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Census 2020: Wake Up Call for New York and Black America

By John Louis Flateau, PhD

 The Census is an ancient tool of empire. In the Book of Numbers (census!) in the Bible’s Old Testament, there are several head counts of able bodied males of the tribes of Israel, to determine the size of their armies to wage war; and for taxation purposes to finance government operations. In the New Testament, — why was baby Jesus born in Bethlehem? Because his parents Joseph and Mary were required by Roman law, to return to his step father’s ancestral home, Bethlehem, the house of David, Joseph’s lineage, in order to be counted in the Census of Caesar Augustus.

The US Census is the legally mandated national count of all residents in America, as specified in Article I of the US Constitution. The first Census in 1790 was supervised by Thomas Jefferson, and it counted 698,000 Africans, over 90 percent enslaved; and 3.9 million whites in the original 13 states. The US Census has been conducted every 10 years, ever since 1790. The Census has several key uses. For one, it determines Congressional Re-Apportionment, that is, how many seats each state will have in the US House Of Representatives (all states have two US Senators each, in the upper House).

Thus the Census also determines how many votes each state will cast for President in the Electoral College, which determines the US Presidency, — not the popular vote. We learned this in 2016, when Clinton won the popular vote, but Trump won the Electoral college vote. And history repeated itself in four previous presidential elections: 1800, 1824, 1876 and 2000 (Bush versus Gore).

Four of the first five (5) US Presidents were slave owners from Virginia: Washington, (No. 2, John Adams, was Washington’s Vice President from Massachusetts, and he did not own slaves); Jefferson, Monroe and Madison. This “Virginia Dynasty,” ruled significantly because Virginia was the largest slave holding state in America, according to the Census; and therefore had the single largest voting bloc in the equivalent to today’s Electoral College.

Black America went from 698,000 over 90 percent chattel slaves and white owner’s property, in the 1790 Census, whose free labor built American agriculture and infrastructure; to 4 million slaves at the dawn of the Civil War in the 1860 Census, 90 percent slave and 90 percent held economic hostages by the Southern Confederate, treasonous Slave holders. As told by W.E.B. DuBois, Eric Foner, John Hope Franklin and other renowned historians, Black slaves were the massive, free labor machine of the world dominant plantation economy of “King Cotton,” sugar cane and other agricultural production creating vast wealth for the few, exploding American Capitalism and increasingly dominating the global economy.

Black political, and economic freedom didn’t last 10 years from the post-Civil War period of Reconstruction, to official the Black re-enslavement with the vicious political bi-partisan “Hayes-Tilden” Compromise in the presidential election of 1876. This pernicious political deal, ceded to the Confederates, Lincoln’s assassins now reconstituted as the Southern Democratic Party, control over the temporarily freed Black population, state and local politics, economy and government; and ceded the US Presidency to Lincoln’s Republican Party, which was unanimously supported by Black people. This political betrayal resulted in a reign of terror on the Black South, resulting in our mass exodus to the North, Midwest and West Coast. In the largest mass migration in US history, over 7 million Blacks evacuated the South from 1910 to1970, according to Isabel Wilkerson in her award winning work, The Warmth Of Other Suns.

A New, Devastating US Citizenship Question on 2020 Census Form !

Today in 2018, Black America is nearly 50 million strong, according to the US Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey. After 400 years, we are still struggling to assert our constitutional, civil and human rights, full US citizenship and “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” New York State with 3.6 million, has the largest Black population of any state in the nation. And New York, is at a critical juncture leading up to Census 2020. State and City resources must be put in place now, before it is too late.

The Trump administration, on March 26, 2018, just added a question to the 2020 Census Form, without legally required pre-testing (last asked in 1950), which will likely trigger a massive Census undercount; and have devastating political, economic and social consequences for Black and other communities of color. To paraphrase, the new question is, — “Are you a US Citizen, yes or no ?”

America’s 50 million Black Diasporan population contains over 11 million Continental African, Caribbean and Afro-Latino members. Any non-citizen whose papers, or relatives’ papers are not yet in order, will be highly skeptical about filling out a US census form, including this question; and submitting information to a federal agency, with President Trump’s Immigration raids raging all across America. And even if they don’t fill it out the form or the citizenship question, the Census Bureau still knows their address; and Census employees will be sent after them (or Immigration agents?) to complete the form. Under penalty of federal law, fine and imprisonment, the Census Bureau should not share this information with any other agency. But today, we are living in a new, unpredictable national governmental climate.

A census undercount means less congressional, state legislative and city council seats; less federally funded programs and services; and less civil rights enforcement; on top of the political and plicy mega-shifts in Washington. Nationally, $675 billion a year in federals funds, services and programs are allocated using Census data, $ 7 trillion locked in by decennial census numbers for the entire decade. $53 billion a year in New York State; and $20 billion a year in New York City are in federal funds and programs. A 2020 undercount means major federal cuts, on top of Trump Administration federal tax and budget policies which have killed mortgage interest deductions and other benefits for New Yorkers. Also, civil rights and voting rights enforcement are heavily reliant on census counts to ascertain levels of racial and gender disparities and discrimination. A racial/gender undercount of protected classes will undermine the case for proof of discrimination.

The Trump-Republican controlled Congress cut the Census 2020 budget in half, from $14 billion in 2010 to $7 billion. It is imperative that New York State and New York City governments, the philanthropic and private sectors, provide substantial Census 2020 education and outreach resources now, or New York is headed for a vast undercount, with dire consequences. We are already projected to lose 1-2 more Congressional seats, from our present 27 seats down to 25; and a peak of 45 seats in 1940. New York, the Empire State, once had the largest Congressional delegation in America for 100 years. California passed us in 1970, Texas in 2000, and Florida in 2017. A minority/immigrant-based Census 2020 undercount, will mean political power, public services and civil rights enforcement reductions, at precisely the very time when our voices and agenda must be amplified, in today’s perilous public policy climate.

The Solution ? The good news is that Black America now has a heads, some lead time, 18 months to counteract this massive political and economic attack on its national well-being and sustainability as the “nation within a nation” that we have been and are now. Many groups are beginning to awaken and organize towards Census 2020. We need every New Yorker to be counted in Census 2020, regardless of race, ethnicity, income, age, religion, gender, mobility, nationality, sexual orientation and immigration status. Black New Yorkers, among America’s historically, most undercounted groups, must do our part. Or, we will lessen our voices in the corridors of power; reduce our fair share of the blessings of liberty; and by our negligence, betray the life chances of our future generations…


Dr. John Flateau is Professor of Public Administration and Political Science at Medgar Evers College, CUNY; and director of its think tanks, the US Census Information Center and the DuBois Bunche Center For Public Policy. He has decades of executive experience with the US Census, redistricting, voting rights, campaigns and elections; and is a thought leader, author and commentator on public affairs. Email: census2020info@gmail.com.

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