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Monday, August 26, 2013

Where Did The Term African-American Originate?

For centuries, the question of what to call certain ethnic groups raged on in newspapers. In the case of black people, the terminology decided upon by the dominant white majority was "Negroes"-- but there were some people of both races who did not like that term. Thus, in some newspapers of the late 1800's and early 1900's, you would see such terms as "colored"-- as in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, founded in 1909. You would also see the term "Afro-American," which was the name of a popular black newspaper that was published in Baltimore beginning in 1892; this term was intended to recall the fact that most black people had African ancestry. In fact, we can find the term "African-American," as far back as 1899, although it does not seem to have been in popular use yet.

The term "Negro" persisted well into the 1950's, and so did "colored." But as the Civil Rights movement gained in strength, there were voices demanding an end to these terms, which were now considered demeaning. By the late 1960's, "Afro-American" became more popular, and by the 1970's, we begin to see "African-American in some newspapers, as universities changed the name of their black studies departments to "African-American Studies." By the early 1980's, the term "African-American" was becoming much more widely used, such that it was now the preferred terminology.

Another answer (note-- while this is certainly an interesting explanation, there is historical evidence the term "African-American" was in use long before 1987):

A poem by the name of "I Can" popularized the term African American in 1987. The poem was written by Johnny Duncan. It appeared in The 1987 Black History Calendar, and all subsequent editions through 1993.

While taking infantry training at Ft. Benning, Georgia, Duncan came across an anonymous sign that read: "The last 4 letters of American spell I Can." In 1987 Duncan set out to compose a poem based on that slogan. In the midst of writing, he realized that the last four letter of African also spelled "i can." So in line twenty-five of the poem, Duncan wrote, The last 4 letter of my heritage and my creed spell "i can", heritage being Afr-i-can and creed being Amer-i-can.

Jesse Jackson saw a copy of the poem in 1989 Black History Calendar that Duncan sent to Mrs Coretta King. Jackson then collaborated with Ramona Edelin and others and made the push to use the term Afr-i-can Amer-i-can. Johnny Duncan, when he created the term, defined African Americans as "the children of the descendants of the African Diaspora who inhabit the Americas", not just the United States.


I Can do what my mind tells me to.
I Can, so Can you.
I Can streak like a Rocket through the Sky.
I Can plunge to the Earth and die.
I Can run and win any Race,
From Inner Self to Outer Space.
All I want you to understand
Is that my Country and my Heritage spell "I CAN!"
I Can try, and I Can cry;
I Can lead, and I Can succeed.
I Can trail, and I Can fail.
I Can fight, and I Can Unite;
I Can adopt, and I Can Stop.
I Cannot hide, nor Can Apartheid!
I Can write and incite.
I Can bleed for my Country's Creed.
I Can defend, and I Can pretend.
I Can hate, yet, I Can adjudicate!
I Can give, but I Can also live.
I Can contrive, and oh yeah, "I Can survive!"
I Can do this, and I Can do that.
All I need is a Turn at Bat.
I speak of my Abilities not by Chance.
Nor is it your Opinion of me that I seek to Enhance!
"The last four letters of my Heritage and my Creed spell "I CAN!"
I Can do Anything as well as "Everyman!"

Professor Duncan chronicles the development of the term African American in a 2008 book entitle--"i can: the origin of Afr-i-can Amer-i-can".
Source: Wiki Answers