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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
ACLU American Civil Liberties Union ACMHR Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights AFSC American Friends Service Committee APRI A. Phillip Randolph Institute ASCS Agriculture Stabilization & Conservation Service ASM Atlanta Student Movement CCR U.S. Commission on Civil Rights CDGM Child Development Group of Mississippi CFM Chicago Freedom Movement CIG Baltimore Civic Interest Group CNAC Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee COAHR Committee on Appeal for Human Rights COFO Council of Federated Organizations CORE Congress of Racial Equality CRC Civil Rights Congress DCVL Dallas County Voters League (Selma AL) DDJ Deacons for Defense & Justice (LA & MS) DM Delta Ministry FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation FIS Freedom Information Service FOR Fellowship of Reconciliation FoS Friends of SNCC FST Free Southern Theater GCFM Grenada County Freedom Movement HREC Highlander Research & Education Center Inc Fund NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund LCDC Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee LCFO Lowndes County Freedom Organization MCHR Medical Committee for Human Rights MFDP Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party MFLU Mississippi Freedom Labor Union MIA Montgomery Improvement Association NAACP National Association for the Advancement of Colored People NAG Nonviolent Action Group NALC Negro American Labor Council NCLC Nashville Christian Leadership Conference NNLC National Negro Labor Council NPS National Park Service NSA National Student Association NSF National Sharecroppers Fund NSM Nashville Student Movement N-VAC Non-Violent Action Committee PPC Poor People's Campaign RCNL Regional Council of Negro Leadership SCEF Southern Conference Education Fund SCLC Southern Christian Leadership Conference SCOPE Summer Community Organizing Political Education project SIM Student Interracial Ministry SNCC Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee SRC Southern Regional Council SRRP Southern Rural Research Project SSOC Southern Student Organizing Committee SWAFCA Southwest Alabama Farmers Cooperative Association TIAL Tuskegee Institute Advancement League USCCR U.S. Commission on Civil Rights VEP Voter Education Project