by Candice M. Jenkins
Scholars of black life and culture have taken an interest in the notion of “family” from at least the turn of the twentieth century; W. E. B. Du Bois’s groundbreaking sociological study The Philadelphia Negro (1899) devoted a chapter to “the Negro Family,” which explored everything from typical urban family size (significantly smaller than families in rural areas), variations in family income and expenditures across classes, and details of family life, including various types of cohabitation and child rearing. Notes Du Bois, “The home was destroyed by slavery, struggled up after emancipation, and is again not exactly threatened, but neglected in the life of city Negroes” ( 1996, 196). This emphasis on the deleterious consequences of slavery and plantation life for the black family forms a through line from Du Bois to later sociological and historical studies, perhaps most famously E. Franklin Frazier’s comprehensive The Negro Family in the United States (1939), which argued that black family life had been deeply affected by slavery’s abuses and that the resultant fracturing of the nuclear family structure continued to reverberate in the black community of the early twentieth century.