The Census

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4 characters. Approximately 10 minutes running time. Short play that deals with the history of the US census and questions about race.

The census is a survey of ever American taken in the US every ten years. It is constitutionally mandated, and the data collected impacts the design and implementation of policies and laws in governmental sectors including education, housing, transportation, health, and environmental protection. One question on the census survey relates to race. In the 1830 census, Sally Hemings lived with her two sons and all of them were listed as White. In the 1840 census, one of them had decided to declare that he was Black. This play can provide a springboard for discussions about race as it relates to history as well as to issues we face in the world today.

Leonard D Goodisman, Ph. D, writes plays which entertain, also, stimulate and inspire sociologically, psychologically, politically, and spiritually. He’s written about two dozen full length plays, many more one act plays, a number of which have won awards. As Development Director for the Eclectic Theater for a half dozen or so years, and Artistic Director at the Pocket, and in other incarnations, he has directed plays, been stage manager, actor, dramaturg, tech booth operator, sold goodies and enjoyed most of the roles one plays behind the scenes in theater.

Here are two more excellent plays by Leonard D. Goodsman:

Thomas, Thomas
Sally

Excerpt from the play:

CHARACTERS
(The three Hemings could pass as white.)

CENSUS TAKER: any age or gender., perhaps an innocent kid.
MADISON HEMINGS: mid thirties, male
ESTON HEMINGS: mid thirties, male
SALLY HEMINGS: 60, female

(1840. Madison, Eston and Sally are sitting on a front porch. Eston is fussing with plants, Madison is whittling wood, Sally is sewing and has cookies nearby. The census taker enters.)

CENSUS TAKER
(Enters.) This the right address, yes. Three of you live here? (They nod.) Yes. You three?

MADISON
You see us.

CENSUS TAKER
I’m from the census. You know what a census is? Every ten years, we find out about every person living in the United States.

ESTON
We’re living in the United States.

SALLY
Would you like something to drink, a treat, a cookie?

CENSUS TAKER
Yes, but I’m not allowed to accept a treat or anything from anybody while I’m on duty. You the same three that were living here for the last census, ten years ago? The country takes a census every ten years.

SALLY
How can anyone not be allowed to accept a treat? What are treats for?

MADISON
Yes, we’ve lived here for over ten years now.

CENSUS TAKER
So, what have we got here?

ESTON
What does that mean? There’s three of us. We’re still here and we’re the same, except ten years older, except Madison here. He only aged eight years in the last ten. It’s amazing how he keeps in shape.

MADISON
I’m a carpenter. A skilled craftsman. Have to keep in shape, my eyes sharp and my hand steady.

ESTON
And you do carry on some.

SALLY
That was possible for Madison because I aged twelve years in the past ten, so it all works out. It feels that way. I can’t even get to the gravesite every day these days. It’s only a couple of miles.

CENSUS TAKER
The gravesite? (Checks his form.) I have a bunch of question to answer. I’m not supposed to make my own decisions. I have to ask you, unless that’s impossible in which case I can use my judgement.

ESTON
Now, I suppose you’ll want to formally ask us our age but you’ve already indicated that you know that from the last census plus ten. Right?

CENSUS TAKER
That’s right. But I have to ask. And your names. I have to ask.

ESTON
Eston, same as last time.

MADISON
Madison, same as last time.

SALLY
Sally. You’re good. You’re really good, as a census taker. You’ll probably finish filling that form out in a minute or two and then, being off duty, just stay around for the treats. They’re good.

CENSUS TAKER
And race. I have to ask your race.

ESTON
Why?

CENSUS TAKER
It’s on the form.

SALLY
They always ask things like that. In fact, they ask that more and more these days.

MADISON
Because they want to make us slaves again. They want to make everyone slaves again.

SALLY
I think they just don’t want anybody being the same as they are.

ESTON
The same? You mean equal.

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