The Philadelphia Negro

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The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study
Du Bois, W. E. B..jpg
CountryUnited States
PublisherUniversity of Pennsylvania Press
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback)
LC ClassPF158.9.N3 D8 1899

The Philadelphia Negro is a sociological study of African Americans in Philadelphia written by W. E. B. Du Bois. Commissioned by the University of Pennsylvania and published in 1899 with the intent of identifying social problems present in the African American community. It was the first sociological case study of a black community in the United States[1] and one of the earliest examples of sociology as a statistically based social science. Du Bois gathered information for the study in the period between August 1896 and December 1897.[2]

In the Philadelphia Negro, Du Bois intended to identify Philadelphia Blacks' sociologically relevant social issues. He carefully mapped every black residence, church, and business in the city’s Seventh Ward, recording occupational and family structure. Du Bois’s Philadelphia research was pivotal in his reformulation of the concept of race.[3] He deduced that, "the Negro problem looked at in one way is but the old world questions of ignorance, poverty, crime, and the dislike of the stranger." He supports these claims with examples and survey analysis breakdowns throughout the journal.

Philadelphia Negro Problem Identification[edit]

In the 1890s the Negro population in Philadelphia was afflicted with many of the problems seen across the U.S. in areas of low socioeconomic status.[4] Crime, poverty and drug addiction are of the many issues that the Philadelphia Negro population dealt with that added to the apparent social blight of community.[5]

Survey Conduct[edit]

In order to collect survey data, Du Bois and his wife moved into the 7th ward of Philadelphia and distributed the survey himself, living in impoverished quarters on Saint Mary Street, from 1896 to 1897. With his only appointed assistant, Isabel Eaton, Du Bois employed "archival research, descriptive statistics, and questionnaires". These surveys entailed questions about occupations, health, education, and religious, social, and family life. From conducting a door-to-door examination of the ward, Du Bois and Eaton were able to collect over 5,000 personal interviews.[6] Some of the survey data he found included, a census number of Black individuals within the city, information about their places of birth, occupation, the age of the respondent, the sex of the respondent, etc.[7]

The sample size for Du Bois's study was limited in that it was a neighborhood study of the central Seventh Ward, which encompassed from Spruce to South Street and from Seventh Street to the Schuylkill River. However, within in this neighborhood, there was an incredible diversity. Its western fringe was occupied by affluent whites lived, its center with one of the nation’s densest concentrations of black elites, and its eastern front with numerous poor from both races. The eastern side was also notorious for the city’s black ghetto.[8]

Findings of the Study[edit]

The findings of Philadelphia research revealed a community of diversity and advancement; yet it simultaneously reaffirmed the reality of poverty, crime, and illiteracy. Addressing this contradiction, Du Bois explained that black members of the community possessed their own internal class structure, and therefore should not be judged solely by “submerged tenth”. Likewise, “Negro problem" was ostensibly “not one problem, but rather a plexus of social problems,” and had little correlation to the black “social pathology” than to whites’ enforcement of racial discrimination and a provision of unequal opportunity.[9]

Du Bois emphasized socio-economic and historical causes of the "Negro problem", notably the exclusion of blacks from the city’s premier industrial jobs, prevalence of black single-family homes, and the continued legacy of slavery and unequal race relations. Such biased provision was evident in housing. Du Bois found that African Americans had to pay “abnormally high rents for the poorest accommodations, and race-prejudice accentuates this difficulty, out of which many evils grow.”[10]

Possible Solutions[edit]

Du Bois ends his study with a section entitled "The Meaning of All of This." In this section he explains how the overarching dilemma that Negros in America faced laid in their image in the eyes of the majority of Americans. By changing how Blacks are perceived in America, from inferior to equally capable, many of the problems seen in the Black community would subside. Du Bois documents that if change is expected to occur in Philadelphia's Black communities, both the Black and White communities must work in tandem. He assigns responsibilities for Blacks and Whites in this section.

Contemporary recognition[edit]

In spring 2008, Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program, in partnership with The Ward project,[11] memorialized the history of The Philadelphia Negro with the mural Mapping Courage on the side of Engine Company 11's building at S 6th Street and South Street. The company was one of the original 22 fire companies established by Philadelphia's first paid municipal fire department in 1871. Until the Philadelphia Fire Department officially desegregated in 1952, Engine 11 was Philadelphia's de facto African American firehouse. The company's original building at 1016 South Street still stands and belongs to the Waters Memorial African Methodist Church.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Horne, Gerald (2010). W. E. B. Du Bois: A Biography. Greenwood Press. pp. 23–24. ISBN 978-0-313-34979-9.
  2. ^ Du Bois, W. E. B. The Philadelphia Negro. New York: Cosimo, 2010, pg. 1.
  3. ^ "W. E. B. Du Bois, Race, and the City: "The Philadelphia Negro" and Its Legacy".
  4. ^ "Philadelphia Negro - Chapter 2 - W.E.B. DuBois". Retrieved April 21, 2017.
  5. ^ "Philadelphia Negro - Chapter 2 - W.E.B. DuBois". Retrieved April 21, 2017.
  6. ^ Stephen McGrail. "Philadelphia Negro".
  7. ^ "Philadelphia Negro - Chapter 9, Section 23 - W.E.B. DuBois". Retrieved April 26, 2017.
  8. ^ Stephen McGrail. "Philadelphia Negro".
  9. ^ Stephen McGrail. "Philadelphia Negro".
  10. ^ Greg Johnson. "W.E.B. Du Bois' "The Philadelphia Negro"".
  11. ^ "The Ward Mural". Retrieved October 23, 2014.
  12. ^ Melissa Mandel. "Engine Company No. 11". PhilaPlace. Retrieved February 23, 2012.

External links[edit]