The History of the Black Family in America; Looking Back on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington

August 28, 2013 was the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom featuring Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. I most certainly remember Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights Movement, and certain parts of the “I Have a Dream” speech being highlighted in my school classrooms growing up. I remember films showing demonstrations and parts of speeches from the Civil Rights era and my black teacher almost crying as she talked about how great and heroic Martin Luther King and the other Civil Rights activists were. Martin Luther King was a great hero of mine due to what I learned about him in school.

Another thing, I took the bus to school everyday from 5th grade to 8th grade. I was only vaguely aware of the reason why I was assigned to a school that required me taking the bus everyday for a 30 to 45 minute ride each way but the reason was for racial integration of the school I went to. I am white and the neighborhood I lived in at the time was mostly white. Me and my other neighbors simply going to a school nearby would be no good because that would mean my classmates would be almost all white so instead I was bussed to a school in a mostly black residential area so that the student population would be racially integrated. I remember looking out the window of my school bus and when entering the “black part of town” the buildings and the cars people drove in noticeably deteriorated. This made a strong impression on me. Even more impressive to me was when one time part of my class went down to visit the school’s kindergarten section and I was shocked to see that all the children were black. This is what told me that the school I went to was in a “black neighborhood” and then I understood why I was being bussed to school everyday; because otherwise the classes would be all black just like the kindergarten was all black. By the time 9th grade came around I went to a high school in my local neighborhood that I could walk to. Then it was time for the black and Hispanic students to be bussed to my white neighborhood school.

There was something I was unaware of regarding the condition of blacks at the time I was learning about the Civil Rights Movement in a school I was being bussed to as a result of the Civil Rights Movement; that was the dire situation of the black family. I knew blacks were poor compared to whites and I was vaguely aware that blacks had it worse in a number of different areas of life but I had no particular awareness that the black family in particular was in bad shape. In 1985, about the time I was being educated on the Civil Rights Movement in my classrooms, the white out-of-wedlock birth ratio was 14.7% and the black out-of-wedlock birth ratio was 61.2% (in 2011 illegitimacy was 29.0% for whites and 71.8% for blacks). I had no idea of this radical disparity between blacks and whites based on what my teachers taught me and no other sources of information directed towards me highlighted this difference between blacks and whites either.

Problems in the black family in America go way back. When illegitimacy ratios were first tabulated in 1917 the white illegitimacy ratio was 1.3% and the black illegitimacy ratio was 12.0%. Going back even further to 1890 weakness in black marriages was evident by the very high number of black married women working. In 1890 only 2.2% of white married women worked but 22.7% of black married women worked.

In 1900 among blacks 21 to 24 years old 34.7% were illiterate, the comparable figure for whites being 4.6%. In the South in 1900 62.6% of the total black population at least 10 years old was working, the comparable figure for whites being 46.9%. The reason for the greater proportion of blacks working was the much higher proportion of black women working compared to white women and the higher proportion of black children 10 to 15 years old working and the higher proportion of black seniors 65 and over working. Among females 10 and over 41.3% of the blacks worked while only 11.8% of the whites worked. Among the males 84.3% of the blacks worked while 80.5% of the whites worked. In the nation as a whole among children 10 to 15 years old 49.3% of the black males worked while 22.5% of the white males worked. Among females this age 30.6% of the blacks worked while only 7.0% of the whites worked.

Looking at marital status one finds in 1900 more black women had married than whites. Among women 20 to 24 years old 51.3% of the whites (native white, native parents) had married while 60.3% of the blacks had married. In the 35 to 44 year old age range 89.1% of the whites had married while 92.0% of the blacks had married. Among those 65 and over 7.0% of the white women had never married while 4.3% of the black women had never married. Looking at women 35 to 44 however there were more white women currently married than black women (80.8% versus 72.8%) because of the higher proportion of widows among blacks (18.3% versus 7.4%). In the 45 to 54 age group 16.1% of the white women were widows while 28.6% of the black women were widows. It is also worth pointing out that in 1900 25.1% of white women widows worked while 67.0% of black women widows worked. This indicates that white women after their husbands died had much greater levels of support available to them than was the case for black women.

Black women have also historically had their children at younger ages than whites and had more children in total. Below is a table showing lifetime fertility for women born in 1867, 1900, and 1950; and fertility up to age 25 for women born in 1980. For women born in 1900 and 1950 the proportion of their children that they had had by age 25 is also given. Data is also given for the year 2011; this refers to all births in the year 2011, not to women born in a particular year. The “% by 25” category here refers to the proportion of births to women under 25 years old. “White Fer.” refers to white fertility and “Black Fer.” refers to black fertility. Data for “Born in 1867” and “Born in 1900” for blacks actually refers to all non-whites; the great majority of non-whites being black. For later years the black category refers to blacks specifically.

White Fer. % by 25 Black Fer. % by 25
Born in 1867 3.939 5.349
Born in 1900 2.528 41.8% 2.944 48.6%
Born in 1950 1.970 48.0% 2.505 62.4%
Born in 1980 0.744 100.0% 1.104 100.0%
Year 2011 1.774 27.1% 1.920 45.5%

So where did this black family dysfunction get started? The most logical answer is during slavery. As an article titled “Slave Family Life” describes things:

Slave Family Life

“Slave marriages and family ties were not recognized by American law. Any owner was free to sell husbands from wives, parents from children, and brothers from sisters. Many large slaveholders had numerous plantations and frequently shifted slaves, splitting families in the process.

The most conservative estimates indicate that at least 10 to 20 percent of slave marriages were destroyed by sale. The sale of children from parents was even more common. As a result of the sale or death of a father or mother, over a third of all slave children grew up in households from which one or both parents were absent.

On large plantations, one slave father in three had a different owner than his wife, and could visit his family only at his master’s discretion. On smaller holdings, divided ownership and mother-headed households occurred even more frequently. Many slaves had to share their single room cabins with relatives or other unrelated slaves. Even on model plantations, children between the ages of 7 and 10 were taken from their parents and sent to live in separate cabins.”

Putting together a narrative here on the history of the black family in America; first there was slavery. Slavery meant that blacks could not form secure family bonds; the needs of the slave master came first and the different members of a black family might be sold or transferred to new locations apart from each other. This forcible breaking of family bonds then led to the blacks under slavery adapting themselves to irregular and unpredictable family arrangements and skills and ethics related to family functioning probably weakened under these conditions.

This weakening of family preserving behaviors among blacks during slavery creates the initial dysfunction seen in black family life immediately after slavery ended. In addition there were other pressures on the black family related to poverty; this being higher death rates leading to large numbers of black women being widowed at relatively young ages, higher infant mortality rates, and fewer black married women being able to be kept out of the workforce due to their husband’s low earnings.

Early on you see higher overall black fertility and black women having their children at younger ages. This may be due to higher infant mortality and higher death rates in general putting pressure on black women to have more children to maintain the population. Also having children at younger ages may be a way to deal with shorter life expectancy and higher chances of widowhood for the mother at a relatively young age. If the black woman sees herself as having fewer good years of health to rely upon it makes sense for her to have her children at a younger age.

As far as indicators of family disorder; much higher illegitimacy ratios for blacks and much higher proportions of black women working, especially married black women working, can be seen early on; at the earliest point such statistics were collected.

After this “bad start” due to slavery and discrimination against blacks in general; discrimination which forcefully continued all the way up to 1965; then came the overall deterioration of the family which accelerated after 1960. Starting from a high level of family dysfunction in 1960 the “Feminist Explosion” as I have called it hit blacks particularly hard.

There is some good news in the black community now just like there is good news for the nation overall as it relates to family issues. Incarceration rates for black men 25 to 29 years old have fallen dramatically from their peak in 2002 to 2011; going from 10,376 per 100,000 to 6,883; a drop of 34% in 9 years. The comparable numbers for whites are 1,229 in 2002 and 1,074 in 2011. Also the homicide victimization rate has fallen greatly for black men 18 to 24 years old. It peaked in 1993 at 195.9 homicide victims per 100,000 population per year. From 1993 to 1999 the homicide victimization rate fell from 195.9 to 106.4; falling some more to 91.1 by 2008. The comparable numbers for whites are 18.4 in 1993, 12.7 in 1999, and 11.4 in 2008. Also the drop in women’s labor force participation has been greater among blacks than among whites. Using annual averages for women’s Labor Force Participation Rate in the 25 to 54 age group the peak among whites was in 1997 at 77.0%; dropping to 74.7% in 2012. For blacks the peak was in 1999 at 79.4% dropping to 76.2% in 2012. As the nation overall begins to improve in its family indicators family indicators will improve among blacks as well.

As for equality for blacks? Family breakdown has greatly increased inequality between blacks and whites; blacks have fared far worse than whites from the ravages of the Feminist Explosion. Equality for blacks is still a long way off. The reestablishment of patriarchy however will go a long way towards fixing the problems of the black family; a necessary pre-requisite before any kind of equality between blacks and whites can be achieved.

I will leave you with this graph of the black illegitimacy ratio in the United States from 1917 to 2011. In 1917 the ratio was 12.0%, in 1960 it was 21.6%, in 1994 it was 70.4%, and the peak so far was in 2009 at 72.3%. In 2011 it was 71.8%. From 1917 to 1968 what I am referring to as “black” was actually categorized as non-white; the great majority of non-whites being black. In 1969 blacks were separated from the other non-white races for the first time. So in the below graph the light blue area represents illegitimacy among non-whites from 1917 to 1969; the dark purple area then represents illegitimacy among blacks specifically from 1969 to 2011. The last bar in the light blue area represents the same year as the first bar in the dark purple area. In 1969 the illegitimacy ratio of non-whites was 32.5% and for blacks separately was 34.9%.

Black Illegitimacy 1917 - 2011 United States


I mention what I am calling the “Feminist Explosion.” The Feminist Explosion refers to the acceleration in family breakdown as seen in a number of different indicators from 1960 to 1995. For more on the Feminist Explosion see my earlier article on the subject:

The Feminist Explosion 1960 to 1995

Also I recommend “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” that was issued in March 1965 by Daniel Patrick Moynihan. This report is also referred to as “The Moynihan Report.”

The Negro Family: The Case for National Action

Sources for Statistical Information:

Statistics of Women at Work

Census of Population and Housing, 1900
1900 Census: Bulletins: Bulletin 8 – Negroes in the United States
Chapter 1 – The Negro Population: Illiteracy, Occupations
1900 Census: 1900 Census Documents: Volume 2: Population Part 2
Chapter 1 – Statistics of the Population: Conjugal Condition

Cohort Fertility Tables

Prisoners in 2002

Prisoners in 2011

Homicide Trends in the United States 1980 to 2008 – Spreadsheets

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Databases & Tools
Employment – Labor Force Statistics – One Screen Data Search

Vital Statistics of the United States

Vital Statistics of the United States 1940 – Part 1

Vital Statistics of the United States, 1970: Volume 1, Natality

1-17. Number and percent of births to unmarried women, by race and Hispanic origin: United States, 1940-2003.

National Vital Statistics Reports
Births: Final Data – individual years 2004 through 2011

About Jesse Powell TFA

Anti-Feminist, MRA, Pro-Traditional Women's Rights Traditional Family Activist (TFA)
This entry was posted in Cultural History, Research, Social Statistics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The History of the Black Family in America; Looking Back on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington

  1. mamaziller says:

    The high school history teacher I had was a Rastafarian. By the third year of high school I stopped going to history class. I used to sneak into other classes (usually lab classes lol and I fell in love with chemistry and the sciences as a result). This history teacher used to describe slavery in such a way that even know I think it is impossible that her version of history is true. To me she must have been lying because life is not that cruel and nature (or God as you say) has limits and would have let the slaves die rather than live through the version of slavery that she taught us. She described treadmills as daily beating with spiky, peppered whips and even brought to class an iron head mask that she said they put on slaves who tried to run away. She said they had to wear it always and sleep with it, the mask had sharp pointed peaces that dug into their head and cheek and neck and was designed to constantly inflict pain. She choose the most graphic and emotional movies for us to watch. I just cannot look at slavery movies, I also cannot look at war movies, esp world war 2.

    The last history exam that I took had an except from a book which was written shortly after Haiti had won its independence. It was a book written for slave masters telling them how to avoid what happened in Haiti happening on their island, or on their plantation. It outlined rules of how to run your plantation so that the slaves could not band together and revolt. The except that we had to read in the exam was about the family unit. The book said that it was very important to separate children from their mothers at birth and to inhibit the formation of family ties. It spoke about support for a law which had been passes in many caribbean countries well before the book was written (i am from the caribbean) which would make it illegal for slaves to conceive children outside of mating houses. Mating houses were places where the slave masters would put the slaves to mate, they would choose the strongest male to mate with the strongest females in the hope that the children would be “fit”. It said that this law would help to prevent family ties from forming, and that maintaining nursing slaves was also important. So that when children where born they could be separated from their mothers and sent to women who were kept in a state of lactation.

    I do not know how common or not these practices were, but the way I look at in the caribbean is that we sort of started after slavery with a concept of the patriarchy and how it should be but without the correct foundation for it to thrive, People in general also tend to move away from the patriarchy when resources are abundant and life is easy enough to allow it. Because we had a weaker patriarchal foundation we made that move faster than white people. We can only hope that we will start to trend back to the patriarchy sometime soon 😛

  2. Judithann Campbell says:

    Reblogged this on Why I Am Not A Feminist.

  3. southernhon says:

    Wow, interesting blog. A tiny bit off-topic, but the one thing I have observed in the black community is that many black females find the idea of getting married some kind of a pipe dream. Many of them have almost give up on the idea of finding a mate that will be suitable in the ways many white women take for granted. Conversely, many black men have developed negative opinions of black women. I wonder if these attitudes have anything to do with the illegitimacy rates.

    • mamaziller says:

      Lol I agree with the first thing with respect to me. I absolutely NEVER thought I would get married. I am still in shock at my husbands personality. If you had asked me what I would want in a mate before meeting my husband I would not even have wanted 1/10th of the good things in him… so he is actually more that 10 times better than I ever expected in a guy. I think it is that black women and men just do not have good examples around of working relationships and so we do not know what to expect or want in a mate.

      • queenlyreign says:

        I also had no clue of the realities of living with a strong, street smart black man. I am grateful for our differences!:-) wishing you the best, happiest marriage !

    • LB says:

      I beleive the main reason these women are not hopeful is because they have a smart pool or men of a similar “academic/economic” standing. Unlike whites, African Americans have a disproportionally higher amount of women succeeding and represented in higher education and the professional setting . I beleive racial issues and gender issues contribute to this.

      The poor perception many Black men have of black women is similar to the negative perception non blacks have of black me (I’m generalizing ). The notion of black women being “difficult”, having attitude, being “independent” stems from a stereotype. But there is truth there! There are many women like that and the breakdown of the family unit directly affects that. Most black children grow up in single mother homes. Also the pseudo feminism movement did not help. However the stereotype is unjustified when you consider the amount of professional and polished black women that are around some of the very men who say this. There still exist a very really internalized Eurocentricism . It affects black women in that they are told they are less beautiful because they are not white and also their attractiveness is more of a sexualized nature . It affects black men in that they beleive the ideal , trophy would be a Caucasian female. Just her being white makes her more desirable. Sadly, any excuse to degrade the black women then conveniently justifies this sentiment.
      It’s really sad. I don’t beleive the breakdown of the black family is only due to this destructive fake feminism that has taken is by store ; racism and it’s classist effect is directly related- as the article hinted at. But one thing is certain: there is enough information for us NOW. This needs to be addressed. It’s so heartbreaking to see. The lies need to be untold !! Make and female dynamics matter. Family structure (mom and dad) are majorly critical to successfully battle the still ever present inequalities . Thanks for this article .

      • LB says:

        Typos galore!! Will clarify some points and add :
        1) There are a “smaller” pool of eligible black
        Men- if class
        And education is factored in

        2) The parallel between the negative perception some black men have towards black women to that which many non-blacks have towards black men as “dangerous” is what I was referring to. And it is a stereotype espoused by so many and projected onto individuals without persons realizing it. The notion of the white woman being highly desired by black men sits in direct contrast to the many black women who may be pursued by non blacks out of a sexual interest- sadly the hip hop /rap media disaster has just further objectified black women by men in general.
        It’s complex and Sad to see so many things contribute to the breakdown of the black family relationship and breakdown of valuing femininity and masculinity in the Black American context .
        Ps- I am a Cameroonian American, born in N’awlins and interested in women’s studies / American race studies and so this article was a good find!
        I am also recovering from the pseudo feminist movement lies!!!

    • queenlyreign says:

      Of couse they do, because people are going to procreate with or without the ring. The way we are encouraged to do so in our community is shamedul. This is the way of the worls. Good observation!

  4. queenlyreign says:

    LB I am also recovering. Good comment on an informative article!

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