Census Infographic: How ‘Slaves’ Became ‘African-Americans’

By Julianne Hing Feb 06, 2015

The United States has been tracking demographic data since 1790. Needless to say, a lot has changed in the country in the past two centuries. A new infographic produced by the Center for American Progress tracks the U.S. Census’ shifting racial categories and offers a compelling bird’s eye view of race in the U.S. After all, so much of our race conversation is embedded in the labels we use for ourselves and others.

The U.S. didn’t bother setting aside a category to count American Indians until 1860, nearly a century after the Declaration of Independence. Blacks in the U.S. have perhaps undergone the most change. First designated only as "slaves" in 1790, the Census eventually added in new categories for "quadroon" and "octoroon" blacks in 1890. In the 20th century alone, black people in the U.S. have been officially labeled "Black," "Mullato," "Negro," and eventually also "African American." The label "white" is the only category that has persisted, unchanged, since 1790.

If nothing else, the infographic underlines the fascinating, complex mutability of race. 

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Click for a full-sized version.