The Philadelphia Negro

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The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study
Du Bois, W. E. B..jpg
Country United States
Language English
Publisher University of Pennsylvania Press
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback)
Pages 520
LC Class PF158.9.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 sociological problems present in the African American community. It was the first 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 1896.[2] In conducting his research, Du Bois went house to house and conducted personal interviews with each individual head of household. Du Bois combined his data with census data to analyze the social and economic conditions of African Americans in Philadelphia. Du Bois discusses his methods:

In a house-to-house investigation there are, outside the attitude of the investigator, many sources of error: misapprehension, vagueness and forgetfulness, and deliberate deception on the part of the persons questioned, greatly vitiate the value of the answers; on the other hand, conclusions formed by the best trained and most conscientious students on the basis of general observation and inquiry are really inductions from but a few of the multitudinous facts of social life, and these may easily fall far short of being essential or typical.[3]

Du Bois' use of horizontal bar graphs is an early example of the use of information graphics in the social sciences.

Du Bois' use of graphs and statistics represents a bold effort[according to whom?] on his part to infuse the field of sociology with aspects of quantitative science. This departure from abstraction is significant[according to whom?] because much of Du Bois' previous work relies upon carefully crafted rhetoric. Here, the charts engage a different type of rhetoric – a visual rhetoric. The visual graphics and statistics speak for themselves; in doing so, they afford Du Bois a more explicit, visceral forum for expression of his political project.[4] The Philadelphia Negro also makes extensive use of footnotes, which Du Bois frequently uses to editorialize or provide background information on individual subjects interviewed.

On many occasions after the publication of the study, Du Bois made reference to his strained relationship with the African American community in Philadelphia. In his final autobiography, Du Bois states that "the colored people of Philadelphia received [him] with no open arms" and contends that his experiences conducting the study "taught him that merely being born in a group, does not necessarily make one possessed of complete knowledge concerning it."[5]

Contemporary recognition[edit]

In spring 2008, Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program, in partnership with The Ward project,[6] 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.[7]


  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. ^ Du Bois, W. E. B. (1899). The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-163-25083-9. 
  4. ^ Du Bois, W. E. B. (1899). The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania. p. 520. ISBN 978-1-163-25083-9. 
  5. ^ Du Bois, W. E. B. The Autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century. New York: International Publishers, 1968, pg. 198
  6. ^ "The Ward Mural". Retrieved 23 October 2014. 
  7. ^ Melissa Mandel. "Engine Company No. 11". PhilaPlace. Retrieved 23 February 2012. 

External links[edit]