Census and draft records

The next question became, while Veronica Henriksen looked phenotypically black, was she black? Is this how she identified? To answer this question, I dug into Henriksen’s family history. Local newspapers and census data helped me find the answer to this question.

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1930 Census record for Veronica Henriksen and her sisters Desiree and Charmaine

According to the 1930 federal census, Veronica, who was then about 6 years old, was identified as “Negro,” as were all the members of the Henriksen family, which included her parents Englehardt and Genevieve and younger sisters Desiree and Charmaine. The Henriksens lived in Plainfield, NJ, at 270 Netherwood Avenue, sharing this address with an Italian immigrant family. A closer look at the census table reveals that the Henriksen family lived in an integrated or predominantly white neighborhood.

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Click the image to view the full census pages for the Henriksen family and their neighbors

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Englehardt Henriksen's 1942 draft card, "White" checked off in the race column

While census records can be reliable documents, it was not unheard of for people to be misidentified by government workers. For example, the census taker who visited the family of NJC’s first black student, Julia Baxter Bates, in 1940 initially identified the family as white, but later crossed out and replaced the original designation with “Negro.”

Veronica Henriksen's father, Englehardt Henriksen, faced similar misidentification when he registered for the World War II draft in 1942. The registrar at the local draft board in Plainfield checked off "White" on the registration card and indicated that Englehardt Henriksen was a 49-year old man of ruddy complexion with brown eyes and black hair.

But 25 years earlier, Englehardt Henriksen's draft card for World War I identified his race as "African," noting that he had been born in Christiansted, St. Croix, Danish West Indies (now US Virgin Islands).

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Englehardt Henriksen's 1917 draft card identifying his race as "African"