What happened to the word “negro”?

Amy Connelly
Provo, UT

In teaching about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to my high school students, I had to pause and do some research when I ran across the word “negro” repeatedly used by Dr. King in both his famous “I Have a Dream” speech and “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. I did not know the appropriate way to approach the word. Should I allow my students to say it? What was the historical context behind the disappearance of this term? I assumed it had something to do with its similar connotation to the “n-word”, but I really had no clue. In the end, I allowed my students to read and say the word, with the understanding that Dr. King felt comfortable with it. If he used it, then why shouldn’t we in reading his words? As for somehow using that word in conversation and/or speech today, I have no idea.


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