Power and the People: The U.S. Census and Who Counts

Exhibit - Artifacts: Doe Library | September 16, 2019 – March 1, 2020 every day | Doe Library, Bernice Layne Brown Gallery


Since 1790, the U.S. Census has impacted many aspects of our lives. It determines congressional apportionment, decides which communities receive a slice of $500,000,000,000 in federal funds, and provides information essential to policy making. Census questions also reflect the beliefs, concerns and prejudices of their time, starting with the first census which mandated that enslaved people be counted as ⅗ of a person. Over time, the Census has reflected and responded to changing cultural norms, especially around race, gender, disability and sexual orientation.

Even with its limitations, the U.S. Census is the best, and often only, source to examine the country’s demographic trends. Census information shows us the direction we are headed. It shines light on disparities and provides information crucial to civil rights enforcement, helping us improve as a society. But it can’t do any of this without participation, which is in jeopardy.

Because the Census touches so many aspects of our society, we can’t cover everything in a single exhibit. We have selected areas we think are particularly important, and invite you to explore the exhibit and some of the complexities -- and the power -- of this 230 year old process.