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Friday, April 18, 2014
Last Updated Wednesday, December 31, 1969

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'NEGRO' - What’s In a Name: What Does History Tell Us?


By Roland A. Foulkes

FT. LAUDERDALE - Thanks to Federal Directive Fifteen (15) and revisions to it nationally, state-wide, and locally and its initial use by the Florida Department of Education and Broward's Schools officials in the"Student Code of Conduct", the word, the descriptor, “NEGRO” became the focus of controversy in our schools in week-one of the 2009-2010 academic year.

As I read Gregory Lewis' article, "'Negro' on new census form sparks debate," January 9, 2010, 1-2B, South Florida Sun Sentinel, I thought "Here we go with round-two of the 'Negro' problem!"

In my September 3, 2009 letter to Broward's School Board, superintendent, and Diversity Committee (of which I was Chair), I wrote this:

"Given the array of severe budgetary-critical and academic / scholastic achievement-critical challenges facing all taxpayers, educators, parents and students, this is TRULY a non-issue; one un-deserving of any further consideration, discussion and ink.

I look to history and extant nomenclatures to justify my position. Why? Because I believe, as does Richard Thompson Ford, that it is time that "we stop caring about terminology and definition of races and get on with the important work of fighting racism." “Name Games: The Folly in the Attempt to define 'African-American.'” Slate.com, Sept. 16, 2004).

The rest of what I stated in that September 3 letter follows.

"My Black/Brown-skinned ancestors arrived to the Western Hemisphere from Africa, freely, VOLUNTARILY BEFORE Columbus, as explorers, sailors, prior to Columbus, as Africans bearing their tribal/ethnic group names.

For example, GA, Ewe, Fulani, Bakongo, Mande, Wolof, Madinke, Akan/Ashante, Fante, Fon, Makua,Igbo, Yoruba, Tswana, Dagbane, etc. This has been verified by such scholars as the late Linguist/Anthropologist Ivan van Sertima in his ground-breaking yet controversial book, They Came Before Columbus (1976).

The Spaniards brought the first Africans here INVOLUNTARILY in chains canned sardine-like in the bowels of death ships across the dreaded Middle Passage. And, were named, in Spanish, for their skin color, an adjective, a noun later modified by that adjective --- “NEGRO” (“Black,” in English);

From 1619 to 1819, we were “the Africans” to those English speakers who bought, sold, brutalized, dehumanized, made political and economic pawns of them in Europe’s expansion into the so-called “New World” and killed them stateside.

Throughout the mid to latter 1800’s we were alternately called "indentured servants," "slaves," Africans,” “Darkies,” “Negroes,” “Coloreds,” and “Blacks.” This amongst many other derogatory and offensive names such as “Nigger,” “Coon,” "Baboon," “Jigga-Boo”, “Pickaneiny,” "Shine (as in shoe)," “Jungle Bunny”, "Spear Chucker," “Ubangi Lips,” “Mau Mau.”

Yes, at EVERY stage of my 53 years, I have been labeled each of these. NOT as terms of endearment by my Black brothers and sisters. BUT, as terms of derision by my White brothers and sisters. The latter of which claiming all the while that they were not racists. Go figure!

Across the 1900s, beginning with Civil Rights Architect W.E.B. Dubois’ classic book, The Soul of Black Folk (1903), the founding of his National Association for the Advancement of Colored People/NAACP (1909), and Carter G. Woodson’s book, The MIS-EDUCATION of the Negro (1933), we were, and remain, “Black,” “Colored” and, “Negro”.

In the mid-1950s, according to my birth certificate, I was born “Colored” in the Provident Hospital (for Colored People) on N.W. 6th Street (the Mizell Center on Sistrunk Boulevard today) in North West Fort Lauderdale.
On that hot and humid August 28th day in 1963, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during his historic “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (for the Negro),” through his so-called, “I have a Dream” speech, told me, you, and others, that we were “Negroes”(“Blacks”, in English).

Late in that heady 1960s decade, brother “King of Soul” James Brown reminded me, you, and others, to: ”SAY IT LOUD….I’M A BLACK AND I AM PROUD’”.

In 1976, when Woodson’s “Negro History Week” (1926 – 1976) morphed BRIEFLY into “Afro-American History Month,” acknowledged by President Reagan in 1981, and on, permanently, to “Black History Month,” we called ourselves, alternately “Black- or Afro-Americans.”

And, many of us, including this writer, had the hair --- the AFRO --- and Angel Food cake-cutter combs to prove it.

Then came Reverend Jesse Jackson in the 1980s with a re-connect to our motherland --- the decade I made my first of many returns to Africa (Ghana, Mali, Chad, Botswana, Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Algeria, Namibia, Kenya, Angola, etc.) --- and urged us to call ourselves "African Americans" and, accordingly, I called myself, "African American".

That was until 2000, in Fort Lauderdale's Tower Club, when I met a South African who said he was MORE African American than me. You see, his people (Afrikaaners of Dutch descent) had been on the African continent for nearly 300 years (VOLUNTARILY, of course) and he had been in the United States for nearly 15 years, and had become a citizen. And, he was "White".

Now, in addition to my being a "HUMAN BEING" and follower of Jesus the Christ, a Christian, FIRST AND FOREMOST, I am, and prefer to be called, if you must, a BLACK (CARIBBEAN) AMERICAN OF AFRICAN DESCENT!

However, today, and beyond, it seems to be respectable to call those who look like me, "BLACK" (See the Historically BLACK Colleges and Universities / HBCUs, 100 BLACK Men of America Inc, BLACK Enterprise Magazine, International BLACK Women's Congress, National Association of BLACK Journalists, The Organization of BLACK Airline Pilots Inc., National Society of BLACK Engineers, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, National Conference of BLACK Mayors Inc., National Forum for BLACK Public Administrators, National BLACK Caucus of State Legislators, National Association of BLACK Social Workers, National Alliance of BLACK School Educators, International Organization of BLACK Security Executives, the Association of BLACK Anthropologists, National BLACK Child Development Institute, National Association of BLACK-Owned Broadcasters Inc., Congress of National BLACK Churches, Congressional BLACK Caucus, etc.)

And, today, and beyond, it seems to be nostalgic to call those who look like me, "COLORED." See the National Association for the Advancement of COLORED People/NAACP over the past 100 years.

And, today, and beyond, it seems to be acceptable to call those who look like me, "NEGRO". See the United NEGRO College Fund/UNCF, the National Council of NEGRO Women/NCNW, Council of Affiliated NEGRO Organizations, Inc., Fort Lauderdale’s NEGRO Chamber of Commerce, etc.

And, today, and beyond, whatever students, or their parents, or other adults, who look like me call themselves, (or, what those who do not look like me bleed in their liberal hearts what they feel and believe I / we should, or should not, be called) our expectations ought to be that parents, students, teachers, principals, Diversity Committee members (of which I am one and currently lead), superintendents, state and federal education bureaucrats, CNN / FOX / MSNBC News talking heads educate each student such that we, and they themselves, will be able to call EACH, irrespective of ancestry / heritage / nationality --- after all we are ALL Human Beings, Homo Sapiens, Humankind, ONE RACE --- “Gifted,” “Advanced Placement Scholars,” “Honors Students,” “FCAT/SAT/ACT Wizards,” “Skilled Readers,” “Graduates (with Standard Diplomas),” “Teachers,” “Lawyers,” “Entrepreneurs,” “Doctors,” “Inventors,” “Writers,” “Critical Thinkers,” “Pastors,” "Imams," "Rabbis," “Leaders,” “Chemists,” “Biologists,” Physicists,” “Mathematicians,” “Anthropologists,” “Philanthropists (Time, money, skills, and other resources),” “Sociologists,” “Economists,” “Astronomers,” “Geologists,” “Mechanics,” “Parents,” “Engineers,” “Artists,” “Performers,” “Community Organizers,” “Visionaries,” “World Changers….”

For those are the names (singularly, or in some combination thereof) --- self identities --- that matter MOST!"


"Roland A. Foulkes, Socio-Cultural Anthropologist. Second generation American of Bahamian descent on his father's side and Eighth generation Floridian on his mother's side, currently Chair of the Broward County Public Schools Diversity Committee and Founder and Chief Strategist for the ONE BROWARD Initiative. He may be contacted at RolandAFoulkes@gmail.com or onebroward@usa.com"


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