Front Cover
 The Negro offender

Group Title: Negro Offender
Title: The negro offender
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00001423/00001
 Material Information
Title: The negro offender presented at the fifty-first congress of the American prison association, Jacksonville, Florida, 1921
Series Title: Russell Sage foundation, New York. Dept. of childhelping. Pamphlets
Physical Description: 11 p. : ; 23 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Williams, G. Croft ( George Croft ), b. 1876
American Prison Association
Publisher: Russell Sage Foundation
Place of Publication: New York City
Publication Date: [1922]
Subject: African Americans -- Crime   ( lcsh )
Genre: non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Statement of Responsibility: by G. Croft Williams ...
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00001423
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: aleph - 000615758
notis - ADE5011
oclc - 16879278
lccn - 23003330

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Page 1
        Page 2
    The Negro offender
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
Full Text

CH 42 March, 1922


of the


Price 10 Cents


March, 1922

CH 42


Secretary of the State Board of Public Welfare, Columbia, South Carolina

An analysis of criminal statistics reveals that there is a high
incidence of crime among Negroes, so much so that it calls for
special consideration. As the results of the federal census of 1920
have not been published, it was necessary to get such figures as
were obtainable. Statistics of criminals according to race were
from Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina,
Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Okla-
homa, Arkansas, and Kansas. These showed that there were in
the penitentiaries and chain gangs of these states, or were com-
mitted thereto in 1920, 3,273 whites and 8,753 Negroes. In com-
paring these figures reduced to percentages we find that of these
offenders 22 per cent were white and 78 per cent were Negro.
Though the population of these states, according to the last
federal census, contained 31 per cent colored, yet the delinquents
of that race composed 78 per cent of the total offenders. The
federal census of 1910 shows that in these states 74 per cent of the
total prison population was from the Negro race.
No doubt many white people are guilty of crimes, who, through
the employing of able counsel or by the paying of fines, are en-
abled to escape prison sentence. Nevertheless, the proportion of
Negro offenders is startlingly large. To account for this, and to
consider how the Negro criminal should be treated and how crime
among Negroes might be decreased, is the purpose of my address
this evening.
There are three main strata of this race, though these strata
merge imperceptibly into one another. At the top there are the
highly educated, who are usually in some profession and have
means to afford comforts and the accessories of culture. Next to
these are those of the middle class, who have a modicum of educa-
tion and who usually go into skilled occupations and become

barbers, tailors, shoemakers, bank porters, masons, and the like.
These two classes of colored folk are law-abiding and respected
citizens. Then come the great mass of Negroes in the country or
in the colored quarters of the city. From this class the delin-
quents are largely recruited, and with this class my address is
chiefly concerned.

As our political and social orders are extremely complex, many
deeds that would be unnoticed in a simple corporate life or in a
primitive community are considered among us as offenses against
the common good. Maladjustment rather than any deep-seated
mean motive is largely the cause of crime among our colored popu-
lation. A large majority of the inmates of this race at our south-
ern penal institutions are not professional criminals, nor are they
of an especially degraded type of character. They are usually
cheerful and kindly, having come to their present condition
through a fit of anger or a sudden childish desire to obtain gay
clothes, unusual food and trinkets, or by the allurements of in-
toxicants. There appear to be five primary causes of delinquency
among them. Other causes there are, but they are secondary and
may be traced to the five primary causes. These primary causes
are: the Negro's historical background, his sudden emergence
into full freedom, his ignorance, his low mental power, and his
miserable environment.

In his tribal life in Africa the Negro's physical wants were
finely adjusted to the supplies of nature about him. His laws
were not in a complicated system that he had to set himself to
learn; they were the customs of his tribe, which he unconsciously
absorbed from infancy. These customs determined his every
movement, and they set the horizon to his thoughts and aspira-
tions. For countless ages the black man had evolved through
these surroundings, so that he was well fitted to his environment
and reacted easily to it. Then came the slave ship and snatched
him from his savage state and carried him to civilization, with its
ethical religion, with its industrial organization, and with its com-
plex codes of morals and its abstract laws. The poor black man
was bewildered. How he differs biologically from the white man

has not been fully determined; however, his dwelling for ages in
tropical and semi-tropical forest and jungle life must have left
vestiges in his physical constitution. These doubtless were strong
factors in his behavior. Perhaps studies in glands, nerves, brains,
and blood may some day give us a new conception of the Negro.
Then came slavery in America. Most of the slaves dwelt on
plantations, where they lived in large groups among themselves.
Even the house servants and other favored slaves lived intimately
with one another only and not with their masters. In this slave
life the Negroes preserved many of their primitive superstitions
and tribal customs, nor did they respond to the strict chastity
ideas of the whites. On the plantations these slaves developed a
distinctive character, whose charm shines in many Southern
stories and whose plaintive sadness sings wistfully in the spirit-
While in slavery the Negroes were in complete subjection to
their masters. Their lives were simple and constrained. On the
plantations they had small space in which to travel, and their
opportunities for wrongdoing were few. To run away was about
as serious an offense as they could usually commit. Little atten-
tion was paid to small purloinings, except when the master was of
an austere type; in that case quick penalty was paid under the
overseer's lash. Rapes were unknown, homicides were seldom
committed. Slavery was a help to the Negro in bringing him into
proximity to the culture of a higher race, yet it did not prepare
him for a life of free citizenship.

Freedom is a magic word. Around it are woven all the dearest
memories and ambitions of our people. The Negro slave often
heard this mighty word, and he wished himself linked to it. He
longed to be a free man. When he was finally liberated he was
intoxicated by the dazzling opportunities that seemed to beckon
to him. But he did not know that Freedom is always accom-
panied by its somber companion, Responsibility. Freedom meant
to many ex-slaves the power to do whatever one wishes, right
away and unhindered. With this spirit, and entirely unprepared
for citizenship, the Negro plunged into liberty and suffrage. The
conclusion of the whole matter was an orgy of crime. For ten
years the whole South was subjected to such an invasion of crime

as it had never before known. For the first time in their history
most southern states had to erect penitentiaries or other penal
systems. Nor has this disrespect for law subsided as far as many
expected it to subside. Its prevalence today is one of the most
prolific factors of delinquency among the colored folk.

We come now to the present factors of delinquency among
Negroes. First among these is ignorance. According to the
census of 1910, 29.5 per cent of the Negroes ten years of age and
over were illiterate in the thirteen states whose crime statistics we
considered. The 1920 census will lower this percentage, but it will
show that an alarming number of colored folk are illiterate. Be-
sides this there is among the great majority of them an ignorance
of the ways of our modern life; such as personal hygiene, the
principles of health, sanitation, how to make a home, what to do
with leisure, skill in occupation, and many other elements of a
successful life. To this woeful list we must add the lack of the
finer influences that come from culture. All these cannot but form
an insulator between many black men and the currents of prog-
ress. You and I by no reach of the imagination can place our-
selves in this state; the restraints and compulsions that come to
us are held from these people by this barrier of ignorance. Delin-
quency cannot but thrive among such conditions. Here sensual-
ity flourishes and passions have no leash. Incontinence, larceny,
homicide, and all the others of that train are loosed upon us.

To ignorance we must add low mental power. Though many
studies have been made of both the Negro's affective side and of
his intelligence, yet these have neither covered a sufficient num-
ber of subjects nor employed methods that were uniform and
adequate. Hence the studies of the psychologist in this field are
not sufficient to prove the exact mental plane of the black man.
Nevertheless, we know that his mental power is not as large as
that of the white man. With this handicap he is called to dwell
amid customs, laws, and institutions evolved by the white man
for himself. He is asked to live up to standards of an alien in-
heritance. What we might expect ensues-the stronger of the
race have minds large enough to make the necessary adaptations,

the weaker ones fail to accomplish this. Consequently, they have
a high percentage of delinquencies. Here we must enter a protest
against assuming that the Negro's mental ability must stop at a
given plane. He has had little time or opportunity to develop his
mind, nor is it either wise or good to say what he may not become
before he has had ample chance to prove himself. The many
noble traits seen among colored folk are windows through which
some of us are looking with the confidence that beyond we shall
discover forces unsuspected, awaiting liberation. I, for one, as-
sure myself that the Negro's mental powers will increase and that
the high incidence of crime due to his meager abilities will dimin-
The country Negroes usually live on plantations, in one- or two-
room cabins grouped together. Here they have the bare neces-
sities and are about the last word of primitiveness in America.
The material art of modern living is unknown to them. As they
are extremely gregarious, their unmoral customs-for we can use
no other modifier-are their rules of conduct. They are very reli-
gious, but their religion is largely emotional and does not have
much commerce with morality. Since the Civil War, and espe-
cially in the last decade, the colored folk have flocked to the cities,
where they have crowded into unsanitary quarters on back streets
and alleys. The filth of these quarters, with their ill smell, the
lack of water and plumbing, the impossibility of protecting mod-
esty, and the difficulty of holding any virtue for the women-
these are some of the notes that attend the Negro's city life. The
streets and alleys of this section are commonly neglected and
have few lights at night. Now it is evident that both in country
and city these environments cannot but make for anti-social con-
duct. When we allow such nests to exist we should not be sur-
prised to see certain birds fly out of them.

We may now turn to the treatment of the Negro criminal. We
have already heard of the jail and lockup, nor have their defects
been overdrawn. When a Negro enters one of these a dismal time
faces him. While in jail he seldom has work to do; only in rare
instances is he allowed out-of-doors; he is likely to get unpalata-
ble food whose sameness day after day palls on him; in summer

he is probably attacked by mosquitoes and flies and in winter he
is almost certain to suffer from the cold. Then, too, there are the
vermin-vermin of all varieties, sizes, and degrees of viciousness.
This is what many of our prisoners have when for the first time
they become the wards of the commonwealth. Reform of our
penal system must begin at the jail. As prisoners stay only a
short time in them, and as the size of their population varies
greatly, we may not be able to lay out a program of work or train-
ing or recreation for them, but we can urge that it be wholesome
and humane. Indeed, this is fundamental in all prisons, what-
ever their programs and discipline may be. Cleanliness, reason-
able comfort, and strengthening food must have place in our jails
before we begin to have a penal system that looks toward turning
out better men.
A system much in vogue in the South is the road force, usually
known as the county chain gang. Here the convicts work in the
open and sleep in tents or cages. They wear stripes and are under
the gun. One phase of this life is especially pathetic: these men
often have to appear in this plight before their families and
friends, which, besides piling up unnecessary shame, tends to rob
the prisoners of their self-respect. This system can hardly be de-
fended by those who believe that punishment must carry in its
heart the purpose of reforming the offender. It is a frank use of
the convict's labor for the building of roads, with no idea of giving
any help to make his life more worth while. Because of the small
number of persons on the average gang, and because of its exces-
sive expense in most counties, this institution is gradually going
out of use.
The penitentiary has great possibilities. Most of the convicts
in South Carolina, for instance, are men between the ages of
eighteen and thirty. At such an age the mind is still plastic.
Schools should be set up for these young men, the right kind of
reading furnished them, and recreations that would absorb inter-
est and be useful in the world outside should be devised for them.
Let me here contend for a new note in our prison education, and
that note is education that would teach men what to do with their
leisure. Nearly all of the prisoners that I have examined have
trades or occupations in which they can gain a living; they know
how to work. What to do with their leisure is their problem.
What they need is avocational rather than vocational training.

Besides, I have noticed that many of the industries carried on in
the penitentiaries are not such as to give training that is in de-
mand on the outside. There should be work, of course, such as to
keep men fit and to contribute to their support, but the training
had better be given to their direction of leisure.
The other system used in the South is the prison farm. It is
hardly necessary for me to dwell long on this, after its demonstra-
tion at Raiford. The outdoors, the changing life of the farm, the
familiarity of this life to our Southern prisoners, the well-balanced
diet that such a place affords-all these are favorable elements.
When common sense, a strain of humor, a willingness to let little
weaknesses of prisoners be little weaknesses, and a man-size heart
get control of a prison farm, the big problem is solved. The trou-
ble is not usually with the prisoners, but with an inadequate
management. Iron discipline is often put on a prison farm be-
cause of the sheer incompetence of some men to put anything else
there. Another thing about a prison farm that should always get
attention is its situation; it should be far away from towns and
cities and just as distant from main highways as it is possible to
place it. The situation should be dictated by remoteness and
healthfulness. An honor system is impossible of maintenance
when outside of the walls the world of pleasure and of vice is
It seems to me that the best results from prisoners could be ob-
tained if we abolished all penal institutions but three-the jail,
only for those awaiting trial, and the penitentiary and the prison
farm for convicted persons. The penitentiary might be used ex-
clusively for the younger and for the more tractable prisoners,
who need the training that comes from a school. Of course there
would be occupation, but the emphasis would be on training.
The prison farm would then be used for life termers and older
convicts only. Such a system as I espouse would segregate pris-
oners according to their fitness and needs and would do away with
the indiscriminate dumping system now so widely practised
among us. Nor would there be anything radical about this ar-
rangement; even the most timid would run no risk of taunting,
should they support it.
So far we have established in the South no adequate parole
system, except in some of our institutions for juveniles. We are
coming to realize that institutions are not the best instruments for

the development of normal citizens. In the penal realm, as in all
others, the institution must be used for training and custodial
purposes in exceptional instances; but the world of average men
is usually the best place for men that are not average. A properly
conducted system of parole would be easily carried on among
Negroes, for they have few professional criminals among them;
they do not rove far from home, they are easily persuaded to
obey, and they would not resent supervision. Beyond all these
considerations, we must give as a reason for parole that married
men could return to their homes and occupations and contribute
to the support of their families. The Negro family has a meager
enough living when its breadwinner is with it; when he is taken
away untold want and suffering must be its lot.

Crime could easily be reduced among Negroes if three measures
were stressed outside of prison walls: education, better living con-
ditions, and the training of race leaders. As we considered educa-
tion and better living conditions a few moments ago, it is nec-
essary to speak here only of race leadership. The Negro is led by
Negroes-that is the fact whether we like it or not. These leaders
are sometimes possessed of high vision, large mental girth, and
winsome personality. Such men are Major Moton, Bishop Jones,
Professor Isaac Fisher, and many others that are giving them-
selves in the South to leading their people to a nobler place. But
such men touch directly only the lives of a few; the great mass
of black men in the country and in the crowded Negro quarters of
the city are directed by many leaders whose morals and life objec-
tives give unworthy standards. The Negro preacher, more than
any other person, is the key to the situation. Exalt him and you
lift the race; leave him where he is, and the race is likely to stay
a long time where it is right now. If colored preachers would live
nearer to the pattern of our Lord, they would stay the progress of
crime more among their people than all our chains and prison
walls can stay it. There are movements among us to accomplish
this. The Southern Inter-Racial Commission, the University
Race Commission, the Jeans and Slater Funds, and other like
organizations are uniting both whites and blacks in a sympathetic
effort to bring good training, good character, and good opportu-
nity to the Negro.

The criminal is but the production of forces that are ever resi-
dent among us, and the Negro criminal is but one manifestation of
mighty currents that are flowing through the Negro race. Our
great task is to direct some of these currents and to stop others,
and to salvage as best we may the flotsam that is driven about the

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