Document 17F: Walter A. Terpenning, "God's Chillun," Birth Control Review, 16, no. 6 (June 1932): 171-72.

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God's Chillun


THE city of Kalamazoo, Michigan, has a Negro population of 1800, segregated mainly in two neighborhoods, although a few are scattered in other parts of the town. The districts which they occupy are, as usual, the least desirable in the city. The buildings are old and rickety, streets mostly unpaved and poorly lighted, and the general conditions unsanitary and not conducive to decent living.

   The Negroes are discriminated against in industry, and most of them have to depend upon odd jobs and domestic service. Even in such work they are rapidly being replaced by foreigners and other white workers. As a result, a degrading poverty, with its usual concomitants of overcrowding, undernourishment, disease, and delinquency, is general among them.

   Although the community gives the usual Northern lip-service to the ideal of social equality, the whites discriminate against the colored in ways which make life less pleasant for the latter than in Southern states, where the discrimination is taken for granted. A striking example is the fact that the colored people receive less than the share of charitable aid which would be justified by their comparative numbers in the general population, to say nothing of their much greater poverty. An interracial committee has been formed to try to ameliorate the conditions of colored citizens, but has accomplished nothing beyond getting the names of the members in the paper.

   Many of the colored citizens are fine specimens of humanity. A good share of them, however, constitute a large percentage of Kalamazoo's human scrap-pile. Four of seven children of one family, for example, have been, or are, inmates of the state industrial school, and the others likely to become such later. One member of another family of six children is in the home for the feebleminded, another a cripple, and the remaining four are little, underfed weaklings. Another family of seven children has two in the reform school, and all have been dependent on charity during the six years acquaintance of the Secretary of the Douglass Community Association. Families of seven or eight are not uncommon, and such families are often among the least desirable stocks and those among whom greatest poverty exists.

   The secretary of the Douglass Community Association thinks his people are more in need of the knowledge of birth control than any other group of citizens, but admits that their ignorance of the subject is almost general. He thinks their prejudice

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against its practice would be less than among other classes, and the need of it in direct proportion to their greater poverty, a poverty which is enhanced by the handicap of race prejudice. The birth of a colored child, even to parents who can give it adequate support, is pathetic in view of the unchristian and undemocratic treatment likely to be accorded it at the hands of a predominantly white community, and the denial of choice in propagation to this unfortunate class is nothing less than barbarous. The size of the colored population is kept down, not by a low birth rate, but mainly by the brutal and barbarous checks of malnutrition, disease and death. These crude checks must give place to the more humane provision of birth control, and the denial of the knowledge of such provision is one of the most hypocritical and savage illustrations of man's inhumanity to man. As among the whites, there are cases of degenerate Negroes whose propagation will be checked only by sterilization or institutionalization, but the practice of birth control among the majority of colored people would probably be more eugenic than among their white compatriots. The dissemination of the information of birth control should have begun with this class rather than with the upper social and economic classes of white citizens.


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