Census to drop use of word ‘Negro’

The term was used by Martin Luther King Jr.
The term was used by Martin Luther King Jr.

WASHINGTON — After more than a century, the Census Bureau is dropping its use of the word ‘‘Negro’’ to describe black Americans in surveys.

Instead of the term that came into use during the Jim Crow era of racial segregation, census forms will use the more modern labels ‘‘black’’ or ‘‘African-American.’’

The change will take effect next year when the Census Bureau distributes its annual American Community Survey to more than 3.5 million US households, Nicholas Jones, chief of the bureau’s racial statistics branch, said in an interview.


He pointed to months of public feedback and census research that concluded few black Americans still identify with being Negro and many view the term as ‘‘offensive and outdated.’’

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First used in the census in 1900, ‘‘Negro’’ became the most common way of referring to black Americans through most of the early 20th century, during a time of racial inequality and segregation. ‘‘Negro’’ itself had taken the place of ‘‘colored.’’

Starting with the 1960s civil rights movement, black activists began to reject the ‘‘Negro’’ label and came to identify themselves as black or African-American.

Still, the term has lingered, having been used by Martin Luther King Jr. in his speeches.

It also remains in the names of some black empowerment groups that were established before the 1960s, such as the United Negro College Fund, now often referred to as UNCF.