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What Should You Call Middle Passage Descendants?

The Name Game by Shirley Ellis (


At first glance, the question of what name to use for Middle Passage descendants might seem like a strange one. After all, people have a name and for whatever reason that is, once they have a name, no matter what happens to them or how they are treated, that remains their name. That is the way it is for Armenians, Chinese, Irish, Italians, Jews, and all the 574 recognized Indian nations.

However, that is not the case with Middle Passage people. Their name has changed.

My father was born a Negro. Then he was black. Late in life, much to his discomfort, he became an African-American.

Everyone in this country who traces their ancestors back to Africa has experienced a panoply of racial identifiers over their lives, with some terms imposed and others embraced. In the course of a single day in 2020, I might be called black, African-American or a person of color. I’m also labeled, in a way that makes my brown skin crawl, as diverse, ethnic or a minority (Marc Lacey, the National editor of The New York Times, June 27, 2020 cited in my blog: John Lewis and “the Sad Demise and Eventual Extinction of the American Negro”: Erasing History (8/5/20).

Since Lacey’s message approximately 18 months ago, the name has changed again.

The constantly changing name for Middle Passage people poses a dilemma for historians and museums. What name do you use for such people? Do you use the historically accurate name from the time period of the people you are discussing – meaning the name they used themselves for self-identification – or do you use the name from the present and impose it on the past? Then what do you do if the name changes again in the present? Do you amend your article or book and change the exhibit labels to fit the current usage? Or do you keep the name you had even if it is now obsolete and a sign of backwardness?


Let me begin to answer these questions by turning to Tulsa in 1921 as an example. Previously I wrote about an article by Karlos K. Hill entitled “Community-Engaged History: A Reflection on the 100th Anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre” in The American Historical Review (Should Historians Leave the Ivory Tower and Become Social Advocates?: The Political Consequences). In that article, Hill quotes Booker T. Washington as dubbing the Greenwood District “the Negro Wall Street of America.” Holland Cotter in “A Monument of Past and Present” (NYT 6/5/21, print, 6/3/21 online) also refers to that designation by Washington. But in a multi-authored 5-page article in the same publication, “What Was Lost in the Tulsa Race Massacre” (5/30/21, print, 5/24/21 online), the authors refrain from using the Negro designation.

Turning back to the Hill article, Negro appears three other times. Washington is cited as being part of the National Negro Business League. White Tulsans are quoted as referring to the events there as a “negro rebellion.” Finally in a photograph showing the Greenwood District burning, someone wrote on the photograph itself, “Running the Negro out of Tulsa.” Clearly, the actual residents of the time called themselves “Negro.” But Hill never uses that designation himself to identify the people he is writing about. He uses the terminology of 2021, now 2022. In this case, the historian decided has he no obligation to use the name the people used themselves.

PS It should be noted that Hill, in the Department of African and African American Studies, never refers to the Middle Passage people in Tulsa as African Americans either. That term also is becoming obsolete: change your exhibit labels!


A similar scenario occurs in the article “The Rooms Where It Happened” by Sandra Garcia (NYT 10/17/21 print, 10/15/21 online) about the Harlem Y.M.C.A. in the early 20th century. In the article she refers to a painting titled “Evolution of Negro Dance.” She cites Langston Hughes calling the surrounding area “the Mecca of the New Negro” and quotes him a second time using that term. She even uses “Colored” here four times in reference to the Y.M.C.A. chapter. However, she never refers to the actual people themselves as Negroes.

PS She never calls them African Americans either. Say goodbye to that term. It has reached its expiry date. The demise of “Fifty Years an African American” will be the subject of a future blog.


In “What Thurgood Marshall Taught Me” by Stephen L. Carter, Yale School of Law (NYT 7/18/21 print, 7/14/21 online), he writes the following about Marshall:

When I went to work for him in the summer of 1980, the Judge was still using “Negro” to refer to the race. He hated the term “black” — back then spelled with a lowercase B — which had often been an opprobrious way of talking about the people to whose fight for equality he’d devoted his life. Whenever anyone raised the question (and for the most part nobody dared), he would answer that he’d spent his life fighting for the capital N in “Negro” and wasn’t going to let “a bunch of kids” (sometimes put more strongly) tell him what he should call himself.

Today we scarcely recall the titanic struggle over capitalizing “Negro.” The New York Times, for instance, didn’t make the change until 1930, when Marshall was already in his 20s. A number of newspapers waited until after Brown was decided.

A couple of years before his retirement, the Judge switched to “Afro-American,” but he never seemed comfortable with the term. Across the many hours we spent together during the final year of his life, “Negro” remained his descriptor of choice. He’s the reason I don’t consider the word an insult.

Thurgood Marshall reminds us that the words “Negro” and “slave” were not slurs or terms of insult and were freely used by Negroes and Middle Passage people until they were told otherwise. It should be noted that Afro-American referred to in the article also has been abandoned.


Consider three examples from Columbia University. The first is a repost of something I wrote over 3 years ago revised with examples from the American Historical Association (AHA). The second and third are from John McWhorter in a podcast this past October 14, 2021 and an op-ed column in the NYT on January 7, 2022.

History at Columbia University: Report from a Battle Front in the Culture Wars (4/10/18)

The first article [in the Columbia Daily Spectator] to catch my attention was the front page one entitled “When Professors Make Insensitive Comments, Who Speaks up?” The article recounted the experience of one of two nonwhite students in an American studies seminar last year (apparently the junior year of the student who spoke up). In that seminar the professor informed the class that when studying the 1960s, it was acceptable to use the word “Negroes” to refer to African Americans since that was the term even black people used then to refer themselves.

The student took offense to this usage and communicated it to the professor via email with associated links why the usage was offensive. There was no change in speaking by the professor according to the student and the student subsequently ceased paying attention in class. When contacted by the newspaper, the professor responded:

“It is in fact true, as a matter of historical record, that African Americans in the ‘50s and ‘60s wanted to be called ‘Negroes.’ Denying that practice would be a falsification of history.”

So what? The needs of the present trump the requirement for historical accuracy.

One should note, of course, that since then even the use of “African American has become problematic. While it is still permissible to use it, it is not the term one should use as the examples above show. Similarly the lowercase spelling of “black” is now unacceptable.

Two examples from the current issue of Perspectives on History published by the AHA show how some other history professors avoid doing what the Columbia history professor did. The first example is James H. Sweet, the president of the organization. In his column, he refers to “’20 and odd’ Africans” in Jamestown in 1619. Notice what he did. The historically correct wording from the primary source document refers to “Negroes” and not “Africans.” Sweet knows this. He deliberately avoided using that term. This is an example of self-censorship. When else does he do it?

The very next article raises a similar question. The article by James Grossman, the Executive Director of AHA, and Waldo E. Martin is a tribute to historian Leon Litwack, died 2021 at age 91. They refer to his book North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States, 1790-1860, published in 1961, as pathbreaking study still assigned undergraduates today. Later they refer to Litwack talking about “Black Americans as agents of history, an agency that battled and ultimately transcended victimization.”  This concept of seeing Middle Passage people as people of agency is an important one. They devote the paragraph to the importance of choosing words carefully as part of the learning process. Yet Litwack was about 41 when he published his pathbreaking book about Negroes and undoubtedly it was the word he used for decades as Judge Marshall did. One wonders if teachers using his book with “Negro” in the title self-censor also. Suppose, for example, a teacher decided to replace the term “Civil War” in texts with “War of Northern Aggression”? What message are historians delivering when they replace the words used in history and/or by scholars with their own preferred terminology?

Woke Words With John McWhorter, a Times Virtual Event (10/14/21)

In this podcast, The New York Times columnist and Columbia University professor examined four words that had been submitted by the public for review. One of them was Negro. The questioner, whom McWhorter knew, asked if Negro had become the new N word which is not to be spoken out loud. The source was her college-student son [Marshall’s “bunch of kids”] who had informed her that it become taboo which surprised her.

McWhorter’s response was an emphatic (in a mild-manner way) decisive “NO.” He stated that the word “Negro” is not going to be reclassified as a slur. Yes, the word should not be used to refer to Middle Passage descendants today, that would be “tacky.” However, it is a historically-valid name that is not a slur. It is the word the Middle Passage descendants used themselves as a name for themselves and their organizations. He notes that if one is studying the history and literature of the Middle Passage people they are going to encounter the word citing Martin Luther King and some writers as examples. He objects to the idea that a professor should treat the word as a slur. He categorically asserts that there is “No way on my watch… shall we decide that the word Negro is a slur.”  He certainly is not going to tell his older relatives who grow up as Negroes that the very word these living people used for decades to refer to themselves is a slur.

I Can’t Brook the Idea of Banning ‘Negro’ by John McWhorter (1/7/22)

McWhorter returned to this topic over concern over recent developments that necessitated a reaffirmation of his position.

I wrote recently that William Dawson’s “Negro Folk Symphony” is “smashing,” one of the most stirring pieces of classical music I know. But I hear from an experienced conductor that several orchestras have turned down his requests to perform or record it with them, out of wariness of the word “Negro” in its title.

He objects to this cancelling of a work of art due to its containing the word “Negro” in the title.

McWhorter is well aware that people have now defined “Negro” to be a racial slur. He cites some examples of this behavior in his column and fights back. Even though people freely referred to themselves throughout most of the 20th century as Negroes, he recognizes:

The new idea seems to be that saying or writing “Negro” is not simply archaic, but a contemptuous insult in all contexts.

He goes on to note:

… its usage persists in hallowed names such as the United Negro College Fund and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. The precursor organization to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (note the outdated “Colored” even there) was the National Negro Committee….“Negro” was, for example, a default expression in the writings and speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. Must we place it out of bounds any time a non-Black person recites or refers to King’s words?

McWhorter wonders

What purpose does it serve to generate this new lexical grievance? I’m not saying we should revert to everyday use of “Negro” — it is indeed out of date. But does Black America [ed. He does not use the term “African American” either] need yet another word to take umbrage at and police the usage of? Do we, in Black America, need fellow travelers — sorry, allies — to join us in this new quest, eager to assist in the surveillance out of some misguided sense that this is “doing the work”?

One also wonders how many Black people, beyond a certain anointed cohort, really find the reading aloud of the word “Negro” from an old text offensive. In the Vermont controversy, for instance, the state librarian at the time, Jason Broughton, who is Black, pushed back on the contention that the word “Negro” in itself is racist.

McWhorter is fighting a valiant but losing battle. He reminds me of Joe Biden through most of his presidency so far thinking that it was possible for Republicans and Democrats to work together. Not in this reality. Of course, as adamant as McWhorter is, it is the college snowflakes and not his ancestors who are the wave of the future. McWhorter can bemoan the “certain anointed cohort” all he wants and it won’t do any good. He can bemoan the dismissal of the arts by Negroes all he wants and it won’t do any good.

This weekend, the nation pays homage to one of the greatest users of racial slurs in American history. Think of the all roads that now need to be renamed if we are to be purified. Think of the all the buildings that now need to be renamed if we are to be cleansed. Think of all the statues that now need to be toppled if we are to be corrected. We are required to censor ourselves. There was slavery and then there was the Civil Rights era. The time in between and the people alive then have no name.


Before turning to the next iteration for Middle Passage people, it is necessary to examine how white people destroyed Negro communities in the post-WW II era.

National Award-Winning Play (2019) by Stacey Rose performed at the Barrington Stage Company


Wishful Thinking and the Tulsa Truth

A Blue Wave Coming (Matt Barnard/Tulsa World via AP)

We all engage in wishful thinking. It is one way to remain optimistic, to keep up one’s spirits, to have hope. It is also the proverbial Wiley Coyote running off the cliff – it works until you look down. Then SPLAT!

25th Amendment

Mike Pence has been a source of wishful thinking. When this administration began there were a series of blogs in History News Network (HNN) about him. They had to do with his activation of the 25th Amendment to end the current administration almost immediately. In a series of posts to  HNN, this contributor carefully explained how the 25th Amendment worked. But the analysis did not stop there. It was followed by a meticulously detailed description of every individual who would be involved in the implementation of the 25th Amendment to discharge the President and have the Vice President becoming the Acting President. The analysis demonstrated that the votes were there to make it happen. The writer confidently predicted that it would happen. If the current administration wouldn’t be the shortest on record it would be close to it. Obviously the 25th Amendment maneuver didn’t work or even happen unlike the Impeachment ploy. It should be noted that this writer also had confidently predicted that the 2016 elections would result in a Democratic victory with over 330 Electoral College votes and possibly over 350. All of this was pure wishful thinking. It gave the appearance of sound research while being based on absolutely nothing substantive. As you might expect, I don’t read this blogger anymore. The again that writer has refrained from making predictions and sticks to anodyne summaries of the past.

Michael D’Antonio

Recently Michael D’Antonio decided to engage in some wishful thinking. His article “Time for Pence to jump ship?” was posted on not HNN but CNN (June 11, 2020). D’Antonio wrote:

With a schism forming [in the Republican Party], the time is ripe for a high-level official to make the dramatic break that would signal that someone is ready to stand as the leader of the post-Trump Republican Party. I would nominate for this job, Vice President Mike Pence. Unprecedented? Pretty much. But the Trump era is unprecedented too, and Pence signaled, when he agreed that he would be Trump’s running mate, that he’s willing to do the unexpected.

Here we can observe three examples of wishful thinking:

1. That there still is a Republican Party – the Republican Party no longer exists except in name. Actual Republicans like Romney in the Senate and some governors are few and far between.

2. That there will be a post-Trump Party after 2020 – unless his health really takes a turn for the worse he will not leave the stage especially after defeat. And if Eugene Debs ran for President from jail, so can a convicted person today.

3. That Vice President Brown Nose is willing to do the unexpected.

D’Antonio compounds his wishful thinking with the following:

Pence should weigh the merits of declaring he won’t be vice president for a possible second term….Behind that mild-mannered persona lurks a savvy and opportunistic politician…. Conditions are perfect, in other words, for Mike Pence to observe that either he needs to spend more time with his family or believes the President would benefit from the excitement that would come were he to run with a fresh face — perhaps former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley — beside him. Pence could resign, saying Trump is just too loyal to fire him, and graciously make a path for himself to become the new leader of the GOP come the defeat of the Trump-Haley ticket in November.

It’s hard not to laugh when reading this. After all, D’Antonio is the author of Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success and co-author with Peter Eisner of The Shadow President: The Truth About Mike Pence. He is a serious, reputable person. His opinions are sought on talk shows. Technically, he has made a case on paper of the merits of Vice President Brown Nose taking a bold dramatic action that would thrust him into a leadership position post-2020 elections. But in fact, what D’Antonio wrote is pure unadulterated wishful thinking.

The proof was shown a few days later on June 15, 2020. The headline for The New York Times tells the tale:

As Cases Rise, Pence Promotes a Misleading Claim About Testing.

The article recounts how Pence “encouraged governors on Monday to adopt the administration’s claim that increased testing helps account for the new coronavirus outbreak reports, even though evidence has shown that the explanation is misleading.”  Not surprisingly, the false claim was the same on previously made by the President and which would be repeated in Tulsa. Stop the testing means stopping the number of cases of new infections means the deaths decrease.

There is no sign of bold dramatic action. There are two ways the D’Antonio scenario could work. One is if he became convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was no way the ticket was going to win, he could abandon ship for his own survival. Second, if he got wind that he was going to be dumped for Haley, he might bow out first. But either way, he still would be Vice President until January and still perform as a Brown Nose. The result will be he sold his soul for nothing.

Trumpicans and the Coronavirus

Tulsa exposed the wishful thinking of Trumpicans. Consider these examples:

1. “This coronavirus is a little bit hyped. The media hypes things,” Anonymous.

If only FAKE NEWS knocked off their hyped reporting, there would be no talk of 120,000 dead and they would not be dead either…or the deaths aren’t really from the coronavirus anyway. Who knows how this unidentified electrician from Seattle is able to live in an alternate reality. The whole thing must be a hoax.

This second example lends credence to Trumpicans thinking it is a hoax.

2. “It’s all fake. They’re just making the numbers up. I haven’t seen anybody die, not from coronavirus. I don’t know anybody who’s got it,” said Mike Alcorn, Wichita, Kansas.

3. “I’ve been watching this closely over the last four months or so, and the numbers just don’t add up,” said Jeff Eskew, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

4. “[The virus] is a scare tactic more than anything. And I just don’t believe all those deaths are coronavirus,” said Donald Fanning, Wichita Kansas.

Do you see any global warming in your backyard? I don’t see any global warming in your backyard. It’s all fake, it’s all made up.

How can you even blame China for a hoax? How can China be at fault if it’s all fake? That’s like saying the Bolton book is a complete lie but the lies are classified so it shouldn’t be published.

Remember, Trumpicans like mainland Chinese only get their news from the government propaganda machine. What are the odds on Fox showing how much better Europe has done then the United States in reducing the number of coronavirus deaths? What are the odds of Fox showing how much better countries from around the world have done in stopping the coronavirus? What are the odds on Fox showing the rise in coronavirus deaths in Trumpican states because it is not a New York problem anymore?  The Trumpican wishful thinking on the coronavirus will continue until Trumpicans start dying in droves and they all do know someone who died from it. I suspect, that little by little more and more Trumpicans will learn to live in the real world because it will become more and more difficult to live a lie.


I am going to go out on a limb with my wishful thinking. Tulsa was nothing like it was hyped to be or I expected it to be based on the hype. Tulsa may signal the turning point. For weeks now, Little Donnee Wanney has been the equivalent of a caged animal who hasn’t been feed. He was starved for the energy of a raucous crowd that would ignite his election campaign and power him to victory in November. Without the energy of Trumpicans he is just a tired irritable old man who has trouble walking down a ramp or raising a glass of water with one hand. With their energy he becomes the Lord and Savior, the Chosen One, Blessed Be his Name. There is no Plan B. He has no vision except that he be the center of attention and be re-elected so he can stay out of jail. If the defining characteristic of his campaign in 2016 is removed from him, he has nothing left but hissy fit tweets from his White House bunker. A crowd of over 6000 when 19,000 indoor and 40,000 outdoor were expected doesn’t cut it. Where were all the people! Have they seen the light?

Tulsa is more than just a campaign event. True he can use it to take credit for making the country aware of a holiday that has been celebrated for 155 years. That is no small achievement. But Tulsa may be more remembered as a Toto moment. The curtain has been pulled backed. He looks not just like a loser to Biden but weak and wrong on everything: coronavirus, the economy, China, race, the courts, his niece, and his finances. Right now it seems as if the refs will have to throw a red flag for piling on just to save him. The military is not going to support him if he loses the election and claims “foul.” Even Barr seems to have his limits. President One-Term won’t want to leave the White House, but who will be left to help him remain there? All the adults are gone, the only ones left are loyalists and the son in-law. It will be easier to get him to leave the White House following an election defeat than I previously had thought. Perhaps Brian Williams is right to have started a countdown.

Play Ball: The Tulsa Template for Professional Sports

Tulsa Shows the Way (

The Tulsa template for professional political wrestling provides the way for professional sports to return to action. Since March, professional sports have ceased. Sports headed towards season-ending championships including at the college level came to an abrupt halt. Sports warming up for the coming season never got started. Tournaments were rescheduled or vanished for the 2020 year. The U.S. Open (tennis) aims for a regularly scheduled tournament this summer with no fans. It seems it also won’t have some of the top male players either and who knows if players will be willing to travel to New York. The U.S. Open (golf) coincidentally is scheduled this summer for New York as well. It plans to play but with no word on whether or not spectators will be allowed and if so, how many. Meanwhile, everyone holds their breath for Friday Night Lights high school football, Saturday college football, and Sunday-Monday-Thursday professional football.

The Tulsa template this June 20 shows how games can be played with full attendance. The model is for an indoor arena so surely it will work outdoors as well. The model is for 20,000 people so it certainly will work for smaller crowds and should work for larger crowds outdoors in larger arenas. Real men don’t wear masks and real Americans don’t get COVID-19 so since sports fans are real men and real Americans there is no risk there. Besides as everyone knows the coronavirus is yesterday’s news. It’s over…but just in case, make sure that all attendees sign an insurance waiver so we don’t go bankrupt!

Here is a model that all professional sports can follow. Once again, the very stable genius has solved a problem the so-called experts have failed to solve. Remember how he solved the problem of forest fires in California: MAKE AMERICA RAKE AGAIN. Remember how his uncle was a supergenius. Remember how Little Donnee Disinfectant visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and said:

I really get it. Maybe I have a natural ability.

Seriously, wouldn’t the world be a better place if he had become a scientist. Think of all the discoveries he would have made.

Tulsa is just the start of the summer and fall political campaign. It shows that a full season of sports events can be scheduled as well. Of course, matches only can be held in Trumpican states. The New York Yankees will be unable to play in New York as long as the Democratic New York State Governor follows the advice of real scientists. The Yankees will have to play their games in a Confederate State. Similarly, the New England Patriots will have to follow their former quarterback south if it wants to play. The Republican Massachusetts Governor is not a Trumpican.  At this point, no one knows if professional sports will follow the example of the professional political wrestling and conduct their seasons in the South. But they will know that they can and the fans will demand it.

So as things stand, America can look forwarded to a summer of rounding up Trumpicans and herding them into arenas. While there, they will breathe on each other for hours, inhale each other’s droplets, and prove that the so-called scientists don’t know what they are talking about. Anthony Fauci has complained of an anti-science bias in America (see Darwin and COVID-19: Science in America). Now there will be an opportunity for Trumpicans to expose the fallacies of Fauci and the medical advice on the coronavirus. Once that happens, it will be PLAY BALL for college and professional sports.

The Trumpican rallies can be seen as a counter to the post-George-Floyd protests that have rocked the land. And these rallies probably will be without the physical violence that has occurred elsewhere….unless you are a black female reporter with a mask! One should anticipate a rip roaring fusillade of insults to come gushing forth. Look how long it has been since he has been able to deliver a full-throated performance.

Regardless of your personal views, we are witnessing an historic event. If the accounts of 800,000 people wanting tickets to attend are accurate, that is an extraordinary event in American history. It is reminiscent of the attendance in the Great Awakening with George Whitefield. This is not a Frank Sinatra, Elvis, the Beatles, or Woodstock event. Trumpicans are not attending for mere entertainment. They are attending for hope and salvation.

Hundreds of thousands of people are eager to see their Lord and Savior, the Chosen One, Blessed Be his Name. They are more than willing to sign insurance waivers because of their complete faith that the coronavirus is gone and couldn’t affect them anyway. They are here because they support the last line of defense against chaos. Only one person stands between the America they love and the total breakdown of society. They can see the foreigners all around them eager for the chance to take over the country after the rigged November elections. They know how perilous the situation is.

We can anticipate from now to November, the arenas of the country will rock to “Four More Years (at least!), Make American Great Again Again, Save the country, Lock her up, Build a wall, Deep State. Maybe some new material will be tested to see what works. The drumbeat over rigged elections will start now. It will be repeated incessantly. By the time of the actual election, Trumpicans will know the one and only way their Savior can lose is if the game is rigged.

For Little Donnee Wannee, these professional political wrestling matches are a matter of life and death. His life and his death. He has been cooped up in the White House for far too long. He needs the energy of the crowd roaring as he does the penguin walk, mocks Biden, and distributes free bottles of disinfectant to anyone who wants it. He needs their energy to sustain him against the Socialist Democrats, to sustain him against John Bolton, to sustain him against his niece.

The stakes are quite high.

P.S. We need to clarify the issue of Juneteenth and the Tulsa riots. When I first heard about the June 19 scheduling, I never considered that it was a racist act. I know anti-Trumpers were quick to jump to the conclusion that the racist bigoted president had just committed a doubly offensive act. My reaction was quite different. It never occurred to me that anyone in the White House [except a black Secret Service agent] even knew about Juneteenth or Tulsa. We are dealing with a person who blames the Baltic states for the breakup of Yugoslavia, who thinks the Canadians burned down the White House in the War of 1812, who thinks 306 Electoral College votes is a landslide. If your first reaction is that his decision was a racist action and not the action of a genuinely ignorant person then you are no better than someone who didn’t know Britain was nuclear armed and that Finland was an independent country. Just because he is a racist does not mean all his actions are racist. Sometimes they are just those of an ignorant person. Tulsa on the 19th was one such example. To those who criticized the racist action, the proper response is FAKE NEWS!