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Author

Kelsey Ensign

Date of Award

2015

Document Type

Restricted Thesis: Campus only access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

History

First Advisor

Dr. Eric Yellin

Second Advisor

Dr. David Brandenberger

Abstract

Towards the end of the 1960s, Ruth Powell remarked to her friend, lawyer and activist Pauli Murray, “I find it very disconcerting to go to bed one night a ‘Negro’ and wake up the next morning a ‘black.’ Nobody gave me any choice in the matter.” Powell, a graduate of Howard University in the 1940s, was responding to the changeover in racial group designations, one that seemed to happen with a “dizzying speed.” Many older African-American activists and scholars in the 1960s, like Murray or Powell, knew that these changes in and disputes over the proper group name were nothing new as they had already lived through an earlier campaign to capitalize the “N” in “Negro.”2 In fact, the question over the appropriate label for Americans of African descent has been raised by black intellectuals and citizens continually since emancipation. These periods of discussion often have similar themes: the feeling of a need to forge a new identity in the face of racial discrimination, an emphasis on pluralism rather than colorblindness, and a focus on connecting to a common history of resistance despite ongoing exploitation.

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