A Study of Growth and Resilience Among Historic African American Populations at the Turn of the Twentieth Century




Wolfe, Christopher A.

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A child’s growth rate is perhaps the best means to gauge a population’s health and nutritional status. The growth and development of human populations is a direct result of genetic and non-genetic factors acting in conjunction to alter growth trajectories and developmental timing. The purpose of this study is to address the non-genetic factors of human growth and to examine the effect of structural violence in the form of environmental instability and economic disparity on human growth patterns. To do so, this study examines the growth rates of historical African American subadults from Freedman’s Cemetery in Dallas, Texas, Cedar Grove Cemetery in Cedar Grove, Arkansas, and a series of two cemeteries in Chatham County, Georgia, for evidence of growth stunting compared to modern population standards. This thesis addresses the historical circumstance of these populations in relation to its biological consequence on growth and discusses these results in light of literature within structural violence, developmental health, and resilience theory. Results indicate populations of historic African Americans at the turn of the 20th Century underwent episodes of stunting early in life, followed by a stabilization of growth shortly after the weaning period, and catch-up growth that leads to adolescent and terminal adult stature similar to modern comparative populations. Given the immense burden of racism, structural violence, and demographic change, it is surprising that these populations of historic African Americans do not show increased levels of stunting throughout the growth period. These results corroborate recent literature in human biology, economics, and skeletal biology, and expound the need for continued research into the disentanglement of the genetic, cultural, and environmental components of human growth.



Growth and development, Historic African American, Resilience, Skeletal biology, Bioarchaeology


Wolfe, C. A. (2017). <i>A study of growth and resilience among historic African American populations at the turn of the twentieth century</i> (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


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