So how old is Isiah Leggett?
Even Montgomery’s county executive concedes that “it’s confusing.”
Leggett, who announced Tuesday that he will seek a third term in 2014, said he will turn 68 on July 25, which means he was born in 1945. That’s consistent with the date of birth on his voter registration and in the Maryland Manual, a government guide published by the Maryland State Archives. It’s also the date on his candidate committee registration form filed with the Maryland Board of Elections and in his own official campaign biography.
But Google “Isiah Leggett birthday,” and the Internet spits out another date: July 25, 1944, which would make him 69 next month. The 1944 date is also on his driver’s license, he said. Many articles have used that date as well, including a June 2010 Washington Post editorial that called him “just shy of his 66th birthday.”
In an interview, Leggett said that his parents never received his birth certificate. His family lived in western Louisiana, but Leggett, the seventh of 13 children born to Mason and Mary Leggett, drew his first breath in a clinic just across the border in Texas. The paperwork, he said, never caught up with them.
That was not an uncommon occurrence, according to Cesar Garza, spokesman for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, who said genealogists “do believe it was commonplace for errors to occur on vital records” during that time. Bernice Bennett, a Silver Spring genealogist who has worked with African American families in Louisiana, said it was “a common theme in rural households.”
“They just didn’t get it documented,” she added.
When Leggett entered the Army in 1967 after graduating from Southern University, his family put together what he called a “document birth certificate,” attesting to the date and place of his birth.
“It came out of people giving testimony and that kind of stuff. They had aunts and uncles and everything,” he said.
Somehow, Leggett said, they got the month and day right but the year wrong: 1944. It’s an error he attributes to the confusion that sometimes came with growing up in a large, poor, rural family. Leggett was raised in a three-room shotgun house that for a while did not have running water or electricity, he has said.
After military service, he said, it just became less of a hassle to stick with 1944 as his year of birth. “I use 1944 because it’s easier to use. That’s what I use now, and that’s what’s on the later documents.” How the “right” year slipped into the other documents is not clear.
“Over the years, different numbers have been used as to his birth date. I don’t really know what the source is,” said Leggett spokesman Patrick Lacefield.
As to the wrong year on his driver’s license, it doesn’t appear to be a problem. Buel Young, a spokesman for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, said given that Leggett is well above the minimum age and presented documentation that was accepted by the MVA, “it would not be an issue.”
This makes Leggett a rarity in public life: someone who actually tacked a year on to his age (according to some documents) rather shave one off.
“In the family, we joke about it,” he said.