in Virginia, Mary land, and Pennsylvania
and a national offi ce in New York, the APCW’s goal was to protect black
women from being taken advantage of by labor agents who channeled
unsuspecting southern migrants into vice work.128 Layten’s contacts
with Baptist women were a valuable asset to the Philadelphia branch
because the women frequently escorted newly arrived migrants to safe
lodgings and found them jobs. If unsuccessful, APCW workers and
church friends could take the migrants to headquarters in South Phila-
delphia for temporary shelter and domestic training. In 1905, the APCW
was effectively the fi rst and only black- run crime prevention agency in

Reverend Tindley of East Calvary M. E. was just beginning to estab-
lish another crime prevention agency separate from his church in 1907
when he came across Stemons’s crime article and began to share ideas
with Stemons.130 Two years later Tindley launched his Beacon Light In-
stitute for Civic and Moral Reforms. He described the institute as “unde-
nominational [sic] or sectarian,” open to “everybody white and colored,”
yet by scheduling the institute’s mass meetings on Sunday afternoons at
the Old Bainbridge Street M. E. church, he appealed directly to church
laymen. “If you are good, come and help us to make others so,” Tindley
wrote. “Some bad person is waiting on the action of your goodness to
make them better; don’t talk about them, but help them. The newspapers



and the enemies of the race will do the talking.” Tindley’s distinction be-
tween helping and talking is an important indication of his discomfort
with the common practice of confl ating crime issues and antiblack rhet-
oric as an excuse for inaction. At the fi rst of four mass meetings, the
work ahead was clearly proposed: “What can be done to rid the street
corners, in this city, of the poorly dressed, ill mannerly, and objection-
able peoples of our race?” The remaining meetings sought solutions to
the additional problems of morally corruptible leisure activities and domes-
tic violence.131

When Stemons saw the institute’s fl yer announcing upcoming meet-
ings, he wrote a note that the fi rst meeting’s topic was the “subject of my
paper.” In the summer of 1909, shortly after Stemons had recovered from
his lackluster results at the founding conference of the NAACP and after
he had written another article, “The Infl uence upon the Race Situation of
the Venal and Vicious Element among Negroes,” he and Tindley offi –
cially began to work together on a third crime prevention or ga ni za tion.132
Within a few weeks Stemons wrote to the members of the A.M.E. Preachers
Meeting, hoping for an invitation to speak in order to build support. In
the letter Stemons presented the usual evidence of blacks’ losing ground
in domestic and personal ser vices and being effectively locked out of in-
dustrial work, but this time to strengthen his appeal he encouraged the
preachers to consider the evidence in light of their own self- interests,
since their churches would “lose force and support” if job discrimination
worsened.133 Curiously, Stemons made no mention of crime. He ex-
plained to his sister that he did not want to tell them his “plans or ideas”
until they invited him to speak.134 More than likely, however, Stemons
took a page from Tindley’s playbook and decided to tone down the crime
rhetoric while he was still seeking support. Apparently, hiding his trump
cards did not work: the A.M.E. ministers passed on him despite Tindley’s
backing as a Methodist Episcopal preacher.

Stemons may have actually made a mistake when he decided to em-
phasize industrial repression without talking about crime. Du Bois’s The
Philadelphia Negro had already shown that explaining black criminality
was critical to getting people’s attention and helping them to fully under-
stand that racism and discrimination had destructive consequences for
the city in general and black communities in par tic u lar. In the book’s open-
ing pages, Du Bois noted that most whites believed that crime defi ned the
Negro Problem, which explained blacks’ low status or slum existence, but
he immediately instructed whites to reverse their thinking and recognize



their own prejudice as the problem. Much later in the book, he also
pointed out the reluctance of middle- class blacks to do their part to uplift
the “submerged tenth” for fear of losing their own respectability. But Du
Bois rejected their apathy, arguing that they had an obligation to help the
poor and criminal.135

Following in a direct line from Du Bois circa 1899, Stemons’s used the
same rhetorical approach, appealing to right- thinking people on the ba-
sis of fairness and the need for equal opportunity or to suffer the conse-
quences. Stemons had in fact already begun to make this argument to
infl uential whites by writing crime articles and holding meetings. He had
recently obtained the endorsement of Temple University’s president Rus-
sell H. Conwell, also the pastor of Baptist Temple, who, Stemons boasted,
was “perhaps the wisest and most favorably known Baptist clergyman in
the world.”136 But in one of his fi rst attempts to gather support from in-
fl uential blacks, he went only halfway. Du Bois had argued that the re-
spectable status that the “Talented Tenth” attempted to preserve by keep-
ing their distance from the “submerged tenth” could be strengthened
through racial uplift. That is, black middle- class people could better de-
fi ne their class position and move the whole race forward by adopting the
same attitude and behavior white progressives had shown toward their
white- skinned social inferiors, which included modest attempts to im-
prove economic conditions and crime prevention. Stemons got it right
the next time and would never abandon this dual focus again.

In his opening statements to the Baptist Ministerial Conference on
November 15, 1909, Stemons blamed economic discrimination for crime
among young blacks: “I know, and you know, that there are countless
thousands of Negro youth . . . who absolutely refuse to expend time and
money in training and fi tting themselves for the higher walks of life, and
who are becoming depraved, and reckless and criminal, because of the
per sis tent manner in which every door of opportunity is slammed in their
faces.” Du Bois could not have said it better. Stemons continued, “If you
do not believe it, come with me to almost any community populated
largely by colored people, or come with me on a public conveyance on
which there chances to be a large number of Negroes, and I will show
you enough in one day to almost make you ashamed of the fact that you
are identifi ed with the colored race.” But “economic restrictions,” he reit-
erated, were “directly responsible.”137

In rhetoric alone, Stemons easily crossed the line into criminalizing
jobless and underemployed blacks, diluting the strength of his attack on



industrial repression. But Du Bois had done the same thing, according to
his biographer. “When it came to African American morality Du Bois’s
mea sure was a rigid Calvinist ruler,” David Levering Lewis writes. “The
racially disproportionate crime rate that he deplored owed much to fee-
ble group morality, but crime was at bottom symptomatic of systemic
ills.”138 For black writers and reformers, then, highlighting black crimi-
nality was a double- edged sword.139 At the same time that it carved out
space to create a dialogue with liberal whites about racism’s conse-
quences and middle- class blacks about their duty to the race, it defended
the conservative self- help solution that dominated the pace of racial re-
form before Washington’s death in 1915 and the onset of the Great Mi-
gration. This conservative edge was not what Stemons or Du Bois had
intended to use; nevertheless, historian Kevin Gaines is right to call the
“discourse of uplift, the urban counterpart to industrial education.”140 In
this sense, racial uplift discourse and black crime rhetoric made antidis-
crimination complaints more palatable to northern audiences, at least to
those willing to listen at all.

It is crucial to emphasize the distinction between direct complaints
against economic discrimination and subtle appeals for expanded eco-
nomic opportunity. The latter approach did not necessarily depend on a
critique of black crime, nor did it explicitly recognize white racism as a
major cause of the problem. Instead, it turned the presumption of preju-
dice as a cause into a subject for investigation and shifted attention to-
ward blacks’ industrial ineffi ciency and need for further education and

In contrast to Stemons’s antidiscrimination complaints at the Baptist
Conference, the Armstrong Association of Philadelphia (AAP) perhaps
best illustrates the subtle approach to economic reform. The AAP, named
for General Armstrong, was originally a group of local philanthropists
like those in the New York Armstrong Association who raised money for
Hampton and Tuskegee. After Carl Kelsey, a University of Pennsylvania
sociologist, introduced his student Richard R. Wright, Jr., to John T. Em-
len, a member of the AAP and a white teacher at Hampton, Wright con-
vinced Emlen that the AAP should use its connections to help blacks “get
skilled jobs.” While working on his dissertation as a research fellow at
the Eighth Ward Settlement, Wright had become aware of the need for
such an or ga ni za tion after interviewing a large number of southern me-
chanics who could secure jobs as porters and menial workers only.141



Thus the new AAP was launched in May 1908. Emlen raised funds and
Wright found jobs as trea sur er and fi eld secretary respectively. Since the
AAP used its wealthy contacts and Wright himself as a sterling example
of the race’s “best” men, the association did not have to use fear tactics
to get supporters as it sought to match highly qualifi ed workers with
sympathetic employers.142 Besides, for the men the AAP identifi ed and
helped, crime presumably was not a paycheck away. The AAP also mini-
mized the appearance of radical reform or the necessity for aggressive
rhetorical strategies by relying on a conservative case- by- case approach
rather than by seeking broad access for all types of black workers. When
opportunity remained closed, there were no protests or mention of so-
cial consequences; the AAP simply determined whether “prejudice, im-
proper supervision, or ineffi ciency” was the cause and whether it could
be “remedied.”143

Adding to the or ga ni za tion’s conservative methods, its president, Carl
E. Grammer, rector of St. Stephen Protestant Episcopal and a “very charm-
ing Southern gentleman,” imposed his own ideas about the limits of eco-
nomic reform. Wright wrote in his autobiography that Grammer preferred
giving blacks charity rather than jobs on an equal basis with whites, and
that he “condoned” unions that discriminated against blacks and coun-
seled patience over action. Because of Grammer, the fi rst three fi eld secre-
taries of the AAP, all black, resigned after serving one- year terms. B. F.
Lee, the third to resign in 1912, referred to Grammer as a “Southern mis-
sionary trying to covert the North to his Southern way of thinking about
colored people.”144

The AAP became part of a national movement as an affi liate of the
National Urban League (NUL) shortly after its founding in 1910. During
the Great Migration the NUL became the premier or ga ni za tion for the
“adjustment” of southern migrants to northern cities, combining the ideas
of the Association for the Protection of Colored Women and the Arm-
strong Association. Under the leadership of Columbia University sociolo-
gist George Edmund Haynes, the Urban League also commenced a major
program of training black social workers to increase efforts on behalf of
struggling blacks. But the NUL “fl oundered” before 1916, according to
historian Nancy Weiss, who notes that during its earliest years the Phila-
delphia affi liate was in fact more successful at obtaining jobs. This is a
testament to the extreme conservatism of the premigration NUL, whose
membership was dominated by black educators allied with Booker T.



Washington. Their “dependence on white philanthropy, the infl uence of
white churches, and the prevalent faith in industrial education all pro-
moted a certain conservatism” among them.145

During the Great Migration and into the 1920s and 1930s, the NUL
became much more successful at job placement, owing a great deal to the
labor demands of war time production and the cessation of immigration.
Leadership also changed hands in 1917, from Haynes to the younger and
less conservative Eugene Kinckle Jones.146 As the NUL became more ag-
gressive in its pursuit of jobs for skilled and unskilled black migrants, it
also began conducting nationwide studies of black life, including crime
surveys, sometimes with the fi nancial support of corporate- sponsored
philanthropy.147 During this period the NUL also adopted racial uplift
discourse. In a letter distributed to the black press at the height of the
migration, Jones urged “right- thinking Negroes . . . to discourage the
wholesale migration of shiftless people,” since “indolent, ineffi cient men,”
quick to lose their jobs, would only “become a burden to the Northern
communities and bring reproach and humiliation to thrifty colored citi-
zens in communities where white people [had] not hitherto considered
Negroes undesirables.”148 The or ga ni za tion also resorted to using crime
rhetoric to stir its white supporters to greater involvement and largesse.
A National Urban League Bulletin in 1917 portended the social conse-
quences if migrants were “permitted to pack themselves into overcrowded
colonies and drift into disease and crime through sheer ignorance of how
to live and how to fi nd work and hold a job in the North.” Through the
intervention of the NUL, the bulletin announced, migrants could be
“taken hold of upon their arrival and . . . taught how to become in de pen-
dent, productive citizens at a time when effective labor is at a premium.”149
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the NUL continued its strategy of ap-
pealing to white philanthropists and businesses through depictions of
blacks’ desperate economic and social conditions in various northern cit-
ies, including Philadelphia. The cold facts presented in the or ga ni za tion’s
Opportunity magazine painted a clear picture to white readers: Pay now
with jobs and structural improvements, or pay later with juvenile delin-
quency, crime, and disease. Yet during the Great Migration, the National
Urban League and its affi liates shifted slightly to the left while adopting
an increasing focus on crime at the expense of southern migrants.

Foreshadowing the AAP’s eventual change in direction, important
members began to publicly support Stemons at the time of the Baptist



conference in late 1909. Tindley was already behind Stemons before the
conference, while serving as one of two “colored” vice presidents of
the Armstrong Association. The other black vice president, W. A. Creditt,
introduced Stemons at the conference along with E. W. Moore, the Public
Meetings committee chairman of the AAP.150 In addition to Creditt and
Moore’s credibility as executives of the AAP, their support of Stemons
was signifi cant to black Baptists in Philadelphia. Creditt was pastor of the
oldest Baptist church in the city, First African Baptist (established in 1809),
which had the third- largest Baptist congregation, and Moore headed the
fourth- largest congregation at Zion Baptist.151

Supporting Stemons’s plans, Tindley, Moore, and Matthew Anderson,
pastor of Berean Presbyterian and president of Berean Manual Training
and Industrial School, signed their names to Stemons’s published call for
a “Negro Conference” to be held in the spring of 1910. They also issued
a public statement in defense of Stemons’s speech to the Baptists. Stemons’s
“solemn repre sen ta tions” of the race’s economic and moral slide, they
wrote, had caused some “colored clergymen” to withhold their endorse-
ment of the “Race Conference.” Feeling it their duty to take seriously
their colleagues’ objections, they investigated the evidence for them-
selves. “Being optimistically inclined, we could not, and would not be-
lieve his sweeping statement in this connection till he had confronted us
with facts and fi gures, which are backed by the outspoken testimony of
many of the most eminent, conservative and impartial sociologists of the
country, white and colored alike. These facts have astounded and amazed
us, and we feel that he minimized, rather than magnifi ed, the true situa-
tion when he expressed grave apprehensions for the future of Negroes
in this country, unless positive steps are taken to remedy the monstrous
and depressing conditions which are being imposed upon the masses of
the race.”152

To corroborate Stemons’s testimony, they could have consulted any
one of the national black- crime experts, such as Frederick Hoffman,
W. E. B. Du Bois, William H. Thomas, or Walter Willcox.153 Whichever
source they used, their offi cial endorsement worked. Not only was the
conference going forward as planned, but Washington had gotten wind
of Stemons’s rising infl uence. He may have even heard Stemons’s address
to the Baptists or read the public statement since he was in town around
the same time and had spoken at Creditt’s church.154 Two days before his
conference was to begin, Stemons received an invitation to the annual

Figure 4- 4 “Dual Mission” handbill of the Joint Or ga ni za tion of the Association
for Equalizing Industrial Opportunities and the League of Civic and Po liti cal
Reform, articulating Stemons’s programmatic response to W. E. B. Du Bois’s call for
whites to police racism and for middle- class blacks to police their own criminals.
The Historical Society of Pennsylvanian (HSP), James Samuel Stemons Papers.



Tuskegee conference. “We shall be very glad to offer you the hospitality
of the school and to make your visit here pleasant and profi table,” Wash-
ington wrote.155

Held at the “colored” YMCA on November 21– 22, 1910, the race
conference turned out to be the fi rst public event of the Association for
Equalizing Industrial Opportunities and League for Civic and Po liti cal
Reform (AEIO- LCPR). Stemons’s dream had fi nally come true: a dual-
approach reform or ga ni za tion with major support from black and white
heavyweights. Among white clergymen, the fi rst day’s proceedings were
presided over by Alexander MacKay- Smith, the Protestant Episcopal
Bishop of Pennsylvania, and the meeting was called to order by A. J.
Rowland, the secretary of the American Baptist Publication Society.
Speeches by Stemons, Tindley, and Carl Kelsey of the University of Penn-
sylvania focused on the problem of black criminality. Specifi cally, Stemons
addressed the issue of po liti cal repression and the need for “civic virtue
and po liti cal in de pen dence,” calling blacks “po liti cally dishonest.” Tind-
ley’s address was titled “The Depraved and Rowdy Element among Ne-
groes, and How They Aggravate the Race Situation.” He argued that the
paths to crime for blacks were far more numerous than the paths to le-
gitimate opportunity. Finally, Kelsey added his perspective as a white
progressive to the day’s coverage of blacks’ “shortcomings.” “We must
fi ll the [N]egroes with a profound dissatisfaction with themselves before
a beginning toward their improvement is made,” he said, because “there
has been too much coddling” by “a certain class of whites” who “pitied”
the freedmen. After the paradoxes of racial reform vis-à- vis racial con-
demnation had been shared for all to ponder, the fi rst day closed with a
discussion. The panelists included T. Thomas Fortune, editor of the
New York Age; Francis Bartholomew, head social worker of the Eighth
Ward Settlement and member of the AAP’s education committee; and
P. A. Wallace, pastor of Wesley A.M.E. Zion, the largest black church in

The second day shifted from crime and racial uplift to discrimination
and industrial opportunity. The structure remained largely unchanged,
but there were new dignitaries and speakers, such as Howard Univer-
sity’s president Wilbur P. Thirkield and B. F. Lee, Jr., fi eld secretary for the
AAP.157 Although the Tuesday eve ning speeches were no less signifi cant
than those of Monday afternoon, there was less press coverage.158 Two
Philadelphia dailies, the Public Ledger and North American, reported on
the fi rst day’s events, highlighting portions of the main addresses and
quoting from the anticrime resolution of the newly formed League of

Figure 4- 5 Pledge Card of the Association for Equalizing Industrial Opportunities
distributed to members of white churches for the purposes of committing them to
color- blind hiring practices and to ending economic discrimination. The Historical
Society of Pennsylvanian (HSP), James Samuel Stemons Papers.



Civic and Po liti cal Reform (LCPR) adopted at the end of the panel dis-
cussion. The opportunity was ripe for both newspapers to trumpet anti-
black crime rhetoric as stated by an obviously sympathetic crowd. White
readers of these papers would also not miss the implicit admission of a
black crime problem in the reporting of an interracial cast of prominent
race leaders calling for “self- respecting negroes” to police their own com-
munities by reporting crime to the “proper authorities.”159 By basically
calling for community policing before it became a staple in the arsenal
against inner- city crime, the League of Civic and Po liti cal Reform repre-
sented a practical response to Du Bois’s earlier proposition that the “duty
of the Negroes” in Philadelphia should “fi rst be directed toward a lessen-
ing of Negro crime.” True to his moral sensibility in 1899, Du Bois had
suggested that Negroes start by making their homes incubators of self-
respect that taught that “idleness and crime [ were] beneath and not
above the lowest work.”160

In 1910 Stemons’s LCPR merely changed the venue and broadened
the scope of Du Bois’s proposition. Taking its fi ght to the street, the LCPR
distributed a handbill titled “To Self- Respecting Colored Citizens.” The
handbill addressed men and women of “refi ned sensibility” who were
ashamed of the “rowdy, ruffi anly, blatant, foul- mouthed, corner- lounging,
dive- infested elements among them.” To rid the race of “this stigma,” they
were instructed to “report every such crime against decency” to the LCPR.
A pledge to show “moral support” for the or ga ni za tion was also required.
Besides helping to “prosecute and penalize the dissolute and criminal ele-
ments among Negroes,” pledge signers promised to hold city offi cials po-
liti cally responsible for any dereliction of policing duty. No “administra-
tion of what ever party” would be allowed to ignore the LCPR’s demands
for the “suppression” of any activity “manifestly hurtful to the morals or
good name” of the black community.161

The LCPR planned to alter the course of crime prevention among
blacks nationwide, using the church as a source for recruitment and a
sphere of infl uence. “It is purposed to get” the support of “every colored
pastor in every community,” an internal document noted, “to use his utmost
infl uence to induce his entire congregation to do the same.” Stemons,
Tindley, and their infl uential supporters used the rhetoric of criminality
to build a black army against it. Although they could draw rhetorical and
practical examples from the anticrime work of settlement houses, insti-
tutional churches, the Association for the Protection of Colored Women,
and the Women’s Movement of the National Baptist Convention, there



was no exact pre ce dent for what they were attempting to do. They were
not only engaging directly in crime prevention, but they were demanding
better policing and by extension better accountability of municipal ser-
vices as well. They were indirectly attacking the po liti cal support for
mostly white- owned vice industries, such as speakeasies, brothels, and
gambling dens. Most importantly, they were explicitly linking these bat-
tles to a broader war for economic and racial justice in the North.162

The LCPR was or ga nized as an auxiliary of the Association for Equal-
izing Industrial Opportunities (AEIO), which planned to wage war against
economic discrimination by whites. Using its infl uential white supporters,
the AEIO would “appeal directly to the own ers and employees” of busi-
nesses to “give merited recognition to coloured [sic] labor.” They also
expected to use employer surveys to research every angle of a company’s
“willingness or unwillingness to employ or work with Negroes, and
why.” In addition, the AEIO would ask white churches, starting with the
congregations of the ministers involved with the or ga ni za tion, to take a
collective pledge “when possible,” and “individually when necessary,” to
actively broaden color- blind industrial opportunities.163 Although the
AEIO overlapped with the leadership, methods, and goals of the AAP, it
planned to work on behalf of the masses and the mechanics. This is a
further testament to the AEIO’s serious desire to achieve immediate eco-
nomic opportunity for blacks in the North when most interracial reform
organizations were focused on industrial education or civil and po liti cal
rights in the South.

Stemons’s personal life deserves some credit for the AEIO’s broader
attack on economic discrimination. While the or ga ni za tion was building
support, he was working twelve hours a day at the post offi ce where, in
his opinion, too many “brilliant” blacks found their best chance for re-
spectable work.164

The freshly launched joint or ga ni za tion held two mass meetings dur-
ing the next year and continued to recruit local leaders. For example, the
very successful criminal defense attorney G. Edward Dickerson came on-
board.165 With popularity in the black press likened to the late Johnny
Cochran’s, Dickerson was the star personality in several major cases,
some of which pitted his clients against the Philadelphia police, who
were accused of being heavy- handed and quick- triggered. The Public
Ledger also continued to show its support for Stemons, establishing a
fund for donations in the or ga ni za tion’s name. One of the fund’s trustees
was Henry Wilbur, the infl uential secretary of the Annual Conference of



Friends.166 By the end of 1911, the AEIO- LCPR had enlisted the city’s
highest offi cial, the newly elected head of the Keystone reform party,
Mayor Rudolph J. Blankenburg.

But at this moment of greatest potential, the or ga ni za tion seemed to
elevate its attack on crime above its war on economic injustice. Stemons
had always insisted on linking the two, but because of his own need to
become a recognized race leader, the personal jealousies and distrust of
local leaders, the numerous competing agendas of other reform organiza-
tions, and the failure of too many whites to treat blacks as equals and to
accept their responsibility for blacks’ shortcomings, Stemons’s rhetoric of
black criminality quickly became the or ga ni za tion’s passport to relevance.
Writing to Blankenburg four days after his election, Stemons congratu-
lated him, enclosed a copy of the “Appeal to Self- Respecting Colored Citi-
zens,” and wrote: “The colored people of this, and every other large city,
furnish far too large a quota of venal [and] vicious . . . characters.” He
closed by expressing his desire to obtain the mayor’s aid in the “suppres-
sion of this element.”167

Less than two months later, on January 6, 1912, Stemons escorted an
interracial delegation of some of his most prominent supporters to visit
the mayor. Stemons made a “very brief address.” In reply, Stemons told
his sister, the mayor “assured” the delegation “of his most hearty sympa-
thy with us and the colored race generally.”168 Although there is no com-
plete record of what Stemons said to the mayor, the press account gave a
strong indication of what the public wanted to hear. The Philadelphia
Inquirer made no mention of economic discrimination or that the dele-
gation included any white members. Instead, it highlighted little more
than what was said regarding crime. “Reference was made by the speak-
ers of the delegation and the Mayor to crimes to which the colored man
is alleged to be addicted,” announced the Inquirer.169 Stemons also noted
the one- sided press coverage in the North American, Pennsylvania’s second-
largest daily. “They left out the chief things I wrote about the Negro’s
disadvantages,” he complained, “[and] . . . from the reports which I have
seen they dwelt strongly on the side that related to criminality among

This watershed moment for his or ga ni za tion revealed the degree to
which appeals to whites for racial reform depended on black leaders’
willingness to traffi c in the rhetorical currency of black inferiority. Stemons
chose crime, as had Du Bois a de cade before. Booker T. Washington testi-
fi ed to blacks’ present incapacity for higher learning, po liti cal leadership,



and in most cases social equality. Black Baptist women— Sadie Layten
and clubwomen like Nannie Burroughs, president of the National Train-
ing School for Women and Girls— singled out sexual depravity among
working- class black women. This is not to say that black leaders were not
ambivalent about their social inferiors, as surely many white progres-
sives were with respect to Eu ro pe an immigrants. It is only to say that their
public arguments in defense of their race hinged on conceding shortcom-
ings in ways that white progressives’ arguments in favor of immigrant
advancement did not. The anticrime work of white settlement house work-
ers examined at the beginning of this chapter illustrates the difference be-
tween their strategies and those of black reformers. White progressives
helped to shape public knowledge about the need for structural change
among immigrants, in contrast to racial change among blacks. Also, un-
like black reformers, white progressives did not endure the personal pres-
sure to defi ne their respectability or right to middle- class standing as a ne-
gation of working- class culture and class, even though they accrued social
status nevertheless. But the crucial point is that white progressives had ac-
cess to money, power, and the ability to effect reform in ways that did not
have to come at the expense of immigrants. The same cannot be said for
black- organized reform in the North prior to the Great Migration.171

The benefi ts of Stemons’s campaign for economic reform in 1912 were
dubious, if not elusive. Although his supporters shared many of the same
contacts as the successful Armstrong Association of Philadelphia, and the
AAP made an offer to the AEIO- LCPR to join together, there is no evi-
dence that the or ga ni za tion achieved any success in broadening indus-
trial opportunities. Yet as a mea sure of the attractiveness of the or ga ni za-
tion’s crime- prevention potential, the black branch of the Philadelphia
YMCA offered to absorb it and to pay Stemons a full- time salary as a

The costs seemed immediately apparent. Not more than a month after
his meeting, Stemons anxiously informed his sister that he had read that
Mayor Blankenburg and his director of public safety had “proposed
among the white people the exact counterpart of my League— an associ-
ation which should co- operate with the police, and report to them any
disturbance, any law- breaking . . . any disorder of any kind.” Stemons
continued, “By good citizens and public offi cials thus acting together, the
Director declared, almost perfect order in the city could soon be pro-
duced.” Stemons could not believe what had happened. He was shocked
that neither he nor any representatives of his or ga ni za tion had been in-



vited to participate, except for one white clergyman who had left the or-
ga ni za tion on bad terms. Sounding exasperated, he wrote, “The whites
have hitherto gone ahead with their meetings just as though no Negroes
existed.”173 A month later the mayor offi cially announced the establish-
ment of the fi rst vice commission in Philadelphia. Just as Stemons had
feared, no blacks were invited to serve on the commission.174 Stemons
believed that his penalty for highlighting black criminality was that his
community policing idea had been stolen. Seeing himself as a proponent
of reform rather than a source of contempt, Stemons did not see the ob-
vious: that his efforts would contribute to the further stigmatization of
blacks as criminals, regardless of whether blacks served on a vice com-
mission or not.

Still, Stemons cannot be totally blamed for missing this point. He was
not the only one who appeared at times to focus more on the need for
black crime fi ghters than on seeking economic justice. A black columnist
for the Philadelphia Tribune, for example, was also troubled by the ab-
sence of blacks on the commission and wondered whether prejudice was
the cause. He contacted Mayor Blankenburg’s offi ce to investigate, only
to be told a naked lie that “not a colored preacher had ever written a line
on the matter or evidenced the slightest interest concerning vice.” This was
a self- serving misrepre sen ta tion for the mayor’s benefi t, though its meaning
would not become clear until after the commission completed its work
the following year. Without further question or apparent awareness of
Stemons’s mayoral visit, the columnist went on to blame blacks for not
taking an active interest in crime. “I have tried to urge our folks to bestir
themselves on this vice problem,” he wrote, but to no avail.175 Anticipat-
ing the worst in the coming year, the columnist cynically concluded,
“Now our white friends will take the matter up, and as usual, they will
lay all the blame of bad conditions at the door of colored people.”176


The pace of crime prevention among progressives that began at the dawn
of the twentieth century accelerated during the second de cade. Social,
moral, and po liti cal reform also continued to gain the lion’s share of their
attention. Although these reformers were sometimes fi erce critics of in-
dustrialization’s hunger for cheap labor and insensitivity to the quality of
workers’ lives, they mostly chose to wage battles outside the workplace.
Soliciting the fi nancial support of business own ers and participating on
the boards of various social agencies, progressives rarely challenged the
inherent inequalities in the economic system. A confl icting story emerges
when one compares what these liberals believed with what they were
willing to fi ght against. They claimed that crime was more a function of
economic forces than of individual moral failure, yet between 1911 and
1917 many of them initiated or supported vice crusades in major cities
such as Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and New Orleans. Their ac-
tions spoke louder than their words as they formed urban vice commis-
sions to investigate and eliminate prostitution, gambling, and illegal drug
use and traffi cking. Like the settlement house movement, the movement
to close red- light districts— the Tenderloin, as the district was called in
Philadelphia— focused once again on the symptoms of in e qual ity rather
than on the causes, and this movement was as profoundly racialized.

Race mattered to city offi cials and reformers who hired former pimps
and prostitutes to infi ltrate the disorderly houses and gambling dens of
Philadelphia in the spring of 1912. But proof of this claim is not neces-
sarily revealed by the mistreatment of African Americans by Philadel-
phia’s Vice Commission or its hired guns. Black reformer James Stemons
had fought long and hard to bring black criminality to the attention of
city authorities. Stemons had even credited himself for giving Mayor
Rudolph J. Blankenburg the idea to commence a wide- scale assault on


F I G H T I N G C R I M E :





vice in Philadelphia with the help of ministers and reformers. That Ste-
mons and the many supporters of the League of Civic and Po liti cal Re-
form (LCPR) demanded a coordinated response of concerned citizens and
public offi cials to stamp out crime shows that blacks did not necessarily
see aggressive crime fi ghting as inherently harmful to the race. For this
reason, the work of the Vice Commission should have signaled a hopeful
sign to black reformers that a broader effort was afoot to improve the
quality of life for everyone: whites, immigrants, and blacks.

A major concern expressed by African Americans such as Du Bois,
Stemons, and writers for the Philadelphia Tribune was that crime preven-
tion among blacks had been too long ignored. There was also a booming
body of evidence that anticrime forces that did descend on black com-
munities acted with impunity and disregarded the individual rights of
black citizens. In this thicket of paradoxical worries, blacks themselves
contributed to the racialization of crime prevention by linking racial
progress to crime fi ghting. In other words, although blacks needed the
help of the city’s mostly white police force to catch criminals regardless
of race, blacks advocated crime fi ghting on the basis of what was good
for the black community. They wanted to raise public awareness about
crime among blacks in order to give their communities, particularly their
vulnerable children, the same protection that white communities received.
They also calculated that fewer black criminals would translate into bet-
ter social treatment and more economic opportunity for the law- abiding.
In 1912, however, Philadelphia city offi cials and reformers seemed to
turn a deaf ear to the larger goals of black crime fi ghters. Instead, they
accepted the premise that crime among blacks was a serious problem,
but since less was at stake po liti cally, white offi cials were unwilling to
give it the same attention they gave crime among whites.

Vice raids against white members of the underworld were nothing
new. All police districts in Philadelphia, most of which had majority
white and immigrant populations, made vice arrests as part of their nor-
mal routine.1 What was unique under the Blankenburg administration
was an offi cial policy of coordinated anti- vice efforts by the police, city
offi cials, and citizens.2 Upon taking offi ce in December 1911, Blanken-
burg planned to keep a campaign promise to rid the city of vice.3 As a
po liti cal in de pen dent, he was beholden to neither the Republican machine
that ruled Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania, nor the Demo cratic
party, which had not run the city since the 1880s and would not run it
again until the 1950s. Blankenburg was head of the Keystone party, a



fusion party of anti- machine Republicans and Demo crats who wanted to
rid the city of po liti cal corruption.

To derail the Republican machine, Blankenburg attacked police cor-
ruption so that crooked politicians would no longer be able to pay for
police protection. Police were the foot soldiers. Without their surveillance
and strong- arm tactics at polling places, Republican candidates would be
vulnerable to challenges by Demo crats and reformers. The strength of
the “Or ga ni za tion,” as the machine was called, was its iron grip on the
voters. Had the Republicans not been embroiled in an internal dispute
between two warring machine factions, Blankenburg never would have
had a chance to win the election. In the wake of the dispute, an unusual
number of Or ga ni za tion loyalists failed to turn up at the polls, leaving
room for Blankenburg to slip through. His winning margin of a paltry
four thousand votes hardly qualifi ed as a mandate by the voters.4

From the start of Blankenburg’s administration, clear signals indi-
cated that his new crime- fi ghting program would not be in the interest of
color- blind law and order. The lack of results from the mayor’s January
1912 meeting with Stemons’s delegation of reformers and ministers to
discuss better policing in black neighborhoods was the fi rst clue that
blacks’ concerns would go unaddressed. By February the mayor had
moved ahead with plans to assemble a committee of local anti- vice re-
formers, none of whom were black. In March Blankenburg met with U.S.
Attorney General George B. Wickersham to coordinate local efforts to
help the federal government combat white prostitution under the Mann
Act.5 Also known as the White Slave Law, the Mann Act made the trans-
fer of white women across state lines for the purposes of prostitution il-
legal. Though mostly color- blind in its language (its pop u lar moniker, an
exception), the law was discriminatory in practice. Black women did not
receive equal protection under the Mann Act, wherever it was applied.6

In the opening months of his administration, Blankenburg made it plain
that he wanted to work with white moral reformers to save whites from
becoming criminals. The Inasmuch Mission, for example, was located in
“Hell’s Half Acre,” one of central Philadelphia’s most notorious rough
spots. At the center of a “district of vice,” the mission was surrounded
by as many as “65 houses being used for immoral purposes.” Even the
building owned by Inasmuch had a sordid past. It had once been known
as a “get away house,” complete with its own underground tunnel, and
had also been the scene of a qua dru ple hom i cide. Crime fl ourished in this



area, and the police were known to stand idly by— laughing, in some
cases— while own ership of personal property was transferred via the
force of arms. That was the situation the mission faced when it hired
underworld investigators to tip off Blankenburg’s policemen about crim-
inal activity. By May 1912 the area was declared clean. One newspaper
headline announced, “Hell’s Half Acre Now Respectable.”7

G. Grant Williams, an African American journalist and Philadelphia
Tribune editor, called the crackdown an attempt to turn the area into a
“white settlement.” He observed that under the previous administration
the area’s black residents had not received any police protection. Now
the area was swarming with police, but the benefi ciaries of the mission’s
collaboration with the police, Williams charged, were the “white tramps
and bums” who came from all over the city to use the mission.8 Director
of Public Safety George D. Porter had in fact praised the mission for its
success. He compared it to Hull House, famous for its successful inter-
vention in the lives of many impoverished whites and immigrants in a
tough Chicago neighborhood.9 Hull House offered limited ser vices to its
black neighbors.10 The fact that Inasmuch Mission was following suit
and becoming Philadelphia’s model for a nearly whites- only, community-
based policing mission did not bode well for the black residents of Hell’s
Half Acre. Williams complained, “What has the Inasmuch Mission done
for the real residents of Hells [sic] Half Acre, who are colored people?
Has it made any provisions for the colored children of the neighborhood
to keep them away from the existing evils?” He concluded that Inasmuch
was doing nothing to improve the conditions of black people.11 The Inas-
much Mission became a major infl uence among local white moral reform-
ers interested in redeeming the white underworld. In September, within
four months of the mission’s victory over crime, the Episcopal Church of
Philadelphia absorbed Inasmuch, giving it the fi nancial and institutional
backing of a major religious or ga ni za tion.12

Episcopal churches were also beginning to take the lead in mission
work among white prostitutes and pimps in North Philadelphia, an area
with a much smaller population of blacks than South Philadelphia. Male
evangelists inspired by the Social Ser vice Committee of the Interchurch
Federation visited the homes of residents in the Tenderloin with the “pur-
pose of extending to men of the house hold an invitation to come to
church.” When they discovered a disorderly house, the evangelists noti-
fi ed the police, and raids were later conducted. “In this manner the men



of the churches are engaged in what practically amounts to police work,”
the Public Ledger reported, “and are co- operating” with the police. Mem-
bers of the Bible Class of Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church also con-
ducted investigations to chart every disorderly house near the church
building. To entice sinners, Trinity built a recreation room in the base-
ment. James B. Ely, head of the Lemon Hill Association, also located in
the Tenderloin, or ga nized women missionaries from one hundred leading
churches and synagogues to redeem “fallen women.”13

The Inasmuch Mission likewise inspired individual white politicians.
Former Thirty- third Ward councilman William Burke, who had recently
revealed to the public that he was an ex- convict, announced plans to “de-
vote the rest of [his] life to the uplift of the people of the underworld.”
Burke stated, “God knows they are the most miserable of all human be-
ings. Almost every man’s hand is against them, and those who have been
behind the prison bars fi nd it almost impossible to obtain employment.
I know what they suffer. I have been through it. . . . I would like nothing
better than to connect myself with that Inasmuch Mission which is doing
such splendid work in their behalf.”14

In an effort to draw attention to the absence of a “war on evils” in
black communities, a column appeared in an October 5 issue of the
weekly Philadelphia Tribune. Striking a cynical tone, the black columnist
criticized the new administration’s one- sided crusade: “Some people
dreamed that with the coming of boasted Reform our street corners
would be free of loafers; dens of vice would be closed, and a new condi-
tion of things would be seen. All, however, have been disappointed.” In-
stead, the police in South Philadelphia continued to ignore the “corner
loungers” who crowded the streets and harassed the innocent. According
to the columnist, an especially “shameful sight” could be found on any
Sunday afternoon near Allen A.M.E. church. Young children heading
to Sunday School were “compelled to meet the insults of this motley
throng, while the policeman jogs merrily on swinging his club.”15

Arrest statistics strongly suggest that the Tribune’s criticism of the
mayor’s racially biased crime policy was accurate. By comparing arrest
statistics for the year before Blankenburg took offi ce— and the Philadel-
phia Vice Commission began— to those for the year the changes took ef-
fect, the immediate impact of the new crime policy can be mea sured. How-
ever, the statistics should be accepted cautiously as only one mea sure of
change rather than as an accurate depiction of the amount of police activ-
ity or crime. Crime statistics were inherently fl awed by po liti cal biases in



Philadelphia’s criminal justice system and were as likely to exaggerate
crime conditions as to underreport them, depending on the po liti cal cli-
mate. The Blankenburg reform years, 1912 to 1916, were exceptional,
given Blankenburg’s hard- line stance against police corruption and its
ties to vice protection managed by Republican machine loyalists.16 The
city was also experiencing its fi rst coordinated and sustained anti- vice
crusade. Later in the 1920s, during Prohibition, anti- vice investigations
would recur periodically, and police activity in white and black commu-
nities was grossly underrepresented by arrest statistics.17 Police offi cers
worked feverishly with suspected and known criminals to keep them
from going to jail for most offenses short of murder. They were much
more willing to accept payoffs to keep their pockets lined and criminals
on the streets than to shut down a fl ush system of repeat offenders and
repeat remittances.18

The sixth and eighth police districts, also the targeted areas of the
Vice Commission’s investigations, encompassed the main red- light dis-
trict in Philadelphia. The Tenderloin extended directly north from the
central business district into North Philadelphia. The population repre-
sented by these two police districts was overwhelmingly white and work-
ing class in 1912, with a small black population of similar economic
status. The total number of arrests in these police districts was 12,523 in
1911 and 14,653 in 1912, a 17.0 percent increase. In the entire city over
the same period, arrests rose only 9.7 percent. In South Philadelphia, the
nineteenth district encompassed what could be called Philadelphia’s Black
Belt, although no ward in Philadelphia came close to having an all- black
population. The nineteenth district had more black arrests than any other
single district in the city, three times more than the next most active dis-
trict among blacks, the adjacent second district. It also had the most
black police offi cers in the city. Between 1911 and 1912, total arrests in
the nineteenth district fell from 4,043 to 3,625, a 10.3 percent decline.19
These statistics suggest how much more active the police were in the Ten-
derloin compared to the city as whole, and especially the predominately
black area of South Philadelphia.

When the numbers are broken out by race, the results are even more
dramatic.20 White arrests in the Tenderloin districts rose 19.1 percent dur-
ing 1912 compared to an 11.7 percent decline among blacks. Citywide,
white arrests rose 11 percent, while black arrests fell 1 percent. Even juve-
nile arrests across the city followed the same pattern, with white youth
arrests climbing a modest 0.1 percent, but black youth arrests falling



20.7 percent. The most striking change was seen in the nineteenth district
of South Philadelphia, where black arrests fell sharply by as much as 21
percent, compared to a rise of 9.4 percent among whites.21 Responding to
the continued crisis facing black communities, the Tribune wrote, “[Public
Safety] Director Porter may continue to praise policemen while thieves,
robbers and bandits are holding a high carnival unmolested.”22

The Vice Commission’s fi nal report confi rmed the pattern of racial
disparity suggested by the arrest statistics. White prostitution was the
single most important issue raised by the commission. Over the course of
several months the commission interviewed 3,311 women.23 This num-
ber was not further disaggregated by race, but given the area of the city
where the investigators did the bulk of their work there is no doubt that
the overwhelming majority were white women.24 The newspapers pro-
vided explicit clues as well when blotter- length articles mentioned that
twenty white women were arrested in vice raids in the Tenderloin. Even
when race was not mentioned in reports, as in the article about one hun-
dred suspects arrested during raids of disorderly houses, the suspects were
all white.25 Integral to the main investigation of white prostitution, the
commission also devoted considerable space to highlighting corruption
among magistrates and policeman, the vast majority of whom were also
white.26 The only offi cial ac know ledg ment of black participation in the
mayor’s anti- vice campaign was the delayed inclusion of the Reverend
Henry L. Phillips on the commission.

In a context where crime fi ghting had become the mantra of the city’s
new reform mayor, whites looked after their own. The problem for black
crime fi ghters was that saving their own meant working largely without
the active support of the police, major city institutions, and infl uential
politicians. The ultimate irrelevance of Stemons’s League for Civic and
Po liti cal Reform is a perfect case in point. The LCPR’s program was basi-
cally identical to what white religious organizations and reformers were
able to accomplish in the Tenderloin, but Mayor Blankenburg gave it no
support, and the LCPR was thus unsuccessful. While it is impossible to
know exactly why Blankenburg turned his back on the LCPR and denied
the existence of black crime fi ghters like Stemons with whom he had
agreed to work, more than likely he knew he could gain more po liti cal
capital and success as a reform mayor by using the city’s limited resources
to clean up white areas.

The racially exclusive nature of Philadelphia’s anti- vice movement
echoed other incidents of racial discrimination involving Blankenburg’s



administration.27 During the third week of January 1913, for example,
the city held its fi rst annual dinner for Public Works employees at Wana-
maker’s restaurant. Two black employees were refused admittance to
the dinner. They were told by members of their own party that the white
waiters refused to serve them. A Wanamaker spokesman challenged that
claim, stating that the restaurant served everyone regardless of race.
Given John Wanamaker’s generous philanthropic support of southern
black education, it seems unlikely that his restaurant would have been
so blatantly racist.28 A month later a Tribune investigator discovered
that a southern white city employee who refused to be seated with his
fellow black workers was behind the incident.29 As a fusion party of in-
de pen dent Republicans and transplanted southern Demo crats, Blanken-
burg’s Keystone reform party was seemingly cut from the same progres-
sive cloth as President Woodrow Wilson’s administration. Suggesting
that Blankenburg sponsored an unoffi cial policy of discrimination at City
Hall, a Tribune columnist wrote that “an invisible sign hangs over the
door in every department over which the Mayor presides.” A more bla-
tant example occurred when one of the city’s highway commissioners
was riding down a street in a carriage, commenting on how badly the
streets needed repairing. Then he reportedly said, “We need not bother
our heads about having this repaired because it is only occupied by

Blankenburg’s administration was evidently hostile to blacks. Al-
though stricter civil ser vice requirements were passed as part of Blanken-
burg’s reform program, Benjamin E. Hinds, for example, was not given
one of 150 jobs even though his exam score of 82.7 placed him fi fty- fi fth
on the list of appointees. A score of 70 was the cutoff, and Hinds should
have been a shoo- in for a civil ser vice job. Director Porter did not ac-
knowledge the injustice, but told Hinds to try again next time.31 During
the fi rst several months of Blankenburg’s term, at least nineteen black
employees reportedly lost their jobs due to racism in city departments.32
Heavily infl uenced by southerners, the reform administration had “no
love for the Negro except it be as a servant or a menial,” remarked a Tri-
bune editorial.33

The administration’s inimical attitude toward blacks was sometimes
mirrored by violent confrontations between white citizens and police of-
fi cers on one side and black citizens on the other. On September 21,
1912, Robert Henderson was escorting two women home from a party at
about one o’clock in the morning. Although newspaper accounts differ



as to exactly what happened next, for some reason Henderson began
chasing three white young men. Henderson claimed that the men, two
eighteen- year- olds and one nineteen- year- old, began “jeering” at him.
The teenagers claimed that they were calling out to each other when
Henderson mistook their yells as a personal affront. The young men threw
two milk bottles in Henderson’s direction, and Henderson drew a pen-
knife. Upon noticing the “colored man” in hot pursuit of three white
“boys,” David Simpson, a white off- duty police offi cer, stepped in to
block Henderson’s path and was fatally stabbed. After fl eeing the scene,
Henderson was arrested. The teenagers were also picked up and held as
material witnesses. Philadelphia’s white press was unequivocal in its
characterizations of Simpson as a hero: a loyal son, a young husband,
and a father who died trying to protect white youths. Out of respect, the
police station where Simpson had worked was “draped with black crepe”
and had its fl ag “lowered to half staff.” The Eve ning Bulletin even went a
step further and characterized Henderson as a cold- blooded killer. The
paper reported that at the moment of the stabbing Henderson had said,
“I told you to keep away, so take this and you will learn better.”34

Black men did not generally attack white youths or white police offi –
cers without provocation; the odds against them were simply too great.35
However, the opposite scenario was not an unusual occurrence. In re-
sponse to what happened, the Philadelphia Tribune regretted the death
of Simpson but sympathized with Henderson’s response, considering the
danger he may have sensed from the teenagers. Henderson, the Tribune
claimed, may have anticipated trouble, given the frequent attacks by
white gangs on innocent blacks. “White roughs in the downtown district
make it a practice to tantalize colored persons and frequently beat them
unmercifully,” the editorialist wrote. Worse still, if a policeman inter-
venes, “he invariably arrests the colored man who has been assaulted, and
allows the white assailant to go scot free.” Unlike the effort to improve
crime control in North Philadelphia’s most troublesome white areas,
racial violence, wherever it occurred in Philadelphia, was not a priority
among law enforcement offi cers. Many white policemen, the Tribune con-
cluded, were simply not to be trusted because they usually sided with
“white thugs” who made it a “night sport to assault one or more persons
of color.”36

The Tribune might have also mentioned that Henderson likely did
not know that Simpson was a police offi cer since he was dressed in civil-
ian clothes and standing on the corner with friends late at night. When



Simpson jumped out to subdue Henderson, Henderson probably pan-
icked. Given that a black man had taken the life of a white police offi cer,
his defense attorney had to raise such questions in order to keep Hen-
derson from going to the electric chair. At the trial during the fi rst week
of December, Henderson’s black attorney, G. Edward Dickerson, was
praised for winning the case with “strong” arguments.37

The same day as Henderson’s acquittal, Dickerson was also recog-
nized for representing a black physician, Thomas G. Coates, who had
been shot down a month before by two white police offi cers. Shortly after
midnight on November 1, 1912, Coates and his friend, D. Ogden, heard
a women “crying murder.” When they rushed to her aid, they found two
white men beating an unarmed black man with blackjacks. Coates ques-
tioned the men, and one responded by swinging at him. Coates dodged
the blow, fell to the ground, and was shot twice at point- blank range. The
fi rst bullet entered his “scalp behind the right ear and came out over the
temple.” The second tore through his clothes but glanced off a button,
missing his fl esh. Ogden was not harmed.38

When Coates and Ogden had come upon the scene, the two allegedly
drunk undercover police offi cers were brutalizing a black man, demand-
ing to know to whom the man had paid police protection when he had
once owned a speakeasy. Ironically, police were willing to use illegal
means against blacks in the name of police reform. The facts that no one
was arrested and that Offi cers Martin Lyford and John Devinney made
no attempt to assist Coates added further proof of their unlawful inten-
tions and deliberate “reckless[ness].” The Tribune did not hide its disgust
for what had happened, noting that “of late it is unsafe for a respectable
colored man to walk the streets after dark for fear of being assaulted.”

Sometime between the attack on Henderson and the Coates shoot-
ing, Theodore Cuff was shot at twice by an offi cer while he was run-
ning to catch a trolley. He was unhurt but was then arrested for being a
“suspicious character.” The charge was thrown out, and the offi cer was

Later in November yet another black man found himself in what he
perceived to be a life- or- death struggle with a white assailant. John Brown
was walking alone on November 28, 1912, when he was approached by
Steve McLaughlin. Based on witness accounts, McLaughlin asked Brown
for a match to light a cigarette. He also demanded a dime to buy a drink
at a nearby saloon. Without a match to give, Brown refused to hand over
any money. McLaughlin began beating Brown, sending him twice to the



ground. Upon rising the third time, according to a statement Brown
made to the arresting offi cer, he shot McLaughlin three times. McLaugh-
lin died at the hospital the following eve ning.40

According to half of the eight prosecutorial witnesses and six defense
witnesses, McLaughlin was a very rough man. He drank regularly be-
tween sessions of corner lounging with his two friends, Albert Reilly and
John Eagan, both known as “bums” by the local police. None of these
three men held steady jobs, unlike John Brown who had worked at the
water department for several years. Testifying for the prosecution, Offi cer
Douglass said he had known McLaughlin for the past eleven years and
had “never knowed [sic] him to work at any steady position.” McLaughlin
instead spent much of his free time building a “very bad” reputation,
“always hunting for trouble.” Offi cer Douglass testifi ed that McLaugh-
lin, a physically imposing fi gure, specialized in attacking black people:
“His sole object was he had no use for colored men. If they walked up
20th street or 23rd street he would knock them down for nothing at
all.” On his deathbed, McLaughlin even admitted to Detective William
Belshaw that he was as much to blame for being shot as was Brown for
shooting him. “I was fi ghting with him,” he added. True to form, the day
McLaughlin was shot he had just been released from jail, having served a
ten- day sentence for beating up a “colored” bootblack. Several police of-
fi cers testifi ed that McLaughlin had been arrested and served time on
numerous other occasions. Detective John L. Porter stated that McLaugh-
lin had been in the House of Correction “not less than fi fteen or twenty
times”; those convictions marked only the times when he had been

Brown’s black coworker Russell Freeman testifi ed for the defense that
McLaughlin had also attacked him after demanding money for a drink.
When Freeman told McLaughlin he did not have any money, McLaughlin
“pulled out a pair of iron knuckles and he hit me over the eye and I will
always have [a scar].” After a bystander pulled McLaughlin off Freeman,
McLaughlin and “two of his buddies” followed Freeman home and be-
gan threatening him from the street. McLaughlin said, “What do you
think, that black son- of- a-bitch comes all the way from the South with
our money in his pocket and won’t give us a dime. . . . Well we will lay
for him and get him to night.” Freeman escaped further harm.42

In McLaughlin’s North Philadelphia neighborhood, the increasing
presence of black southern migrants, though still a small percentage of the
population before the Great Migration, apparently touched off violent



tendencies among some white men. African American men were the most
underemployed and lowest- paid male workers in Philadelphia’s prewar
economy, and black city employees and civil ser vice applicants were on
notice that public jobs would go to white men fi rst.43 Complaints about
blacks stealing whites’ jobs thus had no basis in fact. McLaughlin’s gang
did not appear to be terribly interested in working anyway. Nevertheless,
Brown and Freeman had been expected to pay a racial surcharge in ei-
ther cash or blood for their hard work.

The fact that black men like John Brown and Robert Henderson
armed themselves when walking Philadelphia’s mean streets strongly
suggests that they anticipated the kinds of racial attacks that the Tribune
had noted were so common. Brown, characterized by his employer as a
“quiet, peaceable man,” had been attacked once before while working
at the Water Department. Offi cer Douglass stated that he knew about
the incident because a warrant had been sworn out for Brown’s arrest. The
offi cer testifi ed that Brown was regularly harassed by his white cowork-
ers. One of them went so far as to sodomize Brown by “putting his hand
in his rectum and making a fool out of him.” Brown “cut” the man in
retaliation. Offi cer Douglass never served the warrant because the matter
was “fi xed up” and the “cutting didn’t amount to anything.” Brown was
not so lucky the next time he used a weapon to defend himself.44

John Brown was tried twice for the death of Steve McLaughlin. The
fi rst trial occurred immediately after the shooting in the court of white
pop u lar justice. After hearing gunshots, several men ran from their houses
in pursuit of Brown. John Feeney testifi ed: “I came out to the door. I saw
some boys running down the street and they hollered murder, and I ran
out and followed this nigger up to 26th and Oxford, and then I caught
him.” The “big crowd” that caught Brown, which also included McLaugh-
lin’s buddies Reilly and Eagan, pummeled Brown to a pulp. “He was all
beat up,” Offi cer Douglass observed, “His eyes were swollen up and he
was all marked up.” Henderson narrowly escaped the same fate or worse
after stabbing Offi cer Simpson, but the police managed to safely escort
him to jail.45

Based on all the facts, Brown’s defense attorney in the second trial
could have argued self- defense or justifi able hom i cide. But on his attor-
ney’s advice, Brown did not make that claim in a courtroom. Sensing the
anti- black mood of the community, and rather than taking the risk that a
white jury might fi nd Brown guilty of a more serious charge, Brown’s at-
torney calculated that a judge, knowing the circumstances, would exercise



greater reason after accepting a plea and would mete out a fair punish-
ment. Before rendering his decision, Judge Norris S. Barratt, Jr., told the
court that he did not agree with Brown’s excessive use of force, but given
McLaughlin’s undeniably bad character, Brown’s plea to manslaughter
was appropriate. Judge Barratt rendered a relatively light sentence of eigh-
teen months out of a possible twelve years, although a strong argument
could be made that Brown should have walked, given that he had served
six months awaiting trial.46

In the midst of Mayor Blankenburg’s well- publicized anti- vice cru-
sade, police reform and crime prevention among whites appeared to
come at the expense of blacks’ safety from assaults by white civilians and
police offi cers. Within three months at least six black men and two black
women (counting those accompanying Henderson) had been chased,
beaten, or shot at without provocation at the same time that white re-
formers, ministers, and police offi cers were offering would- be white crim-
inals a fresh start. Warning the city to take notice, the Tribune wrote, “It
seems as though some of these white policemen have gone crazy, or else
they are drunkards or dope fi ends. Since the reformers have been in power,
some of these crazy cops shoot at colored men as though they were squir-
rells [sic].”47

In December city offi cials took note by dismissing the offi cers involved
in the Coates shooting. Police Superintendent James Robinson also is-
sued a warning to all offi cers to stop using their guns unlawfully. His
order read in part, “[A] police offi cer is not justifi ed in using his revolver
upon mere suspicion of a felony having been committed, much less a
[mis]demeanor.” The Tribune applauded the warning and, in response to
the dismissal, expressed a sigh of relief that blacks would not have to go
out and buy “fi rearms for self- protection.”48

A few years later, southern blacks who migrated north in response to
war time labor shortages were singled out for carry ing handguns in Phila-
delphia. For example, after sentencing several migrants from Greenwood,
South Carolina, to jail terms, one judge said that he was going south to
investigate “what caused all this meanness.”49 The judge did not need to
leave town. Philadelphia played a signifi cant part in encouraging blacks
to arm themselves for self- defense, regardless of their native or migrant
status.50 Yet during this moment of increasing racial violence, it is very
diffi cult to know just how many blacks who became violent offenders
in the statistical record like John Brown or in the newspapers like
Robert Henderson did so because they had to protect themselves. In-



cidents of racial violence contributed to the criminalization of African

Philadelphia politics and the city administration played an instrumen-
tal role in the way crime was fought and was perceived by the public.
Having gained public support, vice reform became a sympathetic move-
ment to clean up predominately white neighborhoods and make new
ones safe for whites, at the same time that vice reform largely ignored
black neighborhoods. African American neighborhoods, however, could
ill afford to be on the short end of a reform movement, given the struc-
tural handicaps that already plagued them. Low wages, unemployment,
poor housing, and limited access to well- funded, po liti cally pop u lar so-
cial welfare agencies meant that, on the eve of the Great Migration, na-
tive black Philadelphians were already disproportionately suffering the
social preconditions for crime.52 The widespread belief that their in e qual-
ity was linked to some racial or cultural fault of their own illustrates how
profoundly critical the issue of crime was to defi ning black progress and
potential. The stigma of criminality that in part defi ned the Negro Prob-
lem at the onset of the Progressive era was reinforced at the end of the
period by the failure of white politicians and moral reformers to priori-
tize crime prevention among blacks as they had for whites. Because Pro-
gressive era moral reform was racially stratifi ed and discriminatory,
black criminality continued to be perceived as a racial problem and a
refl ection of black inferiority. Subsequent advances in racial reasoning
that led to arguments about black cultural inferiority in the period just
before and during the Great Migration were built on the assessment of
crime as a per sis tent racial problem. There was little recognition that the
black crime problem had been, and would continue to be, a truly collab-
orative project.

Putting 1912 behind but sensing the mood of the moment and the
possibilities of renewal, the Tribune declared the “Future Is Promising”
in a February 1913 editorial. It spoke to and for the optimism of black
Philadelphians in spite of the crime problem:

Some colored people, as well as some white people, appear to be
somewhat discouraged because all our people are not saints, so to
speak, forgetful of the fact that with centuries of freedom, civiliza-
tion and education behind them, the white people themselves are
guilty of committing all of the acts known in the calendar of crime.
Taking it all in all, considering impartially, if possible, the depth



from which our folks have come, they are doing remarkably well,
and were it not for the diffi culties and discouragements in their
path, they would have done infi nitely more . . . The demand of the
hour is that colored people themselves should strive to cultivate
a stronger sense of faith and confi dence in themselves. Of course,
we have worthless ones among us. What people have not? But we
have a number of worthy ones; let us pin our faith to the possibili-
ties within them and not lose courage because it has been our luck
to be disappointed in our transactions with others of the crooked
sort. With all and in spite of all barriers, as a class, we can sur-
mount them all, if we resolve to dare and do.53

The coming years would prove perhaps more diffi cult than the Tribune
could have imagined.

The onset of war time migration of African Americans to Philadelphia
from southern farms and cities generated new discussions of black crime.54
In part, this reaction was a simple calculation based on pure numbers: the
more blacks who came to the city, the more crime that would follow. The
link between black migration and crime had been fi rmly established at
the end of the nineteenth century. But between 1900 and 1910, the high-
lighting of southern migrant criminality was all but muted in comparison
to sweeping generalizations about the entire race. Prior to the war time
period, black migration to the North was largely born of individual moti-
vations, which increased the population of newcomers but was not recog-
nized as a mass movement or a coordinated one.

During the war, however, when labor agents, railroads, and black news-
papers like the Chicago Defender became major proponents of migra-
tion, the movement became widely recognized, and criminality therefore
gained broader attention.55 Philadelphia’s black population grew from
84,459 to 134,229 between 1910 and 1920, a sizable 58 percent gain,
and blacks represented 7.4 percent of the 1920 population, compared to
5.5 percent in 1910 and 4.8 percent in 1900. New York City, home of the
largest black population in the North, also witnessed a 66 percent in-
crease during the de cade of the teens. The Great Migration was a na-
tional phenomenon. Three Midwestern cities best illustrate the dramatic
change. Cleveland’s black population qua dru pled in size, Detroit experi-
enced a more than sevenfold increase, and the number of Chicago’s black
residents more than doubled between 1910 and 1920.



The war time migration had such a big demographic impact that some
contemporaries unwittingly distorted southern black criminality during
the de cade before. Looking to the immediate past, these observers virtu-
ally erased migrant crime from the historical record in order to empha-
size it in the present.56 The growth of the black middle class during the
late teens throughout the twenties produced many black public intellec-
tuals and reformers, some of whom tended to wax negatively about the
roughness of black southern migrants, blaming them for the downturn in
race relations. In their defense, the level of racial violence in the North
had reached such a fever pitch by the bloody summer of 1919 that it may
have been hard to imagine that white northerners could be so hateful on
general principle alone. But this suddenly precipitous downturn had been
gradually steepening since the turn of the century as mea sured by declin-
ing economic opportunity and residential immobility, as well as by in-
creasing racial violence— the raison d’être of the NAACP in 1910. The
debate about black southerners as a reason and justifi cation for the in-
creasing discrimination, segregation, and violence in the North was at
least twenty years old by 1916, if one takes the publication of Frederick
L. Hoffman’s Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro in 1896
as the starting point. Blacks in Philadelphia, for example, had singled out
southerners at least since Du Bois had famously done so in 1899. In 1914
the Philadelphia Tribune continued to do the same.57

The activist black newspaper began a series of editorials and articles
in January that brought attention to a “number of corner loungers,
idlers, [and] loafers” around the Thomas Durham elementary school.
The school was a couple of blocks from the Tribune offi ce in South Phila-
delphia, as well as near the black branch of the YMCA. According to the
Tribune, “corner bums” harassed young black girls on their way to and
from school, creating a serious threat to the girls’ safety. The paper called
for immediate action from concerned citizens, organizations, and the
police. In the wake of the Vice Commission and the absence of police-
assisted neighborhood watch groups, the Tribune did not hesitate to point
out that the White Women’s Christian Association had rallied crime fi ght-
ers to break up a similar “corner assemblage” affecting a white school.58
Within a week, the black female executive secretary of the Association
for the Protection of Colored Women, Sadie W. Layten, and several teach-
ers began an investigation. They then contacted the precinct lieutenant,
who detailed offi cers to clear the streets. Police also raided a house that
children had been seen entering. As a result of this investigation, a gang



of young men and girls— one of them found “nearly” naked— was taken
into custody. S. K. Whittle was singled out as the ringleader. It was his
room in which, he claimed, the girls were being taught to become theatri-
cal performers. Associating Whittle’s crime with his southern roots, the
Tribune wrote, “It is a great pity that he did not stay” in Norfolk, Vir-
ginia, because “he did not come here to better his condition and make of
himself a good citizen.”59

To the extent that black commentators had a hierarchy of blame for
crime on the eve of war time migration, blaming southerners did not rank
at the top. Instead, they cast a much wider net, focusing on society’s in-
equalities and inattention to black communities. J. R. Brock, principal
of the Durham School, addressed the way to prevent such dangerous
situations from reoccurring in the future. In addition to parents’ taking
greater responsibility for their children’s safety, he wrote, “it is the duty
of society . . . to make every highway safe, physically and morally. It is
the duty of every place of business to keep its front free of loungers.”
Like Stemons and Du Bois, black commentators like Brock and the Tri-
bune writers tried, if sometimes unsuccessfully, to strike a balance be-
tween blaming individuals and blaming society. That balance was echoed
in their dual approach, summarized neatly by the Tribune’s response to
the Durham School crackdown: a reignited commitment to fi ghting crime
“from within” the race and “from without.”60

War time migrants to Philadelphia were easy targets for intra- racial
crime fi ghting because they suffered from not one but two social distinc-
tions. Not only were many newcomers poor and desperate to take ad-
vantage of employment at shipbuilding yards and munitions plants, but
they were also perceived to be distinctly backward in their social hab-
its and culture. To the extent that class in the North had always distin-
guished between respectable, law- abiding blacks and the “submerged
tenth,” intra- racial southern culture became more meaningful and prob-
lematic to black northerners trying to minimize the stigma of criminality.
What was new was the intensity of the rhetoric of blame toward south-
ern migrants.

A representative example comes from the most authoritative study of
the Great Migration in Philadelphia written by a contemporary, the fi rst
black woman to receive a doctorate from the University of Pennsylva-
nia. Sadie T. Mossell’s timely and well- received dissertation in econom-
ics was published in 1921 by the Annals of the Academy of Po liti cal and
Social Science. Mossell analyzed the standard of living of one hundred



migrant families, using house hold bud get fi gures, to determine their de-
gree of adjustment to life in Philadelphia. Concluding that most migrant
families did not earn enough to meet the minimum standard of living
to conduct decent lives, her research showed that the migrants had
not only failed to adjust themselves to their new environment but were
directly responsible for the downward turn in race relations. Mossell

With few exceptions the migrants were untrained, often illiterate,
and generally void of culture. On the other hand, there stood thou-
sands of the native Negro population of Philadelphia, who had
attained a high economic, intellectual and moral status. They found
suddenly thrown into their midst about forty thousand migrants,
whose presence in such large numbers crushed and stagnated the
progress of Negro life. The pro cess of assimilation which the col-
ored citizens are carry ing on cannot immediately bring back the
pendulum which has swung to a position of depressed social, eco-
nomic and moral life. Only gradually as the weights of ignorance,
lack of culture, and increased racial prejudice aroused by the white
people against the whole Negro citizenry as a result of the tremen-
dous increase in the size of the Negro population, are removed, will
the pendulum return to normal. The pessimist groans that it will
never regain this position and points to the previous culture level
of Philadelphia Negroes as if it had been permanently drowned by
a torrent of migration. Certainly none of us can deny that the mi-
gration retarded the steady march of progress of the colored peo-
ple in Philadelphia.61

Mossell’s research is intriguing; had she not been primarily interested
in blaming migrants for whites’ stepping up their repression of black
Philadelphians, she could have presented a stunning critique of structural
in e qual ity shaped by white racism. Two themes were particularly high-
lighted: segregation in housing and segregation in recreation. The hous-
ing shortage, as she noted, was the most critical issue affecting migrants.
To make matters worse, whites violently resisted black expansion into pre-
dominately white areas, and landlords raised rents on already overcrowded
and dilapidated housing.62 The higher wages that brought the migrants
north were canceled out by price gouging in the segregated black areas.
Native blacks and migrants were underpaid and held the lowest- paying
jobs despite the war time fl ood of opportunity; they also paid the highest



prices for essential goods and ser vices, like food, clothing, rent, and in-
surance, relative to their white counterparts.

Despite such compelling evidence that migrants were not free to suc-
ceed or fail on their own individual and collective merits, Mossell saved
her most passionate criticism for migrant criminality. “While crime and
immorality among them never developed beyond control,” she wrote,
“many of their number were to be seen lounging on corners, frequenting
dens of vice and saloons and arming themselves with razors and pistols,
thereby increasing the number of court cases and greatly marring the
rec ords of the Negroes in Philadelphia and the peace of the city.”63 There
is no doubt that corner lounging by whites and blacks was a problem in
Philadelphia from the perspective of the middle class.64 Moreover, the
vice problem was endemic to the city’s ruling Republican party. The sa-
loon problem had reached such epic proportions in the entire country
that the federal government would soon pass the Volstead Act to crimi-
nalize alcohol— America’s favorite pastime. Finally, the possession of
concealed weapons was arguably as much a refl ection of criminal intent
as it was a safety mea sure against random acts of racial violence.65 None
of these issues could be identifi ed solely with southern blacks. Even with-
out such nuances, Mossell’s highlighting of migrant criminality was
based on a false premise that, before the migrants arrived, the “Philadel-
phia Negro . . . had always enjoyed the same social and educational facili-
ties as the whites and courteous treatment from them.”66

Mossell was not the only observer to confl ate white hostility and dis-
crimination against blacks with some migrants’ diffi culty in quickly achiev-
ing middle- class social status and respectability. Life was rough in Phila-
delphia for many black newcomers despite the benefi ts of greater economic
opportunity and social freedom relative to their southern communities.
Emmett Scott, the fi rst black assistant to the secretary of war, prepared a
study of black migration during World War I. Scott argued that many
migrants in Philadelphia had “used their liberty in their northern home as
a stumbling block” by wasting their “high wages” in “saloons and dens of
vice” to the “detriment” of themselves and the community.67 Clearly, the
idea of migrants’ newly gained freedom in the North was used against
them; Scott’s characterization of liberty came with a built- in penalty. No
matter how much migrants mirrored the behavior of their working- class
white and northern- born black counterparts, they were resented for be-
ing strangers.68 As outsiders, their behavior was a priori contemptible.



Forrester Washington, an African American researcher and head of the
Armstrong Association of Philadelphia (a National Urban League affi li-
ate), pointed this out in 1917: “Both the native colored and white people
of our community have a feeling that the southern man is more criminal
than the northern which creates a very unpleasant attitude towards the
newcomers.”69 The contempt that black northerners felt toward south-
ern strangers thus actually legitimized continued white prejudice against
all blacks.

Other black reformers saw migrants’ class status as a legitimate cause
for alarm. “We need such Christian activities especially because of the class
of colored people we are continually receiving from the South,” wrote
Henry Phillips of the Crucifi xion Episcopal Church, a former member of
the Vice Commission. “If we do not look after them in the right way, they
are sure to look after us in the wrong way.”70 Phillips’s use of an us- versus-
them dichotomy as an argument for saving the black community mir-
rored the sentiment some whites had expressed throughout the Progres-
sive era for stamping out black crime to save the city and/or the nation.
Both uses obfuscated the reality of structural barriers and racist senti-
ment; the rhetoric implied that but for black migrants, there would have
been no racial problems.

Critical to the idea of southern migrants as troublesome was the out-
break of race riots on an unpre ce dented scale in Philadelphia and sur-
rounding areas in 1917 and 1918. The fi rst outbreak occurred thirty- fi ve
miles south of Philadelphia in Chester, Pennsylvania. Chester’s black
population was in the pro cess of doubling from forty thousand residents
in 1914 to nearly eighty thousand by 1918. Migrant workers had fl ooded
the small city to work at Baldwin Locomotive and the Sun Shipbuilding
Company. White workers responded with uneasiness to the newcomers,
especially by late July 1917 when ship workers went on strike. Chester’s
vice district was located in the Black Belt and became subject to public
scrutiny during the migration. Given that it was a po liti cally protected vice
district, as was Philadelphia’s under the new pro- vice leadership of Mayor
Thomas B. Smith (1916– 1920), blacks in general bore the brunt of pub-
lic attacks on vice and crime. The conspicuous presence of so many strang-
ers made blacks easy scapegoats for a system of po liti cal and police cor-
ruption that had been in place long before they arrived. Nevertheless, a
series of robberies committed by blacks shortly before the riots played
vividly in the racial imaginations of Chester’s white residents.71



The rioting began after a white man was killed during a confrontation
with two black teenage couples. The deceased had been drinking heavily.
On his way home he allegedly insulted one of the black girls, and her date
responded with a knife. Over the next three days, starting on July 26, 1917,
white mobs roamed Chester’s streets, assaulting blacks, dragging them
from streetcars, and setting fi re to their homes. By the end the death toll had
reached fi ve, with fi fty seriously injured. Between the white press, Chester’s
white sheriff, and a “prominent [white] retired merchant,” blame for the
riot was attributed to black migrants and their “criminal element.”72

According to historian Charles Hardy, city offi cials in Philadelphia
responded to the Chester riot by taking notice of the “character of the
southerners in their midst.” The city also attempted to prevent its own
racial confl agration by increasing the number of offi cers on patrol. On
the last day of the Chester rioting, a Philadelphia police sweep of loi-
tering black men netted some young men from Chester, a few of them
armed. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that armed
black Philadelphians were traveling to Chester, adding that there had
been a run on fi rearms in South Philadelphia’s pawnshops. It was also
reported that fi fteen hundred white residents of the Gray’s Ferry section
of southwest Philadelphia— a mixed area of Irish, Italians, and African
Americans— came close to lynching a young black man accused of attack-
ing a white boy.73

The near- lynching in the Gray’s Ferry section was a glimpse of what
was to come the following year. All hell broke loose in Philadelphia in the
spring and summer of 1918. The immediate cause of the racial violence
and rioting was the crisis of overcrowded housing due to migration into
older black areas. Black population growth pushed the outer boundaries
of black neighborhoods across previously settled lines of residential seg-
regation. By the third year of war time migration, many upwardly mo-
bile blacks who could afford to move away from the most densely pop-
ulated black neighborhoods began to do so. Many black homeowners
and renters suffered fi erce and violent opposition from their new white
neighbors. For example, after Reginald Collender rented a house on Nau-
dain Street above 28th, whites attacked him and his family, destroying

Figure 5- 1 Adella Bond, a black homeowner who defended herself against a
white mob at the start of the Philadelphia Race Riot. The Philadelphia Tribune,
Philadelphia Penn., August 3, 1918.



their “house hold effects.” Collender was then arrested, accused of as-
saulting a police offi cer who had been shot during the attack. Although
no evidence was shown that Collender had possessed or used a gun or
had done anything but attempt to protect his family, he was sentenced to
serve two to fi ve years in the Eastern State Penitentiary. Investigating
Collender’s conviction for improprieties, the Pennsylvania Prison Society
successfully petitioned his release before the Board of Pardons on March
20, 1918. Collender was free from incarceration but had gained a felony

More housing- related attacks followed at the end of June, when the
contents of two black families’ homes were set ablaze on the 2500 block
of Pine Street. Keeping score of the growing list of black victims and
sensing the potential for more attacks, Tribune editor G. Grant Williams
instructed “law- abiding” blacks to defend themselves against the white
criminals who attacked their homes. Respectable blacks— no longer in
Dixie— had a right as American citizens, he insisted, to use arms against
“the ragged rum- crazed hellion crew, prototypes of your old cracker en-
emies.” Framing the confrontation over housing as a battle of good ver-
sus evil, Williams continued, “We stand for law and order, decency and
cleanliness, but knowing as we do the facts, that our people are driven
from pillar to post looking for houses to rent and that they pay more rent
than whites for the same shacks, our patience runs out.”75

Three weeks after Williams’s editorial appeared, Adella Bond’s pa-
tience ran out when a mob of white men came to remove her from her
new house. After Joseph Kelly, a member of the mob, threw a brick through
her parlor window, she fi red a warning shot from her revolver. Not
knowing what would happen next, Bond had used the gun to summon
the police. Kelly ended up being shot in the leg, but in the commotion
that followed once the police arrived it was not clear who the shooter
was. Several white men, including Kelly, were arrested for inciting a riot.
Later that same day groups of whites took to the streets, stoning blacks’
homes and churches. The rioters also looted many homes that were

The events of July 26, 1918, were an undeniable demonstration of
what Williams had observed in the preceding months— whites of ques-
tionable, if not criminal, backgrounds using violence to resist the residen-
tial encroachment of innocent, if not respectable, blacks. Bond was a
probation offi cer with the Municipal Court. Kelly and his crew were well



known to the neighborhood police as a gang of thieves who preyed on a
nearby freight yard, peddling stolen goods to their neighbors. Lieutenant
Myers of the Seventeenth Police District played up the criminality of the
“gang of white hoodlums” who attacked Bond, arguing that the gang
wanted to get rid of Bond “not because she bought the house,” but be-
cause as a court offi cer she was a threat to their “thievery.”77 Although
Myers’s statements corroborated Williams’s juxtaposition of white crimi-
nality versus black respectability, Myers’s point was to deny the racist
intent of the assault.

Believing that white criminality and police racism were the root prob-
lems, black leaders sharply criticized Lieutenant Myers’s failure to stop
the police in the riot areas from abdicating their responsibility to protect
blacks’ property in the several days of violence that followed. A little more
than a week after the rioting began at the front lawn of Adella Bond’s
house, vandals and thieves returned, carted away her belongings, and
distributed such items as shoes and silverware to the white neighbors.
The police, who were supposed to be watching the house, instead alleg-
edly cooperated with the looters. No one was arrested.78 Some police-
men’s animosity toward blacks was starkly revealed by a white offi cer
who received the complaint of Mrs. P. C. Williams, Bond’s only black
neighbor. Williams suffered property damage when a stone was thrown
through the window of her grocery store on August 24. She reported the
incident to an offi cer and said he replied, “What in the h[ell] have I got to
do with that? It did not happen while I was on duty, and I don’t give a
d[amn] if they tear down the whole d[amn] building so long as I don’t see
them.”79 The veracity of Lieutenant Myers’s statements in defense of his
police offi cers seems suspect at best: “Every one of my men did his full
duty and they treated every one alike . . . The policemen could not have
done better than they did.”80

Several police offi cers aided white mobs by disarming blacks, thereby
limiting their ability to defend their homes. Policemen unlawfully entered
homes looking for weapons to confi scate, without search warrants or a
pretext for believing guns were owned illegally. Since Reconstruction
black gun own ership and the right to keep fi rearms for self- protection
had been subject to unlawful scrutiny and outright violent suppression by
whites across the nation. After removing the weapons, white policemen
told blacks to stay indoors; if a mob came, they were warned, the police
would be unable to protect them.81



The homes of Joseph Bush and Henry Gillison, for example, were
both “forcibly entered” by the police. The police took their arms, “turned
them over to the mob who beat them up,” and then arrested them. Bush
and Gillison were both represented by defense attorney G. Edward Dicker-
son and later discharged by a judge. Along with Andrew F. Stevens, a
highly respected black state- level politician, Dickerson complained bit-
terly about the illegal actions of the police. Stevens accused Director of
Public Safety William H. Wilson of taking part in the drive to disarm blacks,
stating that Wilson had issued an order to gun dealers to cease sales to
blacks. Director Wilson denied any racial bias, but admitted that an or-
der had been issued to stop all sales of fi rearms.82

If responsibility for the rioting was mea sured solely by the black-
white ratio of arrests, blacks would have been overwhelmingly guilty.
During the six days of rioting between July 26 and 31, not counting the
several weeks of continued violence that followed, sixty blacks were ar-
rested compared to three whites— a ratio of 20 to 1.83 However, arrest
statistics were misleading; in many cases blacks were arrested regardless
of lack of evidence that they had started a confrontation. Whites were
almost never arrested; if a white male was taken into custody, it was usu-
ally the chief suspect rather than all participants. The outcome of inter-
racial confrontations often mirrored what happened when a mob in the
Gray’s Ferry section— the site of a near lynching the summer before—
attacked two black men, Joseph Sherman and L. Sims, on August 11.
Sherman was shot, and Sims was beaten with “clubs and fi sts.” The only
arrests were of Sherman and Sims.84 The night before, John Lee, Walter
Penn, and Edward Hinton were chased and beaten by a reported one
hundred U.S. sailors who were training at the Philadelphia Naval Yards.
Hinton died from the beating; Lee and Penn managed to escape into a
black church where they were later arrested and charged with carry ing
concealed weapons. “Yet,” the Tribune claimed, no weapons “were found
on them.”85

Some police offi cers did rescue blacks from mobs rather than simply
arrest them after they were beaten. On July 29, J. A. Trotman was as-
saulted by a group of white men, one of whom threw “a large piece of
iron” at him, striking him in the right shoulder. He managed to make it
indoors and contact the police, who safely escorted him from the scene.86
The following Saturday, two black motorists were dragged from their
cars by several whites near 27th and South Street. With guns drawn and



threatening to shoot, two policeman and several marines stopped the white
mob in its tracks. The next day, however, military personnel were on the
wrong side of the law when a white offi cer prevented thirty- fi ve uni-
formed sailors from further beating a black man on North Uber Street.87
Despite these uncommon acts of serving and protecting blacks, no whites
were arrested.

An important factor in the disproportionate arrests of blacks during
the summerlong rioting was the criminalization of black re sis tance to white
violence. Black self- defense, especially with the aid of a weapon, was
treated as a criminal offense regardless of the circumstances. Police not
only entered blacks’ homes without warrants to disarm them, but also
repeatedly arrested them when they waged pitched battles against scores
of white men, presumably to save their own lives. That the police may
have profi led the combination of race and re sis tance rather than just the
crime of “having a dark face”— unlike the unambiguous racial profi ling
done by many white civilians and military personnel— is suggested by
those moments when white policemen intervened to protect blacks who
reportedly did not fi ght back.88 Police targeting of black re sis tance was
clearly shown by the sharp contrast, obvious on the third day of the riot-
ing, between blacks willing to fi ght to the death and those whose fi rst
instincts were to call for help.

On July 28 two black men arrested in separate incidents were respon-
sible for the deaths of two white men. While being chased by a white
mob, Jesse Butler opened fi re, killing Hugh Lavery, one of his pursuers.
Later that afternoon, Henry Huff purportedly “brandished” his gun while
he “dared the crowd” to try to get him. When they did, he shot three white
men, one of whom died. The deceased was Thomas McVay, an undercover
patrolman attempting to disarm Huff.89 For the remainder of the rioting,
these early incidents may have justifi ed criminalizing black re sis tance in
the minds of white police offi cers who had long been accused of sympathiz-
ing with and assisting white mobs. The evidence is even stronger because
white violence against blacks did not result in the unlawful disarmament
of white men or police brutality and hom i cide against them.

Perhaps in retaliation, Preston Lewis was the fi rst victim of police bru-
tality the day after Thomas McVay was killed in the line of duty. In what
appears to have been a random stop- and- frisk encounter, Lewis was de-
tained on the street by Offi cers Ramsey and Schneider. Upon searching
him and fi nding a “small pocket knife”— suffi cient evidence to “justify”



their behavior— the two white policemen beat him so severely that he
was taken to a hospital. While Lewis lay on a cot receiving medical treat-
ment, Offi cer Schneider decided that Lewis’s twenty head wounds were
not enough and again beat him over the head with a blackjack. Witness-
ing the beating, a black offi cer forced Schneider to stop by threatening to
shoot him. A nurse summoned more police, who arrived shortly thereaf-
ter but refused to arrest the white offi cer.90 Within a matter of minutes,
Offi cer Schneider was back on the streets with his partner, looking to
stop and frisk other black men.

Schneider and Ramsey found Riley Bullock, who fi t the same profi le as
Lewis: black and in possession of a knife. Witness testimony later claimed
that Bullock was arrested “while he was going on an errand and com-
mitting no crime.” Subjected to what seemed to be the standard proce-
dure of a curbside beating, Bullock was taken to the station house at 21st
and Federal streets. Several whites gathered around the arresting offi cers
while Bullock was escorted into the rear entrance. Offi cer Ramsey said
that he and Schneider kept their guns drawn to protect Bullock because
someone in the crowd yelled, “Let’s lynch the coon.” He then claimed that
he slipped on a stair, his gun discharged, and Bullock received a lethal
gunshot wound to his back. White press accounts initially reported that
Bullock had been shot by an unknown “negro” who managed to elude the
police. During a coroner’s investigation, however, Offi cer Ramsey was rec-
ommended to the grand jury on a fi rst- degree murder charge, and Offi cer
Schneider was charged with second- degree murder. Schneider was also
charged with aggravated assault and battery for his attack on Preston

Bullock’s death and Lewis’s beating on the morning and afternoon of
July 29 represented two of the most extreme cases of police violence dur-
ing the rioting. The response of black leaders was to hold a protest meet-
ing the night of the attacks. The next day two delegations were selected
to meet with Mayor Thomas B. Smith. The mayor, however, was unavail-
able for at least the next two weeks; he was reportedly playing golf.92
Instead, the delegations, headed by B. G. Collier of the Knights of Pythias
and Richard R. Wright, Jr., former fi eld secretary of the Armstrong As-
sociation and editor of the Christian Recorder, met with Director Wilson.
They presented a letter expressing their outrage at the total breakdown
of law and order and the arresting of blacks “on any pretense.” Their
letter, reprinted in several newspapers, stated in part:



We desire you to understand that we put the whole blame upon
your incompetent police force. But for the sympathy of the police,
their hobnobbing with the mob, what has now become the dis-
grace of Philadelphia would have been nothing more than a petty
row. Your police have for a long time winked at disorder, such as
the beating up of negroes, the stoning of their homes and the at-
tacking of their churches. . . . In nearly every part of this city
peaceable and law- abiding negroes of the home- owning type have
been set upon by irresponsible hoodlums, their property damaged
and destroyed, while the police seem powerless to protect. It is not
to be wondered at that the mob thought it could scare negroes
from their homes with impunity. . . . We severely condemn mob
rule, and we condemn negroes who disregard the law and we feel
lawbreakers of all races should be treated alike.93

To achieve fair treatment of all lawbreakers, the protesters suggested the
more effective use of black police offi cers. Many black policemen had been
“kept out of the riot district” during the disturbances, and in more than
one instance whites who were arrested by them were released by white
policemen.94 Their reasoning suggested that if, for example, the black offi –
cer had been allowed to take Offi cer Schneider into custody when he was
beating Preston Lewis in the hospital, Riley Bullock might not have been
killed. With such evidence in mind, Wright and others argued that black
offi cers would have made prompt arrests and helped to prevent further vio-
lence, as, for example, in the case of John R. Evans. After several whites
shot up Evans’s home, they were arrested by a black offi cer but released
almost immediately. Evans was a foreman in a federal department where
war supplies and munitions were shipped to Eu rope, and his two sons- in-
law were fi ghting in France, making the attack on him appear to blacks not
only racist but treasonous. Adding insult to injury, Lieutenant Myers, who
a week earlier was defending the police, had the black offi cer transferred to
another district. Evans’s house was then attacked a second time a week
later, and an American fl ag hanging in his parlor window was shot to
pieces— a tragic event bordering on the comic: a white neighbor had given
Evans the fl ag following the fi rst assault to protect his family from further
harm. G. Grant Williams of the Tribune had seen enough of Myers’s failure
to serve and protect blacks and called for his removal from the Seventeenth
Police District, where Offi cers Schneider and Ramsey had also worked.95



During the following week, a month after the rioting started, Myers
and his entire staff were transferred from the Seventeenth, replaced by an
interracial staff and a new lieutenant. The Tribune praised the change,
noting that several whites had recently been arrested and given thirty-
day sentences, and crediting the new staff with bringing peace to the
riot’s epicenter. Children were now seen playing on Ellsworth Street, where
the riot had fi rst begun.96

The pitch and scale of violence against blacks that summer would not
soon be forgotten.97 For black writers and reformers especially, answer-
ing the question of why the riots had happened led some to consider
what blacks might have done to invite the worst manifestations of racial
hatred that Philadelphia had ever witnessed. Looking back on the riots, it
must have been hard for them to imagine that the pursuit of an authentic
equality, expressed by the desire to live in a house and neighborhood of
one’s choosing, could alone illicit such venom against blacks. After all,
hope was essential to progress. Rather than lay all the blame on white
racism— an implicit ac cep tance that blacks had little control over their
own futures— black race- relations experts blamed migrant criminality
for legitimizing white contempt.

Sadie Mossell in her migrant study recalled the attack on Adella Bond,
describing her as a “woman of refi nement and training and old citizen of
Philadelphia.” To explain how a middle- class, native black Philadelphian
was targeted by a white mob, Mossell argued that “colored people of every
class received harsh treatment at the hands of the white public” because
of the migrants.98 Legitimizing the antiblack violence, Emmett Scott wrote
that in reaction to the vice and crime among migrants, the white commu-
nity, “unaccustomed to negro neighbors,” showed its “dis plea sure” through
a “number of fracases” leading to the riots.99 These black writers must
have also been aware of what some whites had said. While sentencing
two black southern migrants convicted of rioting and carry ing concealed
weapons, a criminal court judge noted, “You and others like you who come
here from other jurisdictions are the cause of three- fi fths of the trouble
we recently had.”100 To be sure, not everyone formulated unambiguous
opinions about black migrant criminality in relation to the riots. William
D. Fuller, a black lawyer who analyzed a second wave of black migration
to Philadelphia from 1921 to 1923, argued that the fi rst migration had
“caused several problems to arise in relation to housing, crime and dis-
ease.” Yet he also admitted that “an increase in crime” had not been
“clearly proven.”101



Although not in the way that many had argued, black criminality did
lie beneath the battle over housing, of which the riots were the most vio-
lent manifestation. During the fi rst three de cades of the twentieth cen-
tury, the issue of residential segregation in the North relied in part on the
powerful racial imagery of black criminals.102 Real and false evidence
of black crime, such as stories in daily newspapers, reinforced the idea of
blacks as a dangerous threat to white communities. Philadelphia’s white
dailies initially reported that the riots began because of an alleged attack
on two white women by black men. No evidence existed to link that ru-
mor with the riots.103 Nevertheless, the idea of black criminality was a
template that applied to all potential black renters and homeowners in
predominately white areas, regardless of their class or birthplace. What
makes the Philadelphia riot so instructive in this context is that the ma-
jority of blacks whose homes were attacked were, by black middle- class
standards, “respectable” rather than “criminal.” They were criminalized
because of their willingness to fi ght back when whites resisted their de-
mands for fair housing. Black re sis tance thus justifi ed the initial assump-
tion that blacks were a threat to white communities. The role of migrants
in this cycle of racial criminalization was to increase the likelihood that
more blacks would move into white areas and that more white violence
would occur, resulting in more blacks adopting a militant stance and
ending up arrested, beaten, or dead.

Much of black Philadelphia’s leadership class expressed a defi ant tone
of militancy during and after the riots. The change was sudden and un-
mistakable. The outbreak of war in Eu rope had already heightened expec-
tations among blacks that the fi ght to make the “world safe for democ-
racy” would also make America safe for her twelve million black citizens.
Ironically, on the same day that Adella Bond’s house was attacked, Presi-
dent Woodrow Wilson condemned racial violence across the nation, call-
ing it a “disgraceful evil.” He reminded everyone from governors to local
police offi cers to neighborhood residents that mob violence “can not live
where the community does not countenance it.”104 Wilson’s rhetoric be-
lied his own segregationist leanings and hostility toward people who were
not native white Protestants. Nevertheless, the blatant hypocrisy of racial
violence during the war further infl amed the usually staid sensibilities of
Philadelphia’s black leaders. For instance, sixty- six- year- old Archdeacon
Henry Phillips, the city’s most respected black minister and public ser-
vant, spoke about blacks’ response to mob violence: “The colored people
should kill every one of the white people who molest them, that’s all



I have to say as it is the only protection they will get,” he told a reporter.
Other ministers fully supported purchasing “guns and ammunition.” G.
Grant Williams agreed: “I would and will shoot any man who attempts
to enter my home by force so long as I am peaceful and [a] law- abiding
citizen.” In a letter to Williams expressing his support for the Tribune’s
coverage of the riot, Pastor R. J. Williams of the venerable Mother Bethel
Church stopped short of calling for arms, but wrote, “Enough is enough,
and it is time for the Negro to call a halt.”105

State Republican committee member Andrew Stevens brought the is-
sues of housing and militancy into full view when he used his fair com-
plexion to buy a house at 3849 N. 16th Street on behalf of a client whose
skin color had prevented him from making the purchase himself. After
the deed was transferred to Martin Cowdery, “a representative of one of
Philadelphia’s oldest and most respected families of color,” Joseph Stern-
berger, a lawyer representing Cowdery’s future white neighbors, met
with Cowdery to voice his “highly respectable” clients’ dis plea sure and
to present their counteroffer to buy back the property.106 With the same
goal in mind, the Sixtieth and Market Streets Business Men’s Association
adopted a resolution opposing the sale of real estate to blacks in “white
residential sections.”107 Meanwhile rumors spread that violence would
erupt if Cowdery refused the counteroffer. Stevens met with Director
Wilson and warned that he would bring “two automatic revolvers” for
protection to the move in.108

Sternberger and George Rote, an insurance agent, then arranged an-
other meeting with Cowdery and Stevens. At that meeting Rote argued
that his clients’ only objection to Cowdery was that his presence in the
neighborhood would depreciate their property values. Stevens appar-
ently interpreted this second meeting as a veiled warning of what would
happen if Cowdery insisted on moving in. He later threatened that if
Cowdery was harmed, “or ga nized” blacks would take revenge: “They
will come to you and Mr. Sternberger and blow your families to ____.”
Sternberger and Rote submitted lengthy letters to the Tribune to “em-
phatically” deny Stevens’s characterization of them as mob leaders,
stating that they had “personally advised the white residents of the neigh-
borhood to refrain from any act of opposition.” Stevens replied that
this advice was proof that violence had been threatened. On September
6, G. Grant Williams wrote to Director Wilson requesting police pro-
tection. In the end, Cowdery’s move- in party was well armed and well
attended, but uneventful. Several plainclothes offi cers joined extra patrol-



men, along with Stevens’s two guns and twenty black private guards, to
ensure Cowdery’s safety.109

The increased likelihood that black Philadelphians of all classes
would own and use weapons in anticipation of racial violence strongly
suggests that migrant criminality was not at the heart of the precipitous
downturn in race relations in 1918. Rather, southern migrants were part
of a demographic shift, beginning in the late nineteenth century but ac-
celerating between 1916 and 1918, that brought structural barriers to
black equality into sharper focus. White re sis tance to the demand for
better housing by the black middle class amid heightened expectations
born from the war was the primary cause of the riots.110 Historian William
Tuttle, Jr., came to the same conclusion about Chicago’s race riot the fol-
lowing summer: “White antipathy and black aspirations mounted into
an apex of racial antagonism in the summer of 1919.”111

To the extent that southern migrants did assume an increasingly prom-
inent place in Philadelphia’s vice districts, their behavior mirrored that
of their native white and black counterparts. Although he had studied
vice in Pittsburgh as a student researcher at the University of Pittsburgh,
Abraham Epstein spoke directly to the situation in Philadelphia: “That
the Negro becomes a victim of the saloon and the vice elements is evi-
dently more the fault of the community than of himself. He is often anx-
ious to rid himself of these associations, but it can be done only by his
white brother’s realization of the social responsibility which he owes to
the community.”112 Looking back more than a half century later, migra-
tion historian Florette Henri agrees with Epstein about the association of
wide- scale vice and corruption with blacks in northern cities. “A less vis-
ible but more pernicious theme was corruption in politics, crooked poli-
ticians paid off by saloon, gambling, and prostitution interests to let vice
fl ourish in the Negro sections of cities,” Henri writes. “Where there were
vice and crime in the black slums— and it was profi table to politicians
that there should be— white people generalized that all blacks were vi-
cious and criminal, which served as an excuse for mob action against the
whole black community, not just the lawless element.”113

By most accounts, Philadelphia was one of the most corrupt and
crime- ridden cities in the country in 1918. Du Bois referred to the city’s
po liti cal corruption at an NAACP meeting in March 1918 as “worse
probably than any other city in the world.”114 Interviewed by the press
the same month, Public Safety Director Wilson admitted that the police
were incapable of fi ghting a crime wave in the city because they were



part of it. “Murders, robberies and crime of every description are of daily
occurrence and in many cases the police are charged with these offenses,”
he stated. The scale of the city’s corruption and crime was clearly shown
by the city’s own chief executive, Mayor Thomas B. Smith, who was un-
der indictment for a campaign- related assassination. Even Smith’s police
superintendent, James Robinson, who had supervised the Tenderloin vice
cleanup in 1912 under the Blankenburg administration, was now under
criminal investigation for knowingly allowing police protection of vice.
By the spring of 1918, fearing possible indictment, Robinson left offi ce
because the federal government moved in to clean up vice in Philadel-
phia.115 Based on a report by Raymond Fosdick, chairman of the Com-
mission on Training Camp Activities, which oversaw the social and moral
welfare of sailors at military bases across the country, Philadelphia’s vice
was the worst in the nation: “Philadelphia, which perhaps gave us more
trouble than any other city in the United States, was fi nally brought to
terms only when Secretary [of the Navy, Josephus] Daniels put in a large
squad of marines to patrol the streets.”116

Blacks stood on both sides of Philadelphia’s vice and crime problem.
With the virus of po liti cal corruption that crippled the city in 1918, the
need to continue to fi ght crime from “within the race” and from “with-
out” was as important as ever. When the im mensely pop u lar black detec-
tive George L. Williams was gunned down on the street by four black men,
who were labeled by the Tribune as a “band of drink and ‘dope’ crazed
thugs,” black crime fi ghters swung into action. But in a cruel reversal of
the situation in 1912, when they could not rely on the police to assist
their efforts, this time the police were in cahoots with the criminals. Com-
plaining about this latest development, the Tribune wrote, “If our big
po liti cal bosses, black and white, would devote less time in trying to get
these bad colored thugs out of jail and give more protection to the law
abiding colored citizens, this would be a much better place in which to

A variation of that argument had been made before by James Stemons
and his League for Civic and Po liti cal Reform, but the Great Migration
changed the degree to which middle- class blacks would step up their
commitment to crime fi ghting in the 1920s and 1930s, and more fi rmly
ground the national debate over black criminality in terms of structural
in e qual ity and racial discrimination. The criminalization of the race be-
cause of white reformers’ unwillingness to apply crime- prevention strate-



gies in black communities, the intensifi cation of racial violence among
white citizens and police offi cers, and the more militant attitude of middle-
class blacks toward achieving economic and social justice all converged
during the next two de cades to place black criminality near the forefront
of an emerging civil rights agenda.


In the 1920s and 1930s the history of social scientifi c explanations and
pop u lar perceptions of crime among African Americans entered a new phase.
The Great Migration, coupled with Prohibition, created wide- scale oppor-
tunities for white vice own ers and corrupt politicians to hide their illegal
activities under a cover of blackness. In the midst of successful Progressive
era campaigns against white red- light districts across the nation, many ob-
servers noted that city offi cials had become more tolerant of crime in black
communities than in white ones. As early as the 1910s in major northern
cities like Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago, researchers and reformers
had already begun to discern a pattern of discriminatory crime fi ghting.

The 1911 report of the Chicago Vice Commission observed, for ex-
ample, that “whenever prostitutes, cadets and thugs were located among
white people and had to be moved for commercial or other reasons, they
were driven to undesirable parts of the city; the so- called colored residen-
tial sections.”1 Having witnessed fi rsthand the transformation of a white
community, one Chicagoan observed, “A few years ago I could point out
100 joints right in this neighborhood. Now I don’t know of one.”2 A de-
cade later, the relocation of a signifi cant portion of white or ga nized crime
into black communities had become an all- too- familiar phenomenon.3
“White prostitutes and gamblers and vicious resorts” come into the “Black
Belt,” explained a black minister in Chicago, because “it is black; they op-
erate with more safety than they do in the white belt. That is true of every
American city that I know of personally.”4 According to historian Ken-
neth Kusmer, in effec tive policing in black communities was good public
policy from the standpoint of Cleveland’s city offi cials. This race- based
criminal justice policy worked to benefi t white leaders and residents by
making it less likely that “red- light districts might spring up again in
white areas.”5


P O L I C I N G R A C I S M :





City offi cials rarely acknowledged the reality that for vice districts to
exist in black neighborhoods, the active support of politicians and police
offi cers was required. Except for po liti cally expedient moments when
grand juries handed out indictments or when politicians made examples
of a few ward leaders and beat cops by arresting them in the wake of
public outrage over allegations of corruption, city offi cials ignored the
truth.6 Behind the borders of segregated black communities, many offi cials
participated directly as patrons and protectors of illegal operations in-
volving liquor, drugs, gambling, and prostitution. One white Philadelphia
politician spelled out the situation as plainly as possible when he said to a
white pimp, in front of a black female undercover vice agent posing as a
prostitute, “You know, Frank, I’ve told you to go as far as you like, any-
thing short of murder is alright with me and I’m at your back. If anything
happens come to me and I’ll see that everything is squared.”7

The difference between the reality that vice districts in predominately
black areas were mostly owned, partially operated, and unoffi cially regu-
lated by a largely white power structure and the belief that blacks were
at the root of these conditions can be traced to the rhetoric of black crimi-
nality and its long association with urban crime. Cleveland’s mayor Harry
L. Davis, for example, “implied in a speech in 1917 that the Central Av-
enue area had developed into a vice district because Negroes were natu-
rally degenerate.”8 The stark contrast between the way the system actu-
ally worked, as revealed in the politician’s private conversation with a
pimp, and the image projected to the public, as conveyed in a speech by
a big- city mayor, provides a rich example of how the vice problem be-
came the starting point in the creation of new ideas about black criminal-
ity in the 1920s and 1930s.

As previous chapters have shown, since the late nineteenth century
northern- born blacks and southern migrants in northern cities had to
contend with a fl uid set of racial attitudes and practices that defi ned
them as members of a dangerous criminal population. Those attitudes
and practices also aided or legitimized various forms of segregation and
discrimination, particularly in relation to social agencies, employment,
and housing. A small number of black reformers responded to in e qual-
ity and the crime stigma by calling for a two- front war against both ra-
cial discrimination and black criminals, which they viewed as mutually
dependent problems. In 1899 W. E. B. Du Bois pioneered this dual-
approach strategy in the pages of The Philadelphia Negro by instructing
his white readers to end discrimination and his black ones to help



minimize “Negro crime.”9 A de cade later a local black Philadelphia re-
former named James S. Stemons formulated a programmatic response to
Du Bois’s recommendations. He launched a joint or ga ni za tion in which
white members took an oath to uphold color- blind hiring practices and
black members pledged to police their own communities.10

Thus for much of the fi rst two de cades of the twentieth century, a few
black reformers in the urban North attempted to tackle the problem of
black criminality by calling for more blacks to become involved in crime
prevention and crime fi ghting. They did not ignore the broader, more
fundamental problems of racism and structural in e qual ity, but they did
expect white reformers to handle what they considered a white prob-
lem or the failure of most whites to treat blacks fairly. In other words,
black reformers reasoned that the best way to solve the black crime prob-
lem was if each race attacked its half of the problem. In the spirit of
interracialism and racial progress during the Progressive era, blacks were
expected to police their own criminals, while whites were expected to
police their own racists.

Both groups had failed to achieve their goals by the 1920s. Neither
rhetoric nor activism had stemmed the growing tide of segregation and
discrimination affecting blacks before, during, and immediately after the
Great Migration. Similarly, without institutional resources and po liti cal
support from whites, no words or surveillance by blacks had proven ad-
equate to the monumental task of crime prevention in black communi-
ties, especially when those communities were being inundated with south-
ern migrants whose presence amplifi ed racist sentiment and oppression.11
As an explicit demonstration of an increasingly deteriorating situation,
widespread outbreaks of racial violence occurred in many northern cities
during this period, fi rst in East St. Louis, Illinois, and Chester, Pennsylva-
nia, in 1917, then in Philadelphia in 1918, culminating in the Red Sum-
mer of 1919.

In the 1920s a larger cohort of academically trained black reformers
and local activists responded to this new era of racial conservatism by
taking a greater role in the policing of white racism within black com-
munities in the urban North.12 In local and national interracial organiza-
tions, such as the Chicago Commission on Race Relations, the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the
National Urban League (NUL), black researchers and reformers moved
to the forefront of documenting and publicizing racism’s toll on the quality



of black lives across the urban North. Moving to the center of this inten-
sifi cation of antiracist activities among black reformers was a focus on
racism in the criminal justice system, particularly in its most explicit
forms. Clear and preponderant new evidence showed African American
criminality, for example, to be a direct consequence of discriminatory

By focusing on discriminatory policing in the 1920s and 1930s, par-
ticularly in the context of vice districts where numerous examples were
easily observed, a growing number of black reformers and a small num-
ber of white liberals helped to transform the larger debate about black
criminality. Ideologically, the entire debate shifted to the left in the sense
that mounting evidence of police corruption, misconduct, and violence
against blacks supported a powerful counterargument to the long-
standing linkage of black crime rates and moral, cultural, or racial inferi-
ority. Especially among black researchers and reformers, vice districts
became the focal point for rewriting African American criminality in
terms of its structural basis.

In the 1930s a black minister in Chicago recounted a conversation
with city offi cials about increasing crime rates among black youth: “They
told me that the Negro youth of Chicago were committing more crimes
than ever in the history of Chicago. They wanted to know just what is
the cause. I could only give this solution— wipe out vice and give my
people jobs!”13 In his thinking, vice was not a function of black degen-
eracy or even of southern migration, but of the city’s failure to police
black communities effectively, and to promote equal employment op-
portunities. Such formulations, which I call writing crime into class, rep-
resented a new paradigm shift: Structural in e qual ity, or what Frederick
Hoffman dismissed at the turn of the century as the “conditions of life,”
became the primary basis for explaining black criminality. Similiar expla-
nations had existed in the context of and in opposition to earlier
paradigms— the writing of crime into race and culture— but had never be-
come the dominant argument among most liberals, black or white. That
changed in the 1920s and 1930s. A 1930 editorial in the National Urban
League’s Opportunity magazine observed that the “problems of the Ne-
gro” had once been “considered purely racial in their origin.” Because
black social workers had now pursued “careful compilation, correlation,
and interpretation of social materials as they related to the Negro,” the
“more signifi cant social determinants” of the “so- called Negro problem”



were no longer “obscur[ed].”14 Policing racism in the northern criminal
justice system became an effective counter- discourse—a statistical rebut-
tal— to the long- standing statistical discourse of black criminality and

As a result of social surveys and crime studies conducted by NUL re-
searchers, revelations about the role of politicians and the police in the
administration of discriminatory criminal justice practices helped give
way to these new structural understandings of black criminality.15 Other
researchers highlighted the direct connection between discrimination at
recreation facilities (such as playgrounds and community centers) and
higher rates of black juvenile delinquency.16 In 1928 former Philadelphia
Urban League offi cial Forrester B. Washington wrote that the Negro
migrant in major cities of the North and South “found the wholesome
agencies of recreation either closed or closing to him, while at the
same time the agencies of commercialized vice have welcomed him with
open arms.”17

During this period, growing concern about juvenile delinquency
blended with an increased focus on vice and policing problems in black
communities, demonstrating the devastating impact of institutional rac-
ism on what was considered the most vulnerable and least morally cul-
pable population.18 Describing the “threatened de cadence” to blacks in
North Philadelphia, for example, a high school principal wrote to offi –
cials of the Benezet House Association, a Philadelphia community center,
that residents had been “abandoned to the exploiting ravages of a horde
of vicious agencies which sprang up, multiplied and fl ourished until the
district is now spotted with them. The effect, especially upon the children
and young people, were at once apparent and have become steadily
worse with each year.”19 In her 1925 study “A Survey of Crime among
Negroes in Philadelphia,” Anna J. Thompson, a black University of Penn-
sylvania graduate student and researcher for the NUL, wrote that “the
case of the Juvenile delinquent is so much more hopeful than that of the
adult criminal. The Juvenile delinquent is as a rule just beginning a life of
delinquency which can, if taken in time and by the proper method, be
nipped in the bud.”20

Undergirding an increasing concern about black juvenile delinquency
in the 1920s and 1930s were not only statistics tying higher rates of de-
linquency to majority white- owned and -regulated vice, but also a grow-
ing body of evidence of racial discrimination in the “proper method” of
treating black delinquents.21 In her examination of juvenile delinquency



in 1920s New York City, historian Cheryl Lynn Greenburg found that
black youths were twice as likely as white youths to be arraigned in Chil-
dren’s Court, more likely to be found guilty, twice as likely to be sentenced
to over fi ve years in an institution, and fi ve times less likely to receive pro-
bation. White children also had “greater access to private ser vices than
blacks did,” Greenburg writes. “Fewer white than black delinquent chil-
dren ended up in Children’s Court in the fi rst place, because more were
helped by private agencies before appearing there.”22 Researcher William
I. Thomas, coauthor of The Polish Peasant in Eu rope and America
(1918)— the fi rst of many pathbreaking Chicago School of Sociology stud-
ies of immigrant life and settlement in the 1920s and 1930s— discovered
in a subsequent study how important police discretion was in determin-
ing how white youth were treated and/or classifi ed as juvenile delinquents.
Out of 18,000 Chicago- area boys facing arrest in 1926, only 1,430 were
actually arraigned in juvenile court.23 A 1923 U.S. Children’s Bureau re-
port noted racial disparities in the distribution of black and white juveniles
across various types of institutions. Of a total population of white youths
among the Juvenile Court rec ords analyzed by the study, 80.8 percent were
sent to non-correctional facilities compared to 50.6 percent of black
youths. Stated conversely, 19.2 percent of white children were sent to a
prison, a reformatory, a jail, or a work house, compared to more than twice
as many black children.24 The mounting statistical evidence of bias in the
juvenile justice system was in part a testament to, and a consequence of,
the discriminatory nature of Progressive era crime prevention. Black juve-
nile delinquency became one of the most effective demonstrations that
structural in e qual ity was the primary cause of crime among blacks.

New concerns about vice, police misconduct, and juvenile delinquency
led to an explosion of anticrime ideas and initiatives by middle- class
blacks.25 Black social workers became increasingly involved in recreation
programs and probation work.26 The National Association for Colored
Women hired Ida B. Wells, the longtime antilynching activist and social
welfare advocate, as a probation offi cer in Chicago.27 In 1928 the head of
the National Urban League, Eugene Kinckle Jones, announced that “the
probation work movement has gained considerable headway, most of the
larger cities having Negro probation offi cers for work with juveniles.”28
As a clear sign of black probation offi cers’ growing importance, even
adult prisoners like Clarence Brown began to seek their assistance. From
a New York City jail in 1927, Brown wrote to the NAACP to “please
send somebody down here to try and get me out on supened [sic] sentence



or on probation . . . so I can start a new life. I have no father or mother . . .
could you have a colored probation offi cer to look out for me.”29 From
the standpoint of combating the stigma of crime, civil rights workers be-
gan to offer occasional legal assistance and frequent advice to men like
Brown and others who claimed to be innocent or mistreated defendants.
Civil rights workers also began to aggressively launch publicity campaigns
against police brutality and de facto racial profi ling.30 The NAACP, for
instance, stood out as a vocal opponent of northern urban police agen-
cies that routinely profi led, arrested, and/or brutalized innocent blacks.

The growth of vice in black communities—resulting from the closing
of white red- light districts, increased black migration, and the exigencies
of Prohibition—made vice and discriminatory policing inescapable social
problems for black reformers. How they and their white liberal allies re-
sponded to these challenges, in part by redefi ning African American
criminality as a social rather than a moral and cultural problem is the
focus of this chapter.

Racial violence swept across the nation beginning in East St. Louis in
1917; it erupted in Philadelphia the following year, and in twenty- two
additional cities in the summer of 1919. Two differing views of black
criminality emerged to explain the bloodshed and the chaos, especially
with regard to southern migrants. The fi rst view, advanced by writers
such as Emmett Scott and Sadie T. Mossell, rationalized violence against
black communities in part by blaming black southern migrants for their
bad habits— for being culturally backward and thus overrepresented in
the crime statistics.31 In their analysis, southerners’ inability to meet the
demands of sophisticated urban living, coupled with the absence of overt
forms of racial proscription in the urban North, had led to too much
freedom, resulting in excessive crime rates.

Arriving at an entirely different assessment of migrant criminality
and its root cause, Henderson H. Donald, a 1920 black graduate from
Yale with an M.A. in sociology, instead underscored northern whites’
treatment of migrants. Although Donald agreed that many migrants had
committed “criminal acts” because of the “extremely diffi cult task” of
adjusting to their new environment, especially given the absence of “the
strict moral and religious checks of the southern communities,” he com-
pletely rejected the “conclusion” that a “wave of crime” had been the
result.32 Rather than concluding that crime rates refl ected cultural or



moral inferiority, Donald instead focused on northern policing of public
order violations and vice, what he called “minor” or “petty” offenses.
Using Pittsburgh police court rec ords from 1914 to 1917, he observed a
“disproportionate increase in arrests” for “such offenses as suspicious
characters, disorderly conduct, drunkenness, keeping and visiting disor-
derly houses, and violations of city ordinances.” He repeated this analy-
sis for other northern communities and noted similar fi ndings. Cleve-
land’s jail statistics were especially revealing: the black proportion of
the jail population had grown from 13 percent in 1916 to 87 percent
in 1917, settling at 60 percent in 1918. To drive his point home, Donald
summarized the statements of a Cleveland superintendent of prisons.
“These Negroes were not of the criminal type,” the offi cial exclaimed,
but were instead victims of poor social conditions. “Often hatless on the
streets, Negroes were summarily picked up by the police and sent to
prison on the mere charge of suspicion.” Police activity, in Donald’s as-
sessment, was therefore at the root of the “so- called ‘Negro crime’ in the
United States.” In Pittsburgh, where unemployment and inadequate
housing were obviously the real problems needing offi cial attention,
Donald explained, “the situation . . . was all the more aggravated be-
cause [of] the attitude of the police department toward these new-
comers. . . . With its usual lack of understanding, it permitted the police
offi cers to arrest hundreds of these Negroes, many of whom were sent to
the work houses.”33

Pointing out white police offi cers’ negative attitudes toward blacks,
whether southern migrants or native northerners, was not in itself a radi-
cal rhetorical move. Earlier writers had highlighted such attitudes while
describing how police offi cers frequently aided or abetted mob attacks
against blacks.34 By this time, most urban reformers were well aware
that racist thinking among police offi cers had real consequences for the
development of northern black communities. The Chicago Vice Commis-
sion, for example, found in 1911 that police offi cers had, in the words of
the Nation, “invariably driven the white prostitutes into the best Negro
sections, where they are a demoralizing example and infl uence for the
colored youth of both sexes.”35 Police violence and police misconduct in
the black community had long been front- page news in local black news-
papers such as the Philadelphia Tribune. But directly linking police offi –
cers’ discriminatory attitudes and behavior to high crime rates among
blacks was an entirely fresh approach.



Donald’s novel approach interpreting of black crime statistics  is
illustrated by contrasting it to the way a major twentieth- century white
criminologist stripped Donald’s analysis of its context in order to
highlight southern migrant criminality. Citing Donald’s work in his
1924 edition of Criminology, one of the earliest American textbooks
on  the subject and a standard in the fi eld for much of the twentieth
century, white sociologist Edwin H. Sutherland wrote, “During the
period of negro migrations to the North in the last de cade there ap-
pears to have been a very great increase of crimes by negroes in many
of the northern cities.”36 In one sentence, Sutherland readily accepted
the veracity of the statistics cited by Donald while neglecting to men-
tion Donald’s conclusion that the numbers were fl awed.37 Sutherland,
the specialist, may have been deliberately discrediting the nonspecial-
ist’s interpretation in his fi rst textbook; however, in the second edition
of his volume Sutherland would join Donald in questioning the reli-
ability of racial crime statistics. He removed any mention of southern
migrant criminality.38

Since the 1890s, disproportionately high crime rates among blacks
had been the starting point and linchpin of modern discourse on black
criminality. Neither racial liberals nor conservatives escaped that statisti-
cal “reality.” In the world of numbers stripped of context, all black peo-
ple were more likely to commit crimes against property and personhood.
But context was everything for those writing in defense of blacks’ hu-
manity. Black social scientists of the postriot era did not shy away from
numbers, but embraced the social scientifi c approach as a way to depict ac-
curately the multifarious humanity of black people and as a way of docu-
menting the impact of institutional and societal racism. As Marlon B.
Ross points out in his literary analysis of “New Negro social science,”
black “sociologists were seeking an activist narrative that could contain
an objective portrait of the race while motivating infl uential groups to
act on behalf of the black masses.”39 These writers focused especially on
the broader context of in e qual ity that contributed to black crime rates.
To be sure, white racial liberals also questioned the accuracy of the statis-
tics, frequently calling for better and more comprehensive recording of
black crime statistics. Black sociologist and Philadelphia race- relations
reformer Richard R. Wright, Jr., for example, complained about “the dif-
fi culty of getting accurate information.” Much “of what is written about
Negro crime in large cities,” he wrote, “is mere guess work, or impres-



sions of observers, and cannot have any fi nal scientifi c value for the soci-
ologist.”40 Wright therefore attempted to expand the breadth of racial
crime statistics beyond census prison data by soliciting unpublished ra-
cial arrest statistics from places like St. Louis, Boston, Pittsburgh, and

In 1919, as part of the NAACP’s initial efforts to discredit the black
male rape myth and build a case for federal antilynching legislation,
Herbert Seligman, director of publicity for the NAACP, sent letters to
county offi cials across the country seeking black rape statistics.41 One
offi cial answered that Hardin, Illinois, did not keep such statistics. He
also explained why. “We have no colored people in this county, they are
not allowed here,” said the response signed by Clifford Plummer, county
clerk.42 In northern counties that did “allow” black residents and tracked
their crimes, criminal justice offi cials could interpret the statistics in a
discriminatory manner even when the data supported the NAACP’s po-
sition. A New Jersey prosecutor answered Seligman’s request by noting
that his locale had not had any “complaints, indictments or convictions
for rape against colored people . . . for the past ten years.” In a revealing
closing statement, Walter L. Hetfi eld, Jr., added, “Considering the large
population of colored people we have in Union County, we have had
very few criminal complaints against members of that race.”43 To many
public offi cials, the association of blacks with crime was often a presump-
tive reality, even when the statistics showed otherwise.

Until the early 1920s racial liberals in the urban North countered
such offi cial thinking by focusing their energies on obtaining more accu-
rate data or, more importantly, by presenting their own antiracist inter-
pretations of how society shared some responsibility for why certain
blacks, such as southern migrants, were admittedly criminally inclined.
Donald’s approach to statistics signaled a new trend. He shifted focus
away from southern migrants as self- evident proof of criminality among
a certain “class” of African Americans and instead turned the statistics
on their head and stripped them of their prima facie value. Going for-
ward, excessive crime rates among blacks in the race- relations literature
of the postwar period represented a policing problem instead of a crime

No other publication had as much infl uence on the rewriting of black
criminality during this period than the 1922 report of the Chicago Com-
mission on Race Relations, titled The Negro in Chicago. On July 27,



1919, shortly after whites stoned a black child to death at a public beach
and a white police offi cer refused to arrest the white suspects identifi ed
by black witnesses, six days of rioting tore through Chicago, leaving 38
people dead and 537 injured, of whom 356 were black. To investigate
the Chicago race riot of 1919, Illinois Governor Frank O. Lowden ap-
pointed a twelve- member commission, consisting of an equal number of
prominent black and white civic reformers, to supervise an unpre ce dented
eleven- month investigation into the causes and underlying conditions of
one of America’s worst and bloodiest race riots. The commission ap-
pointed Graham Romeyn Taylor, a white former settlement house worker
and progressive journalist, and Charles S. Johnson, a black sociology
graduate student at the University of Chicago, as the chief organizers of
the project. Offi cially designated second in charge, Johnson took a leave
of absence from serving as the director of research and investigation at
the Chicago Urban League to assume principal authorship of The Negro
in Chicago.44

Johnson was recommended for the position by his graduate advisor,
Robert E. Park. The president of the Chicago branch of the Urban
League, Park in 1921 was emerging as the most infl uential white soci-
ologist of race- relations in the country. Until the mid 1930s Park and
his career- long collaborator and fellow Chicago sociologist Ernest W.
Burgess led a cohort of talented academics, including Louis Wirth, Clif-
ford R. Shaw, Henry D. McKay, John Landesco, and E. Franklin Frazier in
the systematic mapping and ethnographic study of community life among
Eu ro pe an immigrants and African Americans in the urban North.45 Fra-
zier, a black graduate student at the university from 1929 to 1932, was
the only member of this cohort to focus on African Americans, writing
a groundbreaking 1932 study of the black family, The Negro Family in
Chicago.46 As representatives of the Chicago School of Sociology, they es-
tablished the fi eld of urban ecol ogy, sharing to varying degrees a scientifi c
commitment to advancing environmental theories of poverty, crime,
and delinquency, and carry ing the intellectual temperament of Progres-
sive era reformers and academics forward into the postwar period.47

The profound infl uence of these scholars in shaping a broader dis-
course of liberal environmentalism in the 1920s and 1930s came after
publication of The Negro in Chicago. Nearly all of the Chicago School
studies were published after 1921, with the notable exception of Thomas
and Znaniecki’s The Polish Peasant in Eu rope and America and Park and
Burgess’s An Introduction to the Science of Sociology. Among the social



Figure 6- 1 Police arrive at the scene of a black man stoned to death by a white
mob during the Chicago race riot. Note the presence of white civilians among the
police and their proximity to the murder victim. Chicago Commission on Race
Relations, Negro in Chicago.

workers and researchers hired by Taylor and Johnson to conduct fi eld-
work, and in the testimony of nearly two hundred local experts on vari-
ous topics ranging from racial violence to real estate and crime and polic-
ing, the Chicago School sociologists are discernibly absent.48

In the immediate aftermath of the war time riots, the work of the Chi-
cago Commission on Race Relations was the latest and most infl uential
study of African American life in the postwar urban North. Praising The
Negro in Chicago for marking an “epoch” in the study of race relations,
Walter White, assistant secretary of the NAACP and an eyewitness to the
destruction left by the riot, wrote, “No student of racial problems or of
the principal matters of concern to America can ignore this report.”49

Although problems of police misconduct during the riot, or what
White called “the actual connivance with the mob by the Chicago police



force,” were laced throughout The Negro in Chicago, the chapter called
“Crime and Vicious Environment” was specifi cally devoted to an analy-
sis of this phenomenon. The title is signifi cant not only for the tenor of
the discussion that followed, but also because, like Henderson’s discus-
sion the previous year, it signaled the shifting frame of analysis emerging
in a postwar, postriot context, presaged by the changing mood of Phila-
delphia’s black leaders during and after that city’s riot. As principal au-
thor, Johnson played a major role in shaping not only the pre sen ta tion of
the commission’s fi ndings but also the tone of the book. As was the case
with many New Negro intellectuals, one of his goals was to counter the
racial conservatism of the era by being an “active publicist for liberal en-
vironmentalism.” Historian Mia Bay writes that “the new generation of
academically trained black social scientists that emerged during the
1920s employed their scientifi c training in research aimed at showing the
primacy of environmental factors in determining human capacity.”50

Johnson’s training under Park certainly helped shape his structuralist
views, as many scholars note. The roots of his analysis were planted in
the fertile ground Park and Burgess were tilling at the University of Chi-
cago, where there was an emerging so cio log i cal shift from focussing on
ethnic and racial traits and individual pathology toward an urban eco-
logical approach that explained inner- city criminality and juvenile delin-
quency. But Johnson was ahead of his time when it came to reinterpretat-
ing crime and policing. Not until nearly a de cade later— when Shaw and
McKay published cutting- edge scholarship on white juvenile delinquency
and John Landesco on or ga nized crime and police corruption— did the
Chicago School have “its most concrete, transformative effect.”51 Landesco,
for example, did not receive his undergraduate degree until the spring of
1924, nearly three years after The Negro in Chicago was published.52
Instead, the two- decades- old epistemological and antiracist criticisms of
the black crime discourse by Du Bois, Wells, and local black reformers (in-
cluding James Stemons, Fannie Williams, and the Philadelphia Tribune’s
G. Grant Williams) had helped to reframe, from the bottom- up the way
Henderson and now Johnson would analyze the data. To that end, Johnson
announced in the fi rst sentence of the chapter that “The crime rate of
Negroes is so largely controlled by a tangle of predisposing circumstances
that it is hardly possible to isolate and mea sure its factors.” Discrediting
at the outset the use of racial crime statistics, Johnson argued that race
was unimportant relative to the level of “general lawlessness, crime, and
vice in the whole population.”53



Crime statistics were fundamentally fl awed, according to Johnson.
Striking discrepancies were found when Chicago police arrest data was
compared with victims’ surveys conducted by the Chicago City Council
Crime Commission resulting in the considerable underreporting of crime
for the entire city. The number of burglaries reported by victims in
1919, for instance, was found to be more than three times the number in
the offi cial police statistics. Other problems stemmed from the lack of the
“systematic handling of criminal statistics” across various agencies, there-
fore limiting an accurate mea sure of “the prevalence of crime.” Where
race mattered, Johnson observed that blacks were more likely than the
many “nationality” groups to be “debited” with their crimes because pre-
cinct desk sergeants more easily identifi ed blacks by skin color. The fact
that there were more blacks in the criminal age group (eigh teen to thirty)

Figure 6- 2 Police search African Americans for weapons during the Chicago
Race Riot. Chicago Commission on Race Relations, Negro in Chicago.



compared to other groups, due to the recent infl ux of young single women
and men from the South, also limited the comparability of racial crime

Perhaps the most signifi cant factor in a long list of problems with black
crime data was revealed by the testimony of “judges and other authorities”
that criminal justice offi cials were likely to “arrest Negroes more freely
than whites, to book them on more serious charges, to convict them more
readily, and to give them longer sentences.” For example, one municipal
court judge stated that he personally knew about “certain . . . police [who]
were going into Negro clubs and arresting Negroes they found there,
bringing them into court without a bit of evidence of any offense.” Another
judge discussed why large numbers of blacks were arrested on suspicion,
attributing the practice to a lesser regard for “the rights” of black men com-
pared to white men. “I think they hesitate a little longer when a white man
is involved; I am certain that it is so.” A former chief of police agreed, not-
ing that southern migrants “naturally” attracted “greater suspicion than
would attach to the white man who had lived for a greater length of time
in the same district, and who also would be more easily identifi ed and
traced.” Rather than arrest the white man, General Leroy T. Steward ex-
plained, the police would simply observe him, whereas they “would no
doubt, feel if they permitted the colored man to pass on at the time, they
would lose him completely.”55

Such startling testimony coming from within Chicago’s criminal jus-
tice community, clearly indicated the effectiveness of the commission’s
interracial makeup and attests to the members’ prominence, legitimacy,
and access to high- ranking offi cials. It was the strongest body of evidence
yet to reveal the subjective nature of racial crime statistics, deeply infl u-
enced by the social, cultural, and po liti cal contexts in which they were cre-
ated.56 “These situations presented such obvious dangers,” Johnson sum-
marized, “that the [Chicago] Commission [on Race Relations] considered
it best to avoid giving currency to fi gures which carried such clear evi-
dence of their own inaccuracy and misrepre sen ta tion.” Consequently, the
commission abandoned its attempts to “work out comparative racial crime

At no point before 1922 had any published study argued that racial
crime statistics were too unreliable to be usable. Since the end of the nine-
teenth century, such statistics, even if incomplete or subject to extreme
antiblack interpretations, had been fundamental to assessing the progress
and potential of African Americans. The unpre ce dented decision of the



Chicago Commission on Race Relations to disregard these fi gures infl u-
enced important members of the social scientifi c community.

Beginning in 1924 Edwin H. Sutherland, one of the greatest crimi-
nologist of the twentieth century, cited the Chicago Commission’s con-
clusion that “there were no reliable [racial crime] statistics available.”58
He provided no additional commentary or evidence, but ten years later
this somewhat tentative and ambivalent reference was transformed when
he wrote that the “statistics were completely unreliable,” then cited three
studies corroborating The Negro in Chicago’s initial claims.59 Suther-
land’s newly rekindled professional ties to the city and to the University
of Chicago may have made him more receptive to the Commission’s fi nd-
ings in the 1934 edition of his defi nitive textbook. Although he had re-
ceived a doctorate in sociology from the University of Chicago in 1913,
a year before Park’s arrival, he left that year to teach elsewhere before
returning to his alma mater in 1930, just as Shaw, McKay, Landesco, and
Frazier were building a formidable body of statistical evidence that geog-
raphy trumped nationality and race in explaining crime and delin-
quency.60 In Burgess’s preface to Frazier’s 1932 study, for example, he
wrote that “The rates of crime, delinquency, illegitimacy, poverty, and
vice would seem from this study to be not a matter so much of race as of
geography.”61 This latest research plus the Chicago Commission’s earlier
fi ndings seemed to shake the very foundations of the statistical discourse
on black criminality. Sutherland took note, especially since so cio log i cal
research continued to show the potential for more racial violence in the
nation’s cities as a direct consequence of a perpetual cycle of bad data,
bad policing, and bad treatment of black citizens.

One of the studies Sutherland cited revealed the potential of inaccu-
rate racial crime statistics to inspire the kind of policing the Chicago
Commission had called into question and to fuel pop u lar perceptions about
excessive crime among blacks. During a 1925 grand jury investigation of
the Minneapolis crime scene, investigator Charles Davis noted that total
black arrests documented in police rec ords had grown from 470 in 1923
to 930 in 1924, leveling off to 890 in 1925. The doubling of arrests
prompted Davis to write, “This condition is bad and is rapidly growing
worse. Unless some method is devised to at least subdue the activities of
these Negroes, there is certain to be a series of race riots in Minneapolis,
followed by the usual lynchings and killings which always disgrace any
civilized community when these outbursts occur.”62 Despite the level-
headed cautions from Johnson’s report in the aftermath of the Red



Summer of 1919 and a 1920 spectacle lynching of three black men in
Duluth, Minnesota, 150 miles north of Minneapolis, some northern offi –
cials continued to single out black criminality rather than prevent or pun-
ish racist behavior among law enforcement offi cers and the public at
large.63 In 1928 Maurine Bois, a National Urban League researcher, re-
examined the police rec ords Davis had used and discovered that the
numbers were incorrect and should have been recorded as 517, 389, and
478, respectively, for 1923 to 1925. Blaming the mistake on “printers
and the system of record keeping,” Minneapolis police accepted Bois’s
revised numbers as the “offi cial” statistics. Thorsten Sellin, a nationally
recognized crime statistics expert and a frequent collaborator with Suther-
land, called the errors “an experience” that “makes one question all earlier
totals for Minneapolis and creates a profound distrust of offi cial rec ords in
general, even though there is no reason to regard the rec ords of the city
mentioned as typical.”64

Sellin’s critical eye for the shortcomings and inaccuracies of municipal
arrest data had likely been honed by his initial interest in international
comparative criminology. In a 1926 article he complained about the lack
of uniformity in hom i cide statistics across Eu ro pe an countries, warning
researchers that only “trends” could be detected since “the statistics used
have little or no value for comparative purposes.”65 Unlike many among
the fi rst generation of crime statisticians, Sellin benefi ted from a growing
skepticism about the state of crime data among American criminologists.66
Born the same year as Hoffman’s Race Traits was published, Sellin was
indeed a generation apart. As a Swedish- born immigrant to Canada and
the United States, his initial experiences with race relations were very dif-
ferent from Hoffman’s. He arrived in Philadelphia in 1915 and attended
the University of Pennsylvania for graduate training, receiving his Ph.D. in
sociology in 1922. Although there is nothing in Sellin’s early published
research or biographical record to explain his par tic u lar interest in racial
crime statistics, he lived in Philadelphia through several of the tumultu-
ous migration years including the Race Riot of 1918. The impressions
made on the nineteen- year- old Sellin by daily headlines about racial vio-
lence in his newly adopted home, his early research into questions of
comparative criminality, and his interest in the sociology of crime all sug-
gest his openness to questioning the existing statistical discourse on
black criminality. A short time after publication of “The Negro Criminal:
A Statistical Note,” in which Sellin repeatedly cited The Negro in Chi-
cago, he and Sutherland collaborated as con sul tants to the U.S. Census



Bureau in the preparation of two federal prison reports covering the
period 1929 to 1932.67 Their offi cial statement in the reports spoke di-
rectly to the way in which The Negro in Chicago’s unpre ce dented stance
in 1922 infl uenced some of the most prominent white criminologists of
the era: “The high commitment rate shown for Negroes is probably in
some degree due to the combination of lower economic status, less fre-
quent use of other forms of penal treatment for Negroes, and unfavor-
able race attitudes on the part of the white race. . . . It is hardly possible,
therefore, to draw any conclusions from the data presented in this chap-
ter, regarding the comparative criminality of race groups.”68

At the intersection of mounting criticisms of racial crime statistics by
white criminologists and by black scholars stood Nathaniel Cantor, a
University of Buffalo criminologist. The title of his address at the 1930
annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and His-
tory, “Crime and the Negro”— two of the most commonly- linked terms
in race- relations titles by the 1930s— gave no clue that his was a fresh
perspective coming from within the white social scientifi c community.
Cantor wasted no time with the familiar recitation of blacks’ dispropor-
tionate prison and arrest rates. Instead he completely rejected crime sta-
tistics in his opening lines: “There are few fi elds in social science where
opinion readily passes for knowledge as in criminology. Perhaps in no
other discipline are statistics as meaningless as in criminology and penol-
ogy.” The problem was, he explained, that racial interpretations were
built on “unreliable statistics.” National prison data, he noted, had be-
come a “matter of deep suspicion” a year earlier when the director of the
U.S. Census Bureau admitted that requests for data from local penal
agencies had gone unanswered or had been haphazardly assembled. A
recent Detroit survey, he continued, “showed that severer sentences were
imposed on the Negroes than the whites for the same offenses.” Clear
evidence of police malpractice and judicial bias around the country made
plain the fact “that our whole legal machinery tends to operate unfavor-
ably toward the Negro criminal.” For Cantor, a student of Franz Boas
with a Columbia Ph.D. in anthropology, the whole situation starting with
the old biological linking of “crime” and “negro”— the sleight of hand in
his title fi nally revealed— was built on a fl awed premise: “Unless one as-
sumes a biological criminal type there is no more sense in speaking of the
Negro criminal, than of referring to Presbyterian spaghetti.” The racial
signifi er, in other words, made no sense when discussing a social prob-
lem.69 Du Bois certainly agreed with Cantor, writing similarly from the



helm of the NAACP’s Crisis magazine, “It is senseless to regard crime as
racial or characteristic of certain individuals. Crime is one of the best
indices of social conditions.”70

Cantor’s speech and subsequent article made a lasting impression on
at least one likely audience member: Carter G. Woodson, the Harvard-
educated black historian who fi rst created Black History Week (later Black
History Month), the found er of the Association for the Study of Negro
Life and History, and the editor of its Journal of Negro History. “Crime
is not racial,” he wrote in a 1938 review of Bernard Peyton Chamberlain’s
The Negro and Crime in Virginia. Borrowing Cantor’s food analogy but
spinning a tortured variation of his own, Woodson scolded the author,
“To speak of ‘Negro crime’ is not less excusable than to speak of Irish
salt or Malay bananas.”71

Although an infl uential core of black and white researchers had be-
gun the pro cess of deconstructing and discrediting the statistical founda-
tions of crime- as- race- and- culture arguments, other white writers pro-
ceeded more tentatively, seeking a balance between a bona fi de police
problem and a real crime issue among blacks. Thomas J. Woofter, Jr., a
southern white liberal sociologist, race- relations expert, and member of
the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, explained in 1925 that
blacks were a “backward” group, “poorly adapted to the codes and insti-
tutions of the white civilization in which they live,” but that “their [actual]
criminality” was more a function of the environment than “racial ten-
dencies.” Blending old arguments with new insights, Woofter took crime
off the table as the all- powerful symbol of a still- discernible black inferi-
ority, emphasizing instead the “useless” practice of arresting large num-
bers of blacks in vice raids. As an example, Woofter described how police
in an unnamed “large Northern city” had raided “every Negro pool room”
in a single night, resulting in 160 arrests for vagrancy. Twenty of the ar-
rests produced charges, sixty were thrown out upon proof of employ-
ment, and eighty individuals were forced to leave town or face indictment.
“This high handed arrest of colored people is extremely galling to the
law- abiding citizens,” Woofter wrote indignantly. “It cannot be excused
on any ground other than ignorance and ineffi ciency of police offi cers
who engage in these practices, and indifference of the citizens who permit
such offi cers to remain on the job.”72

University of Iowa sociologist Edward B. Reuter, author of The
American Race Problem: A Study of the Negro, saw the same underlying



dynamics at work. “Some part of the apparent excessive criminality of
the Negro people fi nds its explanation in police discrimination,” Reuter
argued, noting that police offi cers were “white men who share the gen-
eral idea that Negroes are highly criminal.” Yet police racism was only
part of the story, he continued; “in very considerable part, [blacks] are still
ill- adjusted to the secondary and highly individualistic nature of present-
day American life.”73 Notwithstanding their opposition to discrimina-
tory policing, these white sociologists remained quietly ambivalent about
the link between black culture and crime.74

Part of their ambivalence is explained by their frame of reference. Be-
yond the debate about the inadequacies of crime statistics was the continu-
ing effort among 1920s race- relations scholars to reinterpret the meaning
of black criminality against the backdrop of a blatantly racist crime dis-
course. Speaking before a national audience at the annual meeting of the
American Prison Association in 1921, G. Croft Williams, a white South
Carolinian public welfare offi cial, explained why the “proportion of Ne-
gro offenders is startlingly large.” In addition to their present crisis of
“maladjustment,” “ignorance,” “low mental power,” and a “miserable en-
vironment,” he stated, their African past had been decisive as well: “His
dwelling for ages in tropical and semi- tropical forest and jungle life must
have left vestiges in his physical constitution. These doubtless were strong
factors in his behavior. Perhaps studies in glands, nerves, brains, and blood
may some day give us a new conception of the Negro.”75 Among some in-
fl uential public offi cials, the legacy of racial Darwinism continued into the
third de cade of the twentieth century as a legitimate ideological frame-
work for explaining black criminality.

Chicago trial judge Marcus Kavanagh also clearly rejected 1920s lib-
eral environmentalism. Unlike his judicial colleagues interviewed by the
Chicago Commission, Kavanagh argued that whites had no responsibility
for creating “negro criminal forces,” one of the nation’s “most perplexing
and dangerous problems.” “The worst enemy of the negro in America is
the negro criminal. The white man is not an enemy of the negro, that is, he
is not yet the negro’s enemy,” he warned. But he may become one unless
“spokesmen for the dark race” mobilize against the “negro outlaw,” who
would otherwise “continue to ravage and destroy . . . and persist as a tor-
ment and a disgrace to his country.”76 Fully embracing racial crime statis-
tics and police offi cers, both Williams’s and Kavanagh’s thinking better
suited the public’s general “impressions” of Negro criminality that liberals



frequently criticized but rarely defi ned.77 Within this larger constellation
of antiblack ideas, black culture arguments were not so easily discarded
by white liberal scholars in the 1920s.

Two rhetorical strategies helped white liberals to obfuscate the appear-
ance of slipping into old racist discourses while simultaneously maintain-
ing their credibility as objective scholars. First, they frequently juxtaposed
black cultural inferiority in the urban North with racist police behavior.
By linking the two issues, they distinguished themselves as moderate ob-
servers, since outside the boundaries of racial liberalism police offi cers
were a protected class and southern migrants were otherwise still an un-
ruly bunch. Also, by making the men in blue scapegoats for racism in the
urban North, and by using code words for poor southern migrants such
as “poorly adapted” or “ill- adjusted,” they helped secure a space for inter-
racial collaboration among well- intentioned northern whites and middle-
class blacks. These were the men and women Woofter had referred to as
“law- abiding citizens,” presumably like himself and those participating in
interracial commissions, conferences, and research projects, or represent-
ing the National Urban League or NAACP.

The second strategy practiced by white liberals was a corollary of the
fi rst: They presented their arguments in part as the product of legitimate
black perspectives and research. Woofter, for example, began his discus-
sion of discriminatory policing by framing it as “one of the most per sis-
tent complaints of Negroes.”78 Before doing the same, William T. Root, a
white psychologist and lead researcher of a 1927 study of prisoners at
Western Pennsylvania Penitentiary in Pittsburgh, told his readers point-
blank that his fi ndings presented such an “unfavorable comparison” of
black criminality that he was “afraid of giving the impression of having a
defi nite bias in the matter.” To protect himself and his research from the
taint of racial bias, Root put “negro case workers” in charge of dealing
with black prisoners. In the pro cessing of data such as the consideration
“of extenuating circumstances,” Root explained, “the most sympathetic
help of his own race has been secured.”79 Root’s disclaimers suggest that
perhaps he and others had adopted the recommendation of the Johnson
report that “white members of the public” seek “information from re-
sponsible and representative Negroes as the basis of the[ir] judgments
about Negro traits, characteristics, and tendencies” so as to counter pe-
jorative ste reo types.80 Thus, new ideas about the structural basis of
black criminality (for example, racism in the criminal justice system)
were a refl ection of a newly formed critical mass of black researchers



who were demonstratively representative of a professional class of “law-
abiding” citizens and, practically speaking, a potential bulwark against
their fellow black criminals.

In the 1920s and 1930s a cohort of black women and men became au-
thorities on black criminality. These sociologists, social workers, proba-
tion offi cers, criminal justice offi cials, journalists, and civil rights workers
reshaped the continuing debate about crime as a mea sure of black prog-
ress and potential. Additionally, they called for and became increasingly
engaged in crime fi ghting and crime prevention. Like their pre de ces sors
Ida B. Wells, W. E. B. Du Bois, Sadie Layten, and James Stemons, the new
reformers were fi erce defenders of the right of African Americans to be
treated fairly under the law. As Kelly Miller put it in 1924, “[T]he infl ex-
ibility of law must be invoked to save order from anarchy.” The break-
down he sought to redress was the arbitrary nature of law enforcement
in black communities, frequently resulting in the harmful misapplication
of criminal laws against African Americans.81

In her Urban League study of Philadelphia’s criminal justice system
using police and prison data and rec ords of various social agencies for
January to June 1924, black researcher Anna J. Thompson highlighted
numerous examples of the capricious ways in which police offi cers and
judges dealt with blacks. The fact that blacks made up only 7.4 percent
of Philadelphia’s population but comprised a quarter of the total arrests,
according to Thompson’s analysis, was due largely to frequent vice raids
and “needless arrests.” Thompson observed that police raids tended to
infl ate black arrest rates overall because of the high number of people
arrested at one time, regardless of whether they were subsequently con-
victed of a petty offense or discharged. In one house raid, she noted, four
black women and six black men had been arrested, all of them guilty of
nothing more than being at home. The routine practice of arresting “sus-
picious characters” also proved to have a disproportionate impact on
black arrest rates because these individuals should never have been ar-
rested in the fi rst place. Harry F., for example, was sent to the county
prison for thirty days “on the charge of being a ‘suspicious character’ ”
after he informed a police offi cer that he was standing on the street be-
cause he was out of work and had been recently evicted by his landlady.
Moses S. received an identical sentence for the same “crime,” except he
was picked up on the street while waiting for a friend. “No better proof
of the many needless arrests,” Thompson complained, was the fact that



one- third of all blacks arrested were discharged. “The Negro is an easy
prey for petty police offi cials who offer ‘Tell it to the judge’ as an explana-
tion when arresting ‘suspicious characters’ and other ignorant as well as
innocent victims of the law.” Offhandedly she added that the “antago-
nism” between Irish police offi cers and blacks was the “basis for many
jokes around City Hall.”82

Ira De A. Reid, the National Urban League’s director of research and
publicity in the late 1920s and the 1930s, presented compelling evidence
of poor policing in black communities in his several surveys of crime and
policing. In a 1929 study of Denver, Colorado, for example, he found a
pattern of “seeming recklessness” by the police when it came to arresting
blacks because more than half had been booked on either “the all inclu-
sive charge of ‘Investigation’ ” or vagrancy.83 In 1931 he came to a simi-
lar conclusion in Troy, New York, where 60 percent of the cases against
blacks had been “offenses against the public order, probably the least crimi-
nal of all categories.” Like Thompson, Reid looked at the extremely high
number of cases— 78 percent— that were “either suspended, discharged,
or adjourned” as evidence of a problem. This situation, he reasoned, “be-
speaks either indiscriminate arrests or extreme leniency on the part of
the police.”84

As Reid made his way across the country preparing NUL surveys in
nine towns and cities in the West, Midwest, and Northeast, he stopped
in Pittsburgh in 1930 and witnessed the total absence of law enforce-
ment in the Hill district, a historic black neighborhood. “The amazing
fact about the Hill,” wrote Reid, “is that Pittsburgh has permitted intol-
erable, anti- social conditions to exist there for more than two de cades
and has done little to clean up.”85 To Reid, Pittsburgh’s police offi cials
may have seemed especially derelict in their duties because he had lived
in the city while receiving his M.A. in sociology from the University of
Pittsburgh in 1925 and while serving as one of the specially picked black
research assistants in W. T. Root’s local prison study.86 By the time Reid
had investigated fi ve New Jersey municipalities in 1932— Trenton, Prince-
ton, New Brunswick, Perth Amboy, and Plainfi eld— plus the beach towns
of Monmouth County, he had seen enough in effec tive policing and struc-
tural in e qual ity to arrive at a rubber- stamp disclaimer about high black
arrest rates: “That this is due to excessive criminality of the Negro is no
longer a satisfactory answer to the problem.”87

White municipal offi cials displayed a cavalier attitude about effectively
policing black communities, according to Edward E. Wilson, a Howard



University Law School graduate and Illinois assistant state’s attorney.
“The whites who have the machinery of the law do not seem to care what
crimes Negroes commit against each other,” he wrote in 1929. “They are
likely to take the attitude that ‘this is a matter among niggers and why
bother.’ ” Wilson’s fi fteen years as a black prosecutor afforded him a
unique perspective as an insider, prompting him to focus on yet another
form of discriminatory policing. Rather than highlight the problem of
over- surveillance and excessive arrest activity, he focused on the problem
of inadequate protection: “There is no greater cause for crime among
Negroes than the contempt for law engendered by the conduct of cer-
tain police protecting and paltering with violations of the law.”88 By this
reasoning, according to historian Kenneth Kusmer, what seemed an ob-
vious contradiction was far from it: “As far as police protection was
concerned, black people [in Cleveland] could without contradiction say
that they received both too little and too much.”89 Likewise, criminolo-
gists Frankie Bailey and Alice Green state that “black urban communi-
ties such as Harlem were locations in which law enforcement was both
too vigorous and too lax. Police brutality was accompanied by police

As Philadelphia’s black leaders had observed in the midst of the ra-
cial violence of 1918, police offi cers were often on the wrong side of the
law, aiding and sometimes leading mob attacks against blacks. Updating
the Chicago Commission’s fi ndings, the 1929 Illinois Crime Survey
found that African Americans made up 30 percent of the recorded kill-
ings by police in 1926– 1927, though they represented only 5 percent of
the population.91 Less than a year after the Crime Survey’s publication,
police shootings of black males in Chicago continued, according to Ida
B. Wells. In the manhunt for a sixteen- year- old accused of breaking a
restaurant window, she reported, the police entered his home without
a warrant, guns blazing. He died in a hail of thirty- fi ve bullets. Two
others were killed in separate incidents. Continuing to speak truth to
power, Wells expressed her outrage in the Chicago Daily News: “Per-
haps if the city had recognized the above murders as a menace to her
fair fame and public sentiment and then sternly demanded the removal
of incompetent heads of the police department, Alfred Lingle [the
sixteen- year- old] might not now be lying cold in death.”92 Police agen-
cies across the urban North during the tumultuous migration years and
beyond were, as scholars have noted, often involved directly in anti-
black violence.93



The consequence of this apparent paradox was that black communi-
ties were subjected to a hostile form of daily policing that was contrary
to the criminal laws on which it was based and destructive to the com-
munities it was supposed to serve and protect. In the broadest sense,

Figure 6- 3 “Puzzle: Find the ‘Keepers of the Peace,’ ” a cartoon depicting long
standing criticisms of police indifference to white mob violence against black
homeowners. The Philadelphia Tribune, Philadelphia Penn., May 10, 1928.



however, “discretion was built into daily police work,” according to
crime historian Mark Haller. The system was overburdened by the fact
that the number of violations within the entire population exceeded those
that could be prosecuted. “Informal standards” were thus developed to
help guide police work, resulting in a wide departure “from the impar-
tial, due pro cess model that was written into law and supported by civic
reformers.”94 In this regard, blacks were the easiest targets of the police;
their rights were the least respected, and they had only a modicum of po-
liti cal infl uence to hold offi cers accountable. “They are arrested more
often and frequently receive longer sentences since they are not po liti-
cally well known,” noted A. A. Abraham in his study of black juvenile
delinquency in Buffalo, New York. Worse still, Abraham added, was that
state offi cials sometimes showed no remorse when they incarcerated in-
nocent blacks. When Frank Harris was about to be released from a Penn-
sylvania prison after twenty- one years for a murder he did not commit,
the state parole board delayed his departure until after its members were
“assured Harris had a job and a home.” Upon Harris’s release, state of-
fi cials gave him a “new suit and a $5 bill,” announcing that “no great
injury” had been done.95

Many law enforcement offi cials fl outed the constitutional rights of
black criminal suspects, posing a constant threat to innocent bystanders
while simultaneously encouraging disrespect for law and order among
everyone. Calling for a higher standard of policing as an anticrime solu-
tion, Kelly Miller wrote in 1935 that whites needed to “persuade and
convince the Negro of the benefi cent purpose and function of the law”
rather than using it “as a means of humiliating and degrading them. Too
often the policeman’s club is the only instrument of the law with which
the Negro comes into contact. This engenders in him a distrust and re-
sentful attitude toward all public authorities and law offi cers. None can
doubt that such a kindly attitude would go far to convince the Negro of
the value to himself and advantage of law obedience and good citizen-
ship.”96 Until that happened, indiscriminate and reckless policing re-
mained, in state’s attorney Wilson’s opinion, “as responsible for criminal-
ity in Chicago as any other one agency.”97

Black New Yorker George Fald expressed similar concerns about polic-
ing in Harlem in a 1922 letter to James Weldon Johnson, executive secre-
tary of the NAACP. Identifying himself as a “law abiding citizen,” Fald re-
ported that numerous instances of police misconduct had “been going on
for some time. Not only in the station house but on the street. I can recall



several instances in which I have been an eye witness.” Fald described
one scene where a police offi cer searched a youth at gunpoint in the hall-
way of a building at West 137th Street, fi nding nothing on the “would be
prisoner.” Rather than stop there, the offi cer proceeded to question the
“lad” about where he lived. When the youth responded, the offi cer cursed
him and “struck the boy in the face.” The subsequent action by the New
York City police offi cer may have been a routine practice, but it was
rarely described by witnesses. According to Fald, the offi cer “told the boy
to run,” then chased him while attempting “to strike him with his billie
[sic].” The offi cer then “drew his revolver again to shoot but changed his
mind.” Puzzled and outraged, Fald asked Johnson, “How, if the offi cer
had nothing on that boy, have he the right to molest him?” When ques-
tioned by Fald about his actions, the offi cer cursed him in the presence of
“women and children” and said the boy was a “hold up man.” Fald was
not only unconvinced, but reasoned out loud that if the offi cer had prob-
able cause to stop the youth, “he could arrest him on suspicious [sic]
could he not?” Fald closed his letter by expressing hope that his testimony
would deliver “justice to those who justice deserve.”98

Brooklyn resident Rupert Clarke wanted the same justice when he
conveyed the details of his own run- in with New York’s fi nest while rid-
ing the subway on July 23, 1931. According to correspondence between
Clarke and NAACP offi cials and an affi davit submitted to the New York
City police commissioner, Clarke was sitting in a corner with two empty
seats near him when “this man on entering [the subway car] promptly
sat next to me[,] pushed my leg violently and ordered me to close them. I
looked at him a little thought he was drunk or something of the kind and
returned to my ‘Times.’ . . . A moment later he repeated the assault.” As it
turns out, the assailant was an undercover police offi cer, James E. Cleary,
who arrested Clarke after he pushed back and they began to argue. “Of
all the people in the world I would least expect an offi cer to do such a
base thing: deliberately assault and provoke a man and then arrest him.
Of course, I read about such things in newspapers but I never dreamed
they applied to me.” He said he refused to be arrested, but the offi cer
pulled the emergency brake on the train and soon two additional offi cers
assisted him. Clarke submitted. He was locked in two “dungeons” until
he was taken before the judge, where he was found guilty and ordered to
serve two days in jail or pay a fi ne. A white man witnessed the incident,
but when asked by Clarke for his testimony, he replied, “I saw nothing.”
Frustrated by the eyewitness’s lack of compassion, Clarke wrote, “Well it



wasn’t exactly a surprise but I shall always remember him.” Without
enough money for a lawyer, Clarke, a postal worker, unwillingly paid the
fi ne instead of fi ghting it. Figuring that his case was closed, he wanted the
“wonderful association” to know about Cleary because he suspected he
would attempt “the base trick on other of my people.” Clarke hoped his
affi davit would help get Cleary fi red. “I am sure the Commissioner
doesn’t want such men on his force.”99

The professional standards and racial ethics of those in charge of
police agencies could not be taken for granted in light of the racial scan-
dal initiated by Raymond E. Gilyard, police chief in Seymour, Connecti-
cut. Six weeks before Clarke’s encounter, a small New En gland town
only eighty miles northeast of New York City was rocked by the alleged
gang- style murder of Chief Gilyard. The New Haven Eve ning Register
reported on May 12, 1931, that moments before he died of a fatal gun-
shot Gilyard told a telephone operator, “I’ve been shot. . . . Three Ne-
groes did it.” A well- liked leader, Gilyard was “virtually [Seymour’s]
town manager” and had been “pop u lar among the better element of the
town as an anti- crime crusader.” Recently he had been “prominent in
the prosecution of Negro gangsters.” Immediately following his death,
with rumors suggesting that the murder was a retaliatory hit, as many as
ten black suspects were rounded up and questioned by the police. The
primary suspects were the brother and two associates of Harold Stanton,
recently imprisoned by Gilyard for armed robbery. Town residents also
joined in the manhunt for “the trio of Negro killers” by reporting the
movements of suspicious blacks seen near Town Hall on the day of the
shooting. Three “negroes . . . loitering,” an impatient- looking Negro pac-
ing outside a small sedan “parked just north of town hall,” and four
blacks driving away from the building at high speeds were all purportedly
seen and suspected of foul play.100

While suspicious African Americans were being sought and arrested
by Seymour police, some townspeople and journalists had begun to ques-
tion the murder theory and speculate whether Gilyard had in fact taken
his own life. The Manchester Herald stated that although it looked like
blacks had killed him, “the nature of the crime . . . fl ies squarely in the
face of the criminal history of the colored race.” Not only were 90 per-
cent of black murders intra- racial, according to the Herald, but they were
never premeditated and were usually the outcome of a “sudden fl aming of
passion” due to “sex jealousy” and “gambling quarrels.” Besides, the
Herald concluded, “Feuds and considered revenges are completely foreign



to the Negro psychology.” Putting racial crime tendencies aside— the
echoes of Hoffmanesque caricatures and Frances Kellor’s claim that black
criminals were incapable of executing “well laid plans or complicated
schemings”— other observers began to analyze the facts of the case more
closely, beginning with the improbability that Gilyard could have made a
phone call after being shot through the heart.101 Similarly odd was the
ballistics report that all the bullets fi red at the scene came from Gilyard’s
own guns. Although the coroner had initially discounted rumors of sui-
cide, by the second day he changed his mind. The fi nal ruling was that
Gilyard “spent two months creating a fabrication of murder clews [sic]
to escape his creditors”; he wanted his suicide to look like a murder in
order to protect a large insurance policy. All suspects were immediately

The Gilyard hoax was just one of many instances of racial scapegoat-
ing in the 1920s and 1930s. In New York City two white women, Mary
Daly and Florence Kane, were murdered in separate incidents in 1925. In
both cases, a fl urry of press reports identifi ed black men as the suspects
until further investigation yielded white male perpetrators.103 Two years
later, in a slight variation, two white women falsely accused two black
men in separate incidents of murder, when they themselves were the cul-
prits.104 Ida B. Wells had documented similar cases nearly a half- century
before. More recently, the problem had become so noteworthy and wide-
spread that the pioneering black sociologist Monroe N. Work continued
Wells’s work by compiling false accusations in an annual Negro Year
Book.105 In 1935, the Commission on Interracial Cooperation similarly
released a report titled “Burnt Cork and Crime,” where they highlighted
not only false rape accusations by white women but also the “white man’s
trick of blackening his face before committing his crime.” Taking note of
the report and the scale of evidence, the white University of North Caro-
lina sociologist Guy B. Johnson wrote that the full “incidence of the situa-
tions will probably never be known,” except in the few cases where they
“fail to work.” But “to the extent that they succeed they are an absolute
exaggeration of the Negro’s actual criminality.”106

Banking on the white public’s readiness “to accept as fact the merest
suspicion or accusation that a Negro is the perpetrator of a par tic u lar
crime,” Gilyard, it seems, hoped for his family’s sake that his plan would
succeed.107 Although his suicide hoax proved that racist police behavior
did not always originate with the rank and fi le, to many black observers
like Walter White of the NAACP the scandal was simply another



“instance of how Negroes are unjustly and with impunity accused of
crime.”108 Claude McKay, a Caribbean- born poet and Harlem Re nais-
sance writer, ostensibly agreed with White when he described in his auto-
biography how he had become an innocent victim of a “police dragnet.”
While working in Pittsburgh for the Pennsylvania Railroad, McKay was
arrested and jailed overnight with a “motley gang of men, bums, vagrants,
pimps, and honest fellows.” The following day during his trial, McKay
explained his employment situation and said that he had left his identifi ca-
tion in New York. “The judge declared that I was doing indispensable
work on the railroad, and he reprimanded the black detective who had
pressed the charge and said the police should be more discriminate in mak-
ing arrests and endeavor to ascertain the facts about their victims,” McKay
wrote. “My case was dismissed.”109

Even when wrongful arrests were righted by judges—an arbitrary
practice dependent on the appearance of respectability and likely concrete
proof of employment—considerable damage had already been done. “The
important fact . . . is the belief in the Negro’s higher criminality,” wrote
Sellin in his infl uential 1928 article. “We are prone to judge ourselves by
our best traits and strangers by their worst. In the case of the Negro,
stranger in our midst, all beliefs prejudicial to him aid in intensifying the
feeling of racial antipathy engendered by his color and his social sta-
tus.”110 By the early 1930s Sellin’s research had become its own source of
inspiration for black researchers and crime fi ghters.111 In a 1935 study,
Sellin continued to uncover evidence of the ways in which “differential
treatment” by criminal justice offi cials fueled the “apparent criminality”
of blacks, fi nding that African American males in the North received
harsher sentences overall than did native white or foreign- born males. He
concluded that given the “great and relatively constant variations ob-
served,” racial prejudice is to blame and “equality before the law is a so-
cial fi ction.”112

Equality before the law was precisely the issue for many blacks in
the segregated communities of the urban North. A 1927 Philadelphia
Tribune editorial commented that “the best thinking element among our
race group should not condone any wrong- doing on the part of any
member of the group. We should insist, however, upon receiving fair
treatment from those who are entrusted with the enforcement of the law;
but they cannot afford us this equal treatment before the law if back in
their minds they feel that we ought to be the recipients of treatment
which is not only different, but unfair as well.”113 The bottom line for



many residents of black communities was that police offi cers, white and
black, needed to take seriously their duty to arrest the guilty and protect
the innocent.

This was easier said than done within the white- controlled vice dis-
tricts of black communities. Recorded observations of numerous black
eyewitnesses ranging from undercover vice agents to NAACP in for mants
and investigators showed that numerous entrenched interests were op-
posed to the effective policing of black communities. The rising infl uence
of a critical mass of black crime fi ghters—middle- class women and men
actively engaged in punishing criminals and preventing crime— helped to
corroborate and enrich the claims of their social scientifi c counterparts
that the “machinery of justice” was indeed discriminatory.114 Their ob-
servations and efforts also reveal how so many individuals profi ted—
politically, professionally, and/or fi nancially— from perpetuating vice con-
ditions in black communities.

Starting in January 1921 and lasting roughly four months, a black
female undercover vice agent for the Philadelphia Police Department be-
gan recording daily entries in a journal.115 Working alongside the “col-
ored vice men” hired by the administration of Philadelphia Mayor J.
Hampton Moore, she disguised herself as a prostitute in order to infi l-
trate the inner realms of a wide range of illegal enterprises. Without their
knowledge or consent, she conducted daily interviews with dozens of
white and black people directly engaged in prostitution, gambling, illegal
liquor manufacturing and sales, drug dealing, and robbery. She also ob-
served from close range numerous examples of blatant corruption and
misconduct by police offi cers and high- ranking offi cials. Her journal en-
tries are a unique and graphic description of a Prohibition era vice dis-
trict, even more fascinating because they were written by a black woman
who may have been a middle- class club woman turned crime fi ghter.
Neither her name nor her identity were mentioned in the reports or in
other documents examined in the Moore papers, but her condescending
attitude toward and anxiety about some of what she witnessed reveals
her social class.116 After entering a room at the Royal Palace Hotel where
a party was taking place, she wrote the following: “The place was packed
with under- world characters and was dense with tobacco smoke and
other odors so that it is really wonderful that I survived the ordeal. I
doubt if in darkest Africa there was ever such ignorance displayed as
went on here on this occasion. . . . They played a very low kind of jazz
music. Most of them call it the slow drag. They shimied [sic] and acted in



a manner beyond description. It was so vile.”117 Clearly unable to con-
tain her personal disgust, she continued her entry: “There was plenty of
gin and whiskey as well as beer, for all and most of the women present
were dope users and also a number of the men. . . . I was offered both
heroin and cocaine.” Although most of her entries were quotations from
the people she met and physical descriptions of the places, people, and
things she witnessed, her middle- class sensibility occasionally crept
through. At the fi rst annual dance of the Claver Younger Set, a black so-
cial club, she described the auditorium as a “very nice hall.” Although she
had been invited by “a gambler” and knew other members of the “under-
world” were present, she remarked that the guests were typically of “the
better class of young men and women and all acted in an exemplary man-
ner. There was neither loud talking nor bad language used, neither was
anyone allowed to loiter in the halls.”118

The black female undercover agent was apparently typical of her so-
cial peers when she disparaged storefront churches in South Philadelphia
for a style of worship unacceptable to her kind. Among the majority of
black middle- class people, public respectability and proper religious ex-
pression were one and the same, according to historian Evelyn Brooks
Higginbotham.119 “Conditions were terrible at a so called religious meet-
ing,” the agent wrote, indicating that she was repulsed by the playing of
jazz- infl uenced gospel music, especially the use of a “trap drum and tambo-
reen [sic].” Given the lack of “decency” indicated by the dancing, shouting,
and carrying- on, she called the place “ridiculous. It seems a pity that under
the pretense of being religious any group should be allowed to practice such
immorality and ignorance especially in neighborhoods in which there is al-
ready far too little inlightenment [sic].”120 Her notions of respectability situ-
ate her as a person with little in common with those she was investigating.
This suggests how easily she could have emphasized the “immorality and
ignorance” of a different class of black people above and beyond the offi cial
corruption she witnessed. She, however, made only a single reference to
southern migrant criminality.121

While documenting the movements of dozens of black “underworld”
characters, the undercover agent paid considerable attention to the larger
framework in which they existed. With housing, for example, she ob-
served how many white landlords specialized in renting to “hardened
criminal type[s].” Black tenants claimed that certain landlords marketed
their rental units as safe havens for crime since they had personal connec-
tions with the police. J. Werner, for example, one of three brothers who



shared a large real estate business, was also a police offi cer. According to a
prostitute, one of the Werner buildings was a “fi ne house to live in as the
landlord never bothers to see what is going on so long as he gets his rent.”
Morris Werner was even known to “boast . . . that he has suffi cient pull in
the district to prevent the arrest of anyone living in his houses if they are
charged with anything short of murder, or that he can have anyone in bad
with him picked up.” Another property own er, Harry Levin, was reputed
to lease his units to known drug dealers at rock- bottom prices.122 The Phila-
delphia Tribune later complained that “something must be done to abolish
those hellish tenement houses that enrich the landlord and breed criminals,”
accusing “city authorities” of being fully aware of such “dives.”123

As shown by the agent’s journal— page after page recording dozens of
instances of corruption— the connection between law enforcement offi –
cers and vice operations was blatant and endemic. Her references are all
the more revealing considering that the misconduct and unlawful behav-
ior she described occurred among the people with whom she had a pro-
fessional relationship. As fellow police offi cers they had sworn to uphold
the law, but they routinely neglected to arrest suspects who committed
crimes right before their eyes, collected protection money from vice op-
erators, and frequently drank liquor in illegal establishments, sometimes
while soliciting prostitutes. A few police offi cers ran their own shady
places. J. Werner’s Pool Hall was located near the corner of Broad and
South streets. Here, the agent observed, “at almost any time police offi –
cers in uniform can be standing in this pool hall, in friendly conversation
with tough characters.” Although not owned by an offi cer, Kate’s Resort
was so pop u lar among the police that it was called the “cops’ retreat.
Many cops come here for a good time during the time they are supposed
to be on duty.” Other police hangouts were the University Pool Room,
Seegal’s Pool Hall, and Vic Hamilton’s Café, the largest and most pop u-
lar cabaret in South Philadelphia. The “café” was the cream of the crop
among police hangouts, given its VIP patrons. According to a waitress at
the nightclub, “[t]he Chief of Detectives and other high offi cials often
come [in] . . . to enjoy themselves and the proprietor is the leader in this
ward, so you know that means nothing can happen here.”124

At the opposite extreme of protected places was a “notorious thieving
joint” run by a “colored man known as Jim.” When prostitutes recruited
him to help them rob their white clients, the police rarely interfered, Jim
explained to the undercover agent. “Cops know everything and they’ll
just bluff the fellow and tell him to get to hellout [sic] of here, what’s he



doing hanging around niggers.” The investigator agreed, adding that she
had seen “uniformed police offi cers, prostitutes and the hold- up men
divide the money between them in this court.”125

Although there was considerable diversity among the benefi ciaries of
police corruption— Jewish landlords, Italian bootleggers, African Ameri-
can pimps, Chinese and native white drug dealers— whites dominated
the own ership and management of vice.126 In Harlem in 1928, for exam-
ple, the Committee of Fourteen, a New York City Progressive era anti- vice
agency reenergized to fi ght bootlegging during Prohibition, found eighty-
fi ve speakeasies, all but four of them owned by whites. Like many other
black communities across the urban North, Harlem had become what one
Committee of Fourteen investigator called “a con ve nient place in which to
go on a moral vacation” for “certain classes of whites.”127 To the black
poet Claude McKay, Harlem was the “paradise of bootleggers.”128 Esti-
mates from Chicago and other cities suggest that from 80 to possibly 90
percent of vice businesses were owned by nonblacks.129

Own ership by whites also meant that they wielded greater po liti cal
infl uence and received the bulk of protection from city offi cials, leaving
black- run places more vulnerable to police raids that did occur. A Decem-
ber 22, 1927, Philadelphia Tribune headline, for example, announced that
the police department had deliberately protected an exclusive white night-
club while “inconsequential houses of unsavory aspect maintained by
Negroes are subjected to constant raids.”130 The scale of the problem in
Philadelphia had become so great that the following year the Tribune
launched its own investigation: “If you have been raided recently by the
police, or if you know of anyone who has, without the proper pre sen ta-
tion of a search and seizure warrant send your name, address, the date
and time of the raid, and the police offi cers making the raid to the
philadelphia tribune.”131 During a 1931 New York state legislative
investigation of po liti cal and police corruption known as the Samuel Sea-
bury Commission, witnesses testifi ed that New York City police offi cers
who did not make their arrest quotas “used to go to Harlem and in Har-
lem they go to any colored house or colored apartment and they make
any arrests at all, just because they thought colored people had less
chance in court.”132 An NAACP investigation of Harlem’s vice conditions
in 1932 discovered wide- scale police corruption and selective law en-
forcement to the benefi t of the police and white vice operators. “[T]he
fi eld of money making in Harlem,” a memo read, is “entirely in the hands
of the white police and the white racketeer.”133 Knowing they were



not alone, New York’s black paper, the Amsterdam News, had years be-
fore editorialized about “Chicago Police Covering up Criminal Connec-
tions by Attacks on Negroes.”134 In his 1933 study, Vice in Chicago,
white sociologist Walter Reckless observed that blacks were the primary
targets of police activity in vice areas. Police were seven times more ac-
tive in vice districts in 1928 than they had been in 1908, and based on
1931 police rec ords, 87 percent of the cases were against the “obvious,
cheap Negro resorts.”135 Detroit’s prostitution scene was no different; “it
is a noticeable policy of the Detroit police to arrest colored girls almost
exclusively on week- ends, the days when business is most brisk.”136 His-
torian Irma Watkins- Owens concludes that “white racketeers operating
in black communities were seldom pursued with the same rigor as black

Having the least po liti cal infl uence, black residents in vice districts
were more likely to experience two extreme forms of policing: widespread
corruption and frequent raids. The following conversation—between a
black police offi cer and the undercover agent—about the racial politics of
Philadelphia Mayor J. Hampton Moore gives a sense of the contradic-
tions at work. The agent began:

I noticed two white offi cers standing in the store doorway oppo-
site the Green Dragon and one in the block. I said, “look at the law
awatching us.” He said, “no, they are watching Smithie Lucas’s [a
black man’s] place. You know he is in bad with this city adminis-
tration and the Mayor keeps cops there ready to pounce upon him
and raid his place for the least thing that happens there. They are
supposed to be watching it for liquor but if it is too long before
something does happen they will raid him anyway, that’s politics.”
Further said, “You know [Vic] Hamilton’s [a white man’s] is the only
place in this ward that is supposed to run. He is Mayor Moore’s
man in the ward, the man he recognizes in [his fi ght against the ma-
chine politicians who] recognize decent colored people as well as
the underworld. . . . When did you ever hear of Mayor Moore at-
tending or coming to speak at a big colored affair. All those colored
people who voted or worked for him are getting just what they
deserve, a kick in the pants. Why he even turned [G. Edward] Dick-
erson [a pop u lar black lawyer and civic reformer] down. Dickerson
and his crowd really elected Moore, now Moore has as good as
told him this is a white man’s administration, no negroes need



apply and the town is on the bum, worse than ever, even the police
are lying down, simply on duty for that $5.00 per [day].”138

Embedded in this insider’s graphic description of the politics of race
and crime fi ghting is a fi rsthand account of the arbitrary nature of law
enforcement in black communities across the urban North. The fact that
some blacks in these communities stood to gain from a contradictory
pattern of in effec tive policing did not change the overall dilemma faced
by the majority of residents, particularly self- identifi ed working- and
middle- class citizens who demanded that the guilty be punished and the
innocent be protected. For them, the degree to which the policing prob-
lem had become greater than the crime problem is demonstrated by their
repeated references to it and by the fact that they saw it as clear evidence
of racial in e qual ity in American society.

Commenting on the need for reliable and effective police protection on
Chicago’s South Side in the 1930s, members of the Amethyst Girls, a
black women’s social club, complained about being the victims of a recent
spate of robberies. Two of the women castigated the police, charging that
“they are too busy wasting their time talking and drinking beer in such
pop u lar spots as the Apex Grill instead of keeping their eyes open and try-
ing to do their duty as they should.” Another woman chimed in that such
neglect was not tolerated in white neighborhoods on the North Side.
Across town, she stated, “cops . . . are more interested in the protection of
their women and children.”139 A white scholar and contributor to The
Negro in Chicago linked the disparity in the quality of policing on the
South Side and the North Side to overall economic in e qual ity among
blacks. When it came to vice dens “in a territory upon the North Side,”
University of Chicago professor Charles Merriam explained, “where there
are many lawyers and people of some means, if they found [such] a
place . . . they would never rest until they got it out. They would just keep
at it with time and money until they forced it out.” Notwithstanding their
lack of resources, he concluded, “Negroes ought to be protected.”140

Civil rights activists agreed and increasingly used the media to high-
light the need for police reform.141 NAACP offi cials Walter White and
James Weldon Johnson frequently issued press releases, for example, when
they received complaints of police misconduct or read about it in news-
papers. In the aftermath of Raymond E. Gilyard’s conspiracy to frame
blacks for his suicide, for example, White contacted a lawyer in New
Haven, seeking accurate information for a press release. “We want to use



this story,” he wrote. “Please send us all details you can gather on the
matter.”142 NAACP offi cials also publicized other instances of police mis-
conduct, including “police indifference” to a mob attack in Chicago, the
torture of an innocent mentally handicapped suspect in Pittsburgh, and
unlawful police shootings in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Jersey City, New

In Jersey City, several allegations of police misconduct in the 1920s
drew the attention of civil rights activists. On December 7, 1920, Police
Chief R. T. Battersby issued an order “that members of the force were to
arrest all Negroes found on the streets after nine o’clock.” According
to Chief Battersby, there had recently been three robberies by blacks, in
his mind evidence of a black crime wave that threatened the city’s public
safety. Battersby stated that this “has got to stop.” Before the curfew
could be enforced, an Associated Press employee notifi ed the national
headquarters of the NAACP, which took immediate action by contacting
the local branch of the or ga ni za tion and city offi cials. Walter White called
the order “vicious and unjust” and demanded Battersby’s immediate dis-
missal. James Weldon Johnson agreed and expressed his fear of the dan-
ger that could result from such an order. “It is likely to be stretched out
too far by ignorant or wilful- minded [sic] policemen who will be ready to
arrest Negroes for no causes at all.” The potential for a race riot over
something like this, A. L. Jackson of the National Urban League pointed
out, was too real to be taken lightly.144

The fear that race riots would become a permanent feature of north-
ern cities after the Red Summer of 1919 gave a sense of urgency to the
swift backlash against Jersey City’s chief law enforcement offi cer. In as
close to an admission as he would make, Battersby denied that he had
issued an order against the entire black community, but stated that he
had in fact informed his offi cers to “pick up strange negroes.” “Jersey City
is pretty free from crime,” he added, “and we intend to keep it so.” Remi-
niscent of white southern journalist Clarence Poe, who along with Du
Bois two de cades earlier had attempted to debunk the statistical myth
that education created black criminals, a Tennessee editorialist referred
to the Battersby order as a “Jim Crow Curfew Law.” With a touch of
sarcasm and an appreciation for the racial double standard at work, he
wrote, “Taking into account the enormous number of crimes committed
by whites, not alone in Jersey City but in nearly all other centers of popu-
lation, it would seem that if this director of public safety is right in his



plan of solving the trouble, the thing to do is to establish a curfew law
for whites.”145 Battersby kept his job but was publicly censured.146

In a letter Walter White sent to the editor of the New York World,
thanking him for his “splended [sic] editorial” on the controversy in Jersey
City, he made one of his clearest statements about the way in which he
and arguably other civil rights activists viewed black criminality relative
to police misconduct:

There has been so much vicious propaganda which has later proven
untrue, manufactured deliberately for the persecution of Negroes,
that such action can do nothing but create a tremendous dissatis-
faction among Negroes and an impressed oppression of the Negro
by irresponsible elements. . . . Tactics of this sort can lead to but
one thing and that is an aggravation of already acutely strained
racial relations and the formenting [sic] of conditions which will
result in race riots. We are glad that the World has taken so clean-
cut a position on this matter. The fact that three crimes have been
attributed to Negroes in three days has thus been used to case [sic]
a stigma upon Jersey City’s 3000 colored citizens and to brand all
of them as criminals. If this is the kind of democracy for which the
Negro fought, then his ser vices indeed have been in vain.147

In the context of an emerging national civil rights struggle, White’s
statement can be seen as an early indication of the way in which other
blacks would come to frame the problem over the next two de cades.
Stepping up their re sis tance to Jim Crow justice in the urban North, in
1929 Jersey City’s civil rights activists returned to the streets to protest a
suspicious shooting of a black man and the alleged attack on a “young
colored woman” by a police lieutenant.148 In the spirit of this new era,
the Philadelphia Tribune put at the masthead of every issue of the paper
the statement “Fighting Against: Segregated Schools; Police Brutality;
Economic and Civic Discrimination; Racial Treachery.”149 The activist
paper also increasingly brought local, regional, and national coverage of
police brutality to its readers, accompanied by an occasional editorial
cartoon.150 Among the many new voices of protest, publicizing instances
of racial injustice became a central civil rights strategy.

As the statistical discourse on black criminality underwent dramatic
changes in the 1920s and 1930s, spurred by New Negro race- relations





writers and civil rights activists and assisted by some major white crimi-
nologists, broader calls for reform proceeded simultaneously in the nation’s
criminal justice community. The national scene was a parallel universe,
and reform was only tangentially connected in most criminal justice offi –
cials’ minds to the problems raised by African Americans in their commu-
nities. The situation was somewhat analogous to the Janus- faced ap-
proach to Progressive era crime prevention and crime fi ghting, given that
black communities contended with their own criminals and vice opera-
tors, and also carried a huge burden of white vice and criminality; the re-
verse did not hold true.

The standard discussions of Prohibition’s failures over the de cade of
its existence drew a color line through reform attempts to redress the im-
pact of the underground economy. In 1926, as a result of Prohibition-
related crime and violence and sensational media reports of crime waves
sweeping the nation— with law- abiding white and immigrant citizens
wearing the face of victimization— prominent police and federal offi cials
began to collaborate on a national crime reporting system that would
standardize and improve the reliability of locally gathered crime statistics
to aid the police in crime control.151 The collaborators were motivated by
a need to counter a groundswell of public criticism that the machinery of
law enforcement had completely failed. A 1930 New York Times editorial
remarked, “Predatory crime with homicidal incidentals seems never to
have been more prevalent in the country than it was at the close of last
year.” Not only were there “no comprehensive trustworthy statistics . . .
available on the subject,” the Times complained, but the “police ser vice in
various cities” was “breaking down.”152 Bootlegging gang wars— framed
by images of high- priced lawyers and their smug clients, nattily dressed
white gangsters who never seemed to get caught or do time— played viv-
idly in the white press. These criticisms accompanied further complaints

Figure 6- 4 “Be First to Let Him Out,” a cartoon depicting a disturbed Benjamin
Franklin looking at the Philadelphia Negro incarcerated behind the bars of “Ill
Will,” “Prejudice,” “Segregated Schools,” and “Jim Crowism.” The cartoon is an
editorial statement on the racist failures of American democracy in The City of
Brotherly Love. Note the ambiguity in Franklin’s position. His face shows concern,
but his back is to the jail cell, casting a shadow onto it. It is not clear whether “Old
Man Phila” is upset with the Philadelphia Negro or with the criminalization of
blacks in his city— the birthplace of Liberty. The Philadelphia Tribune, Philadelphia
Penn., January 3, 1929.



of widespread police corruption and abusive third- degree tactics that as
critics pointed out, fell heavily on “the poor and uninfl uential.”153

Leaders of the International Association of the Chiefs of Police (IACP),
including former Berkeley chief August Vollmer and Detroit’s police
commissioner William P. Rutledge, along with U.S. Attorney General
George B. Wickersham and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover sought to create
a uniform crime reporting system that would establish a scientifi c basis
for judging police effi ciency. Law enforcement personnel were, as Law-
rence Rosen points out, “concerned about their image.”154 President
Herbert Hoover convened a National Commission on Law Observance
and Enforcement in 1929, appointing Wickersham as its chair. Building
on the work of state crime commission surveys from the early 1920s, the
Wickersham Commission examined every part of the system, from statis-
tics to policing to parole, with the help of social science experts, includ-
ing Shaw, McKay, Sutherland, and Sellin. Acknowledging the achieve-
ment of the FBI and the IACP, the commission signed off on the newly
created Uniform Crime Reports of 1930.155

The nation’s fi rst comprehensive crime data system, authoritative to
this day, was not an unqualifi ed success.156 The results were especially
mixed regarding African American criminal justice experiences and their
mea sure ment. Standardized “reliable” statistics— properly recorded and
tabulated— did not change the daily reality of racial bias among police
offi cers. This problem was abetted by the fact that Report 11 of the Wicker-
sham Commission, Lawlessness in Law Enforcement, was a “devastating
indictment of police brutality and third degree,” according to historian
Marilynn Johnson, but made no mention of the “racial disparity in third-
degree cases” among black urbanites in the ten northern cities examined.157
In her own analysis, Johnson found that blacks were overrepresented by a
factor of seven in New York’s third- degree cases, topping the Illinois
Crime Survey’s fi ndings that African Americans were overrepresented by
a factor of six in Chicago police killings.158

The Philadelphia Tribune similarly noted the commission’s under-
reporting of cases in Philadelphia. The editors acknowledged that the
investigation into police lawlessness was to “millions of Negro Ameri-
cans” the “fi rst tangible bit of good” that the commission had done. They
then added, “we are tempted very strongly to tell you that somebody told
a lie about the decrease in police brutality.” They noted that sensational
cases of brutality against blacks in the South, from Arkansas and the
“uncivilized wilds of Mississippi,” had received prominent coverage, but



there was no mention of several local cases, including the beating of a
sickly el der ly black woman; the torture of a man “chocked, [sic] hung
upside down, his joints twisted and told that Negroes should be treated
like dogs”; and the “drag net” arrests of Negroes on the “steps of their
own homes, beaten and in some cases sent home without a magistrate’s
hearing. Five hundred more cases even worse than these,” they con-
cluded, had gone unaccounted for.159 Taking full stock of Wickersham’s
unfortunate omissions, the NAACP protested outside the White House
to draw attention to the federal government’s unwillingness to secure
antilynching legislation in spite of its heightened interest in crime and
crime fi ghting.160

To the commission’s credit, one criticism of government crime data on
African Americans came from within one of its own reports. The thirty-
six- page “Notes on the Negro’s Relation to Work and Law Observance,”
written by Ira De A. Reid, the NUL’s director of research, appeared in
the four- hundred- page fi rst volume of the Report on the Causes of Crime.161
Given the history of dominant nonstructuralist analyses of black crimi-
nality and the marginalization of black social scientists at the national
level, this was an accomplishment in its own right. In the foreword to
the study, Sellin was cited for taking a leading role in bringing the work of
Charles S. Johnson, now at Fisk University, and Reid to the commission’s
attention. Sellin, the foreword also noted, had recently attended the
National Interracial Conference or ga nized by Johnson and Reid, where
he warned against attributing racial characteristics to the disproportion-
ate crime rates of blacks. The data only proved that “the Negro appears to
be arrested, convicted, and committed to penal institutions more frequently
than whites.” Nothing more could be determined, he reiterated. Impressed
by Sellin’s advocacy and stature, the commissioners decided to “insure a
more understanding interpretation of the disproportionate number of
Negroes shown in our study of men at [New York’s] Sing Sing.”162 Reid
was then selected for his experience and because, as “an investigator of
the Negro race,” he could lift the veil of mystery regarding “his own racial
group.” In the study itself, Reid argued that his fi ndings and those of many
others had shown that economic discrimination and over- incarceration
went hand in hand. Even with creditable crime data, he concluded, dis-
proportionately high black crime rates were still unreliable as long as
crime statistics could not properly account for economic discrimination
and racism in the criminal justice system.163 The impact of Reid’s criticism
and Sellin’s warnings nevertheless remained in doubt.



Despite the likelihood that racial crime statistics would continue into
the foreseeable future in light of the Wickersham commission’s unwilling-
ness to fully embrace evidence of racism in the criminal justice system,
African Americans had made great strides in gaining a legitimate voice in
the national black crime debate and in drawing attention to the need for
police reform in black communities. Concerned blacks’ vision of effective
policing in the 1920s and 1930s had its roots in the Progressive era com-
munity policing initiatives of black crime fi ghters such as James S. Ste-
mons. Like his New Negro counterparts, Stemons had sought to eliminate
“vicious and ruffi an characters” by attempting to make municipal au-
thorities responsive to black communities. But in Stemons’s day, talk of
black criminality trumped discussion of the structural antecedents of
crime. The rhetoric of black inferiority that characterized racial reform in
an era of liberal backbiting and Booker T. Washington’s accommodation-
ist politics eventually dissolved in the wake of racial bloodletting and war-
inspired militancy. A new antiracist crime discourse and civil rights activ-
ism emerged from the fl ames of race hatred and oppression in northern
cities during the postwar period.


Thorsten Sellin’s and Edwin H. Sutherland’s cautions about the limits
of racial crime statistics were a breakthrough accomplishment in the
four- decades evolution of the national discourse on black criminality. By
comparison to their Progressive era pre de ces sors, the interracial collabo-
rations of a new generation of social scientists proved to be far more
responsive to the realities of racism in American society and to the
voices of African American crime experts, crime fi ghters, and ordinary
citizens. Nathaniel Cantor’s colorful injunction against the linking of
blackness and criminality, like those of M. V. Ball, W. E. B. Du Bois, and
Ida B. Wells in the 1890s, revealed that the perspective had gained a
level of unpre ce dented legitimacy within some circles of mainstream
social science. None of these scholars and activists ignored the real
crime in black communities or the toll that it took on law- abiding vic-
tims. But they resisted the condemnation of blackness. They resisted the
racialization of crime among African Americans in the same way that
progressives and later Chicago School sociologists opposed the racial-
ization of immigrant crime and delinquency. “The problem of crime and
colored groups,” Cantor insisted, “does not differ from the general prob-
lem of crime causation.”1

For the many researchers, journalists, crime fi ghters, and law- abiding
citizens who were dedicated to the cause of civil rights, rewriting black
criminality in terms of police misconduct was an attractive rhetorical
weapon because it fundamentally undercut the use of black crime statis-
tics to justify other forms of discrimination. Policing racism in the north-
ern criminal justice system became an effective rebuttal to the statistical
arguments of earlier white social scientists that the “numbers speak for
themselves.”2 The many blacks and liberal white criminologists whose
ideas were infl uenced by The Negro in Chicago, or whose work picked

C O N C L U S I O N :




up where it left off, never again viewed racial crime statistics in quite the
same way. Doubts were even raised within the pages of the Journal of
Criminal Law and Criminology, a fi rst- rate academic publication that
merged with the American Journal of Police Science in 1932.

Hans Von Hentig’s 1940 article, “The Criminality of the Negro,” was
rare in that it illustrated the unreliability of racial crime statistics in rela-
tion to policing in a periodical with no obvious sympathies for the black
civil rights struggle. After showing evidence that white offenders were
more likely to go undetected by the police than were black offenders,
Hentig concluded:

Many, many more than we think escape this formal judgment and
remain in the category of law- abiding citizens. Others, in contrast,
are subjected to another sort of error. They are not overlooked
but are misjudged in the opposite way; they are, so to speak over-
assessed. . . . Arrests are made by human beings; sentences are pro-
nounced by human beings; statistics are compiled by the same
unwise homosapiens [sic]. When, as it is in our case, minorities are
the subject of judgment and treatment, it is more than ever impor-
tant to turn our attention to these agencies which we would like to
believe unbiased and evenhanded and which are the more liable
to errors the less they feel free of them. Furthermore, the colored
race is a minority of which we are in dread.3

By Hentig’s reasoning, racism in the criminal justice system had become
a central problem in the judgment and treatment of the “colored race.” The
gap separating Hentig’s logic and reasoning from Frederic L. Hoffman’s—
the span of half a century of statistical discourse on black criminality—
now seemed unbridgeable.

But it was not. Hoffman was still producing crime data and still shap-
ing the statistical discourse on black criminality, much to Du Bois’s frus-
tration.4 More importantly for the IACP and the FBI— creators of the
Uniform Crime Reports (UCRs)— the cautions of Sellin, Cantor, and Ira
De A. Reid seemed to fall on deaf ears. To the nation’s top law enforce-
ment offi cials, race tables continued to speak for themselves.

Three years after they were fi rst published in 1930, the UCRs began,
for the fi rst time, to report arrest statistics by race, based on fi ngerprint
cards sent by local police agencies to the Identifi cation Division of the FBI.
Sellin’s and Sutherland’s prison report warnings about the inappropriate-
ness of using data to “draw any conclusions . . . regarding the comparative



criminality of race groups” nowhere appeared in the new UCRs. Instead
the following statement accompanied the fi rst three annual racial tabula-
tions of arrests by offense: “It is believed that fi gures pertaining to the
number of Negroes and foreign- born whites who were arrested and fi n-
gerprinted can most fairly be presented by showing them in proportion
to the number of such individuals in the general population of the coun-
try.” After 1935 “foreign- born” was removed from the statement: “The
signifi cance of the fi gures showing the number of Negroes arrested as
compared with the number of whites can best be indicated in terms of
the number of each in the general population of the country.” By 1941 the
foreign- born had been completely absorbed in the race tables under the
category “white,” and the text simply read: “Most of the persons in this
tabulation were members of the white and Negro races.”5

On this statistical trajectory, the nation’s most respected and authori-
tative crime source had simplifi ed the racial crime calculus in 1930s
America. Blackness now stood as the singular mark of a criminal. “Ne-
gro” became the only statistically signifi cant category in the UCR tables
upon which to mea sure “white” criminality, deviance, and pathology. It
was a losing prospect for African Americans. “The machinery of justice”
was after all, as many had long observed, “entirely in the hands of the
white man.”6 So were democracy and the economy. The statistical gaze
on Eu ro pe an immigrant criminality was fi nally heading to extinction, a
pro cess that Jane Addams and other progressives had helped to spear-
head de cades before. The second generation of Eu ro pe an immigrants
was assimilated into white crime statistics, as revealed by the last men-
tion of the foreign- born in the 1940 UCR: “[I]t is signifi cant to point out
that the fi gure for native whites includes the immediate descendants of
foreign- born individuals.”7 In this latest chapter of ethnic succession in
the urban North— the statistical equivalent of “white fl ight”— all Eu ro-
pe an immigrants were securing their whiteness, as blacks hunkered down
for the many civil rights battles yet to come.

As the fi rst black expert on African American criminality, W. E. B. Du
Bois demonstrated— more than any one individual, and perhaps like no
other could— how far the debate about the use of crime to mea sure
blacks’ progress and potential in modern America had come since the
late nineteenth century. In an era dominated by hereditarian and retro-
gressionist theories about black inferiority and savagery, Du Bois’s stern
warning in the 1890s that blacks needed to “conquer” their “present



vices” and turn their homes into “incubators of self- respect” had the ef-
fect of legitimizing the prevailing discourse. Overshadowing his anti-
racist criticisms, his Victorian moralizing against the submerged tenth
in The Philadelphia Negro perfectly fi t a racist milieu that increasingly
looked to the social sciences to justify racism and discrimination.8

But embedded in the academic discourse that Du Bois embraced was
a framework for its undoing. As Du Bois had subtly shown in his early
research, black criminality did not and could not exist apart from the
reality of in e qual ity. “How long can a city teach its black children that
the road to success is to have a white face?” he asked indignantly, as if to
suggest an inevitable expiration date on seeing black criminality only as
black inferiority.9 Over the next three de cades, armed with increasing so-
cial scientifi c data about a growing black middle class and a panoptical
view (as editor of the Crisis) of nearly every incident of racial violence and
discrimination against blacks, Du Bois turned social science into civil
rights activism and stood at the center of a major transformation.

By the late 1920s and early 1930s, Du Bois had seen enough. For him
and for many others, police racism and judicial unfairness came to repre-
sent the height of hypocrisy in American society. It was bad enough that
the most isolated, impoverished, and despised citizens in the country were
further ridiculed and isolated for their crimes, but it was so much worse
that agents of the criminal justice system seemed to be conspiratorial in-
stigators. With a long view of history and little faith in his liberal white
counterparts, Du Bois turned back to middle- class blacks, as he had in
The Philadelphia Negro, demanding that they do something.10

Rather than simply reinvigorating calls for crime prevention, Du Bois
demanded that middle- class blacks, like their Progressive era white pre de-
ces sors be sympathetic to the plight of black suspects and criminals. So-
cial uplift agencies “ought to . . . save these unfortunates from further de-
bauchery once they are in the hands of the law,” he told Crisis readers. “It
is to the disgrace of the American Negro and particularly his religious and
philanthropic organizations that they continually and systematically ne-
glect Negroes who have been arrested, or who are accused of crime, or
who have been convicted and incarcerated. . . . [E]very Negro knows that
a frightful proportion of Negroes accused of crime are absolutely inno-
cent. Nothing in the world is easier in the United States than to accuse a
black man of crime.”11

The idea of black criminality was crucial to the making of modern
urban America. In nearly every sphere of life it impacted how people



defi ned fundamental differences between native whites, immigrants, and
blacks. It also impacted, by comparison, how people evaluated black
people’s presence— the Negro Problem, as it had once been called— in the
urban North. In education, in housing, in jobs, in leisure and recreation,
the idea shaped the “public transcript” of the modern urban world. More-
over, the various ways in which writers and reformers imagined black
people as inferior to and fundamentally different from native whites and
immigrants in the early twentieth century had a direct impact on the al-
location of social resources for preventing crime in all communities, with
the smallest amount fl owing to black communities. Native whites and im-
migrants were much more likely to benefi t directly from the most thought-
ful and forward- thinking (or progressive) social work and social science
during the early twentieth century. Regardless of whether one views Amer-
icanization programs as an attempt to strip Eu ro pe an immigrants of their
language, religion, and cultural institutions, the impetus grew out of a de-
sire to eradicate differences rather than to accentuate them. Social workers
and settlement house reformers were active agents in the effort to assimi-
late immigrants into American culture and society. They did not leave im-
migrants to work out their own salvation, though some immigrants tried
mightily to disrupt these plans with their fi erce attachment to cultural tra-
ditions and institutions derived from their homelands. Long before the late-
model black drug dealer became public enemy number one, white bootleg-
gers, drug pushers, pimps, common thieves, and thugs plied their trade in
black communities alongside their black peers, but with the police on their
side. Thoughtful, well funded crime prevention and po liti cally accountable
crime fi ghting secured immigrants’ whiteness, in contrast to the experiences
of blacks, who were often brutalized or left unprotected and were repeat-
edly told to conquer their own crime before others would help them.

The destructive consequences of the black crime discourse went be-
yond limited reform efforts in black communities; it also limited the ap-
plication of pioneering so cio log i cal concepts to record and interpret the
black experience. As much as progressives used statistical knowledge
and social surveys as part of their arsenal of knowledge about immi-
grant in e qual ity, they did not use data to shame immigrants into respect-
able behavior. Progressives used crime statistics to demonstrate the suf-
fering of poor and working- class immigrants and native whites. They
frequently rejected the data as “too statistical” because it submerged the
humanity of the people and masked the “aggravating causes” of crime.
The decriminalization of immigrants by progressives de cades before



the New Deal drew on immigrant crime statistics as an index of their
assimilability— as “Americans in Process”— and of both their economic,
social, and po liti cal oppression. This was the choice progressives made to
bring immigrants into the fold of American life. For these reformers, im-
migrants’ humanity trumped the scale of their crimes and the cultural
expressions of their social re sis tance.12

By contrast, African American crime to many white race- relations ex-
perts stood as an almost singular refl ection of black culture and humanity.
For these writers, anything less than a full- throttle use of black crime sta-
tistics was deemed “too sentimental,” too soft on crime. Downplaying the
statistics, they often claimed, was no more than a biased attempt to con-
ceal the dangerous criminal tendencies of the Negro stranger in America’s
midst. Even among white liberal social scientists and social workers who
attached blacks to their broader pro- immigrant critiques of structural in-
e qual ity in American society, ambivalence about the innate criminal tenden-
cies of African Americans confounded their racial liberalism during the
Progressive era. By the time liberals began to pay closer attention to the
economic, po liti cal, and social factors that contributed to African Ameri-
can criminality in the 1920s and 1930s, larger numbers of second- generation
immigrants were not only experiencing greater social mobility, but they were
also increasingly less likely to be stigmatized by their criminality. Wide- scale
lawbreaking and corruption during Prohibition actually helped to blur pre-
viously distinct lines between white immigrant groups, such as the Irish,
Italians, and Jews, in part because of cross- ethnic alliances in the context of
or ga nized crime. As historian Humbert Nelli points out, “Ethnic diversity
characterized many of the criminal syndicates that emerged during the Pro-
hibition era.”13

The irony that African American criminality stood out in the context
of Prohibition as a result of the collusion of white ethnic groups with
greater po liti cal power and economic resources was not lost on black
researchers and crime fi ghters, leading them to shift their focus from tar-
geting black criminals and the illicit pleasures of the working class to
policing the criminal justice system. But paradoxically the antiracist rhet-
oric of civil rights activists contributed to sharpening the differences in
how others viewed blacks’ relationship to crime and policing compared
to how they viewed nearly every other group.

Criminologists John Landesco and Sutherland perpetuated these dif-
ferences in the 1930s as they began to explain second- generation immi-
grant criminality in terms of its likeness to native- white criminality. In



the 1934 edition of his classic textbook Principles of Criminology, Suther-
land wrote that “the second generation appears to approach the native-
born of native parentage in regard to the kinds of crime committed.”14
Likewise, Landesco’s contributions to the 1929 Illinois Crime Survey, a pio-
neering study of or ga nized crime in Chicago, paved the way for viewing
or ga nized crime as an “intimate part of the total structure of urban life.”
His work, notes Mark Haller, “tended to minimize ethnic traits as explana-
tory factors” and became the basis for the work of Robert Merton and
Daniel Bell in the 1950s. These modern proponents of Émile Durkheim’s
anomie theory explained criminality as a function of social strain pro-
duced when peoples’ expectations do not match their level of legitimate
access to material wealth and social status.15 According to this theory, im-
poverished and isolated groups are more likely to experience greater social
strain because the fewest legitimate options are available to them. Crime
becomes a ready alternative and, in the words of Bell, an “American way of
life.”16 Beginning with Hoffman, Durkheim’s contemporary, at no point
did any of the scholarship suggest that African Americans shared the same
notions of success or that their crime could be similarly understood in these
terms.17 For white social scientists at midcentury, America’s “great army of
unfortunates” was still the white working class.

The trajectory of the discourse on white ethnic criminality and or ga-
nized crime, on one hand, and African American criminality, on the other
hand, had moved in two completely different directions since the arrival
of new immigrant groups and a small number of early black migrants to
the urban North in the 1890s. The gap in the discourse mirrored differ-
ences in reality, but more importantly the rhetorical disparity helped to
shape those differences. Rhetorical celebrations of ethnic succession,
even in the context of or ga nized crime, were rooted in opposition to the
stagnation or limited social mobility among African Americans, reinforc-
ing the notion that there was something fundamentally wrong with
blacks. Indeed, the dominant discourse on black criminality that emerged
during the late nineteenth century established a framework for acknowl-
edging racial in e qual ity even among immigrants in modern American so-
ciety, while simultaneously pathologizing African Americans. By the early
1940s the situation was compounded as a new wave of African American
war- time migration three times larger than the Great Migration was un-
derway in the major cities of the North.

As a window into the World War II period, an era marked by increas-
ing national po liti cal infl uence among black civil rights activists, it is



helpful to consider the most infl uential social science scholarship on race
relations immediately following the period studied here. Just as Hoff-
man’s Race Traits and Tendencies (1896), Du Bois’s The Philadelphia
Negro (1899), Franz Boas’s The Mind of Primitive Man (1911), and
Charles S. Johnson’s The Negro in Chicago (1922) were pathbreaking
studies that established new ways of defi ning the relationship between
black criminality and racial liberalism, so too was Gunnar Myrdal’s
An  American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy

Myrdal’s analysis of African American criminality synthesized the ar-
guments and fi ndings of many of the major studies listed above. Myrdal
also relied heavily on original research conducted by African Americans.
This is signifi cant because the studies were based on southern black con-
ditions in 1940. The greater attention given to southern evidence fi t
within the liberal civil rights discourse emerging at the time, which high-
lighted the most extreme examples of southern racism and violence in
order to stir the moral conscience of the nation. Myrdal devoted four
chapters to racist and discriminatory criminal justice practices in the
South. At the same time, he minimized racism and in e qual ity in the urban
North. “Northern Negroes are concentrated in big cities, where human
relations are more formalized and where Negroes are a small minority of
the total population,” he explained. “The legal machinery in those cities
might sometimes be tainted by the corruption of the city administration,
but its size alone tends to objectify its operations and prevent its being
infl uenced by the narrowest type of local prejudice. . . . In the North, for
the most part, Negroes enjoy equitable justice.” An American Dilemma,
then, is the starting point for understanding why the historical scholar-
ship after 1940 continued to neglect inner- city northern blacks’ experi-
ences with discriminatory policing and judicial practices until after the
riots of the mid to late 1960s.19

Perhaps even more telling of the ways in which the post- World War II
liberal discourse would shift its primary explanation for African Ameri-
can criminality back onto blacks themselves was Myrdal’s statement that
“in the North it is not so much discrimination which distorts the Negro’s
criminal record, as it is certain characteristics of the Negro population.”
Myrdal pointed to blacks’ psychological deviance and maladjustment to
racial in e qual ity. Somewhat analogous to the ways in which racial liber-
als in the Progressive era incriminated black culture despite their knowl-
edge of racism and discrimination, Myrdal’s work signaled a renewed



emphasis on culture defi ned as pathology: “In practically all its diver-
gences, American Negro culture is not something in de pen dent of general
American culture. It is a distorted development, or a pathological condi-
tion, of the general American culture” (Myrdal’s italics). By the 1940s
and 1950s social scientists were saying exactly the opposite regarding sec-
ond- and third- generation immigrant criminality.20 For all of Myrdal’s
insightful analysis of structural in e qual ity and his strident criticism of
racist treatment by southern police offi cers, African Americans in the
urban North continued to be, in his estimate, their own worst enemies.21
Despite the tremendous gains made by black crime researchers and civil
rights activists in the 1920s and 1930s, racism in the northern criminal
justice system was rendered nearly invisible by this latest formulation.

By illuminating the idea of black criminality in the making of modern
urban America, it becomes clear that there are options in how we choose
to use and interpret crime statistics. They may tell us something about the
world we live in and about the people we label “criminals.” But they can-
not tell us everything. Far from it. For good or for bad, the numbers do
not speak for themselves. They never have. They have always been inter-
preted, and made meaningful, in a broader po liti cal, economic, and so-
cial context in which race mattered. The falsity of past claims of race-
neutral crime statistics and color- blind justice should caution us against
the ubiquitous referencing of statistics about black criminality today,
especially given the relative silence about white criminality. The invisible
layers of racial ideology packed into the statistics, so cio log i cal theories,
and the everyday stories we continue to tell about crime in modern urban
America are a legacy of the past. The choice about which narratives we
attach to the data in the future, however, is ours to make. Progressives
rewrote white and immigrant criminality just as early civil rights activists
rewrote, for a time, black criminality. The mea sure of crime, in both cases,
was not racial inferiority but rather compassion towards the least among
them. Sympathy and faith in humanity were chosen over scorn and



Alexander, Sadie Tanner Mossell. Papers. Collections of the University Archives,
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Penn.

Buchanan, Alexander. Papers. Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Penn.
Frazier, E. Franklin. Papers. Moorland- Spingarn Research Center, Howard Univer-

sity, Washington, D.C.
Haynes, George Edmund. Papers. Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division,

Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Li-
brary, New York, N.Y.

Miller, Kelly. Papers. Moorland- Spingarn Research Center, Howard University,
Washington, D.C.

Moore, J. Hampton. “Report on Vice Conditions” and Correspondence. Historical
Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Penn.

Reid, Ira De Augustine. Papers. Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division,
Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Li-
brary, New York, N.Y.

Stemons, James Samuel. Papers. Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, Pennsylvania,
Penn. (now at Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Penn)

Welsh, Herbert. Papers. Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Penn.


Armstrong Association. Papers. Urban League of Philadelphia Papers. Urban
Archives, Temple University, Philadelphia, Penn.

Benezet House Association. Rec ords. Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore
College, Swarthmore, Penn.

Big Brothers Association of Philadelphia. Papers. Urban Archives, Temple Univer-
sity, Pennsylvania, Penn.

Friends Neighborhood Guild. Papers. Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore,
College, Swarthmore, Penn.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Papers. Manuscript
Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.




National Urban League. Papers. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Wash-
ington, D.C.

Octavia Hill Association. Papers. Urban Archives, Temple University, Philadelphia,

Spring Street Mission. Annual Reports and Pamphlets. Friends Historical Library
of Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Penn.

Starr Centre Association. Papers. Center for the Historical Study of Nursing, Uni-
versity of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Penn.

University Settlements. Papers. Urban Archives, Temple University, Philadelphia,

Wharton Centre. Papers. Urban Archives, Temple University, Pennsylvania, Penn.

state and local government agencies

Philadelphia Department of Public Safety. Report on Samuel Freeman. Historical
Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Penn.

Philadelphia Juvenile Court. Reports on Black Juvenile Delinquents. Historical
Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Penn.

Philadelphia Police Department. Rec ords. City Archives of Philadelphia, Penn.
Philadelphia Quarter Sessions Court. Notes of Testimony, 1877– 1915. City Ar-

chives of Philadelphia, Penn.

federal, state, and local government reports

Criminal Research Bureau. Older Boys and Crime in Philadelphia, by Charles E.
Fox. Philadelphia, 1932.

Criminal Research Bureau. Older Boys and Crime in Philadelphia, 2nd ed., by
Charles E. Fox. Philadelphia, 1936.

Philadelphia Bureau of Police. Annual Reports. Philadelphia, 1900— 1940.
Philadelphia Vice Commission. A Report on Existing Conditions, with Recom-

mendations. Philadelphia: Commission, 1913.
Reid, Ira De A. “Notes on the Negro’s Relation to Work and Law Observance.”

National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement. Report on the
Causes of Crime 13, no. 1. Washington: GPO, 1931.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. Prisoners and Juvenile Delinquents in the United States.
Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1918.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. Prisoners in State and Federal Prisons and Reformato-
ries. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1930.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. Prisoners in State and Federal Prisons and Reformato-
ries. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1932.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. Prisoners in State and Federal Prisons and Reformato-
ries. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1933.

U.S. Department of Justice. Uniform Crime Reports. Washington, D.C.: GPO,
1930– 1956.



The following abbreviations are used in the notes, unless otherwise noted.

AAAPSS Annals of the American Academy of Po liti cal and Social Science
AJS American Journal of Sociology


1. The latest projection is that roughly one in three African American boys born
in 2001 will eventually be incarcerated at some point in his life. By comparison,
roughly one in fi ve Hispanic boys and one in sixteen white boys of the same birth
cohort will go to prison. See Doris Marie Provine, Unequal under Law: Race in the
War on Drugs (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 2; Beth Schwartzap-
fel, “A Nation of Jailers,” Brown Alumni Magazine, March/April 2008, 32; Mi-
chael Jacobson, Downsizing Prisons: How to Reduce and End Mass Incarceration
(New York: New York University Press, 2005); Marc Mauer and Meda Chesney-
Lind, Invisible Punishment: The Collateral Consequences of Mass Imprisonment
(New York: The New Press, 2002).

2. Statistics about black men going to prison were fi rst tied to a national race-
relations discourse in the 1890s, particularly in the work of the racial Darwinist
Frederick L. Hoffman, Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro (New
York: American Economic Association, 1896). As recently as the 2008 Demo cratic
presidential primary, Senator John Edwards remarked that “When you have young
African- American men who are completely convinced that they’re either going to
die or go to prison and see absolutely no hope in their lives. . . . they don’t see any-
thing getting better” (Bob Herbert, “When Enough Is Enough?” New York Times,
June 30, 2007). The use of the statistics on black male incarceration changed dra-
matically over the many de cades between Hoffman’s “scientifi c” discussion and
Edwards’s po liti cal rhetoric, demonstrating that black crime statistics have a long
and rich history.

3. The underexamination of the historical roots of modern discourses on
race and crime is also acknowledged in David J. Wilson’s recent analysis of




“black- on- black violence” within statistical, media, and public policy discourses
since the 1980s: “Most studies on this topic have examined it as a given reality and
not as a racialized construct”; see Wilson, Inventing Black- on- Black Violence: Dis-
course, Space, and Repre sen ta tion (New York: Syracuse University Press, 2005), 13.

4. This book joins the work of other recent scholars such as Jeffrey S. Adler, Kali
N. Gross, and Marilynn Johnson in its designation of the late nineteenth century as
the starting point for modern racial criminalization; see Jeffrey S. Adler, First in Vio-
lence, Deepest in Dirt: Hom i cide in Chicago, 1875– 1920 (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 2006), 120– 158; Kali N. Gross, Colored Amazons: Crime, Vio-
lence, and Black Women in the City of Brotherly Love, 1880– 1910 (Durham: Duke
University Press, 2006); Marilynn S. Johnson, Street Justice: A History of Police Vio-
lence in New York City (Boston: Beacon Press, 2003); also see Roger Lane, Roots of
Violence in Black Philadelphia, 1860– 1900 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
1986). Drawing on Lane’s work, Orlando Patterson situates his analysis in the late
nineteenth century but argues that not until the early 1970s did black criminality
become a “national problem,” Patterson, The Ordeal of Integration, 39. Scholars of
post- World War II race relations also tend to situate the politicization of race and
crime in the 1960s and 1970s as the starting point for black criminality as a national
discourse; see Michael Flamm, Law and Order: Street Crime, Civil Unrest, and the
Crisis of Liberalism in the 1960s (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 14–
16; Christian Parenti, Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis
(New York: Verso, 1999), 3– 45; David Garland, The Culture of Control: Crime and
Social Order in Contemporary Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001),
1– 26, 53– 74; Stephen Thernstrom and Abigail Thernstrom, America in Black and
White: One Nation, Indivisible (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997), 258– 285;
Marc Mauer, Race to Incarcerate (New York: The New Press, 1999), 1– 68; Kather-
ine Beckett, Making Crime Pay: Law and Order in Contemporary American Politics
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 28–43. Another body of infl uential re-
search on contemporary racial criminalization by sociologists, legal scholars, and
policy experts unintentionally dehistoricizes black criminality; see David Cole, No
Equal Justice: Race and Class in the American Criminal Justice System (New York:
The New Press, 1999); Elliott Currie, Crime and Punishment in America: Why the
Solutions to America’s Most Stubborn Social Crisis Have Not Worked— and What
Will (New York: Henry Holt, 1998).

5. This study is not a comprehensive survey of every statement made by a race
and crime expert. Although it notes a wide range of contributors to the discourse,
it pays special attention to several key fi gures. Some were innovators, such as Fred-
erick L. Hoffman, Ida B. Wells, W. E. B. Du Bois, Frances Kellor, Jane Addams,
Franz Boas, Charles Johnson, and Thorsten Sellin. Others were infl uential repre-
sentatives of schools of thought, such as Fannie B. Williams, Kelly Miller, G. Stanley
Hall, John Daniels, and Edwin H. Sutherland. Still others wonderfully articulated
the thinking of their contemporaries— for example Carl Kelsey, William Hannibal
Thomas, and Sadie Mossell. Some local reformers found themselves in the middle
of something, trying to make the best of a diffi cult situation, and they happened to
leave rec ords; they include Susan Wharton, James S. Stemons, Charles A. Tindley,
Herbert Welsh, and an unidentifi ed black female undercover vice agent.



6. Hinton Rowan Helper, The Negroes in Negroland; the Negroes in America;
and Negroes Generally. Also the Several Races of White Men, Considered as the
Involuntary and Predestined Supplanters of the Black Races (New York: Carleton,
1868); William Hannibal Thomas, The American Negro: What He Was, What He
Is, and What He May Become (New York: Macmillan, 1901).

7. Porter argues that “numbers, graphs, and formulas [are] fi rst of all . . . strate-
gies of communication. They are intimately bound up with forms of community,
and hence also with the social identity of the researchers.” An important goal of
this book is to caution historians and sociologists who turn to social surveys from
earlier periods, often highlighting the work of the most recognizable white schol-
ars, missing the voices of black experts, and totally unaware of the ideological
forces bearing on the production and interpretation of racial statistics. Thus I share
Porter’s approach to reading statistical discourses as text and as identity construc-
tion. That is, in this book crime statistics are not used to reconstruct reality but are
the problematic that is examined historically. They are a source of investigation
into the discursive tactics of early- twentieth- century race- relations writers. They
are off limits, by and large, as a way of defi ning the truth of any given matter, at
any given moment. But readers will be swayed by certain statistical arguments and
truth claims. In the end, this is the point. We cannot ignore seeing what we want to
see. And when “we” are mostly white and privileged and use race and power to make
claims to uncontested knowledge, the picture can (and often is) distorted. Black race
and crime experts did not necessarily see the facts as they were either, but knowing
what they claimed to see enriches our historical understanding of the enduring
ideological currency of black criminality. See Theodore M. Porter, Trust in Num-
bers: The Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life (Prince ton: Prince ton
University Press, 1995), viii– ix.

8. The historiography on racial thought and scientifi c racism has had a tremen-
dous infl uence on my thinking. This study enriches the historiography in its ex-
plicit focus on early- twentieth- century crime rhetoric among northern writers and
reformers: Richard Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought (Philadel-
phia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1944); Rayford Logan, Betrayal of the Ne-
gro (1954, reprinted London: Collier, 1969); Thomas F. Gossett, Race: The History
of an Idea in America (1963, reprinted New York: Oxford University Press, 1997);
I. A. Newby, Jim Crow’s Defense: Anti- Negro Thought in America, 1900– 1930
(Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1965); George W. Stocking, Jr., Race,
Culture and Evolution: Essays in the History of Anthropology (1968, reprinted
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982); George Frederickson, The Black Im-
age in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro- American Character and Destiny,
1817– 1914, 2nd ed.(Hanover, N.H.: Wesleyan University Press, 1987); John S.
Haller, Jr., Outcasts from Evolution: Scientifi c Attitudes of Racial Inferiority, 1859–
1900 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1971); Vernon J. Williams, Jr., From a
Caste to a Minority: Changing Attitudes of American Sociologists toward Afro-
Americans, 1896– 1945 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1989); William H.
Tucker, The Science and Politics of Racial Research (Chicago: University of Illinois
Press, 1994); Stephen J. Gould, The Mismea sure of Man, rev. and expanded (New
York: Norton, 1996).


9. Thorsten Sellin, “The Negro Criminal: A Statistical Note,” AAAPSS 140
(November 1928): 52– 64.

10. In this article, the single most important source for Sellin’s critique of racial
criminalization and its statistical antecedents was the groundbreaking work of
black sociologist Charles S. Johnson in the Chicago Commission on Race Rela-
tions, The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and a Race Riot (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1922). Sellin also cited the fi ndings of three National
Urban League researchers: Anna J. Thompson, “A Survey of Crime among Negroes
in Philadelphia,” Opportunity 4 (July- September 1926); Forrester B. Washington,
“A Race Emerging: A Survey Made for the Department of Welfare, Commonwealth
of Pennsylvania” (Unpublished Manuscript, 1924); Maurine Boie, “An Analysis
of Negro Crime Statistics for Minneapolis for 1923, 1924 and 1925,” Opportunity
6 (June 1928): 171– 173. Citations are found at Sellin, “The Negro Criminal,” 52–
56. For a signifi cant moment when Sellin highlighted African American research to
his white peers, see U.S. Wickersham Commission, “Work and Law Observance,”
Report on the Causes of Crime, vol. 1:1 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1931), 167.

11. Sellin, “The Negro Criminal,” 52; see “unreliability” at p. 63.
12. Orlando Patterson, The Ordeal of Integration: Progress and Resentment

in America’s “Racial” Crisis (New York: Basic Civitas, 1997), 40. Patterson also
raises the issue of real black criminals, writing that “A small hard core of danger-
ous people with multiple social problems does in fact exist” (38– 39). Hard- core
dangerous people live among all people and in all communities. (In the statistics
used to defi ne black criminality as exceptional in the 1890s, whites of all nationali-
ties made up roughly 70 percent of the nation’s prisoners.) The difference regard-
ing blacks, as Glen Loury notes, is the legacy of “racial dishonor.” The “specter of
‘social otherness,’ ” Loury writes, “emerged with slavery and . . . has been shaped
over the postemancipation de cades by po liti cal, economic forces specifi c to Ameri-
can society, [and] remains yet to be fully eradicated”; Glen Loury, The Anatomy of
Racial In e qual ity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), 70. Defi ning
black criminality through racial and cultural markers of inferiority was at the
heart of post- emancipation race relations. Black Codes, Pig Laws, convict leasing,
chain gangs, and lynching were direct consequences of inventing new ways of
thinking about blacks and of using criminal laws, criminal justice practices, and vi-
olence to target them— all tracked by statistics, reifying racist presumptions that
blacks were an exceptional and dangerous criminal population. Du Bois tried
to parse the difference between the racialized context of the period and the real
“hard core of dangerous people” by arguing that some black people turned to
crime as a response to their oppression. For him, the solution was obvious:
Law- abidingness and racial equality would minimize the number of dangerous
black criminals. What he soon realized, however, was that this solution would
not eliminate the idea of black criminality because too much was at stake. From
Du Bois’s point of view, racial in e qual ity was tied directly to white supremacy
and was justifi ed by the idea of blacks as criminals. For a recent interview on
Loury and his research, see Schwartzapfel, “A Nation of Jailers,” 28– 35. See also
W. E. B. Du Bois, The Philadelphia Negro (1899, reprinted Millwood, N.Y.: Kraus-
Thomson Or ga ni za tion Ltd, 1973), 387– 397; Khalil G. Muhammad, “White May



Be Might, But It’s Not Always Right,” Washington Post, December 9, 2007, Sun-
day Outlook.

13. Du Bois, The Philadelphia Negro, 386– 387; David Levering Lewis, W. E. B.
Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1886– 1919 (New York: Henry Holt, 1993),
224– 225.

14. Thorsten Sellin, “Race Prejudice in the Administration of Justice,” AJS 41:2
(1935): 212– 217.

15. Antebellum racial scientists’ failed attempts to prove the inferiority of Afri-
can Americans inspired a new generation of scholars to try to succeed where they
had failed; see Haller, Outcasts from Evolution; Lee D. Baker, From Savage to
Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race (Berkeley: University of Cali-
fornia Press, 1998).

16. John Roach Straton, “Will Education Save the Race Problem,” The North
American Review 170 (June 1900): 785– 801; Booker T. Washington, “Education
Will Save the Race Problem, A Reply,” The North American Review 171 (August
1900): 221– 232; W. E. B. Du Bois, “Notes on Negro Crime, Particularly in Georgia,”
Atlanta University Studies 9 (1904); James K. Vardaman, “A Governor Bitterly
Opposes Negro Education,” Leslie’s Weekly, February 1904, 104.

17. For a sampling of important texts on late- nineteenth- and early- twentieth-
century southern criminal justice history, see Edward L. Ayers, Vengeance and
Justice: Crime and Punishment in the 19th Century American South (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1984); Joel Williamson, A Rage for Order: Black- White
Relations in the American South since Emancipation (New York: Oxford Univer-
sity Press, 1986); Stewart E. Tolnay and E. M. Beck, A Festival of Violence: An
Analysis of Southern Lynchings, 1882– 1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press,
1995); W. Fitzhugh Brundage, ed., Under Sentence of Death: Essays on Lynching
in the South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997); David Os-
hinsky, Worse Than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice
(New York: Free Press, 1996); Philip Dray, At the Hands of Persons Unknown:
The Lynching of Black America (New York: Random House, 2002). For two ex-
ceptional works that emphasize racist southern criminal justice practices as crucial
to the modernization of the New South, see Alex Lichtenstein, Twice the Work of
Free Labor: The Po liti cal Economy of Convict Labor in the New South (New
York: Verso, 1995), xix, 5; Mary Ellen Curtin, Black Prisoners and Their World:
Alabama, 1865– 1900 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2000), 62- 80.

18. For a sampling of classic texts on late- nineteenth- and early- twentieth-
century northern criminal justice history, see Anthony M. Platt, The Child Savers:
The Invention of Delinquency (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969); Da-
vid Rothman, The Discovery of the Asylum: Social Order and Disorder in the New
Republic, rev. ed. (New York: Aldine De Gruyter, 2002); Rothman, Conscience and
Con ve nience: The Asylum and Its Alternatives in Progressive America (Boston:
Little, Brown and Company, 1980); Eric H. Monkkonen, The Dangerous Classes:
Crime and Poverty in Columbus, Ohio, 1860– 1935 (Cambridge: Harvard Univer-
sity Press, 1975); Police in Urban America, 1860– 1920 (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1981); Paul Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order in America,
1820– 1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978); David R. Johnson,



Policing the Urban Underworld: The Impact of Crime on the Development of the
American Police, 1800– 1887 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1979); Estelle
B. Freedman, Their Sisters’ Keepers: Women’s Prison Reform in America, 1880–
1930 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1981); Nicole Hahn Rafter, Par-
tial Justice: Women in State Prisons, 1800– 1935 (Boston: Northeastern University
Press, 1985); Allen Steinberg, The Transformation of Criminal Justice: Philadel-
phia, 1800– 1880 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989); Norval
Morris and David J. Rothman, eds., The Oxford History of the Prison: The Prac-
tice of Punishment in Western Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).
A series of articles in 2003, “New Perspectives on Crime and Punishment in the
American City,” called attention to the “comparatively small historical literature
on urban crime in the United States” in the early twentieth century as compared to
other fi elds in social and urban history (519). The authors called for new scholar-
ship on “the study of crime to national issues related to progressive reform, the rise
of the New Deal, the evolution of urban criminal justice, and the rise of the mod-
ern carceral state,” but their agenda- setting articles did not include race as a robust
analytical category (versus a mention here and there) for examining the experi-
ences of native- born whites, Eu ro pe an immigrants, and northern blacks in relation
to each other, nor for examining racial criminalization as a modern historical pro-
cess. See Timothy Gilfoyle, “Introduction: New Perspectives on Crime and Punish-
ment in the American City,” Journal of Urban History 29:5 (2003): 521; “ ‘Ameri-
ca’s Greatest Criminal Barracks’: The Tombs and the Experiences of Criminal
Justice in New York City, 1838– 1897,” Journal of Urban History 29:5 (2003):
525– 554; Michael Willrich, “ ‘Close that Place of Hell’: Poor Women and the Cul-
tural Politics of Prohibition,” Journal of Urban History 29:5 (2003): 555– 574;
“The Racketeer’s Progress: Commerce, Crime, and the Law in Chicago, 1900–
1940,” Journal of Urban History 29:5 (2003): 575– 596; Rebecca McLennan,
“Punishment’s ‘Square Deal’: Prisoners and Their Keepers in 1920s New York,”
Journal of Urban History 29:5 (2003): 597– 619; Gilfoyle, “Scorsese’s Gangs of
New York: Why Myth Matters,” Journal of Urban History 29:5 (2003): 620– 630.

19. David Courtwright’s recent synthesis of the history of violence in America
is a case in point. With the exception of a few scattered mentions over the century
and a half covered in the fi rst ten chapters of the book, African American violence
is not examined until the fi nal two chapters, which cover the 1960s forward: chap-
ter 11, “Ghetto Violence,” and chapter 12, “The Crack Era”; Courtwright, Violent
Land: Single Men and Social Disorder from the Frontier to the Inner City (1996;
reprinted Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001). Some notable exceptions
to the periodization and regional biases of the dominant historiography include
Richard Slotkin, “Narratives of Negro Crime in New En gland, 1675– 1800,” Amer-
ican Quarterly 25:1 (1973): 3– 31; Lane, Roots of Violence; G. S. Rowe, “Black
Offenders, Criminal Courts, and Philadelphia Society in the Late Eighteenth-
Century,” Journal of Social History 22 (Summer 1989): 704; Leslie C. Patrick-
Stamp, “The Numbers That Are Not New: African Americans in the Country’s First
Prison, 1790– 1835,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 119 (1995):
95– 128; James H. Madison, A Lynching in the Heartland: Race and Memory in



America (New York: Palgrave, 2001); Cheryl D. Hicks, “ ‘In Danger of Becoming
Morally Depraved’: Single Black Women, Working- Class Families, and New York
State’s Wayward Minor Laws, 1917– 1928,” University of Pennsylvania Law Re-
view 151:6 (2003): 2007– 2121; David B. Wolcott, “Shifting Priorities: Targeting
Serious Crime and Minority Youth in Interwar Los Angeles,” in Cops and Kids:
Policing Juvenile Delinquency in Urban America, 1890– 1940 (Columbus: Ohio
State University Press, 2005), 146– 167; Johnson, Street Justice; Gross, Colored
Amazons; and Adler, First in Violence.

20. Although Roger Lane’s study stood as the only book- length historical analy-
sis of nineteenth- century northern black criminality for the better part of two de-
cades, his work furthered this perspective. Lane argued that “[t]here is no evidence
of signifi cant racial bias in Philadelphia’s nineteenth- century court system, or in-
deed of those in any northern city in [the years 1860 to 1900]” (Lane, Roots of
Violence in Black Philadelphia, 87). His explanation for black criminality was that
a “criminal subculture . . . fl ourished in the later nineteenth century . . . [that is]
still apparent late in the twentieth century (5).” On this score, Courtwright’s post-
1960s analysis echoes Lane’s fi ndings: “By the late 1960s and 1970s widespread
alcoholism and drug abuse were established facts of ghetto life. They led to vio-
lence directly through intoxication, bad judgment, drug ripoffs, and other disputes;
indirectly by compounding problems of marital and family stability, which were
also being worsened by job loss and the steady growth of a self- contained, increas-
ingly isolated, and deeply troubled urban ‘underclass’. . . . What seems incontro-
vertible is that something like [Oscar] Lewis’s culture of poverty . . . is indeed operat-
ing in the contemporary ghetto. That is, an oppositional lower- class subculture has
taken root and has divided the black community along lines of value and class”
(Courtwright, Violent Land, 219, 235). For a sampling of some of the most signifi –
cant historical scholarship on black crime as a cultural way of life that discounts or
ignores racial criminalization in the early- twentieth- century North, see Eugene
Genovese, Roll Jordan Roll: The World the Slaves Made (New York: Vintage Books,
1972): 603– 609; Williamson, A Rage for Order, 50; Oshinsky, Worse Than Slavery,
33; and Gilbert Osofsky, Harlem: The Making of a Ghetto: Negro New York, 1890–
1930 (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1963), 139, 141, 148. For seminal critiques
that call the uncritical use of statistical and so cio log i cal data by historians (such as
Genovese and Osofsky) pathologizing, see Herbert G. Gutman, The Black Family in
Slavery and Freedom, 1750– 1925 (New York: Vintage Books, 1976), 291, 293, 312,
314, 318, 455; Joe W. Trotter, “African Americans in the City: The Industrial Era,
1900– 1950,” in Kenneth W. Goings and Raymond A. Mohl, eds., The New African
American Urban History (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1996), 308–
309; “Blacks in the Urban North: The ‘Underclass Question’ in Historical Perspec-
tive, in The “Underclass” Debate: Views from History (Prince ton: Prince ton Univer-
sity Press, 1993), 57, 61, 73; Curtin, Black Prisoners, 42– 61.

21. The silences in the historical literature and the gaps in our historical knowl-
edge are most obvious when crime policy researchers express surprise that the
highest rates of black incarceration are in northern states and that police brutality
and misconduct are most notable in cities outside the South. In a July 2007 report



by the Sentencing Project, researchers Marc Mauer and Ryan S. King emphasize,
for example, that “states with the highest black- to- white [incarceration] ratio are
located in the Northeast and Midwest, including the leading states of Iowa, Ver-
mont, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Wisconsin”; see Uneven Justice: State Rates of
Incarceration by Race and Ethnicity (Washington, D.C.: The Sentencing Project,
2007), 3. Also see New York Civil Liberties Union, Criminalizing the Classroom:
The Overpolicing of New York City Schools (New York: American Civil Liberties
Union, 2007); Robin L. Dahlberg, Locking Up Our Children: The Secure Deten-
tion of Massachusetts Youth after Arraignment and before Adjudication (New
York: American Civil Liberties Union, 2008).

22. Higher levels of violence in Chicago’s Black Belt, Adler explains, were due
to racism; see Adler, First in Violence, 156– 158, and “ ‘The Negro Would be More
Than an Angel to Withstand Such Treatment’: African American Hom i cide in
Chicago, 1875– 1910,” in Lethal Imagination: Violence and Brutality in American
History, ed. Michael A. Bellesiles (New York: New York University Press, 1999),
298– 299, 306– 309.

23. Adler argues that “the character of African American violence did not re-
fl ect an alternative culture or an inverted value system”; Adler, “The Negro Would
be More Than an Angel,” 306. Some readers may be inclined to argue that African
American crime was still worse than white crime, but this brings us back to the
fl awed assumption that early- twentieth- century statistical discourse was an objec-
tive mea sure of criminality. Rather, it was biased, incomplete, and no less a refl ec-
tion of racial ideology and the po liti cal economy of the times than was the actual
criminal behavior. Racial crime statistics were instrumental to white supremacist
practices and policies at the dawn of their emergence in the postbellum period. It
is impossible to disentangle the realities of racism from real patterns of criminal
(or culturally adaptive) behavior. The “discount for prejudice,” to use David
Courtwright’s term, has been underestimated by scholars, and its true value is
likely unknowable. Ultimately, this was a numbers game to demonstrate racial
inferiority for one group and class oppression for several others. For more on the
fl awed foundations of racial statistics, see Tukufu Zuberi, Thicker Than Blood:
How Racial Statistics Lie (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001);
Courtwright, Violent Land, 240. For a sample of scholarship on ethnic crime pat-
terns and crime as culturally adaptive to economic, po liti cal, and social oppres-
sion, see Daniel Bell, “Crime as an American Way of Life,” The Antioch Review
(1953): 131– 154; Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure (New
York: Free Press, 1957); Humbert S. Nelli, Italians in Chicago, 1880– 1930: A
Study in Ethnic Mobility (New York: Oxford University Press), 155; Nelli, The
Business of Crime: Italians and Syndicate Crime in the United States (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1976); Mark Haller, “Or ga nized Crime in Urban Soci-
ety: Chicago in the Twentieth Century,” Journal of Social History 5:2 (1971–
1972), 210– 234; Haller, “Illegal Enterprise: A Theoretical and Historical Interpre-
tation,” Criminology 28:2 (1990): 207– 229; Ivan Light, “The Ethnic Vice Industry,
1880– 1944,” American So cio log i cal Review 42:3 (1977): 464– 479; Light, “Num-
bers Gambling among Blacks: A Financial Institution,” American So cio log i cal Re-
view 42 (December 1977): 892– 1904; Jenna Weissman Joselit, Our Gang: Jewish



Crime and the New York Jewish Community, 1900– 1940 (Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1983); Robin D. G. Kelley, “The Black Poor and the Politics of
Opposition in a New South City, 1929– 1970,” in Michael B. Katz, ed., The “Un-
derclass” Debate: Views from History (Prince ton: Prince ton University Press,
1993), 300– 302; Kelley, “We Are Not What We Seem,” in Race Rebels: Culture,
Politics, and the Black Working Class (New York: Free Press, 1996), 44– 47; Irma
Watkins- Owens, “The Underground Entrepreneur,” in Blood Relations: Ca rib-
be an Immigrants and the Harlem Community, 1900– 1930 (Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 1996), 136– 148; Tera Hunter, To ’Joy My Freedom: Southern
Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War (Cambridge: Harvard Uni-
versity Press, 1997), 60– 61, 112– 114, 132– 134; Victoria W. Wolcott, “The Infor-
mal Economy, Leisure Workers, and Economic Nationalism,” in Remaking Re-
spectability: African American Women in Interwar Detroit (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina, 2001), 93– 126. For crime as banditry using the
tools of folklore and cultural history, see also Eric Hobsbawm, Bandits (New
York: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969); Roger Abrahams, Deep Down in the
Jungle: Negro Narrative Folklore from the Streets of Philadelphia (Chicago: Al-
dine Transaction, 1970); Lawrence Levine, Black Culture and Black Conscious-
ness: Afro American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1977): 413– 420; William Van Deburg, Hoodlums: Black Villains
and Social Bandits in American Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004),
76, 82– 83, 116– 135.

24. To borrow and reverse Robin D. G. Kelley’s useful formulation, this book is
about the “public transcript” of white and black criminality, not about the “hidden
transcript” of either; Kelley, “We Are Not What We Seem,” 53, and “The Black
Poor,” 295.

25. Matthew Pratt Guterl, The Color of Race in America, 1900– 1940 (Cam-
bridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), 6.

26. Thomas Guglielmo, White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color, and Power in
Chicago: 1890– 1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 77, 87.

27. Rothman, The Discovery of the Asylum, 254– 256; Conscience and Con ve-
nience; Samuel Walker, Pop u lar Justice: A History of American Criminal Justice
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 80– 83,164–165.

28. On eugenics, see Nicole Hahn Rafter, Creating Born Criminals (Urbana:
University of Illinois Press, 1997); for a general class- based analysis of Progressive
era environmental views within the context of crime and criminal justice, see Michael
Willrich, City of Courts: Socializing Justice in Progressive- era Chicago (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2003); for discussions of the Chicago School of Soci-
ology, see James B. McKee, Sociology and the Race Problem: The Failure of a Per-
spective (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993); Alice P. O’Connor, Poverty
Knowledge: Social Science, Social Policy, and the Poor in Twentieth Century U.S.
History (Prince ton: Prince ton University Press, 2001).

29. Jane Addams, The Spirit of Youth and the City Streets, reprinted with a new
introduction by Allen F. Davis (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1972; originally pub-
lished 1909), and A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil (1912, reprinted New
York: Arno Press and The New York Times, 1972).



30. Charles Richmond Henderson, An Introduction to the Study of the Depen-
dent, Defective and Delinquent Classes (Boston: D.C. Heath and Company, 1901),
246– 247.

31. This study pushes the periodization farther back in time than does Kelley,
who says the discourse emerged “beginning with Robert Park and his protégés to
the War on Poverty- inspired ethnographers”; see Robin D. G. Kelley, Yo’ Mama’s
Disfunktional! Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America (Boston: Beacon Press,
1997), 3, 16. For perceptive long- view essays on the historical origins of black pa-
thology discourses, see Michael B. Katz, ed., The ‘Underclass’ Debate: Views from
History (Prince ton: Prince ton University Press, 1993); Darryl Michael Scott, Con-
tempt and Pity: Social Policy and the Image of the Damaged Black Psyche, 1880–
1996 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997).

32. I cautiously use “statistical ghetto” to signal the ways in which the emer-
gence of racial crime statistics in the 1890s occurred precisely when northern seg-
regation began to intensify. The term ghetto resonates with what Joe Trotter, Alli-
son Isenberg, and others have criticized as the “ghetto synthesis” or the “ghetto
framework” of earlier black urban historians such as Gilbert Osofsky, Allan Spear,
Kenneth Kusmer, and David Gottlieb. These earlier historians tended to “cast Afri-
can Americans as passive victims” of white racism, or “treated important facets of
black life in pathological terms,” or tended to minimize intra- racial differences
(class, gender, sexuality, religion, birthplace, protest strategies, and so on) and how
these differences changed over time. However, the term statistical ghetto still cap-
tures the intersecting pro cesses at work in the 1890s. Northern segregation was
made in part through the statistical discourse on black criminality and vice versa.
The term therefore calls to mind the violence and dehumanization of racial quan-
tifi cation in the Progressive era. It is also a shorthand reminder of the tainted evi-
dence used by urban historians and other scholars who rely uncritically on pri-
mary so cio log i cal evidence to draw their conclusions about African American
urban life in the late nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. See Joe Trotter, “Afri-
can Americans in the City,” 308; “Appendix 7: Afro American Urban History: A
Critique of the Literature” in Black Milwaukee: The Making of an Industrial Pro-
letariat, 1915– 1945, 2nd ed. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007), 264– 282;
Allison Isenberg, “Transcending Ghetto Boundaries,” in Black Milwaukee, 327–
337; Arnold R. Hirsch, “Second Thoughts on the Second Ghetto,” Journal of
Urban History 29:3 (2003): 289– 309; Roger Biles, “Black Milwaukee and the
Ghetto Synthesis,” Journal of Urban History 33:4 (2007): 539– 543; Osofsky, Har-
lem: The Making of a Ghetto; Allan H. Spear, Black Chicago: The Making of a
Negro Ghetto, 1890– 1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967); David
Katzman, Before the Ghetto: Black Detroit in the Nineteenth Century (Urbana:
University of Illinois Press, 1973); Kenneth Kusmer, A Ghetto Takes Shape: Black
Cleveland, 1870– 1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1976).

33. Nikhil Pal Singh defi nes “color- blind universalism” as an antiracist ethos of
the post- 1960s civil rights era, where “biological arguments for black inferiority”
have been discredited while “the belief that blacks are culturally defi cient— less
intelligent, less industrious, and less patriotic than whites— remains widespread.”
These color- blind attitudes toward blacks have been matched by the simultaneous



“rollback of federal civil rights enforcement . . . massive cutbacks in federal aid to
cities, and the recoding of black existence in urban areas as a major threat to pub-
lic safety and po liti cal virtue (that is, the moral panic over crime and welfare)”; see
Singh, Black Is a Country (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004), 12. For a
similar critique, see Eduard Bonilla- Silva, Racism without Racists: Color- Blind
Racism and the Per sis tence of Racial In e qual ity in the United States (Lanham, Md:
Rowman and Littlefi eld, 2003).

34. Quoted in Frederick L. Hoffman, Race Traits and Tendencies of the
American Negro (New York: American Economic Association, 1896), v, 310; “I
am not a racist” is my paraphrase of John Daniels’s statements in In Freedom’s
Birthplace: A Study of the Boston Negroes (Boston, Mass.: Houghton Miffl in
Company, 1914; New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1968), ix, 400– 405,
410– 411.

35. See, for example, more recent uses of the statement “I am not a racist” in
Jonathan Rieder’s ethnographic account of white ethnic backlash against black
Brooklynites— described as “encroaching” black criminals and “ghetto dwellers”—
in late- twentieth- century New York: Carnesie: The Jews and Italians of Brooklyn
against Liberalism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985), 80, 93.

36. Rieder’s ethnographic study of white ethnics in Brooklyn in the 1970s and
1980s documents the enduring and powerful resonance of late- twentieth- century
attitudes about blacks as criminals: “Carnasians spoke about crime with more una-
nimity than they achieved on any other subject, and they spoke often and force-
fully” (Ibid., 68, 69– 79).

37. For examples of a progressive sociologist and a progressive U.S. president
calling blacks their “own worst enemy,” see F. W. Blackmar, “Review of Studies in
the American Race Problem by Alfred H. Stone,” American Journal of Sociology 14:6
(1909): 837– 839, and Theodore Roo se velt’s comments in “Roo se velt at Hampton,”
New York Times, May 31, 1906.

38. Early antiliberal sentiment tied to black criminality gave way to more mea-
sur able backlash movements in the 1960s and 1970s. According to Rieder’s ethno-
graphic research and survey data of the period, northern white urbanites “who
were most ner vous about crime . . . tended to oppose the civil rights movement”;
see Carnarsie, 78. Similarly, post- World War II urban historians have observed the
ubiquitous referencing of black criminality by 1940s and 1950s white homeowners
who tirelessly resisted, often violently, upwardly mobile black home buyers; see
Thomas J. Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and In e qual ity in Postwar
Detroit (1996, reprinted with a new preface, Prince ton: Prince ton University Press,
2005); Heather Ann Thompson, Whose Detroit? Politics, Labor, and Race in a
Modern American City (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001), 17– 18.

39. Allen F. Davis, Spearheads for Reform: The Social Settlements and the Pro-
gressive Movement, 1880– 1914 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), 94.

40. For a helpful guide to changing notions of (racial) liberalism in the nine-
teenth and twentieth centuries, see Cheryl Greenburg, “Twentieth- Century Liberal-
isms: Transformations of an Ideology,” in Perspectives on Modern America: Making
Sense of the Twentieth Century, ed. Harvard Sitkoff (New York: Oxford University
Press, 2001), 55– 66.



41. Franz Boas, The Mind of Primitive Man (New York: Macmillan, 1911).
42. The meaning of whiteness and blackness shifted, but their oppositional re-

lationship remained stable.
43. For studies on how middle- and upper- class African Americans imagined

themselves as racial representatives and/or showed contempt for their social inferi-
ors, see Du Bois, The Philadelphia Negro; Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Righ-
teous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880–
1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993); Kevin Gaines, Uplifting the
Race: Black Leadership, Politics, and Culture in the Twentieth Century (Chapel
Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996); Stephanie J. Shaw, What a Woman
Ought to Be and to Do: Black Professional Women Workers during the Jim Crow
Era (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996); Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Gen-
der and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina,
1896– 1920 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996); Deborah
Gray White, Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of Themselves, 1894–
1994 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1999); Victoria Wolcott, Remaking Respectabil-
ity: African American Women in Interwar Detroit (Chapel Hill: University of
North Carolina Press, 2001); Martin Summers, Manliness and Its Discontents:
The Black Middle Class and the Transformation of Masculinity, 1900– 1930 (Cha-
pel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004); Marlon B. Ross, Manning the
Race: Reforming Black Men in the Jim Crow Era (New York: New York Univer-
sity Press, 2004).

44. Thomas, The American Negro.
45. “Root cause solutions” is taken from Flamm, Law and Order, 179.
46. This book contributes to a recent trend in African American urban histori-

ography focused on the limits of post- World War II racial liberalism. Heather Ann
Thompson’s recent study of Detroit’s race and labor relations argues, for example,
that “after the Second World War” the urban North “became embroiled in the
same po liti cal tensions and battles that the South had experienced for generations
in labor and civic relations”; see Whose Detroit? 8. This is true to a degree. But
like many other excellent post- World War II studies of the urban North, much of
this work underplays the impact of the Progressive era. The demographic small-
ness of northern black communities before the 1940s is one explanation. Also the
expansion of the welfare state during the New Deal gave rise to a new order of
rights consciousness that, as scholars rightly point out, did not exist in the earlier
period. But progressives laid the groundwork and helped set the terms that later
New Dealers would tweak and revise. From the 1890s through the interwar pe-
riod, the limits of racial liberalism made legitimate the segregation of African
Americans in both thought and practice. Black criminality was a core issue in this
early debate about who was worth saving, why, and by what means. Mapping its
signifi cance is at the heart of this book. For a sample of post- World War II north-
ern urban historiography on the limits of racial liberalism, see Sugrue, Origins of
the Urban Crisis; Thompson, Whose Detroit?; Robert O. Self, American Babylon:
Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (Prince ton: Prince ton University
Press, 2003); Matthew J. Countryman, Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in
Philadelphia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006); Kevin Mum-



ford, Newark: A History of Race, Rights, and Riots in America (New York: New
York University Press, 2007).

47. For a sampling of key works that emphasize African American agency,
intra- racial cooperation and contestation, and institution- building during the Pro-
gressive era and the Great Migration, see Trotter, Black Milwaukee; Peter Gottlieb,
Making Their Own Way: Southern Blacks’ Migration to Pittsburgh, 1916– 1930
(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987); James Grossman, Land of Hope: Chi-
cago, Black Southerners, and the Great Migration (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1989); Earl Lewis, In Their Own Interests: Race, Class, and Power in
Twentieth- Century Norfolk, VA (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991);
Elizabeth Clark- Lewis, Living In, Living Out: African American Domestics in
Washington, D.C., 1910– 1940 (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1994);
Darlene Clark Hine, “Black Migration to the Urban Midwest: The Gender Dimen-
sion, 1915– 1945,” in Joe W. Trotter, ed. The Great Migration in Historical Perspec-
tive: New Dimensions of Race, Class, and Gender (Bloomington: Indiana Univer-
sity Press, 1991), 126– 146; Kimberley L. Phillips, Alabama North: African- American
Migrants, Community, and Working- Class Activism in Cleveland, 1915– 1945
(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999); Andrew Wiese, Places of Their Own:
African American Suburbanization in the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University
of Chicago Press, 2004), 11– 93; Jacqueline Najuma Stewart, Migrating to the
Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 2005), 114– 188; Wallace D. Best, Passionately Human, No Less Divine:
Religion and Culture in Black Chicago, 1915– 1952 (Chicago: University of Chi-
cago Press, 2005); Davarian Baldwin, Chicago’s New Negroes: Modernity, The
Great Migration, and Black Urban Life (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina
Press, 2007).

48. The term hidden costs is borrowed from Thomas M. Shapiro, The Hidden
Cost of Being African American: How Wealth Perpetuates In e qual ity (New York:
Oxford University Press, 2004).

49. “Kelly Miller’s Column: How To Restrain the Negro Criminal,” February
9, 1935, Folder 80, Box 71– 73, Kelly Miller Papers, Moorland- Spingarn Research
Center, Howard University, Washington, D.C.

50. Recently, urban historians and others have begun to focus explicitly on the
long- standing problem of police brutality and misconduct in black urban commu-
nities outside the South; see Martha Biondi, To Stand and Fight: The Struggle for
Civil Rights in Postwar New York City (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
2003), 2, 60, 61– 66, 70– 74, 148, 192– 197, 286, especially chapter 2, “Lynching,
Northern Style”; Johnson, Street Justice. For a recent treatment of the South, see
Randall Kennedy, Race, Crime, and the Law (New York: Random House, 1997),
29– 135, especially chapter 2, “History: Unequal Protection,” and chapter 3, “His-
tory: Unequal Enforcement.” Some new studies of the post- World War II urban
North raise questions about historical patterns of police misconduct in under-
standing the causes of urban rebellions from 1964 to 1968. In Detroit, Heather
Ann Thompson found survey data from the 1950s showing that the “abominable
state of police- community relations is what most encouraged Detroiters to partici-
pate in the civil rights movement.” She also argues that in 1960s Detroit white



police actions lit the powder keg of “deteriorated” race relations that exploded
into a “full- blown urban crisis” (Whose Detroit? 21, 37, 38– 47, 75– 79, 82, 91–
99); see also Sugrue, Origins of the Urban Crisis, 29, 255, 266; Flamm, Law and
Order; Self, American Babylon, 78; Countryman, Up South, 2, 35, 154– 155, 160,
166, 197, 249; Mumford, Newark, 94, 98, 114, 116– 118, 125, 129, 131– 135,
139– 140, 147, 151– 152, 156; Isenberg, “Transcending Ghetto Boundaries,” 334.

51. For more on white ethnic succession in the urban North, see Stephen Thern-
strom, The Other Bostonians: Poverty and Progress in the American Metropolis,
1880– 1970 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973); Thomas Philpott, The
Slum and the Ghetto: Immigrants, Blacks, and Reformers in Chicago, 1880– 1930
(1978, reprinted Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Publishing, 1991); Stanley Lieberson,
A Piece of the Pie: Blacks and White Immigrants since 1980 (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1980); Theodore Hershberg, ed., Philadelphia: Work, Space,
Family, and Group Experience in the Nineteenth Century, Essays toward an Inter-
disciplinary History of the City (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981); John
Bodnar, Roger Simon, and Michael P. Weber, Lives of Their Own: Blacks, Italians,
and Poles in Pittsburgh, 1900– 1960 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982);
Kenneth Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1985); Oliver Zunz, The Changing Face of
In e qual ity: Urbanization, Industrial Development, and Immigrants in Detroit,
1880– 1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).

52. “The efforts of progressives to ‘socialize’ criminal justice in Chicago and
other cities helped redefi ne American liberalism and the rule of law, laying an ur-
ban seedbed for the modern administrative welfare state” (Willrich, “ ‘Close That
Place of Hell,’ ” 564).

53. Ira Katznelson, When Affi rmative Action Was White: An Untold History of
Racial In e qual ity in Twentieth- Century America (New York: W. W. Norton and
Company, 2005), 18, 23.

54. U.S. Department of Justice, Uniform Crime Reports (Washington, D.C.:
GPO, 1930– 1956). From 1935 to 1956, “Indian,” “Chinese,” “Japa nese,” “Mexi-
can,” and “All Others” appeared in the tables along with “White” and “Black,” al-
though the authors of the report emphasized only the latter two for comparative

55. Wilson, Inventing Black- on- Black Violence, 4.

1. saving the nation

1. Nathaniel S. Shaler, “The Negro Problem,” Atlantic Monthly 54 (1884):
696– 709. For Shaler’s most infl uential race- relations articles, see “Science and the
African Problem,” Atlantic Monthly 66 (July 1890); “The African Element in
America,” The Arena 2 (1890): 660– 673; “The Nature of the Negro,” The Arena,
December 1890, 23– 35; “The Economic Future of the New South,” The Arena,
August 1890, 257– 268; “Eu ro pe an Peasants as Immigrants,” Atlantic Monthly 71
(May 1893): 646– 655; “The Negro since the Civil War,” Pop u lar Science Monthly
57 (1900): 29– 39; “The Future of the Negro in the Southern States,” Pop u lar Sci-
ence Monthly 57 (1900): 147– 156.



2. For a sample of those who expressed fear of the “unimaginable” or strongly
advised against it in the 1850s, see John Campbell, Negro Mania, Being an Exami-
nation of the Falsely Assumed Equality of the Races of Mankind (Philadelphia:
Campbell & Power, 1851); Josiah Priest, Bible Defense of Slavery and the Origin,
Fortunes and History of the Negro Race (Glasgow, Ky: Rev. W. S. Brown,
M.D.,1852); George Fitzhugh, Cannibals All! or Slaves without Masters! (Rich-
mond: A. Morris, 1857). For an analysis of this literature and the racial politics of
the moment, see Charles H. Wesley, “The Concept of Negro Inferiority in Ameri-
can Thought,” Journal of Negro History 25:4 (1940): 551– 555; and Steven Hahn,
A Nation Under Our Feet: Black Po liti cal Struggles in the Rural South from Slav-
ery to the Great Migration (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2003).

3. Lowercase “negro” has been preserved in original quotes throughout the
book to maintain historical accuracy. Uppercase uses may be in the original or the
author’s use. Hinton Rowan Helper, The Negroes in Negroland; the Negroes in
America; and Negroes Generally. Also the Several Races of White Men, Considered
as the Involuntary and Predestined Supplanters of the Black Races (New York:
Carleton, 1868), viii– xiv.

4. Shaler, “The Negro Problem,” 697– 698; Lawrence G. Friedman, The White
Savage: Racial Fantasies in the Post- Bellum South (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:
Prentice- Hall, 1970); Wesley, “The Concept of Negro Inferiority,” 554– 557.

5. Shaler, “The Negro Problem,” 696– 697, 700, 703, 707.
6. Shaler, “Science and the African Problem,” 42.
7. John S. Haller, Jr., Outcasts from Evolution: Scientifi c Attitudes of Racial

Inferiority, 1859– 1900 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1971), 187.
8. Shaler, “Future of the Negro.”
9. Other scholars, Lee Baker in par tic u lar, do not see Shaler as a racial liberal.

There is plenty of evidence to support Baker, but my interpretation is different.
Shaler’s liberalism was characteristic of a core contradiction among turn- of- the-
century liberals, including some black liberals. They believed in an activist educa-
tion program to uplift black people while simultaneously believing in black inferi-
ority. Black criminality was the most commonly used example among liberals for
this temporary defect, which education was supposed to help eradicate. See Lee D.
Baker, From Savage to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race, 1896–
1954 (Berkley: University of California Press, 1998), 47– 48.

10. Ibid.
11. Haller, Outcasts from Evolution, 167. Haller adds that Shaler’s “racial think-

ing” along with the ideas of Joseph Leconte, a University of California evolutionary
idealist, and Edward Drinker Cope, a University of Pennsylvania paleontologist,
“epitomized in many ways the most ‘scientifi cally’ accepted attitudes of the late nine-
teenth century on the Negro, the immigrant, and the so- called ‘inferior races’ ” (153).

12. Shaler, “Science and the African Problem,” 41– 44.
13. Shaler, “The Future of the Negro in the Southern States,” 153; Haller, Out-

casts from Evolution, 173, 178. For more on Shaler’s southern sympathies, see
Baker, From Savage to Negro, 48.

14. James B. McKee, Sociology and the Race Problem: The Failure of a Per-
spective (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993), 23. For a fi rst- rate analysis of



the changing attitudes of northerners towards African Americans in this period, see
Heather Cox Richardson, “The Un- American Negro, 1880– 1900,” in The Death
of Reconstruction: Race, Labor, and Politics in the Post- Civil War North, 1865–
1901 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004), 225– 246.

15. Winthrop Jordan, White over Black: American Attitudes toward the
Negro, 1550– 1812 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968);
Thomas F. Gossett, Race: The History of an Idea in America (1963, reprinted
New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); William L. Van Deburg, Hoodlums:
Black Villains and Social Bandits in American Life (Chicago: University of Chi-
cago Press, 2004).

16. Shaler, “The Negro Problem,” 697, 703.
17. Ibid., 703.
18. Tukufu Zuberi, Thicker Than Blood: How Racial Statistics Lie (Minneapo-

lis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 81.
19. Van DeBurg, Hoodlums: Black Villains and Social Bandits, 42– 49.
20. Carl Linnaeus, Systemae Naturae (1735); Johann Friedrich Blumenbach,

On the Natural Variety of Mankind (1795); Gossett, Race, 35– 38.
21. William Drayton, The South Vindicated from the Treason and Fanat i cism

of Northern Abolitionists (Philadelphia: H. Manley, 1836), quoted in George M.
Frederickson, The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro- American
Character and Destiny, 1817– 1914 (1971, reprinted with a new introduction,
Hanover, N.H.: Wesleyan University Press, 1987), 47.

22. Shaler, “The Negro Problem,” 700– 702; Charles Richmond Henderson,
Introduction to the Study of the Dependent, Defective, and Delinquent Classes
and of Their Social Treatment, 2nd ed. (Boston: D.C. Heath & Co., 1901), 3– 4;
Frederickson, The Black Image in the White Mind, 50, 63, 70.

23. Darwin argued that human beings, like all species, naturally varied over
time in their endowed capabilities, which could be mea sured. “Races” whose in-
nate characteristics, such as bigger brains, allowed them to excel would by nature’s
plan be the superior organisms destined to survive and dominate. See Stephen J.
Gould, Mismea sure of Man, rev. and expanded (New York: W. W. Norton & Com-
pany, 1996); G. Stanley Hall, “The Negro in Africa and America,” Pedagogical
Seminary 12 (1905): 358; Gossett, Race, 68; William H. Tucker, The Science and
Politics of Racial Research (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 22– 25.

24. Wesley, “The Concept of Negro Inferiority,” 548; Tera W. Hunter, “Tuber-
culosis as the ‘Negro Servants’ Disease’ ” in To ’Joy My Freedom, Southern Black
Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1997), 192– 195.

25. Among scientists, polygenesis was discredited by Darwin’s infl uential the-
ory of evolution, placing all human beings within the same species, even with the
evolution of differences among them.

26. Gossett, Race, 65; Frederickson, The Black Image in the White Mind,
78– 79.

27. Gossett, Race, 83.
28. Thomas Dyer, Theodore Roo se velt and the Idea of Race (Baton Rouge:

Louisiana State University Press, 1980), 89– 90; Frederickson, The Black Image in



the White Mind, 70– 89; Haller, Outcasts from Evolution, x, 40– 68; Charles Johnson
and Horace Bond, “The Investigation of Racial Differences before 1910,” Journal
of Negro Education, 1934, 329.

29. Gossett, Race, 77, 79, 83; W. I Thomas, “The Mind of Woman and the
Lower Races,” American Journal of Sociology 12 (March 1904): 442; quoted in
McKee, Sociology and the Race Problem, 30, 32.

30. McKee, Sociology and the Race Problem, 28; Rayford Logan, Betrayal of
the Negro (1954, reprinted London: Collier, 1969), 165– 174, 218– 275, 359– 370;
Gail Bederman, Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and
Race in the United States, 1880– 1917 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
1995), 50.

31. Herbert Shapiro, White Violence and Black Response: From Reconstruc-
tion to Montgomery (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988); Hunter,
To ’Joy My Freedom, 31– 35.

32. Dorothy Ross, The Origins of American Social Science (New York: Cam-
bridge University Press, 1991), 17; Haller, Outcasts from Evolution, 164– 165;
W. E. B. Du Bois, Dusk of Dawn: An Essay toward an Autobiography of Race
Concept (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1940; reprinted New Brunswick:
Transaction Books, 1984), 51.

33. Gossett, Race, 101– 122.
34. Shaler, “Eu ro pe an Peasants as Immigrants,” 648– 653.
35. Edward A. Ross, “The Causes of Race Superiority,” AAAPSS 18 (July

1901): 67– 89.
36. David Levering Lewis, W. E. B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1886– 1919

(New York: Henry Holt, 1993), 182.
37. Ibid., 184; Zuberi, Thicker Than Blood, 19.
38. Baker, From Savage to Negro, 26– 27; Lewis, Du Bois, 184.
39. Ross, Origins of American Social Science, 36.
40. Gossett, Race, 146– 153; Tucker, Science and Politics of Racial Research,

27; Davarian L. Baldwin, “Black Belts and Ivory Towers: The Place of Race in U.S.
Social Thought, 1892– 1948,” Critical Sociology 30 (2004): 403.

41. Ross, “The Causes of Race Superiority,” 85; Tucker, Science and Politics of
Racial Research, 30– 33.

42. Baldwin, “Black Belts and Ivory Towers,” 407.
43. Shaler, “Science and the African Problem,” 37.
44. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (1899, reprinted

Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996), 386– 387; Lewis, Du Bois,
224– 225.

45. Lewis, Du Bois, 276.
46. W. E. B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America, 1860– 1880 (1935, re-

printed New York: Free Press, 1998); Stephen Thernstrom, The Other Bosto-
nians: Poverty and Progress in the American Metropolis, 1880– 1970 (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1973), 186, 194; Thomas Philpott, The Slum and the
Ghetto: Immigrants, Blacks, and Reformers in Chicago, 1880– 1930 (Belmont,
Calif.: Wadsworth, 1991), xiv– xv; Theodore Hershberg, ed., Philadelphia: Work,
Space, Family, and Group Experience in the Nineteenth Century: Essays toward an



Interdisciplinary History of the City (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981),
469– 470, 476, 489; Stanley Lieberson, A Piece of the Pie: Blacks and White Im-
migrants since 1880 (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1980); David Roedi-
ger, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class
(London: Verso, 1991); Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color:
Eu ro pe an Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1998); Matthew Pratt Guterl, The Color of Race in America, 1900– 1940
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001); Richard Slotkin, Gunfi ghter Na-
tion: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth- Century America (New York: Harper
Collins, 1992); Thomas C. Leonard, “ ‘More Merciful and Not Less Effective’:
Eugenics and American Economics in the Progressive Era,” History of Po liti cal
Economy 35:4 (2003): 687– 712; William Z. Ripley, “Race Progress and Immigra-
tion” AAAPSS 34:1 (1909): 130– 138. Thomas A. Guglielmo has recently de-
scribed the settlement experience of Italian immigrants: “Even within the broader
contours of nativism, xenophobia, and anti- Italian violence in par tic u lar, Italian
immigrants were still on the right side of the color- line”; see White on Arrival:
Italians, Race, Color, and Power in Chicago, 1890– 1945 (Oxford University
Press, 2003).

47. John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860–
1925 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953).

48. Racism and discrimination were also directed at Asian immigrants but of-
ten occurred in places and circumstances quite distinct from Eu ro pe an immigrants.
Yet by comparison to blacks, some viewed Asians as “white.” “We make every ef-
fort to keep the Chinese from becoming citizens of the United States, yet they are
superior to the negro and much nearer our own race than the negro. Now, does it
not strike any reasonable man that we should take greater precautions against the
increase of the negro race in our midst,” wrote William P. Calhoun, The Caucasian
and the Negro in the United States: They Must Separate. If Not, Then Extermina-
tion. A Proposed Solution: Colonization (Columbia, S.C.: R. L. Bryan Company,
1902). For more on ideas about the relative labor advantages of Chinese immi-
grants as compared to African Americans, see Matthew Pratt Guterl, American
Mediterranean: Southern Slaveholders in the Age of Emancipation (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 2008), esp. chapter 4, “The Labor Problem,” 114– 146.

49. Logan, Betrayal of the Negro, 165.
50. Frederick Douglass’s Paper, January 20, 1854, quoted in Jay Rubin, “Black

Nativism: The Eu ro pe an Immigrant in Negro Thought, 1830– 1860,” Phylon 39:3
(1978): 199.

51. Guglielmo, White on Arrival, 6.
52. McKee, Sociology and the Race Problem, 22.
53. G. W. F. Hegel, Philosophy of Right, trans. T. M. Knox (London: Oxford

University Press, 1965).
54. One historian writes, “The new immigrants colonized the US urban frontier

of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and, in turn, the urban spaces
changed the new immigrants”; see Thomas C. Mackey, Pursuing Johns: Criminal
Law Reform, Defending Character, and New York City’s Committee of Fourteen,
1920– 1930 (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2005), 50.



55. Cheryl Greenburg, “Twentieth- Century Liberalisms: Transformations of an
Ideology,” in Perspectives on Modern America: Making Sense of the Twentieth
Century, ed. Harvard Sitkoff (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 59– 62.

56. On southern progressivism, see Hunter, To ’Joy My Freedom, 124; Joel Wil-
liamson, A Rage for Order: Black- White Relations in the American South since
Emancipation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986); Michael McGerr, A
Fierce Discontent, The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America,
1870– 1920 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

57. Bederman, Manliness and Civilization, 47, 51.
58. Elisabeth Lasch- Quinn, Black Neighbors: Race and the Limits of Reform

in the American Settlement House Movement, 1890– 1945 (Chapel Hill: University
of North Carolina Press, 1993); Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, ed., Who Were the
Progressives? (Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002).

59. Ray Stannard Baker, Following the Color Line: American Negro Citizen-
ship in the Progressive Era (1908, reprinted New York: Torchbooks, 1964), 118.

60. T. Thomas Fortune, Black and White (Chicago: Johnson Publishing Com-
pany, 1970), 4.

61. Gossett, Race, 160.
62. Ray Stannard Baker, quoted in Bederman, Manliness and Civilization, 52.

Also see Friedman, The White Savage; Lewis, Du Bois, 364.
63. Daryl Michael Scott, Contempt and Pity: Social Policy and the Image of the

Damaged Black Psyche, 1880– 1996 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina
Press, 1997).

64. Richard Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought (1944, re-
printed New York: George Braziller, 1955); The Age of Reform: From Bryan to
F. D. R (New York: Vintage Books,1955); Lewis, Du Bois, 185.

65. Allen F. Davis, Spearheads for Reform: The Social Settlements and the Pro-
gressive Movement, 1880– 1914 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967);
Nancy Weiss, The National Urban League, 1910– 1940 (New York: Oxford Uni-
versity Press, 1974); David Levering Lewis and Khalil G. Muhammad, “The
NAACP and Violence,” in Ronald Gottesman, ed., Violence in America: An Ency-
clopedia (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1999).

66. John H. Stanfi eld, Philanthropy and Jim Crow in American Social Science
(Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985), 21, 25, 27– 28.

67. Frank Blackmar, “Review of Studies in the American Race Problem by Al-
fred H. Stone,” American Journal of Sociology 14:6 (1909): 837– 839.

68. McKee, Sociology and the Race Problem, 28, 38.
69. Lewis, Biography of a Race, 98- 99.
70. Philip Dray, At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black

America (New York: Random House, 2002); W. Fitzhugh Brundage, Lynching in
the New South, Georgia and Virginia, 1880– 1930 (Urbana: University of Illinois
Press, 1993); Mary Ellen Curtin, Black Prisoners and Their World, Alabama, 1865–
1900 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2000).

71. Shaler, “Eu ro pe an Peasants,” 648.
72. Baker, From Savage to Negro, 26– 46; Frederickson, The Black Image in the

White Mind, 246– 255; Laura M. Westhoff, A Fatal Drifting Apart: Demo cratic



Social Knowledge and Chicago Reform (Columbus: Ohio State University Press,
2007), 188– 189.

73. Shaler, “The African Element in America,” 670.
74. Francis A. Walker, “The Colored Race in the United States,” Forum 11

(September 1891): 502, 504, 506; Frederickson, The Black Image in the White
Mind, 245– 246; William Darity, Jr., “Many Roads to Extinction: Early AEA Econ-
omists and the Black Disappearance Hypothesis,” History of Economics Review
21 (1994): 48.

75. Frederickson, The Black Image in the White Mind, 246– 255.
76. Shaler “The African Element,” 670, and “The Negro Problem,” 698; Emory

R. Johnson, ed., “The Negro’s Progress in Fifty Years,” AAAPSS 49 (September
1913): 1– 266.

77. Walker, “The Colored Race in the United States,” 502– 503.
78. The 1870 and 1890 fi gures were “partly estimated” (Ibid., 503).
79. Ibid., 504, 506.
80. Darity, “Many Roads to Extinction,” 48.
81. Walker, “The Colored Race in the United States,” 507– 508, 509.
82. Vernon J. Williams, From a Caste to a Minority: Changing Attitudes of Ameri-

can Sociologists toward Afro- Americans, 1896– 1945 (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood
Press, 1989); Mia Bay, The White Image in the Black Mind, African American Ideas
about White People, 1830– 1925 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); John
David Smith, “A Different View of Slavery: Black Historians Attack the Proslavery
Argument, 1890– 1920,” The Journal of Negro History 65:4 (1980): 298– 311.

83. Shaler, “Science and the African Problem,” 41– 43.
84. By the 1890s, there was a clarion call for greater use of the statistical

method in explaining rates of birth, death, disease, suicide, and crime. Though
many scholars across different fi elds embraced the new positivism, there were
radical differences in the interpretation and application of statistical fi ndings.
The French sociologist Émile Durkheim helped to establish the so cio log i cal ap-
proach, creating a vision of suicide as a social problem rather than as a “highly
individual and personal one”; see Suicide: A Study in Sociology, trans. John A.
Spaulding and George Simpson (1897, reprinted New York: Routledge, 1952).
Twentieth- century American sociologists promoted progressive reform mea sures
to alleviate social problems caused by economic and po liti cal friction. The Brit-
ish statistician Francis Galton established the eugenic approach, looking at the
same problems through statistics, but attributing them to the inferiority of vari-
ous population groups. Since their inferiority was inheritable, their diseases and
crimes were symptoms of their racial inferiority. The eugenics solution was the
better breeding of better types of mankind. Eugenicists promoted policies that
gave a reproductive advantage to so- called superior races, such as the Anglo-
Saxon. In the hands of a progressive or a eugenicist or a racial Darwinist, the same
statistics were defi ned very differently as either a social or a racial problem, and
they were used to promote very different solutions (Zuberi, Thicker Than Blood,
81– 82). On Galton’s statistical innovations, see Stephen M. Stigler, The History
of Statistics: The Mea sure ment of Uncertainty before 1900 (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1986).



85. Richard Mayo- Smith, “Statistics as an Instrument of Investigation in Soci-
ology,” Publications of the American Economic Association, 10:3 (1895):103–
104; Darity, “Many Roads to Extinction,” 47.

86. Richard Mayo- Smith, “Statistical Data for the Study of the Assimilation of
Races and Nationalities in the United States,” Publications of the American Asso-
ciation of the American Statistical Association 3 (1893): 429– 449. Unlike Shaler,
Mayo- Smith was calling for more statistical research on the assimilation of the
foreign- born, which he tentatively concluded seemed to be going well: “The pro-
cess of assimilation is going . . . on very effectually and rapidly” (449). The “col-
ored population,” however, was “a peculiar element in the American population,”
in “many respects an inferior race,” and its future prospects were not so clear(433).

87. Zuberi, Thicker Than Blood, 81.
88. Ross, Origins of American Social Science; Theodore M. Porter, The Rise of

Statistical Thinking, 1820– 1900 (Prince ton: Prince ton University Press, 1986).
89. Michael B. Katz and Thomas J. Sugrue, eds., W. E. B. Du Bois, Race, and

the City: The Philadelphia Negro and Its Legacy (Philadelphia: University of Penn-
sylvania Press, 1998), 24.

90. Curtin, Black Prisoners and Their World, 1– 61; David M. Oshinsky,
“Worse than Slavery”: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice (New
York: The Free Press, 1996), 31– 54.

91. Shaler, “Negro since Civil War,” 38.
92. Shaler, “Science and the African Problem,” 44.

2. writing crime into race

1. Frederick L. Hoffman, Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro
(New York: American Economic Association, 1896), 217– 234.

2. Francis A. Walker, “The Colored Race in the United States,” Forum 11 (Sep-
tember 1891): 501– 509.

3. George M. Fredrickson, The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on
Afro- American Character and Destiny, 1817– 1914 (1971, reprinted with a new
introduction, Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 1987); Lee D. Baker, From Sav-
age to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race, 1896– 1954 (Berkley:
University of California Press, 1998).

4. Race Traits was also published by Macmillan in the United States and by
Swan Sonnenschein in Britain; see, F. J. Sypher, ed., Frederick L. Hoffman, His Life
and Works (Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2002), 90.

5. Hoffman, Race Traits, v, 310.
6. On Hoffman’s determination, see Sypher, Frederick L. Hoffman, His Life

and Works, 68.
7. Ibid., 39, 42, 43. Sypher makes no comment on the apparent inconsistency

between Hoffman’s apparent sympathy with the black ship workers and his later
beliefs. This seems to be Hoffman’s earliest encounter with the color line.

8. As a white immigrant in the South, the exploitation of black workers helped
make his own passage possible. I italicize passage here to mark Hoffman’s journey
as an instance of passing as a white immigrant with extremely limited fi nances and



even less social standing in a way that even the most prosperous black person typi-
cally could not. Fares were affordable for poor white travelers like Hoffman be-
cause of the underpaid, brutalized black workers aboard riverboats such as the City
of New Orleans. And white immigrants in the South escaped most of the nativist
violence found in the North, given the stakes of hyper- polarization of whiteness and
blackness in the postbellum South. Hoffman could easily identify with being a
worker aboard a ship; he frequently worked aboard various water vessels as a means
of getting by and traveling the country. He never mentioned being brutalized. For
more on southern travel on riverboats, see Howard N. Rabinowitz, Race Relations
in the Urban South, 1865– 1900 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 191;
Andrew Karhl, “The Cultural Currency of Leisure: African American Beaches and
Resorts in the Jim Crow South” (Ph.D. diss., Indiana University, 2008), 84– 87.

9. Corson received his education from Cornell University (Fredrickson, The
Black Image in the White Mind, 248).

10. This recollection comes from Hoffman’s unpublished autobiography, “Life
Story of a Statistician,” written around 1919. Hoffman added, “In a large mea sure
it [Corson’s lecture] formed the basis of all my subsequent interest in statistics,
medicine, and related sciences.” This is a surprising claim given that Hoffman went
on to have a forty- year career at Prudential as a highly respected national and in-
ternational health expert on cancer and tuberculosis. He was also known for his
expertise in occupational hazards, hom i cide, and suicide, garnering the reputation
as the “dean” of American statisticians; see Sypher, Frederick L. Hoffman, His Life
and Works, 7. Sypher adds that Hoffman’s comment on Corson’s infl uence was an
“overstatement, since his diaries and correspondence show unmistakably that his
interests in ‘statistics, medicine and related sciences’ antedate this event” (86). That
Hoffman credited his earliest work on black criminality and mortality for launch-
ing his career demonstrates how much professional success and acclaim he achieved
early- on as a result of Race Traits.

11. Until her marriage to Hoffman, Ella had never lived without black “ser-
vants”; see Sypher, Frederick L. Hoffman, His Life and Works, 49, 69.

12. Ibid., 70– 71, 86– 87.
13. Ibid., 87.
14. Frederick and Frances quickly became lifelong friends and “maintained an

extensive correspondence” for many years. In late 1893 the Hoffmans named their
second- born child Frances Armstrong Hoffman; she died before reaching six
months of age. Three years later, their third child was born in Newark, New Jersey,
and was also given the name Francis Armstrong Hoffman. See Sypher, Frederick L.
Hoffman, His Life and Works, 70– 71, 74, 76, 87.

15. Ibid., 65.
16. Frederick L. Hoffman, “Vital Statistics of the Negro,” The Arena, April

1892, 539– 542. N. S. Shaler, “The Economic Future of the New South,” The
Arena, August 1890, 257– 268; “The African Element in America,” The Arena, No-
vember 1890, 660– 673; “The Nature of the Negro,” The Arena, December 1890,
23– 35.

17. Hoffman claimed that he could not “secure reliable [birth] data from a sin-
gle State or city.” Mortuary reports, on the other hand, were abundant and reliable,



yielding “considerable statistical material of great value”; see Hoffman, “Vital
Statistics of the Negro,” 532– 533.

18. Ibid., 537.
19. M. V. Ball, “Correspondence: Vital Statistics of the Negro,” The Medical

News, October 1894, 392– 393; “Correspondence: The Mortality of the Negro,”
The Medical News, April 1894, 389– 390.

20. Hoffman, “Vital Statistics of the Negro,” 534, 537, 538– 540.
21. Frederick L. Hoffman, “Suicide and Modern Civilization,” The Arena 7

(1893): 680– 695. To Hoffman’s credit, Émile Durkheim’s pathbreaking study of
suicide in Eu rope did not appear until 1897, even after Race Traits. Hoffman went
on to have a long publication record, spanning de cades, on American suicides.

22. Ibid., 687. The rising trend coincided with the Second Industrial Revolution.
In most cases the suicide rate increase outstripped the rise in the general mortality
rate and the overall population rate.

23. Ibid., 683, 686– 691, 694.
24. The term “emergency mea sures” comes from The Arena editor, B. W.

Flower, in an editorial that appeared a few months after Hoffman’s suicide article,
“Emergency Mea sures Which Would Have Maintained Self Respecting Manhood,”
The Arena 3 (1894): 822– 826. Flower’s editorial was a response to the 1893 eco-
nomic depression, as well as a critique of the nation’s growing military bud get
alongside massive unemployment. “The unheeded cry for work . . . has resulted in
driving numbers of men, women and children to drink, crime, suicide, and immo-
rality. And these irreparable calamities might have been averted had our nation
appreciated the importance of maintaining the manhood of her citizens and hold-
ing their loyalty by bands woven of love and wisdom” (823). Hoffman’s article
and Flower’s editorial were linked by a shared reformist agenda on behalf of the
white “masses” to correct the imbalances of laissez- faire capitalism at the end of
the Gilded Age and the dawn of the Progressive era.

25. Lundy Braun, “Spirometry, Mea sure ment, and Race in the Nineteenth Cen-
tury,” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 60:2 (2005): 167.
According to some scholars, Hoffman was a social Darwinist rather than a pro-
gressive in his views of the government’s role in assisting the struggling white
masses. Paul Finkleman writes that Hoffman “was no progressive, at least in the
modern sense of the word.” Finkleman argues that Hoffman rejected government
regulation of health care for American workers, believing instead that “Americans
should rely on private enterprises”; see Finkleman, “Introduction: On Reading and
Understanding Scientifi c Racism: A Brief Introduction of the Work and World of
Frederick L. Hoffman,” in Frederick L. Hoffman, Race Traits and Tendencies of
the American Negro (1896, reprinted Clark, New Jersey: The Lawbook Ex-
change, 2003), iii. In his early writings such a view is not clearly supported and
was probably not yet set in stone. Hoffman’s biographer writes that Hoffman
“campaigned ardently for governmental regulation of health conditions,” though
his mature ideas “oscillated” between “self- reliance” and regulation; see Sypher,
Frederick L. Hoffman, His Life and Works, 72. Both Sypher and Finkleman seem
to agree that Hoffman “believed in the fundamental inferiority” of blacks (Sypher,
Frederick L. Hoffman, His Life and Works, 72; Finkleman, “Introduction”). On



Hoffman as a racial Darwinist, see, Fredrickson, The Black Image in the White
Mind, 251; Joel Williamson, A Rage for Order: Black- White Relations in the
American South since Emancipation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986),
86– 90; Vernon J. Williams, Rethinking Race: Franz Boas and His Contempo-
raries (Louisville: University of Kentucky Press, 1996), 37– 38. Haller writes that
his work “refl ected a summation of the century’s medical and anthropological
accumulations concerning racial relations in America”; John S. Haller, Jr., Out-
casts from Evolution: Scientifi c Attitudes of Racial Inferiority, 1859– 1900 (Ur-
bana: University of Illinois Press, 1971), 62. Though I agree with Haller’s state-
ment I think he and others miss the innovative dimensions of Hoffman’s work.
Its broadest dimensions were most certainly grounded in the standards of racial
Darwinist thought; his evocation of the Negro Problem and his focus on mortal-
ity certainly attest to this. But his emphatic use of his foreign identity to tran-
scend the sectionalism of the period, his amazing ability to compile statistical
data from far- ranging sources (comparable to Durkheim’s accomplishment the
following year), his coupling of northern statistics with southern ones, a real fi rst
among race- relations experts, and fi nally his attention to black crime statistics in
par tic u lar, when all put together, were a show of real genius and innovation for
someone who truly wanted northerners to be sympathetic to southerners’ racial

26. Frederick L. Hoffman, “Correspondence: Vital Statistics of Negro,” The
Medical News 65:12 (1894): 323.

27. Megan J. Wolff, “The Myth of the Actuary: Life Insurance and Frederick
L. Hoffman’s Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro,” Public Health
Reports 121 (January– February 2006): 91.

28. William Darity, Jr., “Many Roads to Extinction: Early AEA Economists and
the Black Disappearance Hypothesis,” History of Economics Review 21 (1994):
50– 54.

29. R. M. Cunningham, “The Morbidity and Mortality of Negro Convicts,”
The Medical News 64:5 (1894): 113.

30. Ibid., 115. For a comparison of Cunningham’s claim of Alabama’s race-
neutral prisons to a recent historian’s assessment, see Mary Ellen Curtin, Black
Prisoners and Their World, Alabama, 1865– 1900 (Charlottesville: University Press
of Virginia, 2000), 113, 116.

31. Ball, “The Mortality of the Negro,” 389, 390.
32. Hoffman, “Vital Statistics of Negro,” 320, 321.
33. Ibid., 321. For the third straight time, Hoffman claimed to present original

data on mortality, fi rst with black health statistics in 1892, then with white suicide
in 1893, and now with the “fi rst attempt to present in tabular form the mortality
for a number of West Indian colonies.”

34. Ibid., 322– 323. Hoffman came closest to directly engaging Ball’s analysis
when he showed that native and foreign whites in Boston, Massachusetts, Provi-
dence, Rhode Island, and Washington, D.C., lived on average ten years longer than
Boston’s blacks. The data were limited, uneven, and awkwardly presented, since he
had no “Colored” data for Providence and Washington, and no “Foreign” data for
Boston. He also admitted that “the Irish population shows some similarity in its



mortality to the negro population,” but not enough data were available, so “a con-
sideration of this point would be inadvisable.”

35. Wolff, “The Myth of the Actuary,” 6.
36. Mark Aldrich, “Progressive Economists and Scientifi c Racism: Walter Will-

cox and Black Americans, 1895– 1910,” Phylon 40:1 (1979):1– 14; Thomas Gos-
sett, Race: The History of an Idea in America (1963, reprinted New York: Oxford
University Press, 1997); Fredrickson, The Black Image in the White Mind; Baker,
From Savage to Negro; Rayford Logan, Betrayal of the Negro (1954, reprinted
London: Collier, 1969).

37. Dorothy Ross, The Origins of American Social Science (New York: Cam-
bridge University Press, 1991); Theodore M. Porter, The Rise of Statistical Think-
ing, 1820– 1900 (Prince ton: Prince ton University Press, 1986).

38. Author’s italics, Dr. A. Corre, “Le Crime en Pays Creoles,” (Paris, 1889),
quoted in Hoffman, “Vital Statistics of Negro,” 323.

39. Ibid.
40. Prior to the late 1860s, the vast majority of black people, as enslaved men,

women, and children, were generally subjected to plantation punishment for their
real or perceived transgressions rather than being punished according to the poli-
cies and practices of criminal justice agencies. As David Oshinsky observes for an-
tebellum Mississippi, criminal justice “was meant for white folk alone. Slaves ‘had
no rights to respect,’ wrote one authority, ‘no civic virtue or character to restore, no
freedom to abridge.’ Slaves were the property of their master, and the state did not
normally intervene. In the words of one Natchez slaveholder, ‘Each plantation was
a law unto itself’ ”; Oshinsky, “Worse Than Slavery”: Parchman Farm and the Or-
deal of Jim Crow Justice (New York: Free Press, 1996), 6. For more evidence on
the absence of blacks in prisons of the antebellum South, see Curtin, Black Prison-
ers and Their World, 6; Edward L. Ayers, Crime and Punishment in the 19th Cen-
tury American South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 61.

41. Kali N. Gross, Colored Amazons: Crime, Violence, and the Black Women
in the City of Brotherly Love, 1880– 1910 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006).

42. Leslie Patrick- Stamp, “Numbers That Are Not New: African Americans in
the Country’s First Prison, 1790– 1835,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and
Biography 119 (1995): 95– 128; Mary Frances Berry, The Pig Farmer’s Daughter
and Other Tales of American Justice: Episodes of Racism and Sexism in the Courts
from 1865 to the Present (New York: Vintage Books, 1999).

43. H. H. Powers’s AAAPSS review noted that a textbook of this nature antici-
pated a large audience that did not yet exist. Yet he expected one was “certain to
develop rapidly in the near future”; see H. H. Powers, “Review of An Introduction
to the Study of the Dependent, Defective and Delinquent Classes by Charles R.
Henderson,” AAAPSS 4 (January 1894): 174. Powers’s prediction was right; a re-
viewer of the second edition (1901) referred to the fi rst edition as a “pioneer work”;
see Samuel W. Dike, “Review of An Introduction to the Study of the Dependent,
Defective and Delinquent Classes, by Charles R. Henderson,” American Journal of
Theology 6:3 (1902): 640. Another reviewer of the second edition called the text
“comprehensive” and “the only work in En glish covering the entire fi eld”; see J. E.
Hagerty, “Review of An Introduction to the Study of the Dependent, Defective and



Delinquent Classes by Charles R. Henderson,” AAAPSS 19 (January 1902): 136–
137. Slavery had, of course, minimized the need for thinking criminologically about
the vast majority of blacks, even though free blacks in the colonial and antebellum
eras were often defi ned as a race of dangerous criminals. The real need arrived with
emancipation, and the tools to statistically track black criminality arrived with the
1890 census, the fi rst clear picture of blacks born outside of slavery.

44. To Henderson’s credit, he did not take Hoffman’s 1896 interpretation as
the last word on the matter, though like Hoffman he did emphasize that the pri-
mary causes of black criminality were “racial inheritance, physical and mental in-
feriority, barbarian and slave ancestry and culture”; Charles R. Henderson, An
Introduction to the Study of the Dependent, Defective and Delinquent Classes,
2nd ed. (Boston: D.C. Heath and Co, 1901), 247. Henderson added that social fac-
tors had contributed to black criminality, especially in the North, noting economic
discrimination, trade union exclusion, and racial prejudice. Henderson credited the
earliest work of two pioneering black social scientists, W. E. B. Du Bois and Mon-
roe N. Work, whose statistical research on northern black criminality had been
published in 1899 and 1900 respectively, following the path blazed by Hoffman’s
Race Traits; W. E. B. Du Bois, The Philadelphia Negro (1899, reprinted Millwood,
New York: Kraus- Thomson Or ga ni za tion Ltd, 1973); Monroe N. Work, “Crime
among the Negroes of Chicago: A Social Study,” AJS 6 (September 1900):
204– 212.

45. Hoffman continued to consult Wright for unpublished census data, which
he used in Race Traits, 43.

46. Carroll D. Wright, “The Relation of Economic Conditions to the Causes of
Crime,” AAAPSS 3 (May 1893): 100.

47. Cesare Lombroso, Criminal Man, ed. and trans. Mary Gibson and Nicole
Hahn Rafter (1876, reprinted with a new introduction, Durham: Duke University
Press, 2006); Stephen J. Gould, The Mismea sure of Man, rev. ed.(New York: Nor-
ton, 1996), 151– 175; Nicole Hahn Rafter, Creating Born Criminals (Urbana and
Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1997); Gross, Colored Amazons.

48. Wright “kindly furnished” Hoffman with data again as he wrote Race Traits.
By then, Wright had become acting U.S. census superintendent; see Hoffman, Race
Traits, 43.

49. Harry Vrooman, “Crime and the Enforcement of Law,” The Arena 65
(April 1895): 263– 274. On Vrooman, see Ross E. Paulson, Radicalism and Re-
form: The Vrooman Family and American Social Thought, 1837– 1937 (Lexington:
University of Kentucky Press, 1968).

50. Ball, “Vital Statistics of the Negro,” 392.
51. Ibid.
52. Ibid. So did the fact that small white ethnic enclaves of poor people lived

in a variety of housing from dilapidated buildings to tenements “conducted on
sanitary principles.” In Philadelphia, Ball observed that a model tenement occu-
pied by blacks returned mortality rates of 10 per 1,000 compared to rates of 40
per 1,000 among blacks and whites who resided in a “court” behind the same
tenement. Italians on a nearby street in the “rag- pickers district” died at a rate of
45 per 1,000.



53. Ibid., 393.
54. Marilynn S. Johnson, Street Justice, A History of Police Violence in New

York City (Boston: Beacon Press, 2003), 52, 55.
55. Ball, “Vital Statistics of the Negro,” 393.
56. Hoffman, Race Traits, 37, 49, 50, 59, 60, 85, 310.
57. For a pioneering gendered analysis of the crimes of violence committed by

black women, see Gross, Colored Amazons. For a seminal discussion of violence
among blacks during the late nineteenth century, see Roger Lane’s Roots of
Violence in Black Philadelphia (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986). Al-
though Gross pays far greater attention to the interplay between real and imag-
ined crimes committed by black women (particularly in press accounts), both she
and Lane are primarily interested in describing and analyzing real crime and its
consequences. Gross states, “Ultimately, this book seeks to understand how black
female crime functioned in the lives of the perpetrators as well as in that of the
society” (3).

58. Hoffman, Race Traits, 221. For more on the actuarial implications of
Hoffman’s book and the ways in which Prudential “and other insurers” used sta-
tistical explanations as a cover for excluding black clients because “to sell insur-
ance policies at equal rates or for equal benefi ts across racial lines would offend”
whites, not because they were too great a fi nancial risk, see Wolff, “The Myth of
the Actuary,” 3.

59. Hoffman, Race Traits, 229.
60. Philip A. Bruce, The Plantation Negro as a Freeman, Observations on His

Character, Condition, and Prospects in Virginia (1889, reprinted Williamstown,
Mass.: Corner House Publishers, 1970), 84; Hoffman, Race Traits, 231.

61. Bruce, v, vi, 77– 92.
62. Hoffman, Race Traits, 228, 234.
63. Ibid., 140– 141. The evidence amounted to eigh teen cases of black suicide

about which Hoffman claimed to have personally “collected the facts.”
64. Ibid., 238, 311.
65. Ibid., 236. The logic of this followed from the frequent references Hoffman

and many others made to the West Indies as a signpost for what black people did
with freedom.

66. John Roach Straton, “Will Education Save the Race Problem,” The North
American Review 170 (June 1900): 785– 801; Booker T. Washington, “Education
Will Save the Race Problem, A Reply,” The North American Review 171 (August
1900): 221– 232; W. E. B. Du Bois, “Notes on Negro Crime, Particularly in Geor-
gia,” Atlanta University Studies 9 (1904); James K. Vardaman, “A Governor Bit-
terly Opposes Negro Education,” Leslie’s Weekly, February 1904, 104.

67. The views of Hoffman and Morgan also mark a generational shift toward
a less hopeful view of the Negro Problem emblematic of the late 1890s, in contrast
to Nathaniel Shaler and his support of Morgan’s father- in- law and Hampton’s
found er, General Samuel Chapman Armstrong.

68. Straton, “Will Education Save the Race Problem”; Gary Calkins, “Review
of Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro by Frederick L. Hoffman,”
Po liti cal Science Quarterly 11:4 (1896): 754– 757.



69. Kelly Miller, “Review of Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro,
by Frederick L. Hoffman,” The American Negro Academy Occasional Papers 1
(1897); Frederick S. Starr, “Review of Race Traits and Tendencies of the American
Negro, by Frederick L. Hoffman,” The Dial 22 (January 1897); Miles M. Dawson,
“Review of Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro by Frederick L. Hoff-
man,” AAAPSS 5 (September- December 1896); Calkins, “Review of Race Traits”;
Du Bois, “Notes on Negro Crime”; Fredrickson, The Black Image in the White
Mind; Baker, From Savage to Negro; Wolff, “The Myth of the Actuary”; David Le-
vering Lewis, W. E. B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1886– 1919 (New York: Henry
Holt, 1993), 368.

70. Lewis, Biography of a Race, 276.
71. Fredrickson, The Black Image in the White Mind, 249.
72. Hoffman, Race Traits, 311.
73. Ibid., 217, 285.
74. Ibid., 1, 13– 15, 17, 31, 319, 329.
75. Jacob A. Riis, How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of

New York (1890, reprinted Boston: Bedford Books, 1996), 162. See also Adler, First
in Violence, 121, who indicated that “some observers blamed immigrants or ho-
boes” for the city’s violence, but most Chicagoans blamed blacks for “much of the
city’s violence.” The newspapers Adler cites, however, are all from or after 1906, a
de cade after publication of Hoffman’s book. In those ten years, dozens and dozens
of major studies on black criminality in the urban North were written.

76. Hoffman, Race Traits, 225.
77. Fredrickson, The Black Image in the White Mind, 255.
78. Adler, First in Violence. 122, 124, 318 fn. 10.
79. That the race of the reviewer mattered was not a new development.

Throughout the nineteenth century, African American religious leaders, educators,
and journalists had wielded their pens mightily in defense of the race against slav-
ery’s defenders and scientifi c racists. In the 1890s a new but small cohort of black
scholars and leaders emerged; see Mia Bay, The White Image in the Black Mind,
African American Ideas about White People, 1830– 1925 (New York: Oxford Uni-
versity Press, 2000); Wilson Jeremiah Moses, The Golden Age of Black National-
ism, 1850– 1925 (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Book, 1978); T. Thomas Fortune, Black
and White (1884, reprinted Chicago: Johnson Publishing Company Inc., 1970);
Alfred A. Moss, Jr., The American Negro Academy: Voice of the Talented Tenth
(Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981); Ida B. Wells, Southern Hor-
rors. Lynch Law in All Its Phases (New York: New York Age Print, 1892), reprinted
in Southern Horrors and Other Writings: The Anti- Lynching Campaign of Ida B.
Wells, 1892– 1900, ed. Jacqueline Jones Royster (Boston: Bedford Books, 1997); A
Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynchings in the United
States: 1892– 1893–1894 (Chicago, 1894), reprinted in Southern Horrors and
Other Writings: The Anti- Lynching Campaign of Ida B. Wells, 1892– 1900, ed. Jac-
queline Jones Royster (Boston: Bedford Books, 1997).

80. Dawson, “Review of Race Traits”; Starr, “Review of Race Traits”; Wolff,
“The Myth of the Actuary”; Braun, “Spirometry, Mea sure ment, and Race.”

81. Dawson, “Review of Race Traits,” 142, 147, 148.



82. Starr, “Review of Race Traits,” 17. For his views on the application of
Cesare Lombroso’s criminal anthropology in North America, see “Study of the
Criminal in Mexico,” AJS 3:1 (1897): 13– 17.

83. Starr, “Review of Race Traits,” 18.
84. Shaler, “The Negro Problem,” Atlantic Monthly 54 (1884): 709.
85. Davarian L. Baldwin, “Black Belts and Ivory Towers: The Place of Race in

U.S. Social Thought, 1892– 1948,” Critical Sociology 30 (2004): 406.
86. Calkins, “Review of Race Traits,” 754– 755, 756.
87. Wolff, “The Myth of the Actuary,” 2; Beatrix Hoffman (no relation), “Sci-

entifi c Racism, Insurance, and Opposition to the Welfare State: Frederick L. Hoff-
man’s Transatlantic Journey,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 2:2
(April 2003): 150– 190.

88. Willard B. Gatewood, Aristocrats of Color: The Black Elite, 1880– 1920
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993).

89. One response of the scientifi c racists, including Hoffman, was to attribute
black elites’ educational accomplishments to the fact that many had white blood in
their veins. They also discredited the achievements of these men and women, mock-
ing their academic success. During a series of lectures in France in the 1860s, an-
thropologist Carl Vogt, known as “the Darwin of Germany,” for example, said of
Lille Geoffroy, the celebrated black engineer and mathematician and member of
the French Academy, that his talent would be totally unremarkable if he were white.
Among anti- Darwinians, Vogt noted, Geoffroy was commonly cited as “proof” of
the Negro’s intellectual capability. “The fact is that the mathematical per for mances
of . . . [Geoffroy] were of such a nature that, had he been born in Germany of
white parents, he might perhaps, have been qualifi ed to be a mathematical teacher
in a middle class school or engineer of a railway; but having been born in Marti-
nique, of colored parents, he shone like a one- eyed man among the totally blind . . .
Besides [he] was not a pure black but a mulatto”; see Hoffman, Race Traits, 187.
Biographical background on Vogt from J. MacGregor Allan, “Review of Lectures
of Man: His Place in Creation and in the History of the Earth by Carl Vogt,” An-
thropological Review 7:25 (1869): 177. For a recent spin on attributing black’s
“unremarkable” success to skin color rather than merit, see Geraldine Ferraro’s
comments about Senator Barack Obama at Katherine Q. Seeyle and Julie Bosman,
“Ferraro’s Obama Remarks Become Talk of Campaign,” New York Times, March
12, 2008.

90. Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow: Women and the Politics
of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896–1920 (Chapel Hill: University of
North Carolina Press, 1996).

91. Deborah Gray White, Too Heavy a Load: Black Women in Defense of
Themselves, 1894– 1994 (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999), 87– 109.

92. Ibid., 7– 8 (manuscript version of Too Heavy a Load); Moss, The American
Negro Academy; Alford A. Young and Donald R. Duskins, “Early Traditions of
African American So cio log i cal Thought,” Annual Review of Sociology 27 (2001):
447; Lewis, Biography of a Race, 168– 169.

93. For more on the direct tie of Washington’s leadership to white support, see
Louis R. Harlan, Booker T. Washington: The Making of a Black Leader, 1856– 1901



(New York: Oxford University Press, 1972), 324, and The Wizard of Tuskegee,
1901– 1915 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), 5.

94. W. S. Scarborough, “The Race Problem,” The Arena, October 1890, 560.
For more of Scarborough’s writing along these lines, see “The Negro Question
from the Negro’s Point of View,” The Arena, July 1891, 219– 22; and “Lawlessness
vs. Lawlessness,” The Arena, November 1900, 478– 483. For biographical infor-
mation, see Michele Valerie Ronnick, “William Sanders Scarborough: The First
African American Member of the Modern Language Association,” Publication of
the Modern Language Association 115: 7 (2000): 1787– 1793. Scarborough was
also a member of the American Negro Academy, “delivering ten papers before the
society between 1884 and 1896” (Moss, The American Negro Academy, 17).

95. Kevin K. Gaines, Uplifting the Race: Black Leadership and Culture in
Twentieth- Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,
1996) xiv; S. P. Fullinwider, The Mind and Mood of Black America (Homewood,
Ill.: Dorsey Press, 1969), 3– 5. For an excellent discussion of the initial confl ict be-
tween black elite women and men, and between club women and the masses of
women, in response to the new discourse of criminality and sexual immorality, see
White, Too Heavy a Load, 1– 43.

96. It is impossible to prove that Hoffman knew of Wells’s publications, but she
drew international attention from British dignitaries and reformers and journalists
of international repute, many of whom accepted her brilliant claims that white
Americans were perverting their Anglo- Saxon heritage and expressed their outrage
to American offi cials, conducted their own in de pen dent investigations, and threat-
ened to divest from American businesses in lynching states. By 1894, after her
second tour abroad and before she published her second pamphlet, while Hoffman
still remained in the South, white journalists across the South were condemning
her. The Memphis Commercial, for example, wrote that her campaign “had ‘done
more to intensify the bitterness of race- prejudice’ among whites than any other
event in the past ten years”; Patricia A. Schechter, Ida B. Wells- Barnett and Ameri-
can Reform, 1880– 1930 (Chapter Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001),
105, 84– 120; Gail Bederman, Manliness and Civilization, A Cultural History of
Gender and Race in the United States, 1880– 1917 (Chicago: University of Chi-
cago Press, 1995), 53– 76.

97. Schechter, Ida B. Wells- Barnett and American Reform, 75– 79.
98. Royster, Southern Horrors and Other Writings, 50.
99. Bederman, Manliness and Civilization, 56; Schechter, Ida B. Wells- Barnett

and American Reform, 85.
100. Bederman, Manliness and Civilization, 58, 61.
101. Schechter, Ida B. Wells- Barnett and American Reform; Bederman, Manli-

ness and Civilization, 74– 75.
102. Marlon B. Ross, Manning the Race: Reforming Black Men in the Jim

Crow Era (New York: New York University Press, 2004).
103. The Colored American Magazine stated in 1902 that Wells was “without

doubt the fi rst authority among Afro- Americans on lynching and mob violence”
(quoted in Schechter, Ida B. Wells- Barnett and American Reform, 124). For more
on Wells’s pioneering use of statistics, see Laura M. Westhoff, A Fatal Drifting



Apart: Demo cratic Social Knowledge and Chicago Reform (Columbus: Ohio State
University Press, 2007), 196– 207.

104. Lynching data from Williamson, A Rage for Order, 84; for more on the
origins of anti- black lynching, see Herbert Shapiro, White Violence and Black Re-
sponse: From Reconstruction to Montgomery (Amherst, Mass.: University of Mas-
sachusetts Press, 1988); Philip Dray, At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The
Lynching of Black America (New York: Random House, 2002), vii– viii.

105. Royster, Southern Horrors and Other Writings, 82, 120.
106. Hoffman, Race Traits, 231. On the same page, Hoffman also wrote that

“the rate of increase in lynchings may be accepted as representing fairly the in-
creasing tendency of colored men to commit this most frightful of crime.”

107. Royster, Southern Horrors and Other Writings, 126– 128. Wells’s pioneer-
ing research exposed a hidden pattern and practice among whites who covered
their crimes by corking their faces or falsely accusing black men. Black sociologist
Monroe N. Work would systematically detail such instances in his annual almanac
of black facts; see Monroe N. Work, ed., Negro Year Book: An Encyclopedia of
the Negro (Tuskegee: Negro Year Book Publishing Co., 1931), 289- 292, and Ne-
gro Year Book (1938), 147. Katheryn K. Russell, Barry Glassner, and Michael
Moore in his award- winning documentary Bowling for Columbine (MGM, 2002)
have also examined the po liti cal and cultural signifi cance of black scapegoating
in the late twentieth century; Katheryn K. Russell, The Color of Crime: Racial
Hoaxes, White Fear, Black Protectionism, Police Harassment, and Other Macroag-
gressions (New York: New York University Press, 1997); Barry Glassner, The Cul-
ture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things: Crime, Drugs, Mi-
norities, Teen Moms, Killer Kids, Mutant Microbes, Plane Crashes, Road Rage,
and So Much More (New York: Basic Books, 1999). As recently as May 2009, a
white Philadelphia suburban mother Bonnie Sweeten, faked her and her daughters
kidnapping by accusing two black men of carjacking them, see “Abduction Hoax
Ends at Disney World; Girl Safe,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 28, 2009; “The Big
Black Lie,” and “Mother in Bogus Kidnap Probed for Theft,” Ibid., May 29, 2009.

108. Royster, Southern Horrors and Other Writings, 126– 130.
109. Tera W. Hunter, To ’Joy My Freedom, Southern Black Women’s Lives and

Labors after the Civil War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), 33– 34.
110. Schechter, Ida B. Wells- Barnett and American Reform, 114– 119.
111. U.S. Census Bureau, Census Bulletin: Convicts in Penitentiaries: 1890, no.

31 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1891), 1.
112. Schechter, Ida B. Wells- Barnett and American Reform, 104– 110, 118–

120. Her most recent biographer notes that Wells was “more militant than all of
the reform fi gures” who were prominent in the early twentieth century; Paula J.
Giddings, Ida: A Sword among Lions (New York: Amistad, 2008), 6– 7.

113. Williams B. Thomas, “Black Intellectuals’ Critique of Early Mental Test-
ing: A Little Known Saga of the 1920s,” Journal of American Education 90:3
(1982). Davarian Baldwin states that “Reformers rejected the idea that the race
was inherently devoid of virtue but also worried that perhaps some behaviors as-
cribed to the entire race did actually exist within the ‘lower classes’ ”; Davarian
Baldwin, Chicago’s New Negroes: Modernity, The Great Migration, and Black



Urban Life (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 59; Tukufu
Zuberi, “Deracializing Social Statistics: Problems in the Quantifi cation of Race,”
AAAPSS 568 (March 2000): 184.

114. Ross, Manning the Race, 408 fn. 2; Jacquelyne Johnson Jackson, “Black
Female Sociologists,” in Black Sociologists: Historical and Contemporary Perspec-
tives, ed. James E. Blackwell and Morris Janowitz (Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1974), 267– 295.

115. Moss, The American Negro Academy; Gaines, Uplifting the Race, xiv; on
their growth in the 1920s, see Thomas, “Black Intellectuals,” 258– 292.

116. Lewis, Biography of a Race, 169.
117. Vernon Williams, Jr., The Social Sciences and Theories of Race (Chicago:

University of Illinois Press, 2006), 26.
118. Baldwin, “Black Belts,” 405.
119. Lewis, Biography of a Race; Young and Duskins, “Early Traditions of

African American So cio log i cal Thought.”
120. W. E. B. Du Bois,” Review of Race Traits and Tendencies, by Frederick L.

Hoffman,” AAAPSS (January 1897): 132– 133.
121. Kelly Miller, “Review of Race Traits and Tendencies of the American

Negro, by Frederick L. Hoffman,” American Negro Academy Occasional Papers,
no. 1 (Washington, D.C., 1897).

122. Ibid. With reference to the South, Miller did raise the issue of discrimina-
tion as a factor that exaggerated incarceration and arrest rates among southern
blacks. To avoid the “charge of slander,” he quoted a “distinguished [white] Virgin-
ian” who found pervasive racial discrimination in courtroom