Another evidence of Negro progress may be seen by looking at the thousands of Negro homes.
Much has been written about the homes of white people. Many a Sunday photographic supplement of white newspapers has pictured the homes, large and small, palatial and modest, of the white American. The advantages, sanctity, culture, and problems of white homes have been the subject of tongue and pen of able orators and writers. The homes of Negro people, however, have had songs from few poets and pictures from few pens. A venture in description of its development, its problems, sanctity, and culture is a tempting theme for an essay, difficult of performance and is made not without a feeling of its inadequacy.
Such a portrayal of Negro homes necessarily begins with the ante-bellum plantation cabin. During slavery there were three general classes of Negroes whose home life varied:1 (1) the field hands who comprised the majority; (2) the domestic and personal servants, who were in daily contact with the master and his family, together with a few slave artisans both on the plantation and in the towns and cities; (3) the free Negroes, who were considerable in numbers in localities like New Orleans, Charleston, Richmond, Nashville and Louis-ville, Philadelphia, and New York. The "field hands" lived in one-room cabins usually placed together in "slave quarters" at a distance from "the big house." Problems of sanitation and health had the supervision of overseer or master. The servant class lived in or near "the big house," so as to be within call day or night. The family ties of all slaves were made and broken without legal or moral barrier above the will of the owner. Slave parents had no legal rights over their children, and children followed the status of their mothers. On plantations having a number of slaves, while the mothers worked, the children too small to work were usually kept by some slave woman too old to be of service in the field. Such nurture and training as children received often came from others than their parents.2
Free Negroes had legal sanction for marriage, had title to their children, except in cases of a free father and slave mother. They set up homes of their own patterned after the best homes of neighboring whites. In some cases they owned slaves. Many of these homes in their housing, furniture, culture, and purity ranked among the best in the community. In North Nashville, Tenn., upon a terrace, stands an imposing eight-room brick residence, surrounded by a lawn and trees, which was built and occupied by a free man of color and his family in the late fifties. This instance can be matched in a number of other places. When emancipation came it was estimated that not less than 12,000 Negro families owned their homes.
1 For graphic description see Coppin, Levi, J., Unwritten His-lory (autobiography), pp. 17-94. 2Haynes, Elizabeth Ross, Unsung Heroes, pp. 11-21.
From the free families, North and South, from the favored domestic and personal servants, and from the slave mechanics and town and city workers arose Negro professional and business classes during the first decades of freedom. A number of farmers owned their land; other thrifty ones began to buy. As soon as freedom came those who had been united as slaves sought legal and ecclesiastical sanction in marriage and reestablished their family hearths upon the ashes of the slave cabin. The families which had been previously blessed by legal protection renewed their security. Out of these vicissitudes the Negro home has grown in stability, in purity, in culture, and in its power to mold a potential people. Generalizations about ten million people so widely distributed over the nation are risky writing. Classified types are only suggestive and only define the lines within which the variations range. The following descriptions of Negro homes, therefore, may be viewed with such allowances in mind.
The country Negro home is of three types. First, there is the cabin of the tenant, usually a one-room, squatty structure with open fireplace, sometimes with a "lean-to" kitchen.
Second, there is the two-room cabin, usually set on either side of a wide porch like the two rooms of a little log schoolhouse set on either side of an open passageway. The house is often built of lumber instead of logs and is unpainted. Window openings are covered with wooden shutters. The cooking is frequently done in the fireplace or in an adjoining shed. There are no modern conveniences such as running water and indoor toilet. The rooms are bare for the most part. Often pictures cut from newspapers or magazines are posted upon the wall, a cheap mirror may hang over the fireplace, and a Bible of some kind usually lies upon a shelf overhanging the fireplace or upon a plain table. Beds, white and fat with straw and "feather-ticks," and a few plain, "split-bottom" chairs, including one or two rocking chairs, make up the remainder of the furniture.
Third, the more prosperous Negro farmer usually builds a modern house with four or more rooms and some of the present-day conveniences. Paint on the outside, paper on the walls within, rugs and pictures, a few books, and usually a "race newspaper" show how far the conditions have improved. In nearly all these homes there is usually some kind of musical instrument - an accordion, a "fiddle," an organ, or sometimes a piano.
In all three types, mother and father form the center of the life, and some form of religious observance is the rule. One of the striking things about the country Negro home is that everybody works. The typical family is always in a struggle with poverty or for economic security. During the "cropping season," before the sun rises all hands are in the field, the children being kept from school - if there is a school. Long after the sun has set, they labor on.