From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Foreign-born Negroes and Kentucky

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There had always been "foreign-born Negroes" in Kentucky, starting with the thousands of slaves who were born in African countries [see the NKAA entry Born in Africa, Born in Kentucky]. But, the U.S. Census term "foreign-born Negroes" did not include the slaves from Africa. The term was to include free persons born outside the U.S. who looked like they could be Negroes. There was nothing scientific about the classification. In 1910, the U.S. Census Bureau took a closer look at the foreign-born Negro population, though not because of the arbitrary classification, but rather, due to the size of the increase in the population numbers. The state of Kentucky was not a major player in the analysis. According to the book title Negro Population in the United States 1790-1915, pp.62-63, there were few foreign-born Negroes in Kentucky in 1910. Kentucky was one of three states where the numbers had actually decreased; for Kentucky, in 1900 there had been 72, and in 1910 there were 66 (p.61). Kentucky had the smallest negative growth in the number of foreign-born Negroes, followed by South Carolina, and Arizona. The South was not where most of the foreign-born Negroes lived. "In the South, as a whole, the number is so extremely small both absolutely and relatively as to be of no statistical importance." ~ [source: F. J. Brown, "Migration of colored population," Publications of the American Statistical Association, v.6, no.41, March 1898, pp.46-48]. At the turn of the century, the number of foreign-born Negroes went from being unimportant statistically to a population that needed to be looked at more closely. The book title, Negro Population in the United States 1790-1915, published by the Bureau of the Census in 1968, gives the 1910 U.S. foreign-born Negro population total as 40,339 which was almost twice as many as the 20,336 counted in 1900. In prior census records, the nativity of free Negroes in the United States had not been a concern. The numbers had steadily increased over time as the population as a whole increased. Still, in 1910 the foreign-born Negro population in the U.S. represented only 0.4 percent of the total Negro population (p.61). What changed was the greatest increase in numbers between 1900 and 1910 (see table below). The data were based on self-identification, visual observation, and one's understanding of who should be counted as a foreign-born Negro. In 1910 that group included persons from Canada and Newfoundland, Mexico, Central American, Cuba and other West Indies [minus Porto Rico], South American countries, European countries, China, Japan, other Asian countries, African countries (473), Australia, Atlantic Islands, Pacific Islands, and a few other places (p.63). The largest number of foreign-born Negroes were said to be from the non-U.S. areas of the Americas, with more than half from Cuba and the West Indies (24,426), followed by Canada and Newfoundland (6,775), and European countries (3,861). With the recognition of the increase in the number of foreign-born Negroes in 1910, there were scientific studies, articles, predictions, and conclusions about the population characteristics. One of the recognized authorities on the foreign-born Negro was Ira De Augustine Reid at Atlanta University, who wrote about the socialization process of the foreign-born Negro in the article "Negro Immigration to the United States," Social Forces, v.16, no.3, March 1938, pp.411-417. In New York City, the Negro Foreign Born Citizens' Alliance was formed to teach the new immigrants American ways [source: "Teach foreign born American ideals," Negro Star, 07/02/1920, p.2]. Meanwhile, in Kentucky there continued to be 100 or less foreign-born Negroes, with most living in Louisville [source: Negroes in the United States, 1920-1932, by C. E. Hall, Specialist in Negro Statistics, Bureau of the Census]. And though they were few in number in Kentucky, the term "foreign negroes" sometimes included those who were born in another state and were brought into Kentucky for labor purposes. "There are over one hundred and fifty negroes in Knott [County], descendants of slaves of the white population, and a few negro families in Owsley and Leslie, who are well regarded as old respectable citizens, and favorably contrasted with the "foreign" negroes brought into the mining camps in adjacent counties." ~ [quote source: The Quarterly Bulletin of the Frontier Nursing Service, Inc., v.17, no.4, Spring 1942, p.33 (online at Explore UK)]. The term 'foreign Negro" was also used during the period of higher education desegregation in Kentucky to differentiate them from American born Negroes. "In January [1960] the Board accepted Johnson’s proposal to “adopt some form of mild integration” by a vote of 16 to 7. The plan was to accept “foreign Negroes” without restriction, and to accept American Blacks if they were preparing for Christian service and married. These provisions were designed to meet objections to inter-racial dating and to having black students living in the dormitories." ~ [quote source: Asbury University: History website]. For more see "The Foreign born and Negro population of the United States," The Scientific Monthly, v.11, no.3, September 1920, pp.284-287; S. A. Stouffer, "Problems in the application of correlation to sociology," Journal of the American Statistical Association, v.29, no.185, Supplement: Proceedings of the American Statistical Journal (Mar., 1934), pp. 52-58; B. Malzberg, "Mental disease among native and foreign-born Negroes in New York State," The Journal of Negro Education, v.25, no.2, Spring 1956, pp.175-181; "The Negro Immigrant in New York." Editor: Roi Ottley. Reporter: Harry Robinson. Date: June 26, 1939. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division, The New York Public Library. The New York Public Library Digital Collections.; Making Americans: immigration, race, and the origins of the diverse democracy by D. King; The Negro Immigrant: his background, characteristics, and social adjustment, 1899-1937 by I. D. Reid; and V. S. Johnson, "When Blackness stings: African and Afro-Cuban immigrants, race, and racism in late Twentieth-Century America," Journal of American Ethnic History, v.. 36, no. 1, Fall 2016, pp. 31-62.


Data from Table 1 on p.61 in Negro Population in the United States 1790-1915.




Cited in this Entry

NKAA Entry: Born in Africa, Born in Kenucky
NKAA Source: Negro Population in the United States 1790-1915
NKAA Source: Publications of the American Statistical Association (serial)
NKAA Source: Social forces (periodical)
NKAA Source: The Negro star (newspaper)
NKAA Source: Negroes in the United States, 1920-1932
NKAA Source: The Quarterly bulletin of the Frontier Nursing Service, Inc. (periodical)
NKAA Source: The Scientific monthly (periodical)
NKAA Source: Journal of the American Statistical Association (periodical)
NKAA Source: The Journal of Negro education (periodical)
NKAA Source: Making Americans: immigration, race, and the origins of the diverse democracy
NKAA Source: The Negro immigrant: his background, characteristics, and social adjustment, 1899-1937
NKAA Source: Journal of American ethnic history (periodical)
NKAA Source: Negro Population in the United States 1790-1915

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“Foreign-born Negroes and Kentucky,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed October 19, 2017,

Last modified: 2017-07-19 13:52:01