Mulatto vs Black in the 1920 Census

As you may know I am working with the 1920 census looking at and for Black home owners in Truxton Circle. I have noticed in the 1920 census African Americans are not called African Americans, that is a more ‘recent’ term. In 1920, we were described as either Black or Mulatto.

I have seen in the census where some members of the family are described as Black and others as mulatto. This confused me, but I tended to dismiss it because those descriptions went away in the 1930 census and I clumped Black and mulatto into one group for my research.

So one day I asked an expert if there were any studies about what made someone mulatto vs Black. As an undergrad I studied the country that is modern day Haiti and the term mulatto has a definition as well as other like terms (quadroon) recognized in law and culture. Outside of Louisiana, it is meaningless in the US if not offensive to those who take offense.

The expert pointed me to the Instructions to Enumerators.My mind was blown because I was under the impression that people were self identifying as mulatto or Black for the census. I was wrong, it was the enumerator who determined if someone was Black or mulatto. It was the enumerator’s subjective opinion that Morgan H. Dawkins was Black but his wife was mulatto.

Above I have an image of a snippet from the enumerator’s instruction book. It reads:

121. For census purposes the term “black” (B) includes all Negroes  of full blood, while the term mulatto (Mu) includes all Negroes having some proportion of white blood.

I believe the African American is a unique person who is of America. Made in America with a percentage of non-African heritage reflecting the diversity of America. With a little bit of Native American here, a little bit of European there, and a whole lot of West African everywhere. So most everyone would be mulatto. I know what they meant….

This makes me wonder if I should take a closer look at census enumerators. Then I remember I have the rest of 1920 to do and then 1930.

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