Factoid: Abortions by Race: Rates and Reasons

This is the number of abortions in America by race, going back to 1973, through 2004:

Abortions for Black and White Women, 1973-2004
Abortions-by-Race
Source: Black Americans: A Statistical Sourcebook 2009. Based on information from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

These numbers raise the question: why do black women have abortions at such a higher rate than white women?

The answer seems to be twofold: black women are more likely to have unintended pregnancies; and back women are more likely to feel they lack the maturity or resources to raise a child.

This chart, from the article Abortion and Women of Color: The Bigger Picture, shows the high correlation between the incidence of unintended pregnancies and abortions:
Abortion-Chart2

One comment I’ve heard on this subject is that, unfortunately, many pregnant black women use abortion as a kind of birth control. They never intended to have a child. But because they didn’t take effective steps to prevent the pregnancy on the “front end,” they wind up having to terminate the pregnancy on the back end.

Also of note, from the report Abortion and Women of Color: The Bigger Picture:

The abortion rate among women living below the federal poverty level ($9,570 for a single woman with no children) is more than four times that of women above 300% of the poverty level (44 vs. 10 abortions per 1,000 women). This is partly because the rate of unintended pregnancies among poor women (below 100% of poverty) is nearly four times that of women above 200% of poverty* (112 vs. 29 per 1,000 women).

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Birthing a Slave: Reproduction and Inhumanity during America’s Slavery Era

Most people know of slavery, but we don’t know about slavery. Specifically, we don’t know how dehumanizing it was to be a slave.

We might understand what it’s like to be denied freedom or dignity at an intellectual level. But for many of us, we don’t have a grasp on how horrible the institution was, in the day to day life of an enslaved person. Most of us don’t “get” what it was about inhuman bondage that made it so inhuman.

For example: what was it like to be slave mother?

Some insights on this are given in the book Birthing a Slave: Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South, by Marie Jenkins Schwartz. The book tells the history of a somewhat esoteric subject: the need of slaveholders, and the doctors they hired, to control and manage the bodies and reproductive lives of slave women.

But while the subject is esoteric, the details of how this played out in plantation life are chilling and disturbing.

Birthing-a-Slave
Cover of Birthing a Slave: Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South by Marie Jenkins Schwartz.

The first chapter of the book, titled “Procreation,” has a gripping account of the stakes involved in the reproductive ability of slave women. I’ve provided some excerpts from that chapter below. Upon reading this, you will understand how lacking in humanity and dignity this peculiar institution was:

…an important aspect of slavery… has been all too often ignored: slaveholders expected to appropriate and exploit the reproductive lives of enslaved women. Control of one’s body was not a fundamental right of slaves. Emboldened by law and custom to do with human chattels as they wished, (slave) owners felt entitled to intervene in even the most intimate of matters. Women’s childbearing capacity became a commodity that could be traded on the open market.

During the antebellum era the expectation increased among members of the owning class that enslaved women would contribute to the economic success of the plantation not only through productive labor but also through procreation. The idea was at once both powerful and seductive and shaped the way women experienced enslavement, the way owners thought about the future of slavery, and the way doctors practiced medicine.

As of 1808, when Congress ended the nation’s participation in the international slave trade… the only practical way of increasing the number of slave laborers was through new births. If enslaved mothers did not bear sufficient numbers of children to take the place of aged and dying workers, the South could not continue as a slave society.
***

Women entering their childbearing years-especially those who had proven their fertility through the birth of a baby-sold easily and for a high price. Former slave Boston Blackwell, who witnessed the sale of two women in Memphis, Tennessee, reported that a girl of fifteen who had no children sold for $800, but a breeding woman sold for $1,500.

Human reproduction was so important to the continuation of slavery that members of the South’s ruling class willed their heirs the unborn children of slaves as well as living people. Anna Matilda King of Georgia assured her daughter that she would inherit not only the slave Christiann but also “her child and future children.” This wish to benefit future generations of slaveholding families pressed owners to look for ways of ensuring that enslaved mothers bore plenty of children. “If it was not for my children I would not care what became of the negroes,” Elizabeth Scott Neblett wrote her absent husband during the Civil War… Neblett maintained that she would gladly do without slaves to save the bother of managing them, but for her children’s sake she could not let them go.
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Truth, Lies, and a Black Confederate Soldiers Hoax; and the True Story of the Louisiana Native Guards

This is a lie:

Fake-Black-Confederates-Picture

This picture purports to show the 1st Louisiana Native Guard, a group of African American soldiers who supposedly served in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. It’s been used in numerous places, including Youtube videos here and here.

The picture has been used by pro-Confederate supporters for its propaganda value: the “fact” that blacks fought in the Confederate armed forces is offered as proof that the South was not fighting the Civil War to defend slavery, but rather, for their freedom or “states rights”… or something.

The problem with the picture is, it’s a fake. It’s a retouched version of this picture, which features a white Union official:
Real-Black-Confederate-picture

The picture was taken in Philadelphia, around 1864. It was eventually used to make an illustration for a Union recruitment poster that was targeted at blacks. The fascinating story of how this piece of history was made into a hoax is detailed at the site Retouching History: The Modern Falsification of a Civil War Photograph. As described at the site,

“In the past decade,” the Yale historian David Blight has recently written, “the neo-Confederate fringe of Civil War enthusiasm . . . has contended that thousands of African Americans, slave and free, willingly joined the Confederate war effort as soldiers and fought for their ‘homeland’ . . . . Slaves’ fidelity to their masters’ cause – – a falsehood constructed to support claims that the war was not about slavery – – has long formed one of the staple arguments in Lost Cause ideology.”

In this paper we discuss a graphic example of Blight’s contention by examining a Civil War-era posed studio photograph of black Union soldiers with a white officer. We maintain that this photograph has been deliberately falsified in recent years by an unknown person/s sympathetic to the Confederacy. This falsified or fabricated photo, purporting to be of the 1st Louisiana Native Guards (Confederate), has been taken to promote Neo-Confederate views, to accuse Union propagandists of duplicity, and to show that black soldiers were involved in the armed defense of the Confederacy.

The actual 1st Louisiana Native Guards, consisting of Afro-Creoles, was formed of about 1,500 men in April 1861 and was formally accepted as part of the Louisiana militia in May 1862. The Native Guards unit (one of three all-black companies) never saw combat while in Confederate service, and was largely kept at arm’s length by city and state officials; in fact, it often lacked proper uniforms and equipment.

“The Confederate authorities,” James Hollandsworth has written, “never intended to use black troops for any mission of real importance. If the Native Guards were good for anything, it was for public display; free blacks fighting for Southern rights made good copy for the newspapers.” The unit apparently was never committed to the Confederate cause, and appears to have disobeyed orders to evacuate New Orleans with other Confederate forces; instead it surrendered to Union troops in April 1862.

The photographs of the Louisiana Native Guards… show how a legitimate photograph can be altered and used to advance and support a particular contemporary political or ideological perspective in the present-day United States.

The group that was the focus of this hoax – the Louisiana Native Guard – makes for an interesting story in and of itself. The guard, which was a militia of the state of Louisiana, consisted of creole (mixed race) soldiers. On Nov. 23, 1861 – after the start of the Civil War – they made their debut, with a show of 33 black officers and 731 black enlisted men along the banks of the Mississippi River next to their white counterparts in the Louisiana militia.

Civil War historian James Hollandsworth wrote a book about these troops titled The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Experience during the Civil War. He noted:

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Julian Bond on Gay Rights and the Black Community

Julian Bond, the long time civil rights crusader and current chairman of the NAACP, is been an ardent supporter of gay rights. As noted in wikipedia,

Bond has been an outspoken supporter of the rights of gays and lesbians. He has publicly stated his support for same-sex marriage. Most notably he boycotted the funeral services for Coretta Scott King on the grounds that the King children had chosen an anti-gay megachurch. This was in contradiction to their mother’s longstanding support for the rights of gay and lesbian people.

In a 2005 speech in Richmond, VA, Bond stated: “African Americans … were the only Americans who were enslaved for two centuries, but we were far from the only Americans suffering discrimination then and now. … Sexual disposition parallels race. I was born this way. I have no choice. I wouldn’t change it if I could. Sexuality is unchangeable.”

In a 2007 speech on the Martin Luther King Day Celebration at Clayton State University in Morrow, GA, Bond said, “If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get gay married.” His positions have pitted elements of the NAACP against religious groups in the Black Civil Rights movement who oppose gay marriage…

Bond was recently interviewed by the student newspaper of Macalester College, and had this to say on the subject of gay rights and the black community:

Q: You’ve taken a very progressive stance on gay rights. Does gay rights fit under the larger umbrella of civil rights?

Bond: Sure.

Q: How would you gauge your organization’s success so far in conveying that message to its supporters?


Bond: It’s been mixed because most of our members and supporters are African American. They tend to be very conservative on these kinds of social issues. Many are tremendously religious, and their religion instructs some of them that homosexuality is wrong. I think we’ve tried to approach it by saying, “I’m not asking you to give up your religion, I’m asking you not to impose your religion on other people.” We have mixed success with this because you know some religious people think they can impose their religion on everybody. And they can’t.

And check out this related story from Jasmyne Cannick of the urbanthoughtcollective.com blog: The SCLC Fight Against Gay Marriage: a No Win Situation.

In Louisiana, a Great Racial Divide

In the 2008 presidential election, whites in Louisiana voted for Republican John McCain over Democrat Barack Obama by a margin of 84%-14%. Meanwhile, blacks voted for Obama over McCain by a margin of 94%-4%.

There is huge divide between blacks and whites in Louisiana. And it’s not just political.

A recent report titled A Portrait of LOUISIANA: Louisiana Human Development Report 2009 shows wide disparities in income, education, and life expectancy between blacks and whites in the state. The report is a product of the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation, the Foundation for the Mid South, Oxfam America, and the American Human Development Project, which did the research and wrote the report.

The findings of the report include:

• Median personal earnings for whites in Louisiana average $28,912, which is slightly above the national average. For African Americans, earnings are $17,010, comparable to U.S. median earnings in the mid- 1960s.

• Nearly one in three African American adults age 25 and over in Louisiana has not graduated from high school. (!!!)

• African Americans in Louisiana are less than half as likely to have completed college than their white counterparts.

• The average life span for African Americans in Louisiana today (72.2 years) is shorter than that of many developing nations, including Colombians, Vietnamese and Venezuela.

• The average life span of an African American in New Orleans is 69.3 years, nearly as low as life expectancy in North Korea, while the life expectancy for a white person is 79.6 years.

• Whites in Louisiana earning the least have wages and salaries on par with African Americans earning the most.

• Louisiana African American women have wages and salaries typical of those that prevailed in the U.S. in the 1950s.

• An African-American baby boy born today in Louisiana can expect to live 68.1 years, a life span shorter than that of the average American in 1960 and on par with that of men in Azerbaijan, Egypt and Jamaica today.

The economic disparity between blacks and whites in the state is illustrated by the following chart, which shows the percentage of Louisiana families that fall within various income groups.

State of Louisiana – Family Income of Whites and African Americans, 2007
Louisiana-Income-by-Race
In Louisiana, nearly 25 percent of white families percent have incomes of $100,000 or more, while about 7 percent have incomes below $15,000. The exact opposite is the case for African Americans.
Source: A Portrait Of Louisiana: Louisiana Human Development Report 2009

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Photo Exhibit: The Black South of Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange is a famous American photographer. She worked for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) during the 1930s, going across the country and taking pictures that documented the effects of the Great Depression on the American people.

She is most known for her Migrant Mother picture, which has been called “an iconic image of the Great Depression.” Lange’s work took her all over the South, where she took pictures of both struggling blacks and whites. Many of her FSA photographs are available from the Library of Congress’ online archives.

I used several of the photos to create this slideshow of black life in the South during the Great Depression.

There photographs are a vivid reminder of how tough those days were. But it’s notable that the black folks in these pictures look hardened, but not broken. They are lean, strong, and unbowed. Life is hard, and they accept it as such. Indeed, for many of them, a hard life is the only life they’ve known.

These pictures were taken in Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas during the mid to late 1930s.

The music is from a traditional spiritual performed by Texas gospel singer Blind Willie Johnson (vocal and guitar) and Willie B. Harris (vocal) in 1927. The song is titled “Keep Your Light Trimmed and Burning.”