Race boxes in US censuses, 1790-2020
Two centuries of creeping government racialization
By William Wetherall
Drafted 9 September 2013
First posted 23 September 2014
Last updated 14 February 2021
Personal information and other census data
Reliability of census data
Racial classifications 1790-1820 • 1830 • 1840-1850 • 1860 • 1870 • 1880 • 1890 • 1900 • 1910 • 1920 • 1930 • 1940 • 1950 • 1960 • 1970 • 1980 • 1990 • 2000 • 2010 • 2020
National censuses have been taken in the United States every 10 years since 1790. By law they are open to public examination after 70 years, hence 1940 is the latest available census. Enumeration standards have changed over the decades, and earlier censuses were not complete.
The "as of dates" of "datums" of censuses have varied as follows.
1st-4th 1790-1820 1st Monday in August 5th-10th 1830-1880 1 June (Datum 31 May) 11th 1890 2 June 12th 1900 1 June 13th 1910 15 April 14th 1920 1 January From 15th 1930- 1 April
The datum date determines a person's qualification for inclusion in the census as well as the person's age. Say that, in 1920, the population of a certain locality was enumerated on 12 January. Since the datum of the census was 1 January, someone born on 2 January, or who was living somewhere else on 1 January, should not have been counted. And a person born on 7 January 1910 would have been considered 9 rather 10 years old, based on their last birthday before the datum.
In addition to national censuses every 10 years, a few states have carried out full or partial censuses between the national censuses. Iowa, for example, conducted its own censuses in the following years.
1856 80 of 81 organized counties (community sheets) 1885 All 99 counties (community sheets) 1895 1905 All 99 counties (individual cards) 1915 All 99 counties (individual cards) 1925 All 99 counties (community sheets)
Iowa stands out as a very pro-census state. The nativity data on its 1925 census includes not only the places of birth but the names of a person's parents and where they were married.
Personal information and other census data
Enumeration standards evolved as quickly as the growing and spreading nation, and each census has been from slightly to radically different that earlier censuses. There are, however, some notable trends in the kinds of personal information and other data collected by census takers.
The censuses from 1790 to 1840 are valuable for many purposes, but they centered on information about households rather than about their individuals. They enumerated the name of the head of each household, but little personal information about the head. Other household members are reflected only as tallies broken down by sex and age-group within status categories like free whites, slaves, free colored people, and non-taxed Indians.
The status and age-group breakdowns become increasingly detailed. To the extent they characterize each household, they sometimes allow one to speculate as to whether the household in one census is the same as the household in a later household.
From 1850, censuses began list individuals within households, and provide information about each individual. From this point, censuses become valuable as sources of information on individuals. It also becomes easier to differentiate households with heads having similar names.
The 1850 and 1860 censuses show the name of the head of each household, followed by the name of each member of the household, and the sex, age, and color (white, black, mulatto), of each free inhabitant, plus columns for other information about each member, including whether the person was deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, a pauper, or a convict. These two censuses had separate slave schedules, which had columns for writing the name of the slave owner, and the age, sex, and color (but not the name) of each slave, and whether the slave had become a fugitive from the state, or had been manumitted, or was deaf and dumb, blind, insane, or idiotic.
Since 1870, following the emancipation of slaves after the Civil War of the 1860s, censuses have included all people by name, showing their sex, age, and color (white, black, mulatto, Chinese, Indian). The color classification on the 1890 census included white, black, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, Chinese, Japanese, or Indian. However, practically all of the 1890 census was destroyed in a fire, hence its data is unavailable.
Knowing a person's "nativity" -- where the person was born -- is a very valuable piece of information. But knowing also the nativity of a person's parents can help differentiate people with similar names and otherwise similar identities. The 1880 census began showing nativity breakdowns by the places of birth of the person, and of the person's mother and father.
Censuses from 1900 had a column for "Color or race". While earlier "color" categories are also clearly racial, the "racialization" of people began to embrace also "national origin" within broader skin-color classifications -- such as "Chinese" in the 1860 and 1870 censuses, and "Japanese" in the 1890 census.
The 1930 and 1940 censuses, following several earlier censuses, had supplementary schedules for the American Indian population, defined as Indians enrolled as members of federally recognized tribes. Indians on these separate schedules were classified by sex, age, and whether they were "full blood or mixed blood". This is partly due to the declaration by the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act that all therebefore non-citizen Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States were thereafter citizens of the United States.
Non-citizen Indians, who were not taxed, usually lived on reservations, where they were formally affiliated with a tribe and were subject to its jurisdiction. Citizen Indians lived in, and were regarded as part of, the general population, and were subject to the same treatment as other citizens, including taxation. However, an increasing number of non-citizen Indians had moved off their reservation and were living in the general population.
Reliability of census data
Census data is subject to all manner errors, especially spelling errors. Census enumerators often spelled names the way they sounded to their ear, without confirming their spellings with the family informant -- assuming informant knew the spellings.
Place of birth, and places of birth of parents, are subject to misreporting and misrecording. Informants relied on memory, including memory of hearsay information, and there are cases when memory and hearsay information changes from census to census.
Sex, age, marital status, and race are also subject to erroneous reporting or recording. Reliability is limited by the nature of the classification.
Sex, age, and marital status
Sex, allowing for the lack of categories for rare cases of people who weren't unequivocally either male or female, was perhaps the easiest trait to accurately classify. Age was subject to errors of memory and calculation, but the effects of such errors on age-group breakdowns is negligible. Marital status was accurate to the extent that people didn't lie about their status -- such as by claiming they were married, single, or widowed, rather than admit they were divorced. All census reports I have seen on my own ancestral relatives, however, suggests that people frankly disclosed their actual status.
Race -- despite attempts by race scientists to objectively define racial classifications -- was subject to extremely impressionistic judgments, especially for persons whose features allowed them, or the enumerator, a degree of freedom in choice of classification. This was especially the case for putatively "mixed" persons, but some people who did not think of themselves as "mixed" -- such as an "Chinese" or "White" -- might also be misclassified.
Changes in racial classifications on United States censuses tell the history of the official racialization of the country, from its establishment on the foundations of slavery, to the shackles of federal race boxes today.
The information in the following table is based mainly on direct examination of censuses from 1810-1940 (except 1890, which was destroyed in a fire), and the following publication, which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Census Bureau (1902-2002), formerly the Census Office.
Measuring America 2002
Measuring America: The Decennial Censuses From 1790 to 2000
U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau
Washington, D.C.: April 2002
140, 6 pages, PDF file
Also of interest are the following publications.
Indian Affairs Report 1876
Commissioner for Indian Affairs, Office of Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior
The Annual Report of the Commissioner for Indian Affairs to the Secretary of the Interior for the Year 1876
Washington: Government Printing Office, 1876
XXV, 357 pages (archive.org)
Hochschild and Powell 2008
Jennifer L. Hochschild and Brenna M. Powell
Racial Reorganization and the United States Census 1850-1930: Mulattoes, Half-Breeds, Mixed Parentage, Hindoos, and the Mexican Race
Studies in American Political Development
Volume 22, Number 1 (Spring 2008)
Pages 59-96 (Jennifer L. Hochschild, Harvard College
The following website has images of census forms and scans of enumerator instructions for all United States censuses from 1850 to 2010.
Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS)
Minnesota Population Center, University of Minnesota
United States census categories related to status, color, or race, 1790-2020
The evolution of America's obsession with skin color and ethnonational ancestry
|1790-1840 Free white, 1850-1880 Color, 1890-1940 Color or race, 1950 Race, 1960-1970 Color or race, 1980 Is this person, 1990-2020 Race|
|1790||Free white males (≥16, <16), Free white females, All other free persons (sex, color), Slaves|
|1800||Free white males (age), Free white females (age), All other free persons (except Indians not taxed), Slaves|
|1810||Free white males (age), Free white females (age), All other free persons (except Indians not taxed), Slaves|
Free white males (age), Free white females (age), Slaves (sex, age), Free colored persons (sex, age), All others except Indians not taxed
Foreigners not naturalized (White persons)
Indians not taxed
"Indians not taxed" referred to Indians who were living on a reservation under tribal jurisdiction, who were therefore not U.S. citizens. "Taxed Indians" lived as U.S. citizens outside reservations, where they were subject to federal, state, and other applicable laws, and paid taxes like other citizens.
Foreigners not naturalized
The term seems odd, since a foreigner who naturalizes is no longer a foreigner.
Free white persons, Slaves, Free colored persons, Slaves (all by sex and age)
Deaf and dumb, blind (White persons, Slaves and colored persons)
Aliens -- Foreigners not naturalized (White persons)
First use of uniform schedule
Previously, the states or census marshalls produced their own schedules.
Deaf and dumb, and Aliens
The 1830 census included spaces to tally -- in the words of Measuring America -- "the number of White persons and of "slaves and colored persons," aged under 14 years, 14 and under 25, and 25 years and upward, who were deaf and dumb, but without distinction of sex in either case, and also the number of each of these two classes named who were blind, but without distinction of sex or age; and a statement, of White persons only, who were aliens, i.e., foreigners not naturalized" (Measuring America 2002: 7).
|1840||Free white persons, Free colored persons, Slaves (all by sex and age)|
6. Color -- (White, black, or mulatto)
13. Deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper, or convict
Names of household members listed
Censuses through 1840 showed only the name of the head of each household, followed by the number members in each household broken down by status and sex, and within each status and sex category by gradually more detailed age groups.
Censuses from 1850 showed the names of all members of each household, beginning with the head of the household, usually a male, followed by his wife, then his children in the order of their birth, then others living in the household, including relatives, servants, and non-relative boarders. Each individual was identified a number of traits, which eventually included their relation to the head of household (wife, son, daughter, mother-in-law, servant, boarder, et cetera), sex, age at time of census, color or race, and marital status -- and other traits depending on the particular census.
Census divided into separate "Free" and "Slave" schedules
From 1850, the census was divided into separate "Free Inhabitants" and "Slave Inhabitants" schedules.
"Color" introduced as new classification
Both the "Free Inhabitants" and "Slave Inhabitants" schedules had a "Color" classification.
First "Color" breakdown was White, Black, and Mulatto
The instructions enumerators received regarding entries in the "Color" space for each enumerated person were somewhat different in the two schedules..
"Color" on "Free Inhabitants" schedule
Marshalls and assistants received the following instruction the "Color" column on the "Free Inhabitants" schedule (Measuring America 2002: 10, IPUMS 1850).
6. Under heading 6, entitled "Color," in all cases where the person is white, leave the space blank; in all cases where the person is black, insert the letter B; if mulatto, insert M. It is very desirable that these particulars be carefully regarded.
"Color" on "Free Inhabitants" schedule
Enumerators of the "Slave Inhabitants" schedule received the following instructions concerning "Color" (Measuring America 2002: 12).
Under heading 5, entitled "Color," insert in all cases, when the slave is black, the letter B; when he or she is mulatto, insert M. The color of all slaves should be noted.
No mention is made of "white", which is not to rule out the existence, still, if indentured (not free) whites. If they were found, presumably the "Color" space was left blank, as on the Free Inhabitants schedule.
Rationale for "Mulatto" as sub-classification of "Color"
The justification for including "Mulatto" in the "Color" breakdown the desire of race scientists to attempt to determine the degree to which the "black" population -- defined by a "one-drop" rule -- had become mixed. Some scientists also thought that -- in conjunction with data on birth, death, and marriage, and whether a person was deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, a pauper, or a convict -- blood quanta data might shed light on the extent to which racially mixed people might be physically or mentally, if not also morally, degenerate. (See Hochschild and Powell 2008 a detailed overview of the debate over the purpose and usefulness of "Mulatto" data.)
Indians not taxed
Enumerators of the "Free Inhabitants" schedule were explicitly instructed that "Indians not taxed are not to be enumerated in this or any other schedule" (Measuring America 2002: 10).
Persons who cannot read or write, and anyone deaf and dumb, et cetera
The 1850 census enumerated "Persons over 20 years of age who can not read and write" and anyone who was "Deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper, or convict" (Measuring America 2002: 11)
6. Color -- (White, Black, or Mulatto)
13. Whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper, or convict.
Taxed (citizen) Indians classified as "Indian"
From the 1860 census, enumerators were instructed to classify a "Taxed Indian" as "Indian". "Taxed Indians" were Indians who lived as U.S. citizens outside Indian reservations and were subject to U.S. laws and courts -- as opposed to "Indians not taxed", who generally lived on reservations, and were under tribal jurisdiction and hence were not U.S. citizens. In earlier censuses, taxed Indians had been classified as "White".
Enumerator instructions read as follows (IPUMS 1860).
5. Indians. -- Indians not taxed are not to be enumerated. The families of Indians who have renounced tribal rule, and who under State or Territorial laws exercise the rights of citizens, are to be enumerated. In all such cases write "Ind." opposite their names, in column 6, under heading "Color."
9. Color. -- Under heading 6, entitled "Color," in all cases where the person is white leave the space blank; in all cases where the person is black without admixture insert the letter "B;"if a mulatto, or of mixed blood, write "M;"if an Indian, write "Ind." It is very desirable to have these directions carefully observed.
The 1860 census, like the 1850 census, also had a "Slave Inhabitants" schedule separate from the "Free Inhabitants" schedule. The enumerator instructions read as follows (IPUMS 1860).
5. Color.-- Under heading 5, entitled "Color," insert, in all cases where the slave is black, the letter "B." When he or she is a mulatto insert "M." You are to note the color of every slave. Those who are in any degree of mixed blood are to be termed mulatto, "M."
6. Color -- White (W.), Black (B.), Mulatto (M.), Chinese (C.), Indian (I.)
18. Whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane, or idiotic.
"Chinese" and "Indian" added to "Color" Classifications
From the 1870 census, "Chinese" and [American] "Indians" became permanent subclassifications of "Color".
"any perceptible trace of African blood"
Marshalls and assistants enumerating the general "Inhabitants" schedule [Schedule 1] received the following instructions concerning the "Color" column (Measuring America 2002: 14, IPUMS 1870).
Color. -- It must not be assumed that, where nothing is written in this column, "White" is to be understood. The column is always to be filled. Be particularly careful in reporting the class Mulatto. The word is here generic, and includes quadroons, octoroons, and all persons having any perceptible trace of African blood. Important scientific results depend upon the correct determination of this class in schedules 1 [Inhabitants] and 2 [Mortality].
Deaf and dumb, et cetera
Instructions concerning deafness and dumbness, among other physical handicaps, were very specific (Measuring America 2002: 15).
Deaf and dumb, Blind, Insane, or Idiotic.. -- Great care will be taken in performing this work of enumeration, so as at once to secure completeness and avoid giving offense. Total blindness and undoubted insanity only are intended in this inquiry. Deafness merely, without the loss of speech, is not to be reported. The fact of idiocy will be better determined by the common consent of the neighborhood, than by attempting to apply any scientific measure to the weakness of the mind or will.
The census had a column called "Constitutional Relations" for specifying the relationship between an enumerated person and the Constitution of the United States -- i.e., whether the person was a citizen, and the quality of the person's citizenship (Measuring America 2002: 15).
Instructions concerning "Indians" makes reference to the "statistical purposes" of accurately classifying "Indians" wherever they are found (Measuring America 2002: 15, IPUMS 1870).
Indians. -- "Indians not taxed" are not to be enumerated on schedule 1 [Inhabitants]. Indians out of their tribal relations, and exercising the rights of citizens under state or Territorial laws, will be included. In all cases write "Ind." in the column for "Color." Although no provision is made for the enumeration of "Indians not taxed," it is highly desirable, for statistical purposes, that the number of such persons ["Indians not taxed"] not living upon reservations should be known. Assistant marshals are therefore requested, where such persons ["Indians no taxed"] are found within their subdivisions, to make a separate memorandum of names, with sex and age, and embody the same in a special report to the census office.
4. Color -- White, W.; Black, B.; Mulatto, Mu.; Chinese, C.; Indian, I.
16. Blind, 17. Deaf and Dumb, 18. Idiotic, 19. Insane, 20. Maimed, Crippled, Bedridden, or otherwise disabled
"Important scientific results"
Instructions to enumerators continue to stress that "important scientific results" depend on careful reporting of the blood quanta of persons in "the class mulatto" (IPUMS 1880).
Color. -- It must not be assumed that, where nothing is written in this column, "white" is to be understood. The column is always to be filled. Be particularly careful in reporting the class mulatto. The word is here generic, and includes quadroons, octoroons, and all persons having any perceptible trace of African blood. Important scientific results depend upon the correct determination of this class in schedules 1 [Population] and 5 [Manufacturing].
New Indian policy principles
In The Annual Report of the Commissioner for Indian Affairs to the Secretary of the Interior for the Year 1876, the Commissioner for Indian Affairs, Office of Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior stated that the department should adopt the following three policy principles (Indian Affairs Report 1876: VII).
First. Concentration of all Indians on a few reservations.
The report includes statistics on the populations by Males, Females, Total, and Number of Mixed-Bloods for the tribes of each agency by state. There were a total of 266,151 Indians in the United States exclusive of Alaska, of whom 40,639 (15.3 percent) are "mixed-bloods" and 104,818 (39.4%) wear "citizens' dress" (Indian Affairs Report 1876: 222, my percents).
"Indian Division" questionnaire
The 1880 census, reflecting the desire of the Interior Department to have demographic data on Indians, included a special "Indian Division" questionnaire for enumerating Indians living on reservations -- i.e., Indians not taxed. Data included whether the Indian was of full or mixed blood, had been adopted into the tribe, the time the person had lived on a reservation, and the time the person had worn "citizens' dress" -- among numerous other questions (Measuring America 2002: 21).
5. Color or race -- Whether white, black, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, Chinese, Japanese, or Indian
"Color" becomes "Color or race
"Quadroon" and "octoroon" join "mulatto" as black-blood quanta
"Japanese" joins "Chinese" as raciopigmental subclassification
The instructions to enumerators of the general schedule for the 1890 census read as follows (Measuring America 2002: 27, IPUMS 1890).
4. Whether white, black, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon,
Chinese, Japanese, or Indian.
Federal government privatizes tribal lands
The Dawes Severalty Act of 1887, which authorized a government survey of Indian tribal lands with the object of dividing them into parcels for allotment to individual Indians who would thereby own the parcel in severalty.
Severalty refers to terms of ownership in which a person possesses full and exclusive legal rights to a parcel of land. The 1887 act attached the condition that an Indian who wished to receive such an allotment of land had to agree to be a U.S. citizen, and thereby be subject to the laws and courts of the state and federal governments, rather to tribal laws.
This move on the part of the federal government also resulted in a special survey of Indians in conjunction with the 1890 census. The introduction to the census includes the following remarks, among others, on Indians (Measuring America 2002: 24).
By the phrase "Indians not taxed" is meant Indians living on reservations under the care of Government agents or roaming individually or in bands over unsettled tracts of country. Indians not in tribal relations, whether full-bloods or half-breeds, who are found mingled with the white population, residing in white families, engaged as servants or laborers, or living in huts or wigwams on the outskirts of towns or settlements, are to be regarded as a part of the ordinary population of the country, and are to be embraced by the enumeration.
|1900||5. Color or Race -- Whether white, black, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, Chinese, Japanese, or Indian|
"Negro" used in definition of "black"
White-blood quantum noted for Indians
General instructions to enumerators of the 1900 census included the following guidance (Measuring America 2002: 36, IPUMS 1900).
126. Column 5. Color or race. Write "W" for white; "B" for black (negro or negro descent); "Ch" for Chinese; "Jp" for Japanese, and "In" for Indian, as the case may be.
The Indian Schedule required enumerations such as these (Measuring America 2002: 44).
Column 33. -- If the Indian has no white blood, write 0. If he or she has white blood, write 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, whichever fraction is nearest the truth.
6. Color or Race -- White, Black, Mulatto, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Other
31. Whether blind (both eyes), 32. Whether deaf and dumb
"Other" added to "Color or race" choices
"Quadroon" and "octoroon" dropped as subclassifications
Instructions to enumerators of the general census included this guidance concerning "Color or race" (Measuring America 2002: 48, IPUMS 1910).
108. Column 6. Color or race. -- Write "W" for white; "B" for black; "Mu" for mulatto; "Ch" for Chinese; "Jp" for Japanese; "In" for Indian. For all persons not falling within one of these classes, write "Ot" (for other), and write on the left-hand margin of the schedule the race of the person so indicated.
The turn of the century witnessed further controversy over questions of effects of blood mixture involving Indians, and whether a person's blood quantum should determine whether the person could own or inherit a parcel of land allotted to an Indian. Census Bureau (as the Census Office was renamed in 1902) instructed enumerators of the special Indian Population schedule associated with the 1910 census as follows regarding the items on the "B" side of survey sheet (Measuring America 2002: 56)
Columns 36, 37, and 38. Proportions of Indian and other blood. -- If the Indian is a full-blood, write "full" in column 36, and leave columns 37 and 38 blank. If the Indian is of mixed blood, write in column 36, 37, and 38 the fractions which show the proportions of Indian and other blood, as (column 36, Indian) 3/4, (column 37, white) 1/4, and (column 38, negro) 0. For Indians of mixed blood all three columns should be filled, and the sum, in each case, should equal 1, as 1/2, 0, 1/2; 3/4, 1/4, 0; 3/4, 1/8, 1/8; etc. Wherever possible, the statement that an Indian is of full blood should be verified by inquiry of the older men of the tribe, as an Indian is sometimes of mixed blood without knowing it.
|1920||10. Color or Race -- White, Black, Mulatto, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Hindu, Korean, Other|
"Filipino", "Hindu", and "Koreans" added to subclassifications
Some publications added categories like Asian Hawaiians, part Hawaiian, "Mixed (rather than Chamorro or Polynesian)," and "Mixed (rather than Filipino)". (See Hochschild and Powell 2008.)
Enumerators received the following instructions regarding "Color or race" (IPUMS 1920).
120. Column 10. Color or race.-Write "W" for white, "B" for black; "Mu" for mulatto; "In" for Indian; "Ch" for Chinese; "Jp" for Japanese; "Fil" for Filipino; "Hin" for Hindu; "Kor" for Korean. for all persons not falling within one of these classes, write "Ot" (for other), and write on the left-hand margin of the schedule the race of the person so indicated.
|1930||12. Color or Race -- White, Black, Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Hindu, Korean, Other|
Indians again classified on general schedule
All "White and Negro" mixture "Negro" no matter how small the blood quantum
All "White and Indian" mixture "Indian" unless degree of Indian blood small
All "White" and "nonwhite" mixture classified by color of "nonwhite" parent
All mixtures of "colored races" classified by color of father
Mexicans are "Mexicans" unless definitely of another color or race
The enumerator instructions regarding "Color or race" in the 1930 census read as follows (cited from IPUMS 1930; only paraphrased in Measuring America 2002: 59.
150. Column 12. Color or race. -- Write "W" for white, "B" for black; "Mex" for Mexican; "In" for Indian; "Ch" for Chinese; "Jp" for Japanese; "Fil" for Filipino; "Hin" for Hindu; "Kor" for Korean. For a person of any other race, write the race in full.
The 1930 census included a Supplemental Schedule for the Indian Population, which included a "Full Blood or Mixed Blood" box before the "Tribe" box.
10. Color or Race -- White (W), Negro (Neg), Indian (In), Chinese (Ch), Japanese (Jp), Filipino (Fil), Hindu (Hin), Korean (Kor), Other races, spell out in full
16. Citizenship of the foreign born -- Naturalized (Na), Having first papers (Pa), Alien (Al), American citizen born abroad (Am Cit)
"Negro" replaces "Black"
"Mexicans" are "white" unless definitely Indian or other
"Mulatto" -- introduced from 1850 census -- dropped from 1940 census.
"Other mixed races" rule on 1930 census becomes "Mixed races" on 1940 census.
"Mixtures of non-white races" distinction on 1930 census continues in 1940 census.
Measuring America states that, "With regard to race, the only change from 1930 was that Mexicans were to be listed as White unless they were definitely Indian or some race other than White" (Measuring America 2002: 64). The specific instructions were as follows (IPUMS 1940).
453. Column 10. Color or Race.-- Write "W" for white; "Neg" for Negro; "In" for Indian; "Chi" for Chinese; "Jp" for Japanese; "Fil" for Filipino; "Hi" for Hindu; and "Kor" for Korean. For a person of any other race, write the race in full.
9. Race -- White (W), Negro (Neg), American Indian (Ind), Japanese (Jap), Chinese (Chi), Filipino (Fil), Hindu (Hin), Korean (Kor), Other race -- spell out
"Color or race" becomes just "Race"
2-letter "Race" abbreviations become 3 letters
The evolution from "Free" and "Slave" statuses to "Race" -- via "Color" and "Color and race" -- is complete. The classification scheme becomes more complicated.
Instructions concerning the completion of the "Race" box on the 1950 census form were as follows (IPUMS 1950).
Item 9. Race
It appears that all racial classifications -- except "White" -- were abbreviated by their first 3 letters -- Neg, Ind, Chi, Jap, Fil. On earlier censuses, there were both 2-letter and 3-letter abbreviations.
(P5) Is this person -- White, Negro, American Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian, Part Hawaiian, Aleut, Eskimo, (etc.)? ____________________
Respondent-completed machine-readable schedule
Color or race
1960 census first to use forms for self-enumeration
Self-completed FOSDIC (Film Optical Sensing Device for Input to Computer) forms were mailed out to respondents living outside large cities. The machine-readable forms had circles, beside or below the choices, which respondents blackened with a pencil, though some items required writing. Enumerators continued to complete forms for people living in large cities.
Measuring America characterizes the instructions for "Race or color" as follows (Measuring America 2002: 72).
The instructions for completing P5 (race or color) by observation [by enumerator] directed that Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, or other persons of Latin descent would be classified as "White" unless they were definitely Negro, Indian, or some other race. Southern European and Near Eastern nationalities also were to be considered White. Asian Indians were to be classified as "Other," and "Hindu" written in.
"Part Hawaiian" included as specific racial classification.
4. COLOR OR RACE. Fill one circle. If "Indian (American)," also give tribe. If "Other," also give race.
◯ White ◯ Negro or Black ◯ Indian (Amer.) Print tribe
13a. Where was this person born?
"Black" restored but secondary to "Negro"
All forms designed for self-identification
"Aleut" and "Eskimo" on Alaska questionnaires
Soliciation of south-of-the-border descent
Measuring America characterizes the 1970 census design like this (Measuring America 2001: 77).
All answers were designed for self-identification on the part of the respondent, but the enumerator was allowed to fill in blanks by observation when this was possible. For item 4 (color or race), it was assumed that the respondent's relatives living in the unit were also of the same race unless the census taker learned otherwise. The enumerator's manual included a long list of possible written-in entries and how they were to be classified: For example, "Chicano," "LaRaza," "Mexican American," "Moslem," or "Brown" were to be changed to White, while "Brown (Negro)" would be considered as Negro or Black for census purposes.
A note at the bottom of the general form reads as follows (IPUMS).
Note: On the questionnaires used in Alaska, the categories "Aleut" and "Eskimo" were substituted for "Hawaiian" and "Korean" in question 4.
This was the first census to facilitate self-identification as someone of south-of-the-border origin or descent. The solicitation was made in the place of birth question.
4. Is this person -- Fill one circle
7. Is this person of Spanish/Hispanic origin or descent?
"Black" becomes primary to "Negro"
Alaskan and Pacific races
Vietnamese and Asian Indians
Alaskan (Eskimo, Aleut) and Pacific (Guamanian, Samoan) races included for first time.
"Vietnamese" and "Asian Indians" added to expanding list of Asians.
South-of-the-border descents grouped under overarching "Spanish/Hispanic" label.
7. Is this person of Spanish/Hispanic origin?
Provisions for writing in specific regional races
Introduction of "Asian Pacific Islander" category
Racial empowerment lobbyists succeeded in expanding the scope of the "Race" box to facilitate writing in specific regional races, and to group "Asian" and "Pacific Islanders" under the overarching "API" label. There is now a sharp delineation between (1) "White", (2) "African", (3) "American Indian" and Alaskan, and (4) "Asian and Pacific Islander" people.
Note: Please answer BOTH questions 5 and 6.
5. Is this person Spanish/Hispanic/Latino?
6. What is this person's race?
One or more races
"African American" added beween "Black" and "Negro"
Alaskan Natives, Native Hawaiians
Alphabetical ordering of Asian races
The 2000 census was the first to permit a choice of more than one race. As with earlier recent censuses, it continued the practice of listing "White" first. and other races in order of their "importance" or "dominance" in the political history of the population of the United States beginning from the 1st census in 1790.
"African American" added to "Black or Negro" label ahead of "Negro". The term "African descent" had been used in some U.S. laws since the 19th century, but this is first time the "black" and/or "negro" classification was "Africanized" in a the U.S. census.
Eskimos and Aleuts conflated in "Alaskan Native" category, and Hawaiians also "upgraded" to "Native" status.
Asian racial categories listed in Alphabetical order.
"Latino" added to "Spanish/Hispanic" label.
NOTE: Please answer BOTH Question 5 about Hispanic origin andQuestion 6 about race. For this census, Hispanic origins are not races
5. Is this person of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?
6. What is this person's race? Mark ☒ one or more boxes.
Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin
"Spanish" downgraded to end of collective label. "Spaniard" also comes at end of examples of "Other" specific labels related to this group.
NOTE: Please answer BOTH Question 6 about Hispanic origin and Question 7 about race. For this census, Hispanic origins are not races.
6. Is this person of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?
7. What is this person's race? Mark ☒ one or more boxes.
"Negro" dropped leaving only "Black or African American"
"Negro", which became popular from the 1920s, and was widely embraced by organizations, media, and federal and state governments, replaced "Black" in the 1940-1960 censuses. Following the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s, and the rise of "black" advocacy, "Black" was added to "Negro" -- following "Negro" -- in the 1970 census. The 1980 and 1990 censuses listed "Negro" after "Black". The 2000 and 2010 censuses added "African American" to the list after "Black" and before "Negro". The 2020 census dropped "Negro" from the list, leaving only "Black" and "African American".
Expansion, elaboration, and refinement of all "Race" classifications
Unlike earlier censuses, Census 2020 respondents are asked to specify the "origin" of all the races they mark. The examples include conventional "national origin" labels as well as "tribal" or "community" labels. As in censuses since 2000, respondents could mark the "Some other race" box in addition to one or more of the other race boxes -- and specify the other "race or origin".