Calvin Beale

1923 - 2008

Calvin Lunsford Beale, senior demographer at the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, died on September 2, 2008 at the age of 85. A lifelong resident of Washington, DC, Beale earned an undergraduate degree at Wilson Teacher’s College in 1945. He studied geography under O.E. Baker at the University of Maryland and received an M.S. in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His 62-year career in the federal government began at the Veteran’s Administration in 1942 and included jobs in the Office of Strategic Services and the Census Bureau. Beale came to USDA in 1953 and, at the time of his death, had the Department’s longest record of full-time federal service.

Beale conducted ground-breaking research on the U.S. farm population, tracing and explaining its rapid decline over several decades. His comprehensive reporting on black farmers chronicled the circumstances underlying the massive rural exodus of the 1950s and 1960s. He was the first to uncover the 1970s’ nonmetropolitan turnaround, when for the first time more people were leaving metropolitan areas than were moving in. More recently, he drew national media attention by documenting the disproportionate placement of prisons in nonmetropolitan counties.

Beale collaborated with Donald Bogue on Economic Areas of the United States, based on their county-level delineation of State Economic Areas. Released in 1961, it remains the most comprehensive socioeconomic portrait of the U.S. to appear in a single volume.

Beale combined a legendary command of statistical data with firsthand knowledge from 50 years of travel that took him to over 2,400 U.S. counties. Conversations with USDA extension agents and other local officials allowed him to spot emerging trends and issues relevant to rural policymakers back in Washington. A love of American architecture led to a collection of over 2,000 county courthouse pictures. Several of his best photos are published as magazine covers and featured at the very popular County Courthouse web site.*

In 1990, the RAND Corporation published A Taste of the Country: A Collection of Calvin Beale’s Writings. Edited by Peter Morrison and reissued in 2002 by Penn State University Press, it includes notes from his field visits and a selection of previously unpublished papers. Beale received the USDA Distinguished Service Award in 1968 and the Secretary’s Award for Superior Service in 2003. He was made an honorary fellow of the Population Reference Bureau. In 2005, Beale received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Melungeon Heritage Association for his pioneering research on mixed-ancestry groups.

Calvin Lunsford Beale (Necrology). 2008. AAG Newsletter 43(10): 17.

*Please note: The original URL highlighting Beale’s county courthouse photos is no longer available, however these images can be researched via the Internet Archive.