Language & Acronyms

Some Language Notes

Civil Rights Movement vs Freedom Movement

As veterans of the Freedom Movement, we're constantly confronted by how the mass media and education system distorts our Movement. The very term "Civil Rights Movement" is itself a distortion. Many of us prefer instead to use "Freedom Movement" whenever we can.

Successful social movements usually address one or two specific issues as stepping stones toward broader goals. The Southern Freedom Movement focused on segregation and voting, but the Movement's vision was not limited to just the notion of achieving those two civil rights. The Movement was really about the overthrow of the entire system of feudal oppression and exploitation that had replaced slavery after the Civil War. So our songs and chants were, "Freedom Now!" Not "Civil rights now!"

By defining the Freedom Movement as a civil rights movement, the media limits its scope to that of a modest reform within a benevolent broader system. In reality, by demanding an end to segregation and restoration of voting rights for Afro-Americans and other people of color we were engaged in a fundamental attack on the existing political and economic power structure of the South   and on the national economic and political powers who accommodated and enabled race-based southern feudalism.

Negro, Black, African-American, Afro-American, and Nigger

In the 1950s and early '60s, "Negro" was the term of courtesy and respect for the descendants of African slaves and immigrants from Africa and the Carribean. Starting in the late '60s and to this day "Negro" is considered archaic with a connotation that is no longer positive. When directly quoting from the 1960s, we use "Negro" as it was intended by the speaker or author at the time. Contemporarily, authors use terms like "Black" (capitalized), "African-American," and "Afro-American" interchangeably.

The usage of "Afro-American" follows that of SNCC veteran and author Charlie Cobb:

I use Afro-American as a way of formally designating what I consider to be the ethnic group that over the past four hundred years has evolved in the United States from descendants of people from the African continent many of whom were captured and brought to the Americas as slaves. African-American more properly describes any former citizen of an African nation who has U.S. citizenship.   Charlie Cobb, On the Road to Freedom.

There is also a subtle way in which a portion of white society uses "African-American" to gloss over social and political realities by seeming to equate the descendants of former slaves and Jim Crow segregation with ethnic groups who voluntarily immigrated to our shores (Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Jewish-Americans, etc). The implication being that ethnic immigrant populations overcame discrimination to lift themselves out of poverty and powerlessness by hard work and perseverance so if African-Americans have had difficulty doing so it's their fault alone.

We reject that false-equivalency. The oppression, exploitation, and racism experienced by Afro-Americans was (and still is) of a fundamentally different order than that experienced by white hyphenated-Americans.

For people of our generation   both Black and white   the word "nigger" is fraught with emotional trauma. To us it is a forbidden word of hate and anger and an explicit incitement to violence. It is a word that reflects an attitude of supporting racial subjugation, oppression, and exploitation, and a word used to impose and reinforce that world-view. We do not use it, and most of us internally wince when we hear Afro-Americans of a younger generation casually toss it around as a colloquialism, and even more so do we cringe when younger whites act as if they are entitled to use it in a similar way. We know that for many people of color it is a word of such pain and ugliness that they do not want to read it, hear it, or allow their children to be exposed to it.

Yet we cannot truthfully convey the realities that we of the Freedom Movement faced without describing and quoting how that word was used by racists in the 1950s and '60s. So as a matter of honest history, when necessary this website quotes those who used it to maintain segregation and white supremacy. A context that we hope will illustrate why we still react so strongly against it when we encounter it so many decades later.

See also The "N-word" a Discussion.

Latino, Rather Than Hispanic, Mexican, or Chicano

In the 1960s, "Hispanic" was commonly used in the eastern U.S. for Spanish speakers, while "Mexican" was the term commonly applied to Spanish-speaking inhabitants west of the Mississippi   the descendents of those who lived in the lands conquered by the U.S. in 1848. It was also used for all more recent immigrants from south of the border regardless of nationality. Later, "Chicano" became preferred (at least in California). Today, Latino is more inclusive of many nationalities and histories and we therefore contemporaneously use it, though original documents retain the original language. Note that statistics presented on this site for "Latinos" were most likely labelled "Mexican" or "Hispanic" in the original source.

Freedom Riders

The first racially integrated freedom ride   called a "Journey of Reconciliation"   took place in 1947 and ended with all the participants serving chain-gang prison sentences in North Carolina. The wave of Freedom Rides that began in 1961 were more successful and they ended legally-enforced segregation in inter-state travel. Those who rode the buses, braved mob violence and served their time in jail were known as "Freedom Riders."

Those rides so impressed Afro-Americans living under the yoke of segregation in the Deep South that "Freedom Rider" became for them become a generic term for all civil rights workers who came from outside their community to support their fight for freedom. So in some documents and letters on this site "Freedom Rider" is used as a generic title rather than a specific descriptor of someone who participated in the 1961 rides.

Ghetto is Not a Pejorative

In the 1960s, social-justice activists commonly used the word "ghetto" for Afro-American neighborhoods, particularly in the urban north, as a way of calling attention to involuntary residential segregation, economic exploitation, systemic poverty, police repression, and legal-social-cultural barriers hindering escape. For us, in many contexts ghetto was a term of defiant community pride and a rejection of deracialized, depoliticized euphemisms such as "inner city." Today, ghetto is sometimes used as a disparaging pejorative, as in "that's so ghetto." On this website, "ghetto" is used as it was in the 1960s.

Acronyms

ACLUAmerican Civil Liberties Union
ACMHRAlabama Christian Movement for Human Rights
AFSCAmerican Friends Service Committee
APRIA. Phillip Randolph Institute
ASCSAgriculture Stabilization & Conservation Service
ASMAtlanta Student Movement
CCR U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
CDGMChild Development Group of Mississippi
CFMChicago Freedom Movement
CIGBaltimore Civic Interest Group
CNACCambridge Nonviolent Action Committee
COAHRCommittee on Appeal for Human Rights
COFO Council of Federated Organizations
CORECongress of Racial Equality
CRCCivil Rights Congress
DCVLDallas County Voters League (Selma AL)
DDJDeacons for Defense & Justice (LA & MS)
DMDelta Ministry
FBIFederal Bureau of Investigation
FISFreedom Information Service
FORFellowship of Reconciliation
FoSFriends of SNCC
FSTFree Southern Theater
GCFMGrenada County Freedom Movement
HRECHighlander Research & Education Center
Inc Fund  NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund
LCDCLawyers Constitutional Defense Committee
LCFOLowndes County Freedom Organization
MCHRMedical Committee for Human Rights
MFDP Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
MFLUMississippi Freedom Labor Union
MIAMontgomery Improvement Association
NAACPNational Association for the Advancement of Colored People
NAGNonviolent Action Group
NALCNegro American Labor Council
NCLCNashville Christian Leadership Conference
NNLCNational Negro Labor Council
NPSNational Park Service
NSANational Student Association
NSFNational Sharecroppers Fund
NSMNashville Student Movement
N-VACNon-Violent Action Committee
PPCPoor People's Campaign
RCNLRegional Council of Negro Leadership
SCEFSouthern Conference Education Fund
SCLCSouthern Christian Leadership Conference
SCOPESummer Community Organizing Political Education project
SIMStudent Interracial Ministry
SNCCStudent Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
SRCSouthern Regional Council
SRRPSouthern Rural Research Project
SSOCSouthern Student Organizing Committee
SWAFCA  Southwest Alabama Farmers Cooperative Association
TIALTuskegee Institute Advancement League
USCCR   U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
VEPVoter Education Project


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