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John R. Larkins (John Rodman)
The Negro Population of North Carolina: Social and Economic
Raleigh: North Carolina State Board of Charities and Public Welfare, [1944].


In the introduction to his seventy-nine page report The Negro Population of North Carolina: Social and Economic (1944), John R. Larkins notes that his work was intended "to point out the social and economic conditions existing among the Negroes of the State . . . It does not attempt to make an analysis of these conditions" (p. 9). Larkins, a social worker and a consultant on African American affairs for the North Carolina Board of Charities and Public Welfare, wrote the report for the public as well as for state leaders; it draws from census and other governmental data, and highlights differences and similarities among races, sexes, and geographic locations.

The report begins with a brief history of slavery in North Carolina and cites valuable statistics from 1715—when slavery was legalized in North Carolina—about the ratio of black citizens to white, as well as individual county slaveholdings through the beginning of the Civil War. Larkins notes that anti-slavery efforts also began in 1715 and that as these efforts became more effective, the free black population in North Carolina increased significantly. This population soon became one of the largest in the South, second only to Virginia. Until 1835, these freedmen were allowed to hold property and often voted. After 1835, however, the amended state constitution denied this right to all the state's black citizens. After the Civil War, African Americans lived predominantly in rural areas in central and eastern North Carolina. Larkins's report suggests that economic and social disadvantages arising from racial prejudice may lead black citizens to look elsewhere for more opportunities.

Larkins argues that at the time of the report, North Carolina's African Americans were facing limited employment prospects. Larkins explains that black workers were "often forced to accept the type of employment which [gave] the least returns and with a minimum of opportunities for promotions and improvement. . . ." (p. 18). Black women, for example, were approximately four times more likely to work in agriculture than white women, and the 1940 census also showed that over thirty percent of black laborers worked more than forty-eight hours a week. Larkins also blames new immigrant storeowners for the failure of some black-owned businesses in traditionally African American neighborhoods. He points out, however, that these African American neighborhoods were generally blighted. African American tenants were charged higher rents overall than other ethnic groups, and the communities had higher crime rates. Due to employment problems and other economic factors, black North Carolinians often were trapped in these conditions "because of . . . low economic status" and a "shortage of available housing or neighborhoods in which [they were] admitted" (p. 24). There were also many "legal restraints," and "mores and traditions [kept them] relegated to circumscribed areas" (p. 24). Larkins fears that if/when African Americans do find a way out of these harsh conditions, they will leave North Carolina.

Health, economic, and environmental factors are interrelated in Larkin's analysis, and all can be linked to educational opportunities. "In many instances," he writes, "the training and education of the individual determine the employment opportunities that are available to him, and the type of job he will be able to secure, determines his income, which profoundly affects the standard of living and health status, he is able to maintain" (p. 35). This key foundation for social and economic betterment was more widely available to blacks in North Carolina than it was elsewhere in the South. In 1940, although schools were segregated, there were more black institutions of higher education in North Carolina than any other state in the United States. And although illiteracy rates were slightly higher among African Americans than whites in North Carolina, a higher percentage of African American children than white children (age 7-14) attended school, and appropriations for black schools were increasing.

The primary recreational and social institutions for African Americans were churches, according to Larkin. Seven of the educational institutions for African Americans in the state were run by churches, and the black church was the largest African American property owner. Beyond the church, however, there were few recreational activities available to African Americans because of segregation in public facilities. Larkins posits that this lack may be linked to higher rates of crime and delinquency among African Americans, though he questions the underlying racial factors in these crime statistics.

Overall, Larkins credits North Carolina with successfully aiding African Americans and says that conditions had improved within the state's black communities. His report provides a list of the federal and state agencies that had been working to help African Americans, as well as a list of black charities and other institutions along with their mission statements.

Monique Prince

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