Rehashing Old Ground: Prop. 54 and the 1960 Census.
By M. Royce Van Tassell
Opponents of Proposition 54 paint a doomsday portrait of California under the Racial Privacy Initiative. Without the racial data Prop. 54 would prevent California from collecting, they argue, the Golden State would be plunged back into those benighted days when Bull Connor lumbered through the streets of Birmingham while the Ku Klux Klan ravaged the “negroes” at will.
The debate today over Prop. 54 parallels almost exactly the 1957 debate over what questions to include on the 1960 Census, though that earlier debate focused on religious data. In 1957, the Census Bureau was preparing the questions that would appear on the 1960 Census. For decades, researchers had lobbied the bureau to add a question about religion. Quite understandably, some wanted to understand how religion influenced Americans’ behavior; others wanted to use the data to combat religious discrimination; finally, some leaders in the Catholic Church saw this data as an opportunity to plan for the changing needs of their congregations. And certainly there was no better way to collect this data than the U.S. Census.