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

Influenza/Pneumonia 1918-1919 Pandemic ; Kentucky ; African Americans

During the 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic, there was a belief among some health professionals in the United States that the death rate among African Americans was much less than the death rate among whites. There was also blame for the epidemic toward African Americans and immigrants. And, there were researchers who claimed the number of deaths among African Americans and other groups were underreported and undercounted.

[Sources: "State Health Board Makes Influenza Report," The Bourbon News, 12/31/1918, p.3; "The Defective Negro," pp.182-183 in The American Negro; as a dependent, defective, and delinquent by C. H. McCord; W. W. Oliver, "Spanish Influenza," Scientific American, v.199, no.18, pp.356 & 367, 11/02/1918; S. J. Holmes, "Differential Mortality in the American Negro (Concluded)," Human Biology, v.3, no.2, (May 1931), pp.203-244; and Epidemic and Opportunity: American Perceptions of the Spanish Influenza Epidemic by J. Chilcote (dissertation) online at UKnowledge]

In 1918, there were an estimated 20 million deaths worldwide due to influenza, with 477,467 of those deaths in the United States attributed to all forms of influenza and pneumonia. From Kentucky, 11,852 deaths were reported, and of that total, 1,713 were reported to be the deaths of Coloreds [African Americans].

The two illnesses, influenza and pneumonia, were reported together in the mortality statistics for the U.S. because of the number of influenza deaths that were due to pneumonia, and the number of deaths attributed to pneumonia that were thought to be knowingly or unknowingly also influenza. In the United States, the deaths occurred in two phases in 1918. What that looked like in Kentucky was 2,391 reported deaths during the months of January through August, and in the last four months of 1918, during the period referred to as the "Influenza Pandemic," there were 9,461 reported deaths. 

By the end of the year 1919, the number of reported deaths in Kentucky due to influenza/pneumonia, had decreased to 6,861. The number of deaths continued to decline the following year, but there were and still are influenza and pneumonia deaths in Kentucky. See the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for more historical and current information on influenza, flu, and pneumonia in the United States.

[Source: See pp.27-28 in the 19th Annual Report, Mortality Statistics for 1918, published by the Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, available online .pdf at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Vital Statistics of the United States: 1890-1938].

The number of deaths and the rate of deaths were different for every state. To read more about the impact of death among the races, see "There wasn't a lot of comforts in those days:" African Americans, public health, and the 1918 Influenza Epidemic," by V. N. Gamble in Public Health Reports, 2010, v.125 (Supplement 3), pp.114-122 [available online]; The Flu Epidemic of 1918: Americas Experience in the Global Health Crisis by S. Opdycke; War Department Annual Reports 1919, Volume I, Part 2, Report of the Surgeon General; E. O. Jordan, "Interepdemic Influenza" The American Journal of Hygiene, v.2, no.4, July 1922, pp.325-345; and C. R. Byerly, "The U.S. Military and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919," Public Health Reports, 2010, v.125 (Supplement 3), pp.82-91 [available online]; ].

KENTUCKY CENSUS DATA
  • 1910 STATE POPULATION    2,289,905
  •    White                                       2,027,951
  •    Colored                                      261,656
  •    All Others                                          298
  • 1920 STATE POPULATION     2,416,630
  •    White                                        2,180,560
  •    Colored                                       235,938
  •    All Others                                           132 
  • 1910 LOUISVILLE POPULATION  223,928
  •    White                                            183,390
  •    Colored                                          40,522
  •    All Others                                                2
  • 1920 LOUISVILLE POPULATION   234,891
  •    White                                             194,769
  •    Colored                                           40,087
  •    All Others                                               35             

Below is a table with data taken from the Annual Report, Mortality Statistics for the years 1916-1920. These annual reports (1890-1938) are available online at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Mortality Frequency Measures are also on the CDC website.

INFLUENZA/PNUEMONIA
KENTUCKY DEATHS
Death Rate 
Per 100,000 Population

1916

1917

1918

1919

1920

 NOTES

White 

 

 

40.1

 

23.0

 

1,844 Deaths
Jan-Aug

8,295 Deaths 
Sep-Dec

 

 

 

Colored

 

 

53.3

 

35.9

 

547 Deaths Jan-Aug

1,166 Deaths 
Sep-Dec

 

 

 

TOTAL

 

 

 

41.4

 

21.4

 

2,391 Deaths 
Jan-Aug

9,461 Deaths 
Sep-Dec

160.3
[6,861 Deaths
Jan-Dec]

 

75.9

 

1918

most deaths 20-29

yr. olds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Major Kentucky Cities
Death Rate
Based on 100,000+
Populations in 1910

 1916

 1917

 1918

 1919

 1920

 NOTES

Louisville

33.1 

 

14.5 

 

406 Deaths 
Jan-Aug

1,022 Deaths 
Sep-Dec

105.8 
[839 Deaths Jan-Dec]

42.9 

 

 1910 Pop. 223,928

Whites

29.4

 

9.6

 

261 Deaths 
Jan-Aug

828 Deaths 
Sep-Dec

 

38.9

 

 

Colored

50.1

 

38.0

 

145 Deaths 
Jan-Aug

194 Deaths 
Sep-Dec

 

62.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minor Kentucky Cities
Death Rate
Based on 10,000-100,000
Populations in 1910

 1916

 1917

 1918

 1919

 1920

 NOTES

Frankfort

63.2

35.8

 

 

 

1910 Pop.

10,465

Henderson

24.6

 

40.6

 

 

 

 

1910 Pop. 11,452

Owensboro

140.6
[Highest Rate in U.S.]

83.0
[2nd Highest Rate in U.S.]

 

 

 

1910 Pop. 16,011

Paducah

44.3

 

7.9

 

 

 

 

1910 Pop. 22,760

References

Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: The Bourbon news (newspaper)
NKAA Source: The American Negro; as a dependent, defective, and delinquent
NKAA Source: Scientific American (periodical)
NKAA Source: Human biology (periodical)
NKAA Source: Mortality statistics (annual)
NKAA Source: The Flu Epidemic of 1918: Americas experience in the global health crisis
NKAA Source: War Department annual reports
NKAA Source: The American journal of hygiene (periodical)
NKAA Source: Epidemic and opportunity: American perceptions of the Spanish Influenza Epidemic

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Influenza/Pneumonia 1918-1919 Pandemic ; Kentucky ; African Americans ,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed October 18, 2019, https://nkaa.uky.edu/nkaa/items/show/300003667.

Last modified: 2018-11-12 16:37:49