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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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great influx of freedmen during the war produced a necessity for small houses to rent, and the sharp speculators of that day, who infested the city and preyed upon the Government and people, at once saw the chance of making money out of the necessities of those poor people, and consequently erected a large number of frame shanties, without any regard to their convenience, sanitary or healthy condition. These were built in rows and blocks. All met a ready rental at fabulous rates. Now, what was the condition of those shanties, some of which remain to the present day? I will describe one such as I have seen many times in performing the duties of a physician. I found a one-story room about 12 by 12 to 12 by 16 feet, and about seven feet in height, composed of inch and a half boards, the top or roof being covered with felt or gravel. There were no water-spouts to lead the water from the roof, and consequently it ran close to the foundation and under the house, where it often remained for an indefinite period, combined with other surface water and refuse matters. And in order to press stronger on your minds the true character of these mansions of woe, I will quote from the report of one of the sanitary inspectors his impressions of them :
"A shanty is defined by Worcester to be ' a mean cabin,' and that is evidently what they mean by the term in Washington and Georgetown, for no meaner cabins for temporary or permanent shelter can be found than some of our wretched poor are born and exist and die in, here at the capital of the United States. And strange as it may seem, none are so mean that they have not an owner mean enough to charge rent for them. Down in the alleys, below grade, with combination roof of felt, tar, shingles, rags, tin, gravel, boards and holes; floors damp and broken, walls begrimed by smoke and age; so domiciled are families, with all the dignity of tenants having rent to pay; perhaps four or five, or may be eight dollars a month, and proud of the distinction though often greatly exercised to meet their obligations."
This is the testimony. Now, these little shanties would often contain a man and his wife and from three to six children, and frequently his own or wife' s mother; and at the same time a stove, bedstead, table, a chair or two; perhaps a trunk or box containing provisions. The only openings to the building would be a window three by three and a small door. The stove was usually kept extremely hot, and the temperature of the room through the day would be from 75 to 85 degrees of heat, while at night, after the fire went out, the temperature would fall to the freezing point in extremely cold weather, because the walls of the shanty were neither lathed nor plastered, and therefore easily admitted the frost. In many there was a piece of carpet, or such like, which retained its place for an indefinite period. The floors were scarcely ever washed up, and the beds were never aired. All the cooking was done in the same room, and the receptacles for waste water and other refuse matter were kept there. In some cases I have found a large tenement house with every room filled, having many families crowded together, and everything in as bad condition as in the shanties mentioned above. Many of these were situated in narrow and damp alleys, and sometimes near marshy places and stagnant pools of water. Now, of the description that I have given of a large number of tenements inhabited by colored people of Washington, it must not be understood that all the colored people there live in that way; but, on the contrary, it will be admitted on all hands that there is no city in the United States where the colored people as a rule live better; and I am of the opinion that more of them own their houses, which are often furnished in quite a luxuriant style. Another source of disease and death are the schools. They are crowded to their utmost capacity, the ventilation and drainage in many of them arc bad, and some of their rules are really pernicious. For instance, the children are
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