Kincannon: Painting A More Accurate Portrait Of America

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

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.


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.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from