What's In a Name?
Negro vs. Afro-American vs. Black

Lerone Bennett, Jr.
Senior Editor,
Ebony Magazine

 Source: Ebony 23 (November 1967): 46-48, 50-52, 54.

More concretely, within the context of the racial looking glass, the question is whether one can make the word "Negro' mean so many different things or whether one should abandon it and use the words "black" or "Afro-American."

This question is at the root of a bitter national controversy over the proper designation for identifiable Americans of African descent. (More than 40 million "white" Americans, according to some scholars, have African ancestors.) A large and vocal group is pressing an aggressive campaign for the use of the word "Afro-American" as the only historically accurate and humanly significant designation of this large and pivotal portion of the American population. This group charges that the word "Negro" is an inaccurate epithet which perpetuates the master-slave mentality in the minds of both black and white Americans. An equally large, but not so vocal, group says the word "Negro" is as accurate and as euphonious as the words "black" and "Afro-American." This group is scornful of the premises of the advocates of change. A Negro by any other name, they say, would be as black and as beautiful--and as segregated. The times, they add, are too crucial for Negroes to dissipate their energy in fratricidal strife over names. But the pro-black contingent contends, with Humpty Dumpty, that names are of the essence of the game of power and control. And they maintain that a change in name will short-circuit the stereotyped thinking patterns that undergird the system of racism in America. To make things even more complicated, a third group, composed primarily of Black Power advocates, has adopted a new vocabulary in which the word "black" is reserved for "black brothers and sisters who are emancipating themselves," and the word "Negro" is used contemptuously for Negroes "who are still in Whitey's bag and who still think of themselves and speak of themselves as Negroes."

This controversy, which rages with religious intensity from the street corners of Harlem to the campuses of Southern colleges, has alienated old friends, split national organizations and disrupted national conventions. It was discussed with gravity at a meeting of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, and it is a matter of grave concern to prominent Negro leaders who have been heckled and publicly denounced for using the word "Negro."

Within the last year, several organizations have gone on record in opposition to continued use of the words. At the Racism in Education Conference of the American Federation of Teachers, the delegates unanimously endorsed a resolution which called on all educators, persons, and organizations to abandon the "slavery-imposed name" "Negro" for the terms "African American " or "Afro-American." A similar resolution was unanimously adopted at the National Conference on Black Power. But the Black Power conferees compounded the problem by insisting upon the substitution of the word "Black" for the word "Negro." There was additional ferment during this same this period on the local level where militant groups passed a variety of pro-black and pro-Afro-American resolutions and peppered newspapers and magazines with angry and, in some cases, abusive letters. Some pro-

Negro advocates charged indignantly that "the whole black issue was raised by a handful of intellectuals, none of whom are black, except for their beards." But it was obvious that the controversy touched deep emotions in the black community where many segments, particularly the young, are engaged in an agonizing search for self-identity and self-determination. Pressures from these groups and from black professionals gave the movement an edge that isolated nationalists, working alone, had never been able to forge. And it was in response to the growing edge of blackness that several organizations, some of them composed of black professionals, changed their letterheads to indicate the new vision they have of themselves and of their relation to Africa and America. The Negro Teachers Association of New York City, for example, became the African-American Teachers Association. More significantly, in terms of mass impact, the New York Amsterdam News, one of the largest black newspapers, announced that it would no longer use the word "Negro." The newspaper, which now identifies Americans of African descent as Afro-Americans, reports a favorable response to the change. Dick Edwards, the assistant managing editor, says letters are running nine to one in favor of Afro-American. "We like the word," he says, "because we are descendants of Africans and because we are Americans." He added: "There is a cringing from the word 'Negro,' especially by the young, because of the oppression into which we were born, and because that name was imposed on us. There seems to be violent objection to the term among young people, who link the word 'Negro' with Uncle Tom. They seldom use the word 'Negro.' They use 'Black' and 'African.' Some of them even object to the word 'Afro-American,' preferring the term 'Afram.'"

Is the name game real?

Will it last?

Are there substantial grounds for the violent opposition to the word "Negro"?

To answer these questions and to relate them to the whole bubbling controversy, one must go back 400 years. For Americans of African descent have been arguing about names ever since they were forcibly transported from Africa by Europeans who arbitrarily branded them "Blackamoors," "Moors," "negers," and "negros." The English word "Negro" is a derivative of the Spanish and Portuguese word negro, which means black. The Portuguese and Spanish, who were pioneers in the African Slave Trade, used this adjective to designate the African men and women whom they captured and transported to the slave mart of the New World. Within a short time, the Portuguese word negro (no capital) became the English noun-adjective "negro." This word, which was not capitalized at first, fused not only humanity, nationality and place of origin but also certain white judgements about the inherent and irredeemable inferiority of the persons so designated The word also referred to certain Jim Crow places, i.e., the "negro pew" in Christian churches.

The reaction of the first Americans of African descent to the word "Negro" has never been adequately studied. But it appears from an examination of surviving documents that literate black people resisted the word with cunning and tenacity. The first black immigrants seem to have preferred the word "African." In surviving documents, they referred to themselves as "blacks," "blackes," and "Africans." And the first institutions organized by Americans of African descent were designated "African," viz., The Free African Society," "the African Methodist Episcopal Church," "The African Baptist Church." The preamble of the Free African Society, which was founded in Philadelphia in 1787, began: "We, the Free Africans and their descendants of the City of Philadelphia in the State of Pennsylvania or elsewhere. . . ."

The tentative efforts of Americans of African descent to define themselves in African terms were reversed suddenly and dramatically in the first two decades of the 19th century. When the American Colonization Society organized a movement to send free Africans "back" to Africa, the colored community reacted by abandoning the word African in favor of the words "coloured" and/or "free persons of colour." In 1835, the fifth annual convention of the colored people of America passed a resolution which recommended "as far as possible, to our people to abandon use of the word 'colored,' when either speaking or writing concerning themselves; and especially to remove the title of African from their institutions,, the marbles of churches, and etc. . . ." Philadelphia leaders later recommended use of the term "Oppressed Americans." This advice was scorned by militant colored leaders. "Oppressed Americans!" snorted Samuel Cornish, "who are they? Nonsense brethren! You are COLORED AMERICANS. The Indians are. RED AMERICANS, and the white people are WHITE AMERICANS and you are as good as they, and they are no better than you."

The "oppressed Americans" were routed by the "colored Americans," and the term "colored" became the dominant word in the colored community for the rest of the nineteenth century. There were, to be sure, dissents. Frederick Douglass, the leading colored public figure, used the word "Negro" occasionally--and some eccentrics experimented with terms like "Anglo-African.' For reasons that were probably connected with the tendency of "the free people of color" to withdraw from the great masses of freedmen, there was a sharp reaction to the word "colored" in the Civil War and Reconstruction periods. For a short spell, the term "Negro" occupied roughly the same place in Negro life as the words "black" and "Afro-American" occupy today. In other words, it was a term of militancy, selfconsciously used by black men defiantly asserting their pride of race. We are told, for example, that Blanche Kelso Bruce, the first black man to serve a full term in the U. S. Senate, refused to use the word "colored," saying: "I am a Negro, and proud of my race." Bruce's example was not followed by all Reconstruction leaders. In the North Carolina constitutional convention of 1888, James Walker Hood, one of 15 black delegates, denied that "there was a Negro on the floor of the Convention." Outraged and insulted, he insisted "that the word Negro had no significance as to color, but could only be used in a reproachful or degrading sense, and he further declared that no man on that floor knew where the-term originated, since it was not found in ancient history, inspired or profane." In the South Carolina constitutional convention of the same year, T. J. Coghlan, a radical white Southerner, offered a resolution which urged that steps be taken to "expunge forever from the vocabulary of South Carolina, the epithets 'nigger,' 'negro,' and 'yankee' . . . and to punish this insult by fine and imprisonment."

In periods of reaction and extreme stress, black people usually turn inward. They begin to redefine themselves and they begin to argue seriously about names. The post-Reconstruction period, one of the whitest times in American history, was an archetypal expression of this process. The word "coloured" still retained a commanding position in this period, but men like Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington used the word "Negro" freely. There were also exponents of the Afro-American theme, as evidenced by the founding, in 1899, of the National Afro-American League, and the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper, established in 1892. Toward the end of the century, the word "Negro" began to supplant the words "colored" and "Afro-American." It was during this period that the first national Negro organizations (The American Negro Academy in 1897 and the National Negro Business League in 1900) were founded. The founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909 marked, it seems, the disappearing peak of the colored movement. By 1919, the Negro Year Book could report: "There is an increasing use of the word 'Negro' and a decreasing use of the word 'colored' and 'Afro-American' to designate us as a people. The result is that the word 'Negro' is, more and more, acquiring a dignity that it did not have in the past." During this same period, there was an aggressive campaign for capitalization of the word "Negro." This campaign, which was led by the NAACP, peaked in 1930 when the New York Times announced that it would print the word "Negro" with a capital letter. In an editorial (March 7, 1930), the newspaper said: "In our 'style book' 'Negro' is now added to the list of words to be capitalized. It is not merely a typographical change; it is an act of recognition of racial self-respect for those who have been for generations in 'the lower case, ""

Although the word "Negro" became a generally acceptable designation in the l930s, there was strong opposition from militant radicals like Adam Clayton Powell, who continued to use the word "black," and from militant nationalists like Elijah Muhammad, who continued to speak of "so-called Negroes." This opposition, inchoate and unorganized, was sharpened in the '50s and '60s by the rhetorical artistry of Malcolm X and the emergence of the Black Power movement. But MalcoIm X and the Black Power movement were reflections of a general crisis of identity which is similar in tone and urgency to the crises of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th.

It appears, from this short historical sketch, that the word "Negro" has been a generally acceptable term in the black or, if you prefer, the Negro community for relatively short time. It appears also that there has been continuous and sustained opposition to the term. Contemporary critics of the word "Negro" say Booker T. Washington was primarily responsible for the campaign in which the word "Negro" supplanted the the words "black," "colored," and "Afro-American." There is truth in this -- the Negro Year Book and the Negro Business League were Washington projects -- but it is not the whole truth. The movement for adoption of the word "Negro" was also given a strong impetus by militant radicals like W. E. B. Du Bois, who was one of the founders of the American Negro Academy, and militant nationalists like Marcus Garvey, who used the word "Negro" consistently and named his organization the Universal Negro Improvement Association. As a matter of fact, the classic argument in favor of the word "Negro" was articulated by W. E. B. Du Bois in a reply to a pro-African letter. Since this exchange, which appeared in the Crisis in March, 1928, capsules the main issues in the controversy, we are printing it in some detail.

[Note to students: The Du Bois letter is deleted here because it appears earlier in electronic sourcebook.]

Du Bois' argument is, as usual, persuasive. But, in the eyes of the pro-black contingent, it is hardly conclusive. Critics of this famous exchange say Du Bois' premises are dubious, to say the least. For example: He starts out with the correct premise that names are objectively unimportant. In other words, there is no necessary connection between the name and the thing. From this premise, which is objectively true, he draws a very different conclusion: that names are unimportant to people. Keith Baird, the coordinator of the Afro-American History and Cultural Center of the New York City Board of Education, and other opponents of the word "Negro" point out that modern linguistic scholarship is virtually unanimous in its findings that names and words determine, to a great extent, what we see and what we feel. They are also critical of Du Bois' assertion that "wide and continued usage" can make an inaccurate word accurate. As for the eloquent conclusion, critics say that Du Bois evaded the the issue. Nobody doubts that the Thing is important, at least on certain levels. But the whole point of racism in America is the determination to deny human status to certain people--millionaires as well as world-famous scholars like Du Bois--who have won the Thing but lack a certain Name.

Du Bois was too honest and too brilliant to be content with the eloquent but evasive 1928 statement. As late as 1958, he was still wrestling with the issue of terminology. Moreover, his works (The Souls of Black Folk, The Gifts of Black Folk, Black Folk: Then and Now, Black Reconstruction) testify to a certain ambivalence about the word "Negro."

For all that, Du Bois stated the problem with lucidity and power, and his words are echoed by some contemporary intellectuals. Dr. Jeanne Spurlock, a prominent psychiatrist who has been active in the freedom movement, does not believe that a change in name will change the Negroes experience themselves and the way others experience them. "The word 'Negro'," she says, "means different things to different people, depending on so many things in their individual backgrounds." Some individuals, she added, may have a need, depending on their individual backgrounds, to reject the term. She has no objections to these individuals using the words "black" or "Afro-American," if the words help them to achieve a sense of identity and internal organization. Dr. Spurlock says she prefers the word "Negro," if ethnic designations are necessary. "I'm not offended by the word," she says. "I feel comfortable about being a Negro, about being black."

A similar comment came from Dr. Benjamin Quarles, professor of history at Morgan College. "One's estimation of himself," he says, "takes many forms. There are levels of sophistication on which you voice your protest and make clear your identity. For some people, the best way they can make clear their identity is by denying the word 'Negro' which, traditionally, they say, is a slave-oriented name. Other people may prefer what they would consider more sophisticated techniques of projecting their identity. But, nevertheless, you have to grant that it may be necessary for certain individuals to avoid the name 'Negro.' I wouldn't quarrel with them. Nevertheless, I would not myself stop using the word 'Negro,' because I see nothing wrong with it. Words change in their context. We have many words historically that once were terms of denigration. For instance, the Friends were sometimes called Quakers in derision. Instead of dodging the word, they adopted it and made it a term of great respect and meaning. I believe you will begin to see the same evolution of the word 'Negro' as Americans of African descent move into their rightful place in American society."

The to-each-his own approach is rejected by opponents of the word "Negro." They say that all black people are affected in the deepest reaches of their being by the collective label. And they contend that the quest for the right name is the most sophisticated level of finding and protecting one's identity. Perhaps the most articulate exponent of this view is Keith Baird, the young Afro-American expert of the New York City Board of Education. According to Baird, "The continuing depressed economic and social status of the African people in America, enforced and maintained by the dominant European-originated Americans, is symbolized and instrumentally promoted by thy continuing use of the déclassé designation 'Negro.'" Baird adds: "The militant efforts being made by Americans of African descent require attention in respect of every fact or factor which confers the status of humanity on the individual--the right and power to obtain and enjoy the physical necessities of life as well as the psychological. Positive and enhancing self-regard is a psychological necessity of life, and the name borne by any individual or group can be an effective vehicle and symbol of group or individual self-regard."

Baird cites an impressive array of scholars, including Benjamin Lee Whorf, in support of his contention that language tends to prestructure thinking and acting. "We say," he adds, "that we speak as we think. In fact, we tend to think as we speak." The meaning of a word, or expression, he continues, "Is what it does, that is, the effect which it produce in its hearers.... A name can determine the nature of the response given to it by virtue of the associations which its use conjures up." Baird does not claim that the adoption of the word "Afro-American" will solve the American race problem. He does believe, however, that it will make a significant difference in the internal economies of black and white Americans. "The very act and fact of changing the designation," he says, "will cause the individual to be redesignated, to be reconsidered, not only in terms of his past and his present but hopefully in terms of his future." He adds: "Designation has an important bearing on destiny."

Baird objects to the word "Negro" on two grounds. 1) The word "Negro" is a slave-oriented epithet which was imposed on Americans of African descent by slavemasters. "The word came into use," Baird says, "in connection with the enslavement of the African in the New World. The use of the word became connected with what Earl Conrad has so well called the "Negro-Concept," that grotesque conception of the African which has been shaped in the mind of the European and forced with Procrustean cruelty on the person and personality of the black American."

2) The word "Negro" is not geographically or culturally specific. "Historically," he says, "human groups have been named according to the land from which they originated .... The unwillingness of the dominant group to recognize the humanity of the African is evidenced by the fact that when it is necessary or desired to identify Americans in terns of the land of their origin, terms such as Italian-American, Polish-American, Spanish-American, Jewish-American (referring back to the ancient kingdom and culture of Judaea), etc., are employed. In the American mind there is no connection of the black American with land, history and culture--factors which proclaim the humanity of an individual." Baird denies that the English word "Negro" is a synonym for black. He says. "'Negro' does not mean simply 'black,' which would be the simple, direct opposite of 'white.' We talk about a 'white man' or a 'white Cadillac'; we may talk, as many unfortunately do, of a 'Negro man,' but never of a 'Negro Cadillac.'

Baird believes the word "Afro-American" will supplant the word "Negro." He does not object to the term "black," which, he says, lacks the historical and cultural precision of the word "Afro-American." He is supported in this view by Richard Moore, Harlem bookstore owner and author of The Name "Negro"--It's Origin and Evil Use. Moore says the word "Negro" is so "saturated with filth," so "polluted" with the white man's stereotypes, that "there is nothing to be done but to get rid of it." He prefers the word "Afro-American" because of its "correctness, exactness, even elegance." He believes the adoption of the word will force "these prejudiced European-Americans" to reevaluate black people in terms of their history and culture. "Black," Moore said, "is a loose color designation which is not connected with land, history, and culture. While I recognize it as a step forward in getting rid of the term 'Negro,' I think it is necessary to take the next step."

To take the next step, whatever that step might be, millions of Americans of African descent are going to have to search their souls and their internal maps. At the request of Ebony Magazine, Ossie Davis, the playwright-actor, searched his soul and came up with the following passionately eloquent statement:

In this statement, Ossie Davis, who is considered a black man by the leaders of the pro-black movement, adds a new and personal dimension to the controversy which will be settled finally by the internal movement of Americans of African descent. And in the course of that movement, on one level or another, every "Negro" and/or "black" and/or "Afro-American" is going to have to choose a name in the process of choosing his being.

Who are you?

What is your name?

Letters to the Editor, Ebony 23 (January 1968): 10-11.


The article "What's in A Name?'"(Nov. 1967) was excellent and very inspiring.

I have often heard people ask, 'Why do they call Africans Negroes but don't call Negroes in America Africans?' I think this article has in many ways answered this question, and I know cleared up a lot of confusion in other people's minds.

Your conclusion of the article, leaving it up to the individual to choose what name he wanted, was a step in itself toward self-recognition or denial, depending upon what you are: "Negro" and/or "Black" and/or "Afro-American."

Dianna M. Monroe
Portland, Ore.


Hurrah for your article, "What's In A Name?" I was not aware of the national controversy over the proper designation for identifiable Americans of African descent, but I was aware of my own dissatisfaction with "Negro" nomenclature for the reasons cited by Keith Baird. I agree that the term "Negro" denies Americans of African ancestry a past history or present nationality.

Betty Bobo Seiden
Oakland, Calif.


There is no real advantage in eliminating the word "Negro." Probably before any change would be accepted widely, the connotation given to "Negro" would be transferred to the new term. then the cycle will begin all over again.

The only real solution will be the changing of the meaning of whatever term is used most today.

Sgt. Irwin B. Taylor
Chicago, Ill.


Anything except that odious word, "Negro," which has such a ridiculous heritage of mockery. We were not dropped into America; we were forcibly dragged from Africa. So what else are we? Words are the greatest avenue of communication and much more reliable than signs. They are forceful symbols! Words, that is. Besides all of this I have a sinking feeling that the dear old Boers, or whatever they are in South Africa, would just love to RIGHTLY own the name Africans; they tried to get as close as they could. Let us all rally around Afro-American. I think Black has connotations of arrogance.

Virginia J. Harden
Detroit, Mich.


Let us understand one thing, this name game is not an individual matter. Black forefathers wer tagged with the name Negro during the slave period. It is not so that some individuals need a change word and others do not. This concerns a group of people in full. This means the return to our rightful identity as a people, no one individual of this group has arrived, or made it. Says Richard Moore in The Name Negro: "The word 'Negro' is so polluted with the white man's stereotypes that there is nothing to do but get rid of it."

Susan F. Oblington
Vauxhall, N.J.


A random survey of Afro-American personnel on this base, taken by myself and another airman, indicates that the vast majority favors the terms Afro-American and African-American. the reason given by this majority is that these terms contain certain undertones of heritage with which the young black man or today is quite eager to identify.

Thank you for this opportunity to voice our opinion.

A3c Edward D. Hitchens
Castle Air Force Base, Calif.


I am forwarding the coupon in the hope that something may be accomplished in the immediate future to change the name of our race nationally and indisputably from "Negro" to "Afro-American" or "African-American."

I was very pleased to see your article in Ebony on the subject and I agree with Mr. Keith Baird. Unfortunately, the name makes a hell of a difference.

Mrs. B. J. Harrison
Portsmouth, Va.


With every revolution, a change is brought about. I think that the elimination of the word "Negro" should be included in the dynamic revolution of the Afro-American people today. Certainly, there won't be a change overnight, but I feel that with the continuous effort on the part of every Afro-American discontinuing the use of the word Negro and securing his rightful identification, the change can be brought about most effectively.

Donadrian L. Rice
Spartanburg, S.C.


I will not and have not got anywhere by the name that is adjoined to my color. I am an individual unto myself and the person looking out from my skin is neither black nor white but a human being -- striving toward a goal.

M. Elaine Boles
Toledo, Ohio


 By choosing a term such as "Afro-American" and rejecting terms devised by muddle-headed and money-hungry Portuguese slavers of the 15th century, black people of the Americas are no different from their brothers of the African and Asian countries who, after having driven out the Western exploiters proceeded to rename the lands of their heritage.

Frances Langley
Boston, Mass.


I would like to quote from Mr. Richard B. Moore's book, The Name "Negro," It's Origin and Evil Use, "When all is said and done, dogs and slaves are named by their masters; free men name themselves."

Thank you very much for such an enlightening article.

John L. Brinkley
New York, N.Y.


I believe you can help immensely in eradicating this inane and illegitimate label ("Negro") among black people by referring to the black man in America in your periodicals by our proud and legitimate name -- Afro-American.

Winfred L. Watson
Chicago, Ill.


I feel that it is imperative that the word "black" be redefined and actively involved in describing and relating to us as a people and as a nation. In this way wee can effectively overcome the deep-rooted self-hatred and the lack of self-esteem which society has instilled so ingeniously in the psychology of thought, feeling, and behavior of the majority of the black population.

M.V. Saurennann
Philadelphia, Penna.


I feel that the NAACP should appropriate the necessary funds and lead the transition to the National Association for the Advancement of Afro-Americans (NAAAM).

S.Sgt. Al Fudge
Detroit, Mich.


I have no qualms about being identified as a Negro. I regard that designation as nothing more than an impersonal, factual description of one of the major branches of humankind. The unfavorable connotations that have grown up around the word are unfortunate, I feel, but hardly worse than those associated with ethnic names that do not even identify a race -- merely a nationality.

I am aware that my own ancestry includes individuals of American Indian and Caucasian blood, but since my Negro ethnic characteristics predominate, I will not deny that I am, primarily, a Negro. The use of such terms as "Afro-American" or "African-American" would seem, to me, to remind one that his ancestors were dragged from their homeland. I would much prefer "Negro American," which only signifies my race and the fact that I am an American citizen.

Miss Judy E. Cummings
Staten Island, N.Y.


My parents were owned by a rich and kind man. He was good to them and did not change their name. They kept the name their forefathers had given them in Africa, and we were all very proud of our name. I must vigorously assert that there is something in a name.

Mrs. Gainsley C. Smith
Perris, Calif.


Already I feel the impact of the word "Afro-American." It has given me a sense of power and beauty I've never once possessed. But now, I'm proud. Heaven knows, I'm proud.

R. Byrd
Springfield Gardens, N.Y.

Letters to the Editor, Ebony 23 (February 1968): 14-15.


If you will permit a few comments from a sympathetic white woman let me say that any or all of these suggested names ("What's In A Name," Nov. 1967) are good -- you might even add nigger, and meet it head on, as Dick Gregory does, beating Whitey to the draw, and making the name a badge of courage.

As long as you carry a chip on your shoulders concerning any name you are victims -- you are under this ridiculous thing instead of on top where you belong.

The hundreds of thousands of black people here in America who have made good against all odds have a plus quality that you yourselves must recognize. You can stand proud and tall against any name from friend or foe.

The Negro has won. You are victors. Hold this stance. Be proud. You have the right to be so. Even though there are goals still to win, even though you still meet hindrances and delays, white supremacists can no more push you back into "your place" than they could sweep back the ocean tides with a broom.

You are Americans -- the truest possible. Swiss, Polish, Irish, African, Jewish, German, Chinese, Indian, (etc., etc.) -- America is just such a mixture. And the Negro has made himself an indisputable and worthy part of America.

Jo Love
Nathrop, Colo.


In your November issue, the question was asked: What's In a Name? According to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad (who was taught by God in the person), a name is better than gold. The Bible "bears witness" to this! The Honorable Elijah Muhammad has been teaching the "plan truth" for over 36 years: "Accept your own and be yourself. We are the Black man. We are the Aboriginal Black man. We are the Asiatic Black man! Negro is a name given to us by the Caucasians. Negro means something that is dead." Look up "necromancy."

Fleming X
Newark, N.J.


The word Negro is as despicable to me as the word nigger -- both being synonymous.

Leo Brown
Omaha, Neb.


Ossie Davis's statement distinguishing between Negroes and blacks (What's In A Name," Nov. 1967) raises the sort of questions that can only speak very poorly for his integrity as an honest man of whatever color.

The pious glibness of his remarks, especially those characterizing Malcolm X make it hard to believe he could have searched anywhere near his soul. His words reach no further than the dubious gallery where the slogan-minded sit, and make him nothing more than one more black parrot.

It was quite unworthy, if not ludicrous, as a conclusion to the kind of rare and probing article that Lerone Bennett blessed us with.

Just what sort of crude oversimplification does Davis' definition of a Negro come to? How would he classify hog-eating, hair-pressing, hair-straightening exponents of the unwhitened culture as, say, the singer of blues and gospels -- artists like B.B. King or Muddy Waters? Artists with unsurpassed genious for thriving on their own traditional insights, their own unique forms of expressing themselves in and out of their music.

How would he classify a Billie Holiday who wore false hair pieces, and long to record with strings; who, nonetheless, had whites flocking to her door in order that their own desperate artistic needs might be richly provided for. And what's Davis' black verdict on Ray Charles and his moans and shouts?

And finally, what has he lft out of his pious, idolatrous portrait of Malcolm, who , like other Muslim ministers, thrived on and continued the preaching and responding styles which come out of the Hallelujah! Amen! I'll see you in Glory!-shouting Negro church?

James Cunningham
Chicago, Ill.