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Scripto | Transcribe Page
Proceedings of the National Conference of Colored Men of the United States, Held in the State Capitol at Nashville Tennessee, May 6, 7, 8 and 9, 1879.
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Chickahominy by disease. The same may be said of General Grant's army of the Potomac, that notwithstanding the great slaughter that was made of the army in the Wilderness, more died in hospitals from fevers and other specific diseases. This rule held good all through the war, and in all the armies, that disease made greater havoc among the troops than was made by casualties on the battlefield. So it was in the insurrection of Santo Domingo by the blacks, for while they fought with great bravery and desperation under such generals as Toussaint, L'ouverture, Dessalines and Christophe, and would, no doubt, have achieved their freedom and independence in any case, but the end was hastened by the great disaster produced by the diseases incidental to the climate. It is said that the flower of Bonaparte' s army was sacrificed by the thousands from yellow fever, dysentery and kindred diseases. Nor need we confine the rule to armies, but the same may happen on shipboard, so that great navies are sometimes rendered perfectly helpless by disease. We find also that large cities in certain parts of the country are sometimes rendered almost uninhabitable by bad drainage, causing zymotic or preventable diseases to rage in epidemic forms.
Now, with regard to the health of the colored people of this country. Since the abolition of slavery much has been said and written to discourage us and disparage us in the eyes of the world, and to make it appear that slavery is our normal condition; and many have been the predictions that we would soon pass away like the aboriginal inhabitants of Australia and many of the Indian tribes of this country. In order to make good these predictions many of our enemies have fabricated all sorts of reports of the fearful mortality raging among us, when in reality there are scarcely ten cities in the country where a correct record of the deaths and births of the white and colored people is kept, and I can say without fear of contradiction that there is not one which is kept of the colored people alone.
In 1866, a judge in Savannah, Georgia, in charging the grand jury, just after the city was turned over to civil authority, and subsequent to its occupation by General Sherman's army, said, among other things, "that he deplored the abolition of slavery, because the freedmen could not take care of themselves, and would soon become extinct from starvation and disease, and that the Barnum of a hundred years hence would perhaps have a petrified Negro to exhibit to the world that he once existed." It has been said time and again that the Negro by the side of the white man will die out, and the vital statistics, where they are kept, show a larger proportion of deaths among the colored people than among the whites. But I propose to show in this paper that the natural increase among the colored people is larger in proportion than among the whites. In this country there are, comparatively speaking, poor facilities for obtaining vital statistics. In fact the peculiar relations between the general Government and the States are such that there is no general law that can be enforced to obtain them. Each State has its own laws, and very few, if any, are strict in their observance, and still less attention is paid to give correct reports of the colored people. Most of their reports are consolidated so as to make no difference between whites and blacks. Therefore, it is difficult to get an approximation as to the percentage of the death and birth rate between the two races. The mortality, as shown by the reports among the colored people, has been very great of late, and it is so marked, that if it was not for their great natural increase, as I will show you directly, the predictions of the Georgia judge might soon be realized. In the statistics that I shall give, you will notice that I have paid more attention to the District of Columbia than any other section, for the reason that while the reports here are not entirely reliable, they are more nearly correct than any other city I know of,
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