Negroes. Colored. Black. African-American. Those are some of the terms used to refer to Americans of African descent from the time of slavery until now. Lawrence O’Donnell, on his MSNBC show, The Last Word, shed light on the term’s origin based on discoveries made by an executive at the Yale Law School Library. According to the report, which aired in April 2015, it was discovered that the term’s earliest use to date was found in reference to the author of two sermons printed in April, 1782 in Philadelphia. One of the sermons was found in recent years at the Harvard library with the attribution to the author being printed below the sermon’s title as, “by the African American.”No actual name was provided.
The term later resurfaced and was championed by Civil Rights Activist and Minister, Rev. Jesse Jackson, who, in a move to discredit and retire the term, Black, said, at a news conference reported by the New York Times in 1988 that, “Just as we were colored, but were not that, and then negro, but not that, to be called black is just baseless…Black tells you about skin color and what side of town you live on. African-American evokes a discussion of the world.”
Today “African-American” is widely accepted as the formal classification of Americans of African descent, but it also often synonymously used with Black. It is both embraced and reluctantly accepted within the Black community including among Patmos Chapel members and regular visitors.
Last year, Dr. Daniel Bedney, a local doctor, visited the fairly new African-American museum in Washington D.C., which houses some of the most impressive displays of African-American people, their culture, and their achievements. In reflecting on his thoughts about the term, he chose to paraphrase a quote from one of the exhibits at the museum. “[African-American] means, you’re a stranger in a country that you built,”he said.
Meanwhile, for School Teacher, Shayla Guy, the term encompasses all the major facets of her identity. “It means that I am a member of a rich and history-making people. It means that all parts of my identity and existence comes from Africa. I am also American and all that entails from dreams and opportunity, to celebrating differences as equally as what makes us alike,” she said.
Chelsy Pedersen-Buck, a chef from Port Orange, FL, offers an alternative classification of her own saying, “I prefer the term Black American because I feel like it more describes who I am and my culture.”
However, there is a universal classification that all members agree on, not just for African-Americans, but for every person of every race, ethic or cultural background who enter the doors of the church. “We only need one label. We are all Children of God,” said Trudy Constant.