The most recent decennial census, taken in 2010, shows that this nation’s white population is on the decline.

The news has caused ripples of shock among some while leading others to discuss what needs to be done to improve the economic and social opportunities faced by those in the growing African-American and Latino communities.

Census results tend to be a call to action, a dictate that there is a population that needs to be served. That’s why reports showing that the U.S. census taken in the year 1940 miscounted the population of people of African descent is revealing in some very important ways.

The complete 1940 census was released this past April 2 and is now available online at 1940census.archives.gov. The undercount of the 1940 census reportedly left some 1.2 million African-Americans, or 8.4 percent, out of that year’s official accounting of the nation’s population.

“For many of us in the African-American genealogical community, the undercount explains why some of us cannot locate loved ones, although both oral history and other documents prove that they were in the community,” said Angela Y. Walton-Raji, the genealogist who operates beginninggenealogist.com.

“On the other hand, for many the undercount is also not a surprise. Many of our families come from communities where our families were underrepresented, underserved and under-respected.”

The undercount of the Black population in 1940 was almost immediately known by looking at the number of Black men who were eligible for the draft versus their numbers as depicted in the census. But even worse than understanding that there was an undercount is realizing that because Black people were not counted, they once again lost out on the vital distribution of public resources.

The release of the complete 1940 census was highly anticipated by genealogists and historians. The United States only releases complete census data some 72 years after it is conducted because the information recorded contains personal information like the names, ages, ethnicities, occupations and information about the homes of U.S. citizens.

Walton-Raji said that one reason for the undercount may have been because the “Depression was still taking place in this country in 1940, in addition to the fact that a good portion of the Black population was working on its own form of resistance–we chose to move. The Great Migration that had already been taking place was still going on. The population was on the move, and many of the families long-placed in the South were now leaving in even larger numbers for places north and west.”

The Associated Press reported that the miscount even left off the family of the first African-American to win the Wimbledon championship, the South Carolina-born and Harlem-raised Althea Gibson. Gibson and her family were living at 135 W. 143rd St. in Harlem in 1940 but were not recorded by the census.

Walton-Raji says that is an example of how the miscount of African-Americans crossed state boundaries. “As I understand it, there was an undercount in many communities, both North and South. The example was shown several days ago that Althea Gibson, who lived in Harlem in 1940, was not counted in the 1940 Census,” she said. “The entire Gibson family is simply nonexistent in 1940. And there were efforts underway in 1940 in Louisiana to request that Blacks be a part of the staff of census enumerators, for there was concern that many would also not be counted there. So the undercount cannot be assumed to have been in one geographic community entirely.”

When asked what can be done to ensure there will be no further undercounts of Blacks, Walton-Raji was adamant. “In my opinion, education. We must teach our own people that we matter, that we do count, meaning that we do matter,” she said. “And the fact that we do count–we must also be counted. We must make a point that we are enumerated in the future. We are no longer invisible.

“The undercount assists others in our underrepresentation. We must stand up, be counted and ‘count’ ourselves. For too many years, we did not matter to those in power. For too many years, we did not ‘count.’ Well, we do count, we do matter and we need to stand up even more completely and be counted.”