12 June 2012

Racial Classifications Reflect Times

Source: http://books.nap.edu/openbook/0309091268/gifmid/31.gif

A recent article by Sharon Tate Moody CG reminds us that it’s important to understand the context of created documents and the “lingo” of the times.  This is true when it comes to the census and racial classification ...

Racial classification is an emotional issue for many Americans. A study of censuses over time shows that these records reflect society's attitudes and do little to clarify issues for those of mixed racial ethnicity.

In the first census (1790), the head of the household was the only person listed by name. Everyone else — whites and free persons of color — was numerated according to age and sex but without names...

In 1880, the government wanted to know whether citizens were white, black, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, Chinese, Japanese or American Indian. It cautioned enumerators to be "particularly careful to distinguish between blacks, mulattoes, quadroons or octoroons" and defined the terms. It said that the word "black" meant those with three-quarters or more black blood, mulatto was from three-eighths to five-eighths black blood; quadroon was one-quarter black blood and octoroon was one-eighth or any trace of black blood...

Read the full article at Tampa Bay Online.

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