Jesse Jackson wants to ban "N-word"

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Fri Dec 1 15:34:31 UTC 2006

On 12/1/06, Margaret Lee <mlee303 at> wrote:
> FWIW, this is an excerpt from a paper I wrote on the subject a few years ago:
> The shift from Black to African American occurred in 1988 when Dr. Ramona
> Edelin, President of the National Urban Coalition, proposed that the next year's
> meeting be called, not the Black Summit, but the African American Summit.
> The purpose of this change was to reassess the condition of blacks in America
> while "linking Africans in North America with those on the Continent of Africa and
> throughout the Diaspora "(Smitherman, in Mufwene et al., 1998, 213).

Edelin was also involved in the Dec. 19, 1988 press conference of
black leaders where "African-American" first got serious media
exposure, but Jesse Jackson got most of the attention:

New York Times, Dec. 21, 1988, p. A16
Jackson and Others Say 'Blacks' Is Passe
CHICAGO, Dec. 20 (AP) -- A group of prominent blacks, including the
Rev. Jesse Jackson, says members of their race prefer to be called
''Just as we were called colored, but were not that, and then Negro,
but not that, to be called black is just as baseless,'' Mr. Jackson
said at a news conference Monday after the group met to discuss
national goals.
''To be called African-Americans has cultural integrity,'' he said.
''It puts us in our proper historical context. Every ethnic group in
this country has a reference to some land base, some historical
cultural base. African-Americans have hit that level of cultural
Mr. Jackson was joined by Richard Hatcher, the former Mayor of Gary,
Ind., Ramona Edelin, the National Urban Coalition's president, Gloria
Toote, a former Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development,
and others.

And back in the mid-'60s when "Afro-American" was popularized, there
were already some suggesting "African-American" as an alternative:

New York Times, Dec. 11, 1966, p. 45
Substitute Word for "Negro" Argued
"There's no letter 'o' in Africa; we should just be called
African-Americans, just as others are called Italian-Americans or
Japanese-Americans," said Mr. Michaux [sc. Lewis H. Michaux, owner of
the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem].

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list