First used in the census in 1900, "Negro," which actually replaced the term “Colored,” became the most common way of referring to black Americans throughout most of the early 20th century, particularly prior to the 1960s and the civil rights movement when “Negro” was replaced with more acceptable terms, such as black or Afro-American or African-American.
When asked to mark their race, Americans are currently given a choice of five government-defined categories in census surveys, including one checkbox selection which is described as "black, African Am., or Negro, according to Nicholas Jones, chief of the Census Bureau’s racial statistics branch. Beginning with the surveys next year, that selection will simply say "black" or "African American."
The change will take place when the Census Bureau distributes its annual American Community Survey to more than 3.5 million U.S. households in 2014. Jones pointed to months of public feedback and census research that concluded few black Americans still identify with being Negro and many view the term as "offensive and outdated."
ABC News reported that in the 2000 census, about 50,000 people specifically wrote in the word Negro when asked how they wished to be identified. By 2010, unpublished census data provided to the AP show that number had declined to roughly 36,000.
Most ironically, the change in language in the census was announced at the end of February, recognized as Black History Month. This nationwide celebration began as the fruitful vision of Dr. Carter G. Woodson, founder of the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. In February, 1926, the organization instituted "Negro History Week" to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. In 1976, fifty years after the first celebration, the Association used its influence to institutionalize the shifts from Negro History Week to Black History Month.
Since the mid-1970s, every American president, Democrat and Republican, has issued
proclamations endorsing the Association’s annual theme. This year’s theme is “At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington.”
This month pays tribute to Americans of African ancestry and celebrates their accomplishments and contributions to the nation. In light of our changing times and changing views toward racial identity, the following poem seems appropriate:
a black history poem
This month we turn back the pages of time
To obscure sections in history's scrapbook.
With fervor we seek to correct the crime
Of omission of black heroes. We look
For ministers, martyrs, masters of rhyme,
Familiar names of those who first took
Part in the legacy that seeks to bring
Black people to lift every voice and sing.
Yet our eyes should not focus on the past
Too long. We need to look ahead and see
That heroic memories cannot last.
Living heroes must transcend ebony
Images; we need women who stand fast,
Men who live to unveil the mystery.
Heroes must live beyond this month somehow,
For our lives must tell that history is now.
We who know our true heritage are the ones
To set our vision toward new horizons.
In light of changes that have taken place across the broad spectrum of American life and culture, Black History Month should take on even greater significance in 2013.
The following is a list of articles related to Black History Month: