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  • Cited by 20
  • Print publication year: 2002
  • Online publication date: March 2010

9 - The Quality of African-American Life in the Old Southwest near the Turn of the Twentieth Century



This chapter examines the quality of life of African–Americans in the historic West between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The primary data come from two sites: Cedar Grove Cemetery in rural southwest Arkansas, and Freedman's Cemetery, an urban graveyard located in downtown Dallas, Texas. We compare these skeletal series to archival and other demographic data sets and to a smaller composite skeletal series derived from sites in Illinois and the Great Plains. Issues examined include demography, childhood health and nutrition, growth and development, diet, infection, degenerative joint disease, and trauma. Since Freedman's Cemetery has a relatively precise chronology, the changing health of the African–American community in Dallas is emphasized. Key measures of health declined in urban Dallas during much of the late nineteenth century before improving at the turn of the century, a pattern that likely resulted from improvements in public health infrastructure.


Certainly for many inhabitants of Europe, emigration to the United States seemed a dream given form the American western frontier was a vast land of opportunity containing a wealth of exploitable resources. The essential story was the same from the founding of the American colonies, to the Virginians moving into the Appalachians, and finally on to the land rushes of the western prairies the frontier was where fortunes were to be made and, on a simpler level, where farmland could be obtained with little or no capital.