Hampton University launches National Center on African American Marriages and Parenting

Seventy-two percent of black babies are born to unmarried mothers today, according to government statistics. This number is inseparable from the work of Carroll, an obstetrician who has dedicated her 40-year career to helping black women.

“The girls don’t think they have to get married. I tell them children deserve a mama and a daddy. They really do,” Carroll says from behind the desk of her office, which has cushioned pink-and-green armchairs, bars on the windows, and a wooden “LOVE” carving between two African figurines. Diamonds circle Carroll’s ring finger.

As the issue of black unwed parenthood inches into public discourse, Carroll is among the few speaking boldly about it. And as a black woman who has brought thousands of babies into the world, who has sacrificed income to serve Houston’s poor, Carroll is among the few whom black women will actually listen to.

“A mama can’t give it all. And neither can a daddy, not by themselves,” Carroll says. “Part of the reason is because you can only give that which you have. A mother cannot give all that a man can give. A truly involved father figure offers more fullness to a child’s life.”

Statistics show just what that fullness means. Children of unmarried mothers of any race are more likely to perform poorly in school, go to prison, use drugs, be poor as adults, and have their own children out of wedlock.

The black community’s 72 percent rate eclipses that of most other groups: 17 percent of Asians, 29 percent of whites, 53 percent of Hispanics and 66 percent of Native Americans were born to unwed mothers in 2008, the most recent year for which government figures are available. The rate for the overall U.S. population was 41 percent.

Even in black churches, “nobody talks about it,” Carroll says. “It’s like some big secret.” But there are signs of change, of discussion and debate within and outside the black community on how to address the growing problem.

Research has increased into links between single-parent homes and poverty, scholars say. HBCU Hampton University recently launched a National Center on African American Marriages and Parenting. The center as instituted a Marry Your Baby Daddy Day and a Black Marriage Day, which aims “to make healthy marriages the norm rather than the exception.”

“There are a lot of sides to this,” Carroll says. “Part of our community has lost its way.”

There are simple arguments for why so many black women have children without marriage.

The legacy of segregation, the logic goes, means blacks are more likely to attend inferior schools. This creates a high proportion of blacks unprepared to compete for jobs in today’s economy, where middle-class industrial work for unskilled laborers has largely disappeared.

The drug epidemic sent disproportionate numbers of black men to prison, and crushed the job opportunities for those who served their time. Women don’t want to marry men who can’t provide for their families, and welfare laws created a financial incentive for poor mothers to stay single.

“It’s all connected. The question should be, how has the black family survived at all?” says Maria Kefalas, co-author of “Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage.”

The book is based on interviews with 162 low-income single mothers. One of its conclusions is that these women see motherhood as one of life’s most fulfilling roles – a rare opportunity for love and joy, husband or no husband.

On Facebook

0 Comments

  • Miosha74

    Reply Reply November 16, 2010

    The current state of affairs within the black community regarding marriage and family is a sad one. I do TRULY believe that the affects/effects of slavery are being overlooked and serves as an underline ‘foundation’ for this issue. This issue MUST be examined and talked about in order to understand from where this ‘phenomenon’ derives. I believe that once this issue has been examined we can start to SOLVE the problem

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field