This idea is commonly held by both the majority culture and by Blacks themselves. I mean, we've all seen Roots. Kizzy gets sold, and Chicken George's family is scattered to the four winds. Seems a reasonable conclusion, then. Certainly white folks have no personal knowledge about this.
Roots is history, but it really isn't. For example, "jumping the broom" is a European, not African custom, although it is observed in Black America today compliments of Alex Haley, the author of Roots.
So out of driven curiosity, I researched the history of the American Black family for meself. Found a scholar named Herbert Gutman who discovered there was a grapevine network during slavery to keep track of family members.
So, slavery certainly fractured the family, but it didn't die. Anecdotally, after emancipation there were tales of Black men scouring the countryside for traces of their families.
But let's stick to facts. Move on to W.E.B. DuBois studying Black families in Philadelphia. As early as the 1890s, just 35-odd years after the death of slavery, Black marriage and family rates were already nearly the same as whites:
"DuBois finds the similarities in marital state
between blacks and whites surprising. He writes that
'On the whole it is noticeable that the conjugal
condition of the Negroes approaches so nearly that of
the whites, when the economic and social history of
the two groups has been so strikingly different'":
"...[I]t must be remembered that the Negro home and the
stable marriage state is for the mass of the colored
people...a new social institution. The strictly
guarded savage home life of Africa, which with all its
shortcomings protected womanhood, was broken up
completely by the slave ship, and the promiscuous
herding of the West Indian plantation....With
emancipation the Negro family was first made
independent and with the migration to cities we see
for the first time the thoroughly independent Negro
family. On the whole it is a more successful
institution than we had a right to expect..."--W. E. B. DuBois, The Philadelphia Negro: A social study.(1899)
Before we approach the 1960's, when a lot of funky social stuff happened, we see that Black and white marriage and illegitimacy rates are nearly identical. This is from Ebony Magazine:
"The percentage of Black women who are married
declined from 62 percent to 31 percent between 1950
and 2002." [The rate for whites in 1950 was 66%, not a statistically significant difference.---TVD]
"In 1963 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "I
Have a Dream" speech, more than 70 percent of all
Black families were headed by married couples. In 2002
that number was 48 percent."
"The Black family has crumbled more in the last 30
years than it did in the entire 14 decades since
slavery," says Dr. Julia Hare, author, psychologist
and executive director of San Francisco's the Black
So if I read my history right, the slave ships decimated the Black family, but Black folk adjusted to their heinous conditions, and after gaining their freedom quickly adapted to the American nuclear family structure.
The story of the American Black family is not an unbroken line from Kunta Kinte to 21st century baby daddies. Something happened in the 1960s, and I think we all know what it is. What's happened in these last 50 years has nothing to do with slavery and cannot be helped by politics. Social forces have threatened all families, but when whites sneeze, Blacks get pneumonia.
A call to return to the greatness Black America achieved, of adapting to an alien culture after being loosed from their chains with just the clothes on their backs, and not just surviving but thriving despite all the obstacles, seems to me a much finer message than one of perpetual hopelessness. I think mebbe there should be a march. A million men might show up to regain their legacy, one that was lost not so very long ago at all. Who knows?
I'm thinking mebbe whites should hold one, too. It's not like they're doing all that well, either.