Northern Free Black Occupational Patterns and Housing Patterns

The reading for this week was The Northern Free Black Occupational and Housing Patterns. There were two sections of the reading, the employment and the housing of free African-Americans in urban cities.  The overall goal of the reading was to highlight the injustice and the segregation that free blacks faced both economically and socially during the 19th century.

The first section of the reading focuses on the role urban cities played in the life of African-Americans. Urban cities represented the heart of economic activity and during the 19th century if anyone was seeking work opportunities there best chances were in the cities, but that was not the case for many free African-Americans. The difficulties the black community faced when seeking work opportunities were due to the legal segregation between whites and blacks. For instance, the reading  gave us examples of how states would pass legislators that would hinder an African-Americans economic enterprise. One example was prohibiting free blacks from obtaining a liquor licence. As a result, blacks could not own grocery stores because a grocery was usually considered the source of selling liquor. This shows how one law could affect the black community in multiple ways. Another goal of the reading was to show the devaluing of many blacks. For example, blacks whose occupation were doctors or dentists were not recorded in the census as having professional careers but rather as cabinet makers or barbers. Unfortunately, this shows that many free blacks were neither recognized for their hard work nor successful at always getting the jobs they wanted. However, in many southern cities at least more than one half of blacks were finding occupation in jobs that were promising economic advances than in northern cities like Albany, where less than one-half of blacks were finding the same type of jobs.

The second half of the reading was about the housing condition of African-Americans.  Two reasons for their  living condition were landlords would rather rent to a white family or they would refuse to have black tenants. Many of this type of discriminatory attitude were often seen outside of the designated black districts. The reading states that some  African-American had to live in alleys, courts or in the back of buildings and they struggled to keep a clean/healthy home. In places such as Albany in the 1830’s the worst location had the cheapest building and was near the Capitol, it was home to both the blacks and the poor whites. Another point the reading makes is the difference  between the amount of blacks in a home vs. the amount listed in the directory. For example, in Albany four or more blacks who shared the same address would be recorded as one. These incomplete data would present a disadvantage when trying to look at black residential patterns in antebellum cities, but could also be an advantage when looking at head of households rather than the whole population.

The reading shows the obstacles African-Americans faced when trying to gain economic prosperity and the ways in which different cities would enact legislation to hinder blacks. Ultimately, resulted in the limiting of black employment and  benefiting gained by their white competitors. The reading also discusses the living condition of the black districts which often varied from city to city, but either way the bigger the city the more likely African-Americans were confined to smaller badly maintained homes.


  1. Why were their more job opportunity in southern cities than in northern cities?
  2. Why was there a disproportion in the number of African-American in a home vs. the number listed in the directory?
  3. How might living in only black districts affect African-Americans?