Kincannon: Painting A More Accurate Portrait Of America

C. Louis Kincannon, the former director of the U.S. Census Bureau, died of cancer Dec. 15 at age 72. Kincannon brought ethnic and linguistic diversity to his agency. We remember him with Tom Mesenbourg, the Census Bureau's acting director.

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The U.S. Constitution requires a population count every 10 years. That's been done every decade since 1790. However, the people who collect the data have sometimes been the victim of mockery and disdain.


MOE HOWARD: (as Moe) Good morning, sir. I'm the census taker. Are you married or happy?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as Henry's wife) Henry.

HOWARD: Married.

CORNISH: Whether it's the Three Stooges or Hannibal Lecter...


ANTHONY HOPKINS: (as Hannibal Lecter) A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans.

CORNISH: ...part of the problem was that people just didn't like the idea of a stranger coming to their front door asking personal questions. A man who did a lot to change how the Census Bureau was viewed died earlier this month. He was a former director, Louis Kincannon. He was 72. Current acting director of the bureau Tom Mesenbourg knew Kincannon starting in the early 1980s.

TOM MESENBOURG: One of his proudest legacies will be what he did to improve the diversity at the Census Bureau.

CORNISH: He dispatched census takers into areas that had never been thoroughly documented in previous census reports. The diversity he incorporated into the process in 1990 is still reflected in today's bureau public service announcements.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Every 10 years, we conduct a census.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: A count of everyone living in the United States.

ALMIRA FIGUEROA: Hi. I'm Almira Figueroa(ph). I'm from your neighborhood. I'm your local census taker.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

CORNISH: Louis Kincannon was the man who said about hiring census takers who actually lived in the neighborhoods where they were collecting data.

MESENBOURG: That way they're familiar with the special challenges. They're familiar with some of the linguistic diversity we might face. They're recognized in the community and they know how to interact with folks.

CORNISH: As a result, says Tom Mesenbourg, today we have a more accurate portrait of who we are and where we live. A memorial service for Louis Kincannon will be held a week from Monday. The former Census Bureau director died at age 72. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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