Find It Here
About the Library
Customer Services
Discover More
search the catalog
Books, DVDs, & more
Magazines, newspapers,
and much more!
Site Search
Donate and Volunteer
Online Chat
Phone: 412.622.3114
Quick Links

The Pittsburgh Survey:
The Negroes of Pittsburgh, 1909

by Helen A. Tucker, former teaching staff of Hampton Institute. [Helen Augusta Tucker. Born: Avon, Mass.; daughter of Henry and Helen (Guild) Tucker; grad. Smith College, A.B. 1895; Columbia University, A.M. 1907; New York School of Philanthropy, 1906; fellowship New York School of Philanthropy, 1906-07. Teacher Hampton Institute, Va., and secondary schools, 1896-1904; settlement worker; investigator of conditions among Negro craftsmen in New York City for Association for Improvement of Conditions Among Negroes in New York City, and of social conditions among Negroes in Pittsburgh for Pittsburgh Survey; special agent U. S. Bureau of Labor, 1907-1909. Member Armstrong Association, Women's University Club, N.Y. City. Favors woman suffrage. Woman's Who's Who of America 1914-1915, p. 826.]

"The Negroes of Pittsburgh" by Helen A. Tucker,
Charities and the Commons, 2 January 1909 pp. 599-608.
Today it is the young north-bound Negro with whom we reckon in Pittsburgh. Seldom is a white-headed Negro seen on the street; but rather the man on the sand cart hard at work. That with every year there is an increasing migration from the South to our northern cities is known in a general way; but if our estimate of these newcomers is to be worth anything, it should be based on something more than impressions gained from those we notice on the street-cars (the best are too well-behaved to be conspicuous), from loafers at saloon doors, and from newspaper accounts of Negro crime. Here, too often, the knowledge of white people ends. Of the industrious, ambitious Negroes, they know little; and of the home life of those who are refined, nothing at all. As a man who officially comes into daily contact with the criminal Negro said to me, "All must bear the reproach for the doings of this police-court ten per cent." Anyone who is sufficiently interested to desire more accurate information as to Pittsburgh's Negroes than may be gained by a walk down Wylie avenue will readily find signs enough of the differentiation that is rapidly taking place among members of this race. While with the increasing influx a class of idle, shiftless Negroes is coming, who create problems and increase prejudice, a far larger number are taking advantage of the abundance of work and of the good wages, and are rapidly bettering themselves. There is here a chance, such as perhaps few northern cities give, for the industrious Negro to succeed, and he is improving his opportunity.

There was a considerable Negro population in Allegheny county before the Civil War. Both Pittsburgh and Allegheny were important stations of the "underground railroad" and many a man and woman sought refuge here from the nearby slave states. In Allegheny a school was founded for them before the end of the half century. The growth of the Negro population is shown by the following chart:
These figures show a steady increase except from 1850 to 1860, gradually reaching the point where the Negro population doubles in a decade. The marked increases from 1870 to 1880 and 1890 to 1900 are probably due to the fact that in those periods more Negroes were able to get work in the steel mills. The percentage of Negroes in the total population of the county was 2.2 per cent in 1880, 2.4 per cent in 1890, and 3.6 per cent in 1900. Three-quarters of the Negroes in the county live in Pittsburgh and Allegheny City. Since 1900, the migration of Negroes to Pittsburgh has been greater than before. It is estimated that there are not less than 50,000 in Allegheny county and at least 35,000 of these are in Pittsburgh and Allegheny. In 1900 considerably more than half of these were males, and Pittsburgh was one of three cities in the United States (the others were Chicago and Boston) with a population of 10,000 or more Negroes, to have an excess of males.

In general this migration has been from the middle southern states. The greater number, fully one-half, has come from Virginia and West Virginia; others have come from Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee, with a few from Ohio and states further west. Some of those from Alabama and Tennessee have already been "broken in " in the new mill districts of those states.

As in the migration to other northern cities most of these people, when they come north, are in their best working years,--between eighteen and forty. According to the census of 1900, over seventy per cent of the Pittsburgh Negroes were between fifteen and fifty-four years of age; less than five per cent were over fifty years, while but fourteen per cent, about 2,400 were children of school age, between five and fourteen. Many of the children remain in the south, and many of the old people go back there, so that the city of Pittsburgh is under little expense for educating the children and less for caring for the aged.

The principal Negro street is Wylie avenue. This leads us to the "Hill District" which, forty years ago, was a well-conditioned section. Now it is given over largely to Negroes and European immigrants. Forty-eight per cent of the Negroes in Pittsburgh live in wards seven, eight, eleven and thirteen. In 1900, six per cent were in the thirteenth ward, and the number has increased since then. They constituted fourteen per cent of the total population of the ward in that year. How fast this movement into the thirteenth ward is taking place is indicated by what a colored woman told me who keeps a grocery store on Wylie avenue near Francis street. When she opened there three years ago, there was scarcely a colored family in the district. Now there is another grocery store, a shoe store and two confectionery stores, kept by colored people. Horton street near by is filled with colored people who have recently come from the South. There is a tendency on the part of the Negroes, however, to get out from the center of the city, and fully a quarter of them lives further out in wards nineteen, twenty and twenty-one. In all, sixty-two per cent of the Negroes lived in 1900 in six wards.

In these wards there is a large foreign element. In the seventh, eighth and eleventh wards there are many Russian Jews. A Negro church in the eighth ward was sold last fall for a Jewish synagog, and the Negro congregation is building in the thirteenth ward. In the twelfth ward where many of the Negroes live who work in the mills, they have for neighbors the Poles and Slavs. The well-to-do Negroes of the city are moving out towards the East End.

Two or three apartment houses have been built especially for Negroes, but in general, though living in certain localities, they are not segregated. This does not mean that there are not some Negro streets, but very often a row from three to seven houses will be found in which Negroes are living, while the rest of the street is filled with white people. Again, a single Negro family may live between two white families. When Negroes gain a foothold in a new street in any numbers, the Americans move away; but the Jewish immigrants do not seem to object to living near them, sometimes in the same house. And this is true of more than the poorest of them.

In a way the Jews have been a help to the Negroes, for they will rent houses to them in localities where they could not otherwise go. In many cases the Jews have bought or built houses, filled them with Negro tenants at high rents, and thus paid for them. But the Negroes have learned from these experiences and many of them have started to buy homes. They have decided that they might as well buy houses for themselves as for the Jews.

The poorer Negroes live in a net-work of alleys on either side of Wylie avenue in the seventh and eighth wards. For years the conditions here have been very bad from every point of view. There are respectable people living here, but the population consists chiefly of poor Negroes and a low class of whites. As a result, there is much immorality in this section,--speak easies, cocaine joints and disorderly houses abound. I think I never saw such wretched conditions as in three shanties on Poplar alley. Until a year ago many of the landlords had not complied with the law requiring flush closets, and I found old fashioned vaults full of filth. Where the flush closets had been put in they were in many cases out of repair. In some alleys there were stables next to the houses and while the odor was bad at any time, after a rain the stench from these and from the dirt in the streets was almost unendurable.

The interiors of very many of the houses in which the Negroes live were out of repair,--paper torn off, plastering coming down, and windows broken. The tenants told me they had complained to the landlords and had tried to get something done, but without success.

The twelfth ward near the mills also has some bad conditions. In Parke row and Spruce alley, on the day of my visit, the rubbish, which is removed only every two weeks, was piled high. On top of one pile was an old dirty mattress. The houses I visited in Parke row were so dark that it was necessary to use a lamp even at midday. There were also depressing conditions among the Negro homes on Rose, Charles and Soho streets. While some of the more ambitious are moving out from these unhealthy localities, many who would like to move have not the opportunity. One of these said to me, "The only place where there is plenty of room for Negroes is in the alleys."

Yet even the very poorest Negro homes are usually clean inside and have a homelike air. It would surprise one who has never visited such homes to see with what good taste they are furnished. There is always some attempt at ornamentation, oftenest expressed by a fancy lamp, which is probably never lighted. Almost every family except the very poorest has a piano. The best Negro houses,--usually not in Negro districts,---are what people of the same means have everywhere. I was fortunate enough to visit at least a dozen of these comfortable, well-furnished, attractive homes and in them I met courteous, gracious and refined women. Only in Spruce alley and Parke row did I find disorder and a general indifference to dirt and there were some exceptions, even there. The hopelessness of keeping clean in such a location may have had something to do with these conditions.

Compared with certain of the foreigners, the Negroes do not over crowd their houses, but they do often shelter too many people for comfort or decency. I visited a house of three rooms where a man and wife, five children and a boarder were living. In another house, also of three rooms, there were a man and his wife, her mother, two children and a lodger. These I think are not unusual cases. I also found a family of ten in four rooms, and another family of seven and a boarder in three rooms. Where a house of four rooms is taken by two families, they do not often take lodgers, but if one family takes such a house it usually cannot meet the expense alone. What is more serious than the number of people in a house, is the carelessness in allowing young girls to sleep in the same room with men lodgers. Such a case was that reported by a probation officer of the Juvenile Court, of a girl of fifteen who slept in the same room with her father, two brothers and a lodger. It was "nothing," she told the court; the man was "an old friend of the family." The suggestion that she occupy the vacant room in the house plainly surprised her.

The low ebb of living conditions in a Negro neighborhood is illustrated by Jack's Run, a narrow, deep ravine leading down to the Ohio river between Bellevue and Allegheny. Here, during the past six or seven years, about one hundred and seventy-five colored people from the rural districts of North Carolina and Virginia have found lodgement. Engaged chiefly in domestic service and common labor, they have settled here because the rents are cheap. Mixed in with them is a class of low whites, and the standards of civilization are sucked down by immorality and neglect, for the run is practically isolated from the rest of the world. A mission Sunday school connected with the white Presbyterian church in Bellevue has been held there for about five years. The superintendent of this mission, who is a colored man, has endeavored to reach the children of the run. As he feels the Sunday school alone cannot do this, he is working to get a day school there. To be sure, the children are enrolled in Bellevue or Allegheny, but he says they really do not attend. A long climb up the hills shuts them off, and the white children pester them when they show themselves. It is hard to know what could be done to better the condition in a place like Jack's Run, but up to the present time, with the exception of this one man, few people have tried to find out. The run has few visitors, and these are not altruists. "I have seen a politician here," the superintendent told me, "and an insurance collector; but never a preacher."

One of the most encouraging signs of the economic progress of the Pittsburgh Negroes is found in the variety of occupations in which they are engaged. In 1900, 146 were engaged in professions: actors, artists, clergymen, dentists, engineers, lawyers, physicians and others. Domestic and personal service, house servants, barbers, janitors, hotel and restaurant keepers, soldiers, policemen, etc., employed 6,618; while in trade, and transportation, clerks, teamsters, merchants, railway employees, telephone operators, etc., there were 1,612. Manufacturing and mechanical pursuits employed 1,365. There was a total of 10,456 Negro wage earners: 8,382 males and 2,074 females. The proportion of those engaged in professional pursuits is small,--only a little over one per cent; and, with one exception, the number does not seem to be increasing. In Pittsburgh and the vicinity there are now eighteen Negro physicians, about three times as many as in 1900. Six were graduated from Harvard University, five from the Western University of Pennsylvania, two from Shaw, and one each from Ohio State, Medico-Chirurgical, and Western Reserve. Four of these men took also the degree of A.B. Ten have practiced five years or less. Among the five practicing lawyers is one graduate of the Harvard Law School, one from New York University Law School and one from Harvard University Law School. Two of these lawyers were admitted to the bar in 1891. They were the first Negroes to be admitted in Western Pennsylvania, as all who had applied up to that time had been turned down. There are four Negro dentists.

Most of the men in these three professions have some practice among white people. A young physician who has been in Allegheny about three years, and who at first had such difficulty in renting an office in a suitable location that he almost gave up in despair, has now a number of white patients. One of the first was a German girl to whom he was called at the time of an accident because he happened to live near by, and through her family he has been recommended to other white people.

Newspapers conducted by Negroes have not flourished in Pittsburgh but last year there were two,--the Pioneer, a small sheet run in the interests of the Baptists, and the Progressive Afro-American, a weekly.

Twenty per cent of the men follow manufacturing and mechanical pursuits. Because of the abundance of work good Negro mechanics have no difficulty in keeping busy, though they have made little headway in the unions. An occasional Negro is a union member, as, for instance, four or five carpenters, a few stone-masons and a few plasterers. Here, as elsewhere, they gain admission easily only to the hardest kinds of work. The Negro hod carriers indeed make up the greater part of the hod carriers union. In McKeesport there are but two white hod carriers. In Pittsburgh and the vicinity there are over a thousand colored hod carriers. The colored stationary engineers and firemen have a union of their own, the National Association of Afro-American Steam and Gas Engineers and Skilled Laborers, incorporated June, 1903. It was once a part of a white organization. It has three locals in Pittsburgh and it has been allied with other labor organizations and represented in central labor bodies, but it is yet rather weak. Three or four colored contractors hire plasterers and masons.

Early in the seventies a few colored men found work in some of the mills. One of the first to employ Negroes was the Black Diamond Mill on Thirtieth street. There were a few here before 1878. In that year, through a strike, Negro puddlers were put in, and since then the force of puddlers has been made up largely of Negroes. About the same time Negroes were taken into the Moorhead Mill at Sharpsburg, and also through a strike, Negroes got into the Clark Mills on Thirty-fifth street. Since 1892, there have been Negroes in the Carnegie Mills at Homestead. It is the prevailing impression that numbers of Negro strike-breakers were imported at the time of the 'big strike," but I have been told by an official of the Carnegie company, by a leading colored resident of Homestead, and by a Negro who went to work in the Homestead Mills in 1892, that this was not so. Word was given out that anyone could find work who would come, the Negroes with the rest. Negroes were brought up from the South at this time to take the place of strikers in the Clark mills. But Negroes already worked there and some of them who went out at that time eventually went back to work. Unquestionably Negro strike-breakers have been brought to Pittsburgh, but I judge not in any large numbers. When the mills were last running full there were about one hundred and twenty Negroes at the Clark Mills; one hundred and twenty-six at Homestead, and about 100 in the other mills of the Carnegie company, making in all the Carnegie works three hundred and forty-six colored men. A conservative estimate would put those at the Black Diamond and Moorhead Mills as at least three hundred more. Many of these mill men are unskilled, but at the Clark Mills two-thirds, and at Homestead nearly half are skilled or semi-skilled. It is possible for a man of ability to work up to a good position.

A small but increasing number of Negroes are on the city's payroll. On the date of my inquiry there were in the employ of the city of Pittsburgh 127 persons of Afro-American descent, or one out of every 237 of the Negro population, while a total of 635 directly profited by the $91,942 paid annually in salaries to colored persons. These city employees include laborers, messengers, janitors, policemen, detectives, firemen, letter carriers and postal clerks, and their salaries range from $550 to $1500 a year.

The first Negroes to set up establishments of their own, dating back twenty yeas and more, were the barbers and hairdressers. Formerly these had much of the white patronage, but they are gradually losing it. With a few exceptions, notably the Negro barber in the Union Station, their shops are now found on Wylie avenue and in other Negro localities, and are patronized by Negroes.

A partial list of Negro business enterprises* with the number employed is as follows:
[Business Enterprise]
Restaurants & hotels
Groceries, poultry, etc.
Pool rooms
Hauling & excavating
Saloons & cafes
Undertakers & livery
Confectioners & bakeries
No. of Firms
Persons Employed
6 to 30
The number employed does not include the proprietors, so that over six hundred persons are earning a living from these shops. Not counting the barber shops, saloons or restaurants, there are certainly over one hundred small stores kept by Negroes and until the financial depression new ones were opening each month. Three or four drug stores were opened in 1907. One of the Negro hotels doubled its capacity in a year.

The nine business enterprises listed under "miscellaneous" include an insurance company, a stationery and book store, a men's furnishing store, a photographer's gallery, a real estate company, a loan company, a shoe store and repairing shop, and a manufactory of a hair growing preparation, which has sent out sixty-five agents. The insurance company has twenty-eight agents, all of whom are colored. Several of the barbers have laundry agencies and boot-blacking stands and some have baths. There are at least a dozen men who own their horses and wagons and take contracts for hauling and excavating. One of the largest of these Negro contractors was employing 135 men. Another employs thirty men for hauling and also works 100 to 200 men on asphalt paving. There are many more men who own a horse or two and do general expressing. One of these told me that he spent his first one hundred and fifty dollars saved after coming to Pittsburgh for a horse, which left him with a capital of seventy-five cents. He now owns four horses. A Negro has had one of the stalls in the Allegheny Market for many years and there is another in the Diamond Market.

One of the most successful Negro business men lives in Homestead. As a small boy he moved from Virginia to Ohio, and came to Homestead in 1879. Up to 1890 he was an engineer on the river, the only Negro to hold a chief engineer's license. Then he went into boat building and built twenty-one river steamboats. Five years ago he organized the Diamond Coke and Coal Company, in which he is now master of transportation. There are ten men in this company; the others are white. They own a mine, docks, and steamboats, and employ about a thousand men. This colored man owns considerable property. He lives in a large comfortable house and owns one on either side which he rents. His older son entered Penn Medical School last fall. His younger son was captain of the Homestead High School football team. His daughter, who graduated from the high school and had an additional three years at the California Normal School, is teaching in the South. She could not get a school in Homestead.

It is noticeable that the Pittsburgh Negroes show an encouraging variety in their independent business enterprises as well as in their general occupations. Of course they have usually been able to go into only those that require small capital. The Negro who comes to Pittsburgh or any northern city with no capital, no business experience and no business traditions, and succeeds even in a small way in the midst of such competition as he must face, is doing remarkably well.

But the mass of the Negroes in Pittsburgh are found in the same occupations that are open to them in most northern cities with perhaps fewer men (fifty-eight per cent) and rather more women (ninety per cent) in domestic and personal service, and more men in manufacturing and mechanical pursuits than is usual. This shifting of the men's activities is due to the nature of the industries in Pittsburgh, to the fact that the city is rapidly growing and consequently that there is much building going on in which labor can be utilized, and to the fact that Negroes gained a foothold in some of the mills during the strike periods. While the largest and best hotels no longer have colored waiters, many are still employed in hotels, restaurants and cafes. Comparatively few Negroes are employed as porters and helpers in stores while large numbers are employed as teamsters, probably more now that in 1900, as most of the sand wagons and other hauling carts are driven by them. There are also many coachmen and chauffeurs.

While the Negro men find a varied field for their labor, comparatively few occupations are open to colored women. There is one woman who has conducted a very successful hairdressing establishment for twenty years and a half dozen others who have opened little shops. A dozen or so find work as clerks and stenographers in offices and stores of colored men, but most are working as maids or laundresses. There are about a hundred dressmakers and seamstresses. That there is not a greater variety of openings for colored women works a great hardship. There is no hospital where they can be trained as nurses; there is no place for them in the department stores, except for a few as maids; they can look forward to no positions in the public schools. Many who would stay and graduate from the high school drop out because they can see nothing ahead. They are, of course, unwise in doing this, for more than most girls they need to take advantage of every educational opportunity. A woman who is a stenographer in a Negro insurance office, said her father thought she was very foolish to study stenography as he was sure she could never get a chance to use it. She went into this office to write policies. When the agent found she was competent to do the higher work, he let his white stenographer go and gave her the place. Another woman told me that her daughter seriously objected to going to the high school; she said she could never use what she would learn there. But her parents felt able to send her, and insisted that she graduate. She is now employed in the court house at a salary of $600 a year.

In 1900 the Negroes of Allegheny county paid taxes on property valued at $963,000. Since that time wage-earning Negroes have commenced to buy homes in still larger numbers. They usually pay something down and the rest as rent until the entire amount is paid. In Beltzhoover there is a settlement of a hundred or more families more than half of whom are buying homes. To buy a house of any kind on small wages means industry and many little sacrifices. One couple whom I visited in Beltzhoover were buying a house of five rooms with a piazza and a generous sized front yard. The husband, when he was married, had saved $300, which went for the first payment. In the four years since then they had paid $800 and they had $1,000 more to pay. He was a janitor getting forty-eight dollars a month, while his wife made six dollars a week as a seamstress. To increase their income, they rented out a room to a man and his wife who paid them ten dollars a month. They also raised and sold chickens which brought in additional money. Most of the houses which colored people of this class are buying are valued at from $2,500 to $3,300. On Francis street, near Wylie avenue, there is a group of five six-room houses occupied by Negroes. Three of these families were buying their houses. One of the men was a waiter, one a porter in a bank, and one owned a horse and wagon and did expressing.

The following experience, told me by a Tuskegee graduate, is an example of what may be done in Pittsburgh by an industrious Negro who is ambitious to establish a home; "I came to Pittsburgh in March, 1900," he said , "on a freight train, arriving about three A.M. I asked for the police station, but they wouldn't let me stay there when they found I had fifty cents in my pocket. I was turned up Wylie avenue and finally came to a colored lodging house. All the beds were full, but they said that I could sit in the rocking chair for the balance of the night for a quarter. The next morning I started out to look for work and found it in a brick yard where I worked until August. Meanwhile I sent for my wife and child. My wife, who is a dressmaker, soon found work. She happened to sew for the wife of the manager of one of the steel mills. He asked about me and said he thought he could give me something good in the mill. I went there in August and have been there ever since. Now I am a heater. All you see here was gotten together in the last seven years." This man and his wife have paid $4,400 for a six room house and have furnished it attractively.

The churches have the same prominent place in Negro life in Pittsburgh as elsewhere. They include one Presbyterian, one Protestant Episcopal, one Congregational, one Roman Catholic church, ten Methodist churches and between thirty and thirty-five Baptist churches and missions. The largest is the Bethel A.M.E. Church on Wylie avenue, which has recently been built at a cost of $50,000. Colored slaters and roofers, colored plasterers and three colored carpenters were employed in the building of it. The interior decorations were in charge of a Negro firm. The building together with the land, is valued at not less than $110,000. The people give liberally to the churches; Bethel raised over $10,000 in ten months toward paying off its mortgage.

But there is a large number not reached by the church in any real sense. Though the new Bethel Church is in a district where the alleys and all the bad conditions they imply are numerous, the pastor's plans for the year as he outlined them were: first to pay the debt on the church, second to have a revival to fill it up. Not a word was said of the great need for active social work at its very doors. The rank and file of the forty or fifty Negro ministers in Pittsburgh and Allegheny have not a very high order of equipment or ethics. There are notable exceptions. I met one minister who seemed filled with the desire to work for the betterment of the Negroes in his neighborhood. In connection with the new church which he was building he was planning to have a day nursery and kindergarten and, if possible, a gymnasium. He hoped to have a deaconess to visit the homes and was also trying to organize a colored Y.M.C.A. At a meeting last fall in his church, the following subjects were discussed:
"What is the influence of the Sunday School on the children?"
"Is the church accomplishing the desired end toward the masses?"
"Practical education and character making for the masses."

Some of the laymen among the colored people, especially the women, are working in similar directions. In 1880, in a small six-room house, a group of these started a home for Aged and infirm Colored Women. The present beautiful home on Lexington avenue was built in 1900 at a cost of $42,500. It contains twenty-one rooms, six bath rooms and a hospital room. The furnishings cost about $28,000. Several rooms were furnished by the different Negro women's social clubs. The home is attractive, cheery, clean and well-managed. The Working Girls' Home was similarly started three years ago by some colored women who realized how much it was needed. Girls coming to the city not only found it difficult to get boarding places, but they were sometimes directed to undesirable houses. In three years after it opened, the home had cared for forty to fifty girls. As most of these girls go out to service, they do not remain long at the home, but by paying a dollar a month a girl may store her trunk if she wishes, and may come back there to spend Sundays and other days "out," and to receive her callers. This is an arrangement which is much appreciated by the girls, and its introduction in other places might help solve the servant problem. A few girls who are seamstresses live in the house. They pay $1.25 a week, buy their own provisions, and have the use of the kitchen and gas range. The home has had a struggle financially. Last year the Legislature granted it an appropriation of $3,000 and it moved into a somewhat larger, though still too small house. For this house, by the way, it had to pay thirty-two dollars a month though the rent had formerly been twenty-five and the house had been empty for some time.

The State Federation of Colored Women's Clubs formed five years ago, is raising money to establish a colored orphan's home in New Castle, Pennsylvania. A year ago, these twenty-eight clubs had already raised enough to make the first payment on seven acres of land. The Colored Orphans Home in Allegheny is under white management, and the colored women are ambitious to have one of their own; a colored auxiliary to the Juvenile Court Association was formed in 1906 to care for colored boys and girls between nine and twelve years of age who are brought to the court. The auxiliary also pays board for a group of colored children who are in institutions outside the state. One member is a faithful volunteer at the Juvenile Court.

More than twenty-five social clubs are formed of colored women. The leading social organization for men is the Loendi Club. Besides this and other private associations there are many such orders as the Odd Fellows, Masons, Elks, Knights of Pythias and True Reformers.

Since 1874, when separate schools for Negroes were abolished, the colored children have attended the public schools with the white children, and all the educational agencies of the city are open to them. I was told that while a few stood well in their classes, the majority lacked concentration. One principal attributed this to the impoverished home conditions, lack of food and housing,--while another principal to whose school came many of the children from the alleys, laid their backwardness largely to their irregular attendance and immoral tendencies. It was agreed that the average colored child requires about two years longer than the white child to finish the grammar grades.

The total enrollment in the high school for the year 1906-7 was about 2,300, and of these only forty were colored. Forty-two were enrolled last year, twenty boys and ten girls. Few of these colored students graduate. Five who were graduated in 1907 ranked well in their class. Thirty colored students attended the evening school last year. Two girls are in the day classes, and four in the night classes at the Carnegie Technical Schools, and they have three colored boys. Five or six boys have been graduated from the Schwab Manual Training School in Homestead.

In writing of the Negroes of Chicago, Mr. Wright says "What Chicago Negroes need is a great industrial school to teach Negroes domestic science and the skilled trades." Greater Pittsburgh has a school that should do this work. As early as 1849, Charles Avery, a Methodist minister of Quaker descent, who was much interested in the colored people, established for them in Allegheny the Avery College Trade School. At his death he left the institution an endowment of $60,000 which has since increased in value, and it has also received a yearly appropriation from the state. The school is controlled by a board of trustees, of whom six are colored, three white. The principal and teachers are colored. The courses which have been offered include millinery, dressmaking, tailoring, music, some English courses and some domestic science. Last spring, a hospital department was organized under separate charter and offers a training course.

There is no doubt that the Avery school is not fulfilling the purpose for which it was founded. It is inferior in equipment and in methods and does not employ trained teachers. It is not reaching the colored boys and girls of Pittsburgh and giving them up-to-date training which they so sorely need in those trades in which they can earn a livelihood. It should be crowded and would be if it were offering what the people want. Instead the enrollment at the end of the school year is about one-third what it was at the beginning. There is no difficulty in placing responsibility for success or failure, for the superintendent is also secretary and treasurer. The colored people have brought many complaints to the trustees in regard to the management of Avery but no action has been taken. Here is a clear cut illustration of a badly managed trust fund.

Mr. Avery also left twelve scholarships of 100 each to be awarded to colored boys in the college and engineering departments of the University of Pittsburgh, where a total of nineteen colored students is enrolled.

Of the 1,124 cases brought before the Juvenile Court in 1906, 169 (14.9 per cent), dealt with colored children. The court records show most miserable conditions in the homes from which such children come. Usually both mother and father are working away from home all day, so that out of school hours there is no one to look after the children. They stop going to school and begin to stay out late at night and the descent to petty thieving and other offenses is swift and easy. On the morning of my visit to the Juvenile Court several colored children were brought before the judge. Harry D., a boy of eleven years, was under arrest for his second offense. Twice he had broken into a chapel, the last time stealing a lamp. The probation officer reported that on investigation, she found Harry had scarcely been in school for a year. His mother worked all day, earning three dollars a week and many days she came home only early in the morning to cook. With three brothers and a sister this boy slept on a cot in one room in which there was no other furniture except two plush chairs and a plush sofa. An uncle who lived with the children had taken to drinking and had not worked for some weeks. The neighbors also bore testimony that Harry was neglected rather than bad. Following Harry came a group of four colored boys on the charge that on the previous Sunday they had broken into a liquor store and done much mischief, such as turning on the spigots, breaking bottles full of beer and smearing pretty much everything in the store, including some cats, with black paint. The next morning they were arrested in a new house near by where they were stealing lead pipe. Eugene, the youngest boy, nine years old, had been in court two months before on the charge of incorrigibility. His father was dead but his mother, by working out by the day, managed to keep the home fairly clean and comfortable. But Eugene was a truant; he stayed out nights and was in the habit of stealing. For the lack of a more suitable solution, this nine-year-old child was committed to the reformatory at Morganza. Two of these boys, thirteen and eleven, were brothers. Their mother was dead; their father was at work in a blast furnace, while their nineteen-year-old sister, who might have kept the home, had left soon after the mother died because she thought her father was too strict. The younger boy had been staying out nights and playing truant. The older boy had never been in trouble before. He had a good reputation and claimed, as did the fourth boy, that he was not stealing but was trying to get the others away. In other cases that came before the judge the parents were themselves immoral and it is safe to say that the colored children who reach the Juvenile Court have, as a rule, seen little but the seamy side of life. A ready market for any bottle or piece of junk that these children can beg or steal is found among the numerous junk dealers. The children will be under a constant temptation to petty thieving for the sake of a few pennies so long as this kind of exchange with juveniles is allowed.

The percentage of commitments among the adult Negroes (fourteen per cent), is all out of proportion to their percentage in the population (three and six-tenths). Women are most commonly arrested for disorderly conduct; men for fighting and cutting, petit larceny and for gambling, of which craps is the favorite form. For some time the police department of Pittsburgh has been warring against the sale of cocaine. To the mind of the warden of the Allegheny county jail the greatest single cause of crime committed by Negro men and women is the use of this drug.

It is evident that the Negroes of Pittsburgh are making commendable progress along industrial lines. Some few have been conspicuously successful while many more are earning a comfortable living and attaining property. Negroes of this class present no special problems, for they are usually good citizens and are educating and training their children to be good citizens likewise. Their needs are the needs of the rest of the community. They would be benefited by better housing, better schools, better sanitation and a clearer atmosphere. But the problems in connection with the poor, ignorant, incompetent or vicious Negroes are many and pressing.

We have seen the need for eradicating the sale of cocaine, which drags men under; and we have seen the need for rousing and equipping the ambitious among them through industrial training, comparable to that offered the southern Negro by Tuskogee and Hampton. A few of the more obvious needs of the people who live in the alleys are day nurseries to care for the babies of mothers who must go out to work; some sort of supervised play after school hours, either in connection with the schools or at playgrounds, for the older children of these same families, settlements; and most pressing of all, a building on lower Wylie avenue for social purposes with free baths, club rooms, a gymnasium and other amusements as a counteracting influence to the saloons and pool rooms that abound in this neighborhood. There is now no place in Pittsburgh where a young colored man, coming as a stranger to the city, as so many are coming every year, may find innocent diversion and helpful companionship. It is becoming increasingly clear that these needs must be met by the Negroes themselves. A few, singly or in small groups, are already working for social betterment, but so far there has been no concerted, organized action. Left to themselves the Negroes are slow or unable to organize but until they do, much of their efforts as individuals will be wasted and but little definite good can be accomplished. If the white people who have had greater experience in dealing with civic and social needs realized this and extended to them their cooperation, the community as a whole, no less than the Negroes, would be richly repaid.

* Furnished by R. R. Wright, Jr., of the Armstrong Association, Philadelphia, who investigated the Negro in Business in Pennsylvania for the Carnegie Institution. Return to Text.

Return to Pittsburgh the Powerful Main Menu.

 Return to Bridging the Urban Landscape