Scott Joplin was the second of the six children born to Giles Joplin and Florence Givins near Linden, Texas. While for many years his date of birth was thought to be November 24, 1868, new research by ragtime historian Ed Berlin has revealed that this is inaccurate. Scott Joplin's exact date of birth and location is not known, though it is estimated that he was born between the summer of June 1867 and January 1868.
Joplin’s father, Giles, was a railroad laborer who was born into slavery and obtained his freedom five years before his son’s birth. Florence Givens Joplin was a freeborn black woman who worked as a laundress when not taking care of her children.
Scott Joplin’s siblings were Monroe, Robert, Rose, William, and Johnny. The first post-slavery generation of African Americans was represented clearly during the birth of Scott Joplin. When Joplin was seven years old, the family moved over to Texarkana where Giles was employed as a railroad employee and Florence took up cleaning and laundry washing as a source of additional income for the family.
The Joplins were a musical family, with Florence being a singer and banjo player and Giles a violinist; Scott learned how to play the guitar at a young age and later took to the piano, displaying a gift for the instrument.
At some point in the early 1880s, Giles Joplin left the family for another woman. His wife Florence struggled to support her children through domestic work. Biographer Susan Curtis speculated that the mother's support of Joplin's musical education was critical to the parents' separation. Joplin's father wanted the boy to pursue practical employment that would supplement the family income.