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Biracial Prentices in Census Records

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Biracial Prentices in Census Records
By Linus Joseph Dewald Jr., Editor
Spring 2009 and Revised 30 Jan 2009

In reviewing census records, we noted that some Prentices have been identified as "White", "Black" or "Mulatto"

We found the followng interesting information about racial classifications in census records at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/10/books/chapters/1st-chapter-sellout.html?pagewanted=2&ref=review. It reads, in part, as follows:

    "Between 1850 and 1920, the United States Census demarcated a category for the "mulatto." Enumerators were initially given virtually no guidance; they used their own judgment, mainly based on appearance, to determine who was "black" as opposed to "mulatto." In 1870, census officials noted that the "mulatto" category included "quadroons, octoroons and all persons having any perceptible trace of African blood." In 1890, officials supplemented the "white," "black," and "mulatto" categories with two new classifications that had previously been subsumed within the definition for mulatto. They admonished enumerators to:

      "[b]e particularly careful to distinguish between blacks, mulattoes, quadroons, and octoroons. The word "black" should be used to describe those persons who have three-fourths or more black blood; "mulatto," those persons who have three-eighths to five-eighths black blood; "quadroon," those persons who have one-fourth black blood; and "octoroon," those persons who have one-eighth or any trace of black blood."

    "At no point were enumerators provided with a methodology for extracting this information or discerning these differences.. .

    "The baleful efflorescence of racist sentiments in the post-World War I era prompted the Census Bureau to simplify its stratification of the American pigmentocracy. After 1920, the Bureau ceased enumerating mulattoes. It adopted the one-drop rule, declaring that persons of "mixed blood" would be "classified according to the nonwhite racial strain ... [A person] of mixed white ... and Negro ... is classified as ... a Negro ... regardless of the amount of white blood [he carries]." Under the new regime, writes Professor Joel Williamson, "all Negroes did look alike. On the one side, there were simply Negroes, and on the other the melting pot was busy making everyone [else, except Asians] simply white. Obviously the Bureau was quite willing to add its strength to the effort to create a simply biracial America.". . .

To the above, we would add that in the 2000 census, the Bureau retreated to a less rigid stratification. The 2000 census forms provided both a racial category and an ethnic category. People were permitted to self-identify their own ethnic and racial origin. For example, one identifying his ethnic roots as "Hispanic" was placed in whatever racial classification he chose for himself, usually "White".


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