|Title||Negro youth in a small middle western city |
|Description||A report by Knox College Professor of Sociology J. Howell Atwood summarizing his research concerning African American youth in Galesburg, Illinois. The report, prepared apparently some time in the 1930s, is based on a series of interviews he conducted with African American youth. The report delves into aspects of the youths vocational pursuits, housing and family life, schooling, church and club activities, experiences with the color line, and anti-social behavior. |
|Author||Atwood, Jesse Howell; |
|Time Period||1930s |
|Identifier||J. Howell Atwood Manuscript Collection (box 9 folder 49) |
|Rights||See http://library.knox.edu/digitalcollections/rightsinfo.htm |
|Collection||Struggle and Progress-African Americans in Knox County, Illinois (Knox College) |
|Transcript||NEGRO YOUTH IN A SMALL MIDDLE WESTERN CITY|
The traveling men say it's a good town. The hoboes say
it's "jake." The collegians regard it as provincial if they
are from the Chicago suburbs, and decidedly urban if they
hail form the rural high schools. Its Chamber of Commerce
believes in enticing new factories by giving bonuses to going
concerns if they expand by moving to Galesburg. While the
women condemn its miles of quaint brick sidewalks all substan-
tial citizens agree that it is the Athens of Western Illinois.
They are proud of its undeniably handsome elm and maple lined
avenues, proud of the rich corn land surrounding the city,
proud of the Lincoln-Douglas debate staged that blustery October
day in 1858--held on the campus of Knox College, and proud of
the College which in its founding over a century ago gave exis-
tence to their community. Galesburg is several towns: it is
a farmers' shopping center, a manufacturing city, a railroad
division and freight classification point and a college town.
Its industrial output ranges from freight car frames to electric
refrigerators, farm gates and overalls. The prairie beyond the
city limits yields both brick and soft coal. The college output
has included notables from Eugene Field to S. S. McClure and
John H. Finley.
In its early days, the founders of the college were the
pillars of Galesburg's strength; pious reformers; men who feared
only God. They were active in the crusading movements which had
their inception in the 1830's: temperance and abolitionism. The
town became the principal Illinois center on the underground
railroad. Not unnaturally Negroes were attracted to the community.
They increased rapidly after the Emancipation Proclamation and
during the'70's. By 1880 the Negroes were four-fifths as num-
erous as they are today and were over six percent of the
11,500 population. But from 1880 to 1910 the Negroes actually
declined while the city's population as a whole doubled. Then
when the great Negro exodus northward and cityward was on, 1910-
20, the colored population expanded 21 per cent. Today there are
900 Negroes in Galesburg, about three percent of the total.
The underground railroad started the influx of Negroes. The
iron horse in 1854 started a tide of native and foreign-born
whites. In fact, after the opening of the railroad to Chicago
the Puritan colony was transformed. Now could be seen intemper-
ance, non-observance of the Sabbath and even separate schools
for Negroes! Irish and Swedes did the harder manual labor. But
by 1930 less than eight percent of the population was foreign
born, the Swedish constituting the bulk of this group. Some 250
Mexicans brought as section gang workers on the railroads live
pretty much to themselves in a box car cluster next to the vast
railroad yards but there are relief and W.P.A. families sprinkled
over the area of the city. Negroes from the early days have
dwelt in the four directions from the Public Square. However,
the poorer and humbler homes are south of Main Street. Retired
farmers and the folk of Swedish heritage help to account for
the city's fundamental conservatism. A Swedish name is a real
asset in seeking political office.
The early colored citizens of the prairie city seem to have
been substantial folk. There were Negro farmers in the county.
The best vegetables and watermelons a generation ago were raised
by a Negro townsman. In the '80s and '90s the fashionable barber
shops were run by Negroes. The transfer bus operating between
the railroad stations and the Union Hotel on the Public Square
was owned and operated by a Negro, a man of power in local politics.
In 1900 when a cleaning and pressing establishment was a "pantatorium"
three such enterprises were owned by Negroes. A grocery on the
Square for years employed a well respected Negro as one of its clerks.
Today the scene has shifted. There are no Negro farmers
though there are two colored farm-owners in the county. There
is a Negro barber shop but it has no white patrons. Motor taxis
have replaced the bus line and the one Negro taxi doesn't have white
patronage. There is a Negro-owned grocery store in the southwest
section where about two-thirds of the colored families live.
Another Negro-owned business is the barber shop and pool hall just
west of the Public Square. A licensed embalmer maintains a
commendable mortuary in connection with his residence on a well
paved street in the southeast section. The West End Social Club
where card games, craps, and presumably soft drinks may be enjoyed
by members is in a sense a business enterprise of the owner-manager
of the store building occupied by the "club."
Negroes today tend to be employees rather than proprietors
and their employment is often irregular and part time. In 18 per
cent of the 331 households there are two wage earners. In over
half of the families the father is the bread-winner. But in over
one third of the families the wife-mother goes out to work
more or less regularly. The most common job is some type of
house work generally done by the colored women; next comes
work on W. P. A. projects; then janitor or porter work for men
in down town office buildings and stores. There is an interest-
ing heirarchy here--the U. S. post office, the First National
Bank and college library being at the top. But there are Negro
trade unionists as brick makers, core makers in the foundry
and a sterotyper at the largest newspaper. Electric crane
operator, plasterer, round-house workers, postal clerks, musi-
cians, timber handlers at the tie plant, cooks, bus boys, shoe
shiners and red caps pass in review the principal kinds of
employment for men. From 25 to 30 Negroes, mostly men, sell
"policy" for three wheels which operate in violation of the
law. Among the women domestic service is almost the only sort
of available work, but there are a few exceptions: evangelist,
registered nurse, stock clerk, window dresser, and two teachers,
The one Negro medical practicioner is on the staff of one
of the two hospitals. A Negro foot specialist with office on
Main Street has an excellent practice among both white and colored.
Among the seven ordained Negro ministers two are without pastorates.
Another way to describe the employment status of the colored
population is to cite a Department of Commerce study of 1934 from
which we discover that about 18 per cent of the Negro workers
are skilled. During the last three years, over a fourth of the
Negro population has been on township relief. In 1936 the second
largest category of Negro employment was on W.P.A. and C.C.C.
projects, 71 persons.
These colored people live in the four quarters of the city
though the majority of homes is in the southwest section
adjacent to factories, stock yards, and railroad properties.
Only 42 of the 331 households were north of Main Street, the
east to west bisector. The percentage of home ownership in 1930
was practically the same among Negroes as for the city as a whole--
56 per cent; but the depression cut the Negro ratio to 51 per cent.
Their homes, however, have been shown by a housing survey in 1934
to be decidedly older than those of the rest of the city. Over
half are at least 50 years old. Sixty per cent have no running
water. Three-fourths have no indoor toilets. Thirty-eight per
cent use oil lamps. Only 40 Negro homes have telephones. Twenty
per cent of the houses found in the entire city to be unfit for
use were Negro homes, yet Negro homes make up only a little over three
per cent of the city's total dwellings.
The Negro population stays put to a much greater extent
than does the rest of the city. House occupancy for the entire
city of at least 20 years was about 16 per cent; for Negroes it
was almost double, 30.9 per cent. Over half of the Negroes have
lived here 15 or more years. Sixty per cent were born in Illinois.
Forty-one per cent are natives of Galesburg.
A popular local misconception pictures the Negro family as
over sized, yet the fact is that the Negro family here tends to
be smaller than the white family. For the entire city one-person
"families" are eight per cent of all families. Among Negroes they
are over 22 per cent. The two-person families are 29.6 per cent
for the whole city, but 36 per cent for the Negro portion.
The three-person families are more common in the entire city
than they are among Negroes: 25 percent as compared with 16.4
per cent. And of necessity the four-, five-, and six-person
families are in low proportion among Galesburg's colored folk.
The greater hazards to the Negro family appear when the make-up
of some of these small families is considered: a two-person
family may be an elderly man and his adult step-daughter; a
brother and sister, both adults; an invalid mother and her adoles-
cent son. There were 120 families in 1936 having at least one
minor child. Over 40 per cent of them were lacking one or both
parents as part of the home.
A few of the very oldest colored residents tell of attend-
ing the public schools provided especially for colored persons.
They report sympathetic and well chosen teachers, but that one of
these two schools burned down in the early '70s and that the
separate schools were abandoned a few years later. The matter
of separate schools we know was an issue in one of the school
board elections. Between 1886 and 1936 the colored children
in the public schools ranged in numbers from a low point of 110
to a high level of 179, the average being 129.8. In the 1930's
due apparently to the greater stability of the Negro family
provided by relief, N.Y.A. and W.P.A., the average enrollment
has been notably higher, 169. This is not due to increase in
total Negro population since the census figures of 1930 showed
891 in the city and the author's family study of 1936 showed
901 persons. Thus this average public school enrollment is
18.9 per cent of the total Negro population, whereas for the
entire city the school population is 17.9 per cent. It might be
added that the minor colored population is only 26.2 per cent
of all Negroes while for the whole city children under 21 are
30.7 per cent of the population. This seems to prove that
colored children to a large extent are enrolled in schools.
Negro children attend the school of the district in which
they live. At the junior high school level colored children
not in the district but wishing to attend the Churchill Junior
High may be transferred at their parents' request. The Super-
intendent of Schools says there is a special problem of discipline
and irregular attendance at the Cooke school located adjacent to
the largest concentration of Negro families. This is due to the
large percentage of colored children who come from broken homes,
he insists. The failure of colored parents to cooperate fully
with school authorities and inadequate discipline or supervision
in the home also lie at the base of this educational problem
according to the Superintendent. "This is definitely not the
fault of the Negro child... These two problems of discipline and
irregular attendance are noticeable also at the junior high school
level, but in senior high the selective process has operated to
eliminate the retarded. Here the colored students tend to be of
a very high type."
The former Superintendent of Schools had remarked that
colored children tended to drop out of high school. The one
Negro school teacher in the county has made the same observation,
adding that, especially in the case of the boys, it is due to
economic necessity rather than lack of interest.
The two best established Negro churches are located near
to the center of the city. They were established in 1858 (Allen
Chapel) and in 1864 (Second Baptist.) Few white people know of
the existence of the three other small Negro churches since they
are located on unpaved streets in Negro neighborhoods toward the
city's margin. Each of the two major churches has a membership
of about 150 people. In neither of them can it be said that the
young people are interested or active. "The churches aren't
making any progress. They can't. They haven't any money. The
people can't get any work. There's not a Negro employed in the
Court House or at the City Hall or in the Public Schools... the
young people are in clubs--; the old people are in the churches...
The young folks have no inspiration; can't get any higher than a
porter; nothing to strive for. Young girls will go to a tavern
and dance to get a dollar... We've got no Y.M.C.A. where our young
boys and girls can go... Boys lay around the pool halls and play
'policy' and gamble to win a dollar." Thus spoke one Negro reli-
gious leader. Another explained the position of Negro youth and
the churches: "They've been trained by the adults to function in
clubs, outside the church work. They come to Sunday school, but
Christian Endeavor is neglected... The young people will promise
but don't live up to it. The root of the trouble is tin the laxity
of the parents."
A young Negro home on vacation from college preaching on
"Negro Youth" gave his version of the youth problem: "Our boys are
porters and shoe shiners. We are satisfied. We care for present
pleasures. We won't make the sacrifices... We lack respect for
our ladies. It hurts no man to lift his hat, to carry a lady's
basket or give her his seat. Young ladies, you must demand respect.
Respect yourself first... The crowd is easy to follow. If you
want to be set apart, to be stared at, just try to be somebody...
Youth today seem to crave publicity, want to be praised, are
chasing after false gods: clothes, money, cars; seem not to be
concerned about the things that lift up. Clothes don't make Dr.
George Washington Carver great! We must hold up our head; work
to gain wisdom. An intelligent man will make his place in the
world." Only eight members of the younger generation were present
to hear this young man's Sunday morning sermon, publicly announced
as a youth service.
Lodges and Clubs
The depression and shifts of interest are probably respon-
sible for the decline of the lodges which used to flourish in the
Negro community. The Masonic order with a score of members, only
a third its former size, remains. It sponsors troop No. 10 of the
Boy Scouts, a group of nine boys, 12 to 15 years of age.
A social-political club of men 18 to 40 years of age main-
tains club rooms above a Main Street store. In campaign years its
membership expands two or three times the 1939 number of 38.
No active branch of the National Association for the Advance-
ment of Colored People is maintained though one was organized a
few years ago. It declined in its third year due to insufficient
support and personal jealousies.
Among the women and girls a number of commendable social-
literary clubs flourish. Some have state and national affiliations.
They seek mutual and community improvement, serving the sick, the
aged, and the churches. One club sees to it that every Negro boy
and girl graduate of the senior high school receives a graduation
present. To this list may be added the Girl Scouts and a variety
of clubs in the five churches.
The colored veterans of the World War and their wives are
organized with a similar group from a neighboring city into a post
of the American Legion.
According to the older generation of colored folk there was
no perceptible color line in the city in their youth. One elderly
lady says, "I hardly knew I was a Negro--growing up in Galesburg,
going through high school here." Today each of the movie theatres
follows some segregation policy in seating its Negro patrons.
Only one lunch counter on Main Street caters to both Negro and
white customers. The Y.M.C.A. is not available to Negroes, though
both hospitals are. The segregation issue arose in 1930 at Lake
Storey where the city was opening a large park and bathing beach.
A Negro youth and some young white men at the beach got into a
fight and for fear of more serious consequences the city authorities
promised the Negro citizens a separate park and bathing section
on the South shore of Lake Storey. This provides for picnicking,
dancing, baseball and swimming. Thus Negroes are expected to
refrain from using the facilities at Lincoln Park and on the north
shore of Lake Storey.
Because the Y.M.C.A.-Boy Scouts local summer camping facili-
ties were not open to Negro Boy Scouts of Troop No. 10, they, their
sponsors and friends developed a camping site of their own. Then
they generously made it available for the Spring "Camporee" of
all Boy Scouts of the area without color discrimination. Camp
Cheektowaka is near the colored beach on the south shore of
Lake Storey. It is used by Negro girl camping groups as well as
Though the probation officer considers that the Negro
children give her little trouble the fact is that in 1937 and 1938
colored boys were nearly three times as numerous among her cases
as the Negro population justified. Of the 11 boys in the last
2 1/2 years sent to the state training school by the juvenile court,
four were Negro. This is obviously out of line with the number
justified by the Negro population. Negro commitments of all ages
from the Sheriff's office for a recent 3-year period were a little
over twice the number which the Negro population called for. One-
fourth of the commitments were of boys under 21. While the absolute
number of Negro cases is not great, their proportion is significant-
ly high. This is a rough index of the social-economic disadvantages
under which Negro families live, under which Negro youths are grow-
ing to adulthood.
The girls apparently constitute a less serious problem. At
least there were no female commitments in the 3-year period studied.
The police matron is called upon by the school authorities to deal
with some behavior problems among colored girls ranging from
irregular attendance to fighting: eight cases last year.
Comparison of the known illegitimate Negro births in the
last four years with the recorded Negro births in that period showed
only about six per cent as illegitimate. It appears that popular
as gambling by means of "policy" playing is among Galesburg
Negroes, the younger group under 18 seldom indulge. This may
be due in part to the fact that few of them have a steady
Negro Youth Sampled
Against the community background thus far sketched we
should like to picture Negro youth as revealed in a series of
careful private interviews. Questions were asked of this samp-
ling of Negro youth ranging from color discrimination in school
and job to what more the church might do for Negro youth; from
what they think of the W.P.A. to their estimate of local and
national Negro leaders; from their fondest hopes and wishes to
their favorite pastime. If these young people were a fair cross
section of Negro youth in this small Middle Western city we can
from them picture certain of the crucial aspects of the life
experiences, some of the major problems of Galesburg's colored
The twelve boys and young men ranged from 15 to 27 years
old, averaging about 21; the ten girls varied from 15 to 26, and
averaged about 20. Most of them were born in Illinois; over a
third had resided in other states. The occupations of the
fathers of these 22 youths varied from W.P.A. worker to coal
miner, from musician to Protestant minister. Two had lost their
mother, seven had lost their father through death. With one
case of divorce there were thus ten of the 22, nearly half, from
broken homes. All but two lived in the parental home. The other
two were married men--one living with his wife, the other separated
with other relatives. Most of the youths had a room to themselves.
Six shared their room with a brother or sister. Only one admitted
there were any conflicts or arguments with parents--though a few
more allowed there were points of misunderstanding between them
and their folks. In this connection two cited dating, another from
a strict family the matter of having a "little more fun"; and
others mentioned health, diet and leaving town to seek work. Six-
teen denied any misunderstanding. Eight said they were expected
to contribute from their earnings to the family purse. Nearly
all indicated such contribution was appropriate and a few helped
support the family though they weren't expected to.
The girls had gone over a year farther in their school careers
than the boys, though the boys were on the whole a year older.
Average completion of the girls was beyond the 11th year; for
the boys it was the 10th grade. Only three of the 12 boys were high
school graduates as compared with eight of the ten girls. As
indicated earlier there appears to be a greater tendency for the
Negro boy to quit school and go to work than for his sister. This
is not necessarily due to lack of interest, but is more closely
related to economic necessity in the family and to the greater
variety of jobs open to boys. Seven of the twelve boys and one of
the ten girls had quit before finishing high school, the reasons
being: death of a parent, 5; poor clothes, 2; health, 1.
These Negro young folk liked school. Most of them mentioned
some particular teacher who had shown them special consideration.
Typical reponses were: "My commercial teacher would call me up to
see if I was getting along O.K. she encouraged me to enter a
contest for a certificate in shorthand. I got two certificates as
a result." "One swell man teacher; he was awfully interested
in me; showed us a system of studying Latin... There were other
nice ones too; interested in every student." One youth spoke of
one of his teachers as prejudiced. One young woman said that
while she was treated fairly all through school no one showed
much interest in her. Several gave credit to all of their teachers.
The athletic coaches who are also teachers were spoken of in
equally favorable terms, despite the fact that several boys spoke
of the policy of not allowing a Negro boy to make the senior
high school basketball team. This was recognized as not the fault
of the coaches, but the policy of a former school administration.
Asked as to their chance to take part in extra-curricular
activities of the schools five contended that they were denied
the normal opportunities, but most had actually participated in
some of the activities. A typical boy's answer was, "All the
activities I wanted to except basketball." Athletics, clubs,
plays, assembly programs, chorus, variety show, debate and orches-
tra were specified. Two quotations will show a change of admin-
istrative policy regarding clubs. A young man who has been out
of school several years said: "...we couldn't join the clubs in
my day and couldn't play basketball; could play football where
you could break your neck;" One of the recent graduates reported:
"I was in the all-school variety shows; also in one assembly
given by the girls' chorus. I belonged to a social literary club.
There have been clubs open to us for three or four years at least."
At the high school level the colored and white students
seem to get on quite well together. "It seemed in the shift from
junior to senior high there was a vast difference in the attitude
of the white students toward me. They seem more courteous,
friendly. Now there are four clubs, no dues. When we have a
party or banquet we chip in. In the variety show the colored
dressing room was always crowded with white and colored students.
They all congratulated us. If they had any candy they shared it
naturally." A less favorable response was, "Most were all right.
A few were kind of funny. Majority treated me the same as them."
Fifteen replies showed favorable relationships with white fellow
students predominated. But two other quotations are in order:
"Some were unpleasant, the lower classes, the 'smart alecs';
most were O.K." "Calling a Negro boy a 'nigger' is the worst
thing a white boy can say... Most all the boys I know carry a
knife now for protection--colored and white... You'll find the
colored boy tries to avoid trouble."
Jobs and Vocational Plans
The Negro young people interviewed ranged from junior high
age to married status. Consequently questions on jobs and the
future had vastly different meanings for certain of the young
folks. As to actual employment, five of the men and one of the
young women had steady full time jobs. These young men had held
their jobs an average of five years, the young woman three months.
The steady jobs among the men included auto painting, brick
yards work, janitor work, laundry work. The
first vocational choices of the group were somewhat of a contrast
with these actual jobs: medicine, civil service, music, athletic
director, Y.M.C.A. secretary, farmer, undertaker, sign painter.
Two of the men with steady jobs downtown, as an avocation played
in a jazz band; one said he would like to give up portering in
for music as a career. Another with a seasonal job would like
to get into farming. Among the girls the one steady job was in
domestic service. In contrast the first choices expressed by
the girls were: teaching, nursing, beauty culture, dancing, secre-
tarial work, library work. Only one of the six steadily employed
young people saw any real future in the job itself, and even this
one had plans for shifting to the entertainment field, a combina-
tion of music and dancing.
For those youths who had finished high school and were
ambitious but financially unable to go on to college or special
school there was a sense of frustration. They were seeking work of
any sort hoping to save the money required for the special train-
ing they wish. A case in point: a girl with her high school
major in commercial subjects, special gifts in that direction,
employed two Saturdays a month in a rest room, with odd typing
jobs; wanted to go to night school to continue commercial train-
ing. Another girl was unable to go on to college, though she'd
like to become a teacher; eldest child in a large family; father
a W.P.A. worker with $48.00 a month wage and supplemental relief;
her financial obstacle in such a large family seemed insuperable.
Another young woman had been out of high school several years;
had worked in two large cities both in the East and Middle West:
"When I was in _____ I had a job three years at the ______ theatre
ladies' rest room. But there wasn't a chance to use my head.
Just be there." Is it too much to infer that frustration had
driven her to the parental home and to domestic service? Another
instance is of a younger boy baffled by heavy responsibility: lived
with invalid mother, two-person family; had steady but part-time
janitor work, on relief; wasn't getting proper food; much
influenced by his biology teacher; had dreams of medicine
as a career; yet wasn't sure he could finish the last two
years of high school.
The young people interviewed seemed to group themselves
into four classes so far as vocational plans went: those
with definite, well laid plans, four persons; those who had
tried to plan but were frustrated, seven; those with verbal,
but vague plans, nine; those with none, two. Opinion of the
young people as to whether their Negro friends were worried
about the future seemed about evenly divided in the group
If wishes could come true about half of the group would
have transported themselves into their first-choice vocation.
Five expressed their first wish in terms of racial improve-
ment or increased justice to the Negro. On wish No. 2 personal
self-improvement was the largest single category (better educa-
tion, better job, better personality). Four cast this wish
into race-conscious terms: "I do wish we could feel free and
had equal rights as citizens regardless of where we are living."
Attitude toward Church
All but two of the interviewed youths expressed favorable
attitudes toward the church, but such statements were sometimes
accompanied by the admission that they themselves didn't attend
church very regularly. Twelve were members, but this didn't
necessarily mean regular attendance. Others attended but weren't
members. Two voiced criticism of the church. Several spoke
of the church as "a nice place to go." They indicated the ways
the church is a help to young people, mentioning ethical
training, character-building, good association, unification
of the Negro group, "feeling of God." Their suggestions for
greater service of the church to youth ranged from more social
activities and more sympathetic leadership to greater punctu-
ality and less hypocrisy on the part of church leaders. Com-
ments from the Negro ministers and admissions from several
of the young people themselves indicated that Galesburg's
colored youth are not very devoted to the churches. One girl
spoke quite frankly: "So few come at times that the work of
the church is less effective--at times Sunday School is packed;
again very few... The young are minus on spiritual quality.
The church must teach greater regularity; make more interesting
programs, so as to interest the young." One spoke of the
burden of so many Negro churches. It might be added that the
young people reflect pretty much the attitudes of many of their
elders toward the church: nominal support, actual indifference,
except for the faithful few. In one church about half of the
members have officially to be listed as not in full standing
because of their financial and other neglect.
Young people are bound to have a good time, but dating
for Negro youth has restrictions imposed by the color line.
In the summer there is the colored beach at Lake Storey with
a choice of picnicking, bathing and swimming, dancing in the
brick pavilion, and patronizing the pop and hot-dog stand.
It is popular with the young people. Downtown there are the
movies frequented by all dating young foks. The segregated
seating insisted on in some form in each was branded as unfair
by 12 in the interviews. Four refused to condemn the practice.
One said he stayed away because of segregation. Others men-
tioned a particular theatre as one they wouldn't attend because
of segregation and discourtesy to Negroes. After the show
there is no cafe or confectionery where colored folk can com-
plete the evening, but this was not mentioned in the interviews.
During the winter four or five large-scale dances with top-
grade Negro bands are held in the Armory, enthusiastically
enjoyed by all but the most pious of the Negro community.
Two-thirds of the youth interviewed said they danced and about
the same proportion said they dated.
The former N.Y.A. Recreation Center with its well rounded
program had utilized a vacant store building near the largest
constellation of Negro families. It had been enjoyed by about
half of the interviewed group. The "center" is now privately
operated as a public meeting place for young folks where games and
dancing, candy, pop and sandwiches may be enjoyed. "There is a
nice place at the 'center,' so long as the right crowd is there.
But if someone comes with liquor then we have to leave."
Favorite recreations mentioned included reading, singing, piano
playing, sewing, public speaking, attending church; but skating,
swimming, baseball, tennis, basketball, bicycling, and boxing
were also named.
Most of the interviewed youths reported that they did not
use liquor and the three men and two women who indulged insisted
that they did so in moderation. There appeared to be no reason
to doubt these statements. Few of the taverns of the city serve
Half of the sample of Negro youth had membership in some
club. The activity of these clubs may partly explain the weakness
or absence of youth organization in the churches. Clubs meet at
private homes and occasionally at the "center."
A substantial majority had words of approval or partial
approval for the W.P.A. program. One girl went on to say Negroes
could find better jobs if the local factories and warehouses didn't
willfully refuse to hire Negroes. Less than one third of the
sample had had contact with emergency relief case workers, and
of these the approving attitudes expressed outnumbered the critical
or unfavorable ones.
In the interviewed sample, nine failed to name an outstand-
ing living American Negro when invited to do so, and seven failed
to name a woman. One may wonder if this is because few Negro
newspapers and magazines are read by the younger generation. Is
this deficiency of race pride? It may be the unconcern of youth
or perhaps neglect in the schools of emphasis on contemporary
Negro contributions to American culture. Asked about adult Negro
leaders of the two sexes in Galesburg, 13 omitted any mention of
a local colored man and 14 of any Negro woman. This doesn't mean
there is no social stratification nor that no one aspires to
leadership. Five men were mentioned, but none got over three votes.
It may mean that the local Negroes are sufficiently divided along
political and sectarian lines that no widely followed person has
emerged as leader in recent years.
Apparently the city authorities on the whole enjoy the con=
fidence of the young Negroes. Only a few voiced pointed criticism
of the mayor, alderman or city police. About half were non-committal.
The fact that there are two Negroes on the police force may help
to commend the city's governing authorities to the colored popula-
As customers colored youths are almost always well treated
by the merchants of Main Street, but when these same young people
seek work the merchant changes expression. "They won't hire
colored at the stores here except as janitors and stock clerks."
"Once in a while in a chain store they aren't polite. At ______
I worked two years; they overworked me." "There was one small
shop where they didn't want colored to try on a dress."
The colored youths interviewed showed genuine discrimination
in comparing their opportunities in Galesburg with those available
to young Negroes in other cities. Due to limited experience a few
declined to comment. Several stated that the degree of opportunity
open to Negroes is related to the size of the city and of Negro
population in that city. Several cited both advantages and limita-
tions in Galesburg. Some were critical of Negroes and of their own
age group. A few commended the progress being made in certain
Southern cities. A refrain repeated was that in Galesburg a good
education is provided at public expense, but after Negro youths
get it they aren't permitted to put it to use. The color line in
the Y.M.C.A., the segregated seating at the movies, the lack of
tangible spurs to ambition were mentioned without animus. But
discrimination against the Negro seeking a job and white refusal
to let a Negro get "a good job" was the most repeated criticism.
Not all those young Negroes were blaming white color-prejudice for
their woes. When asked to specify the greatest hindrance they had
to face living in Galesburg, six found it within the Negro group.
Two-thirds of those who responded made answer in terms of color
prejudice and the limitations on jobs and advancement. "They
had me help the girl in the shipping department so I learned all
about it. When she had to go the boss asked me how I'd like to
work there. 'Fine,' I told him, 'I can do this. I know how to
figure percentages; how to make out shipping tags.' Next thing
I knew, he took a green young man out of the store, I had to show
him about half of what he did. The boss had to be down to help
him a lot. I could have taken over the work, but being colored,
I guess the boss figured he wouldn't promote me. But he promised
And so we have sketched in broad strokes some of the major
trends of experience, attitude, and opinion in a sample of
Galesburg's Negro youth. Now let's introduce one young person
in an attempt to show how a single individual through confidential
interview reveals his problems. Tone of voice, facial expression,
bearing, emotional quality, eagerness, cannot be committed to
paper, but so far as words can convey a boy's experiences they
will be presented. This case is not presented as average or
typical; it is simply one case. A few facts which might be identi-
fying are altered, but the person concerned gave his consent to
the publication of this anonymous account. Since William isn't
his name, that's what we shall call him. He was born 17 years
ago in Illinois and has never lived elsewhere. His father, a
skilled workman in the building trades, died when William was 8.
William has a room to himself. His mother is aged, but is his
best friend. She understands him. There are no arguments in
this two-person family.
Medicine is his first vocational choice, and another pro-
fession ranks second. He likes school. The teachers treat him
"Fine--just like a white boy--swell." The coaches show an "out-
standing interest" in him. As for the white students' treatment,
"Some of the kids I feel very close to. Others treated me real
well; no difference. Others were sort of shy of me." He takes
part in several of the extra-curricular activities at the senior
high school where he's in the 10th grade. "All except basketball.
Had a feeling that I couldn't take part. Some of our boys did
get on the squad at the last of the year. That may be due to the
new Superintendent and principal. I think this change had to do
with their thinking toward us. I belong to a club." The school
authorities encouraged him and were "well interested" in him.
He named one high school teacher as the most interesting one he
had ever had. "Not a bit of prejudice; helped me a great deal.
Wanted me to get along. She helped everyone, in fact. She made
clear about diseases. How the human body was important--a wonder-
ful creation, dressed or undressed--not vulgar. It helped me to
be more at ease--know how to treat girls and what to think of
girls. She said she believed the way we lived is the way we die.
If we keep our physical standards right--eat, sleep, think
straight--then all will be right with you."
William has only part time employment since he attends school.
He has worked a year and a half for the same employer. But it
is an unskilled job and he sees no future in it. He earns his
own clothes and spending money. Relief handles the rest. Plans
for the next few years merely involve "keeping on" in school and
at his job. "I should like to get a better paying job and work
so as to take care of my mother. He'd also like to go to college,
yet it is clear to him that his mother is his first obligation. So
his plans beyond high school are vague. His choice of medicine
is a longing, a dream. At least when asked about plans for the
fourth year hence his realistic thinking was directed at getting
off relief and supporting his aged mother.
Favorite pastimes in summer are swimming, picnicing and
reading; in winter he reads--both at home and at the public library,
though no Negro newspaper or magazine is available there. His
more active pastimes are enjoyed at the Negro beach at Lake Storey.
William has a girl friend to whom he is thoroughly devoted. On
dates they go to the movies, to the beach which he likes very
much, and to dances at the Armory. He has never been drunk,
though he has had beer on holiday occasions in the home of rela-
tives. His drinking is "hardly noticeable." He doesn't like
William belongs to a club of young men his age. "We have
parties where only our own members and guests are present." He
is a member of one of the churches and attends too. "The church
hasn't enough support of its members and of the colored community.
There are so many different churches among us. Why it isn't kept
up is the hard times and colored people aren't making much money.
Church helps him "to have a feeling of religion and of God. With-
out this a person is lost--no good to others or to themselves.
The church is doing its part very much. It is up to the people to
come to church, but some have to work on Sundays to get ahead.
A church depends very much on the preacher. If he isn't liked the
church goes down. The present situation isn't very satisfactory."
William had heard plenty of his friends talking about their
future plans. "Lots are thinking of going to some training school.
Others have already went to school. Others just want a decent
job to live half-way decently. They are worried very much about
their problem of becoming what they want to be."
With municipal affairs he has had little contact. He has
heard criticism both from colored and white sources, but "rumors
aren't to be taken seriously... I think there should be more
colored policemen." As for the Main Street merchants "they don't
pay enough for work. If one is trustworthy and obedient they
should pay what it's worth. They don't do that."
Regarding the various movie theatres William isn't "very
happy--not satisfied." He grants that no one wants to sit next
to a dirty or intoxicated person. "Throw them out if they don't
act right. If they are neat and decent they should sit anywhere."
In comparing Galesburg with other cities this segregation issue
was mentioned again.
William had attended the former N.Y.A. Recreation Center and
he finds the present privately operated "center" is not a real
substitute for the former program, though it is a nice place "so
long as the right crowd is there."
Toward the W.P.A. he has an attitude of uncritical approval.
His contact with relief case workers had been direct and favorable.
He appreciates the way the government has helped them.
If he could have two wishes come true he would have : 1.
good health, and, 2. a good job. The employment problem was
again stressed when he spoke of the greatest obstacle to Negro
youth in Galesburg. "We haven't any opportunity here to be anything
except a janitor, all dirty work."
William named outstanding Negro figures in the nation, but
none in the local community.
"If I accomplish anything it's because I try hard. If Negro
youth is given half a chance they'll be a help to the country--to
the whites and to themselves... My poor work in school is partly
because I don't feel well. My boss tells me about the proper
food, but on relief we can't get it. I don't get cereal or milk
for breakfast.... We can't look at one Negro youth who goes
wrong and judge all. There are plenty who are good and worthy...
'Let the Negro live.'"
|Physical Description||typescript on 28 pages of onionskin paper, 8.5 x 11 in. |