NABJ Style Guide


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 Please Note: The NABJ Style Guide is undergoing review and revisions as of October 2022. Thanks for your patience!  



NABJ Updates Its Style Guide With Guidance for Reporting on “Officer-involved Shootings”

October 2022

After receiving a resolution from the NABJ Black Male Media Project, the NABJ Board of Directors adopted the following resolution during its fall 2022 Board meeting.

“Whereas the phrase “officer-involved shooting” is nonspecific police jargon that is routinely used by some law enforcement officials to mislead the public, according to the Columbia Journalism Review*;

 Whereas the AP** warns the phrase is often inaccurate and leaves news audiences with more  questions;

Whereas the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Black Male Media Project  recognizes this phrase can be harmful to victims of excessive force by law enforcement; and

Whereas we recognize it may perpetuate a false narrative when unarmed people are shot by  law enforcement; now, therefore, be it resolved, the NABJ Black Male Media Project strongly:

  1. Urges a change to the NABJ Style Guide to reflect use of the phrase “officer-involved shooting” be avoided and/or replaced with concise, specific language about what happened;

  1. Urges our media colleagues to pursue specific details of a shooting incident involving police including who fired shot(s), initial circumstances of the encounter leading up to a police shooting, name of officer(s) who fired a weapon, and any other pertinent details of the incident;

  1. Urges journalists to always strive for transparency by informing the public what is known and unknown about a shooting incident involving police, and what, if any, questions law enforcement won’t answer; and

  2. Urges the following changes to the NABJ Style Guide:

  • Avoid use of the phrase “officer involved shooting” in cases where police fire a weapon.

– It is nonspecific, misleading police jargon which often leaves the audience with more questions.

  • Journalists should insist on details such as:

– What role did the officer(s) have in the shooting?

 – Who fired?

– Tell the public what you know and explain if law enforcement officials do not answer questions or confirm details.

NABJ Statement on Capitalizing Black and Other Racial Identifiers

June 2020

For the last year, the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) has been integrating the capitalization of the word “Black” into its communications.

However, it is equally important that the word is capitalized in news coverage and reporting about Black people, Black communities, Black culture, Black institutions, etc. 

NABJ’s Board of Directors has adopted this approach, as well as many of our members, and recommends that it be used across the industry.

We are updating the organization’s style guidance to reflect this determination. The organization believes it is important to capitalize “Black” when referring to (and out of respect for) the Black diaspora. 

NABJ also recommends that whenever a color is used to appropriately describe race then it should be capitalized within the proper context,  including White and Brown.


As journalists, we are called upon to use words every day. Correctly and appropriately.

Most of us were indoctrinated in the Associated Press Stylebook somewhere early in our journalistic education and rely on it daily, and many of us work for news organizations that are ruled by style books of their own that supplement or supplant other style books.

NABJ Style is offered as a style book for newsrooms and others on terms and language usage of special interest or relevance to our membership and our community. It is meant to be as much a resource for our own members as for anyone else in newsrooms and journalism classrooms as well as other students, educators and researchers, etc.

Many NABJ members, including those from the association’s Copy Editors Task Force, have been instrumental in helping shape and produce this document. Former NABJ Region X Director Jerry McCormick and former NABJ Secretary Angela Dodson, in particular, provided valuable leadership along the way.

They and a core group of people offered ideas on what NABJ Style should include and why. Many are involved in different aspects of news coverage and production and so have vast experience with different terms, names and issues that arise in newsrooms.

We certainly don’t expect universal agreement on what’s in this document. There are bound to be differences of opinions on the acceptability or style for a given name or term. There also may be items that should be included that are not. Maybe there was a good reason. Or maybe we just forgot and need to be reminded.

All of this is OK. This is an evolving document to which all members and users are now asked to review. Additional entries, words, research and clarifications are welcome. Comments from copy and news desk heads, slots and those who may have worked on other style books are especially solicited, as well as more samples of style books used by your news operation or other organizations.

If your publication has a style or wording we should consider please forward that to us so we can credit it where possible. Keep in mind that our emphasis is on accuracy, clarity and providing information, not on restricting usage or airing pet peeves without guidance.

NABJ Members are now able to edit the NABJ Style Guide similar to that of Wikipedia. Please submit proposed entries with supporting documentation [citations from reference books, examples from stories, etc.] to the NABJ Board.


abolition: Major American reform movement that sought to end slavery in America using a wide range of tactics and organizations. While abolitionists are commonly portrayed as white people deeply concerned about the plight of enslaved Black people, and epitomized by William Lloyd Garrison and Harriet Beecher Stowe, many were African American, including Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. Free Black people in the North also were stalwart in their dedication to the cause and provided financial support.

activist, advocate: Activist is someone who actively advocates for political or social change. Often used to describe Black leaders engaged in activism. Others who also push for causes, however, often are called advocates. Advocate is more neutral and a better choice for news copy, unless a subject describes himself or herself as an activist.

affirmative action: Program, practice or process aimed at correcting enduring effects of discrimination by allowing race and gender to be considered as factors in hiring and job advancement and college admissions of women and minorities. Affirmative action is sometimes confused with quota (a prescribed number that must be met). Affirmative action aims for an exceeded target, while a quota sets a minimum number. (See also quota.)

African, African American, Black (Updated): Hyphenate when using African American as an adjective. (Note the AP no longer hyphenates African American (2020). Not all Black people are African Americans (if they were born outside of the United States). Let a subject’s preference determine which term to use. In a story in which race is relevant and there is no stated preference for an individual or individuals, use Black because it is an accurate description of race. Be as specific as possible in honoring preferences, as in Haitian American, Jamaican American or (for a non-U.S. citizen living in the United States) Jamaican living in America. Do not use race in a police description unless the report is highly detailed and gives more than just the person’s skin color. In news copy, aim to use Black as an adjective, not a noun. Also, when describing a group, use Black people instead of just “Blacks.” In headlines, Blacks, however, may be acceptable in context, and if appropriate. (2020 Update) NABJ also recommends that whenever a color is used to appropriately describe race then it should be capitalized, such as Black community, Brown community, White community. (The recommendation is not to capitalize words such as white when referencing racist terms or actions such as white supremacists.)

Africa: The second largest continent in area and population after Asia. It is in the eastern hemisphere, south of the Mediterranean and adjoining Asia in the northeast. The area is 11,677,240 square miles (30,244,050 square kilometers).

  • sub-Saharan Africa (or Black Africa) – Region south of the Sahara Desert and used to describe those countries not part of North Africa, the region north of the Sahara. Avoid using Black Africa because it is considered to be politically incorrect or insensitive to some.

  • North Africa – Predominantly Arab or Berber in ethnicity or culture and is mostly associated with the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The sub-Saharan Africa is predominantly Black in ethnicity or culture and with few exceptions, such as Mauritius and South Africa, is one of the poorest regions in the world.

The exact dividing line between the two regions is not clear. However, according to one classification, sub-Saharan Africa includes 48 nation’s, 42 of which are on the African mainland. Also, four island nations in the southwest Indian Ocean (Madagascar, The Comoros, Mauritius and Seychelles) and two in the Atlantic (Cape Verde and Sao Tome and Principe) are considered part of Africa. Accordingly, the countries of Africa are:

Central Africa

Central African Republic


Democratic Republic of the Congo

Republic of the Congo

Eastern Africa












Northern Africa









Western Sahara

Southern Africa











South Africa



Western Africa


Burkina Faso


Cape Verde

Cte d’Ivoire

Equatorial Guinea


The Gambia







So Tom and Prncipe


Sierra Leone


African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME): Independent Methodist organization dedicated to Black self-improvement and Pan-Africanist ideals. In 1794, Richard Allen, the first AME bishop, established Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. About 2,000 Black Methodists facing persistent discrimination met at Bethel to discuss legal independence from the Methodist church’s main body. Voting to organize under the name, African Methodist Episcopal Church, the group successfully sued for independence before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. AME is acceptable on second reference and in headlines. (See also Methodist Episcopal Church.)

African Methodist Episcopal Zion: Black members within the John Street Church in New York City and within American Methodism in general were denied ordination, forced to sit in segregated pews and limited in their access to the Methodist itinerant clergy and the Communion Table. Frustrated by this treatment, two Black John Street members, Peter Williams and William Miller, in 1796 founded the African Chapel. The chapel was later renamed Zion Church and its members became known as Zionites. In 1801, with the help of the Rev. John McClaskey a white minister who had opposed the independence efforts of Richard Allen’s African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in Philadelphia, the Zion Church was incorporated as the African Methodist Episcopal Church of the City of New York. James Varick was its first pastor, later becoming the first Black African Methodist Episcopal Zion bishop. (See also Methodist Episcopal Church.)

African National Congress (ANC): Leading South African political party and mostly identified with the struggle against apartheid. Founded in 1912 by a group of middle-class, college-educated Black South Africans to fight racist laws by building solidarity among the country’s diverse societies. (See apartheid.) Nelson Mandela joined the ANC in 1941, became its leader in 1992 and the country’s first Black president in 1994. The other major South African political parties are the National Party and the Inkatha Freedom Party. ANC is acceptable on second reference and in headlines.

Afro-American: Archaic term to describe a Black person. Popular in the 1960s and 70s, the name was overtaken by Black and later African American in the 80s and 90s. Do not use it. (See African, African American, Black.)

Afrocentric, Afrocentrism: The study of Africa, its history and culture from a non-European perspective. The term Afrocentrism was first coined in 1976 by Molefi Kete Asante and can be defined as rediscovering African and African-American achievement, restoring Africa’s rightful place in history, and establishing its importance on par with European history, culture and accomplishment.

AIDS: Acronym for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. It is a disease that weakens the body’s immune system and is spread primarily through sexual contact, contaminated needles, infected blood or blood products and from pregnant women to offspring. It is the most advanced stage of HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus. AIDS was first reported in America in 1981, and according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), affects seven times more Black people and three times more Hispanic people than white. It is a leading killer in the Black community. AIDS is acceptable in all references but should be briefly defined as an immune deficiency disease in news copy.

alien: A term for a foreigner or an immigrant that often conveys overtones of menace or strangeness. Avoid its use in copy or headlines. The preferred term for those who enter a country in violation of the law is illegal immigrants or undocumented immigrants.

animal references: Avoid comparing people, in particular athletes, with animals even if they have a name such as Tiger or Fox.

apartheid: Racial segregation specifically, a policy of segregation and political and economic discrimination enforced by the white minority government against non-white residents in South Africa from 1948 to 1994.

articulate: As an adjective, the word is viewed by some as a subjective term that implies it is an exceptional occurrence for people of color to speak confidently, knowledgeably, clearly, eloquently and/or reasonably on a topic. It is better to report what a person said rather than simply describe him or her as such.

aunt, uncle: When not referring to a family relationship, the terms may be insensitive or offensive depending on its context. Historically, white people used the names often for any Black person in servitude. (See Aunt Jemima and Uncle Tom.) Today, the names are used in the Black community as terms of endearment or respect for non-family members or close family friends. Traditionally in the South, children are expected to address an adult by an honorific, Miss, Maam, Aunt, Mister, Uncle or Sir.

Aunt Jemima: Born a slave in 1834, Nancy Green became the advertising worlds first living trademark as Aunt Jemima. Working as a domestic in Chicago, Green was contracted at age 59 to portray a happy cook to promote a pancake recipe by Pearl Milling Co. She died in 1923, but her image as the pancake queen lives on today. Some view the icon as a painful reminder of slavery, and her character as the apron-clad cook with a bandanna tied on her head as a negative stereotype of Black women.


baby/baby’s mama, baby/baby’s daddy: Slang to imply parenthood out of wedlock. Avoid usage.

Baptist church: Black people were allowed to join the Baptist fold starting in the 1770s. Slave preachers were instituted to minister to slaves on plantations in the South while Black people in the North slowly became members of congregations. Black Baptists continued to organize their own congregations and associations throughout the 19th century. Today, there are more than 20 Baptist bodies in America. The largest, the Southern Baptist Convention, has 12 million members, mostly in the South, although it has churches in all 50 states. The largest Northern body is the American Baptist Church in the U.S.A., with about 1.5 million members. Black people predominate in three large Baptist bodies, the National Baptist Convention of America, National Baptist Convention U.S.A. Inc., and Progressive National Baptist Convention Inc. Baptist clergy members may be referred to as ministers. Pastor applies if a minister leads a congregation. On first reference, use the Rev. before the person’s name. On second reference, use the person’s last name.

bias, discrimination: Bias is a state of mind, a prepossession or prejudice toward an object, person or view. Discrimination is an action that springs from that state of mind; the unfair treatment of a person or group based on prejudice or bias. Discrimination and bias may be for or against something. For example, one may be biased in favor of left-handed reporters and one may practice discrimination in their favor. The two terms are not interchangeable, even for the sake of a good headline count.

Bid whist: A card game popular among Black people. Played with a standard 52-card deck plus two jokers, for a total of 54 cards. The two jokers must be distinct: one is called the big joker, the other the little joker. There are two two-player teams with each partner sitting opposite the other. The game’s object is to score seven points, or force the other team to go minus seven. Bidding for and winning tricks, also called books, score points.

biracial: Combination of two races. May be used to describe people or things. Not all biracial individuals self-identify in this manner. Do not use mixed as an alternative.

Black: See African, African American. (New Guidance)

Black Church: Collective noun that refers to the more than 65,000 Christian churches that have a predominance of Black members and clerical leadership. The Black Church has served as a major institutional foundation in the Black community. It generally refers to Protestants, who themselves represent a variety of denominations and sects. It does not generally encompass Catholics, Muslims or others. In some cases the term Black churches may be more accurate, but also be mindful that many Black people worldwide belong to churches and to denominations that may not be predominantly Black.

Black collectibles: Objects and memorabilia created by or about African-American culture, usually acquired as a hobby. Some items are seen as perpetuating stereotypes.

Black Codes: Statutes curtailing rights of African Americans during early years of Reconstruction and instituted by Southern legislative bodies in 1865 and 1866. Also known as Negro Codes, the statutes aimed to restore the political powers and economic structure of slavery by, for example, forbidding Black people  from owning or renting farmland. (See Landmark court decisions, Reconstruction.)

Black Diaspora: Black people of African descent who are scattered throughout the world; refers to Black people whose ancestors were removed from the African continent through slavery and colonization, and dispersed worldwide.

Black Greek letter organizations:

  • Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. – Founded Jan. 15, 1908, at Howard University in Washington, by nine students as the first intercollegiate Greek-letter organization established by Black women. May use AKAs on second reference.

  • Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. – Founded Dec. 4, 1906, at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., by seven college men as the first intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity established for African Americans. May use Alphas on second reference.

  • Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. – Founded Jan. 13, 1913, at Howard University in Washington by 22 Black college women. May use Deltas on second reference.

  • Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. – Founded Jan. 5, 1911, at Indiana University at Bloomington by 10 Black college men. May use Kappas on second reference.

  • Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. – Founded Nov. 17, 1911, at Howard University in Washington by three Black college men assisted by their faculty adviser. May use Omegas on second reference. Informally known as Ques or Q-Dogs.

  • Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. – Founded Jan. 9, 1914, at Howard University in Washington by three college Black men. May use Sigmas on second reference.

  • Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. – Founded Nov. 12, 1922, in Indianapolis by seven school teachers. The group became an incorporated national collegiate sorority on Dec. 30, 1929, when a charter was granted to Alpha chapter at Butler University in the same city. May use Sigma women on second reference.

  • Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. – Founded Jan. 16, 1920, at Howard University in Washington by five Black college students. May use Zetas on second reference.

  • Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Inc. – Founded Sept. 19, 1963, at Morgan State College (now Morgan State University) in Baltimore by 12 Black college students. May use Iotas on second reference.

Black leader: Avoid using the term. It implies that one person is the spokesperson for all Black people. When referring to a local Black person in a leadership position, state the organization that he or she belongs to.

Black national anthem: Lift Evry Voice and Sing, also commonly known as the Negro national anthem, was composed by James Weldon Johnson in 1900.

Black Muslim: Archaic term to describe members of the American Muslim Mission. Muslim is sufficient.

bling-bling: Slang for wealth, big jewels and success associated with hip-hop culture. Note hyphenation.

boy, girl: Use boy to describe a male person who is 17 or younger. From 13 to 17, youth, teenager or teen also may be used. Man is preferable for someone 18 and older. Avoid calling someone a young man or young lady in news copy; it is vague and implies judgment. Avoid names such as old boy or old girl, too. A girl may be 17 or younger, but from age 13 through 17, teenager or teen is also suitable. At 18, she can be referred to as a woman. Do not refer to Black adults as boys or girls.

brim: Slang for hat.

brother, brotha, bro: When not referring to a family relationship, brotha or bro is used as slang for brother, an affectionate term or greeting for a male person. Be mindful of appropriateness in news copy. May use in quotes.

buck: Archaic derogatory term for a healthy, strong Black male during slavery times. Slave owners would breed their bucks with young female slaves to produce superior slaves. Do not use it to describe a person.

buppie: Young, Black upwardly mobile urban professional. Mirrors the term yuppies coined for white professional persons under 40 who prospered during the 1980s. Avoid use in news copy because it is vague and outdated.


Cajun, Creole: Cajun is a native of Louisiana originally descended from the Acadian French immigrants. Creole is a person of European parentage born in the West Indies, Central America, tropical South America or the Gulf States.

civil-rights movement, Civil Rights Act: Often used to describe the struggles of Black Americans between 1945-1970 to end discrimination and racial segregation. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to guarantee basic civil rights for all Americans, regardless of race, after nearly a decade of nonviolent protests and marches, ranging from the 1955-1956 Montgomery bus boycott to the student-led sit-ins of the1960s to the March on Washington in 1963.

colored: An archaic term for Black. In some African countries, colored denotes those of mixed racial ancestry. Do not use unless referring to official names, historical events or in quotes. (See African, African American, Black.)

complexions: Black skin tones range from very light to very dark. Be sensitive when describing various shades of skin. Certain terms such as darkie, high-yellow, redbone, blue-black or tar baby, are considered offensive by some and should be avoided.

Congo: Do not use to refer to the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly called Zaire. It is sometimes called Congo-Kinshasa, after its capital, to distinguish it from the Republic of Congo, or Congo-Brazzaville. The name of the river is still Congo River, even though inhabitants of the former Zaire call it the Zaire.

Congress of Racial Equality (CORE): Civil-rights organization founded in 1942 as the Committee of Racial Equality by an interracial group of students in Chicago. Influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings of nonviolent resistance, the group sought to better race relations and end discrimination.

Criminal Record Use (New): To ensure accurate reporting and to avoid the villainization of victims, the existence of a prior criminal record — or even a previous arrest — should only be reported when there are facts proving that the prior criminal record was directly related to the incident being reported.


dark continent: Avoid using it as a description for Africa. Considered offensive.

Deep South: Southeastern part of America. Uppercase when referring to the region that consists of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina.

dialect: Language forms, particularly oddities of pronunciation and syntax, that are peculiar to a region or a group. Avoid using dialect if it renders the speaker as ignorant or makes the person a subject of ridicule, even in quoted material. In rare stories, use of dialect may be approved as bringing a sense of atmosphere that could not otherwise be achieved. Such approval should come from the department-head level. Obviously, further exception is made when dialect itself is news, such as in a story in which it is pertinent to the identification of a crime suspect. If dialect is to be used, words are spelled phonetically and apostrophes indicate missing sounds. Be accurate and avoid exaggeration.

diversity: Catchall term to describe a condition or environment that is multiracial and multicultural; being representative or reflective of the multiethnic society. Diversity is not synonymous with affirmative action, is not limited to race and is not government-mandated. A company can have a diverse staff mixing races, ages, sexes, sexual orientation, etc.

dominoes: Popular game in the Black community played by two or more people using 28 flat oblong shape pieces, which are plain at the back, but on the face are divided by a line in the middle, and either left blank or dotted like a dice. Players must match the dots or the blank of an unmatched half of a domino already played.

double Dutch: Popular Black children’s jump rope game in which two turners swing two ropes simultaneously in a crisscross pattern for the person jumping.

down low, DL: Slang for men who have sex with other men but do not classify themselves as gay or bisexual. These men have relationships with women but also have sex with men secretly. If an acronym is used in quotes or copy, define what it means.

dozens, the: Form of verbal play in which participants exchange taunts and insults.

driving while Black, DWB: Phrase or acronym describing racial profiling of Black motorists by police, especially when while driving expensive cars or in upscale neighborhoods without reason. If used in quotes or copy, define what it means.


Ebonics: Slang or nonstandard form of the English language that is used by some in the Black community. Avoid using the form in news copy. (See dialect.)

ethnicity, race: The mention of a person’s race should not be used unless relevant. This also applies to references to ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion. Derogatory terms or slurs aimed at members of a racial or ethnic group may not be used unless having a direct bearing on the news, and then only with the approval of the senior editor in charge. Avoid stereotypes. Race and ethnicity may be relevant in some stories, including the following:

  • Crime stories – A highly detailed description of a suspect sought by police can contain race. Be sure the description is properly attributed. Do not use descriptions that include only a few items or are vague, such as tall, dark clothes.

  • Biographical or announcement stories – Be careful about using race or ethnicity to describe a person as the first to accomplish a specific feat. Firsts are important, but race and ethnicity shouldn’t be overemphasized. Reserve race or ethnicity for significant, groundbreaking or historic events such as winning a Nobel Prize, being named chief justice or becoming mayor. By overplaying race or ethnicity, one’s achievement may seem dependent on that instead of ability.


fag, faggot: Originally offensive word for homosexual male, although some gay men now are reclaiming it. The word still is offensive when used as an epithet. Avoid usage.

firsts: Use first Black or first African American regarding a persons or groups achievement only when relevant and proven. (See ethnicity, race.)

forced busing: Avoid because of possible negative connotations. Busing is sufficient.

Freaknic, Freaknik: Annual spring break gathering of thousands of Black college students in Atlanta. Freaknic started in 1982 as a picnic planned by college students in Washington. The name combined the title of a popular 1980s song, The Freak by disco group Chic, and the word picnic. The names spelling changed from Freaknic to the preferred Freaknik, but the versions still are interchanged. In 1997, the city of Atlanta began calling the event Black College Spring Break. Today, other incarnations are held in Daytona, Fla.; Houston and Galveston, Texas, and Biloxi, Miss.

411: Slang for information.


ghetto, inner city: Terms used as synonyms for sections of cities inhabited by poor people or minorities. Avoid these descriptions because of their negative connotations. Often the name of the neighborhood is the best choice. Section, district or quarter may also be used. Urban is also acceptable.

ghetto blaster, ghetto box: Do not use it to describe a big portable radio. Boom box/Boom boxes are acceptable.

Gullah: Creole blend of Elizabethan English and African languages, born of necessity on Africa’s slave coast and developed in slave communities of isolated plantations of the coastal South. Even after the Sea Islands were freed in1861, the Gullah speech flourished because of the island’s separation from the mainland. Access to the islands was by water until the 1950s. (See Sea Islands.)

Great Migration, The: Mass movement by Southern Black people relocating to the North and West in the early 20th century. Although slavery had been illegal for three decades by the 1890s, Southern Black people generally felt a new de facto form of slavery. Lynchings, Jim Crow laws and economic hardship made them feel as if little had improved since emancipation. From the 1890s to 1970s, a great migration of Southern Black people moved to the Promised Land of the North in search of better jobs and greater racial tolerance. (See Jim Crow.)


Hair: When describing a person’s hair in news stories, ask what style the hair is, don’t assume. Black hair comes in a variety of styles and textures. A few include:

  • afro – Characterized by or being a style of tight curls in a full evenly rounded shape.

  • bald, shaved – Not synonymous. A bald man has naturally lost some or all of his hair. A man with a shaved head chose to have his haircut close to the scalp or completely off, replicating the bald look.

  • braids – Traditional style worn by many African-American girls in which hair is sectioned into parts and then, in each part, three or more strands of hair are intertwined. Also known as plaits.

  • cornrows – Braiding technique close to the head and also known as French braids.

  • dreadlocks, dreds/dreads or locks – Long uncombed twisted, or matted, locks of hair, a style worn originally by Rastafarians.

  • extensions – Human or synthetic hair used to make a person’s existing hair longer or fuller. Often used with braiding.

  • Jheri curl – Chemically treated curly hair resembling Shirley Temple-like tresses. Other names were California curl, S-curl, carefree curl and luster curl. Jheri Redding, a Chicago-based entrepreneur and stylist, created the style in the late 1970s, then produced his own line of hair-care products.

  • twists – Style in which hair is sectioned into parts and then, in each part, strands of hair are twirled.

  • weave – Synthetic or human hair added to existing hair or scalp to give one the appearance of a fuller head of hair.

HBCUs: Acronym for historically Black colleges and universities. There are 105 institutions founded primarily for the education of African Americans, although their charters are not exclusionary. Most HBCUs are 50 to 100 years old. HBCU is acceptable on second reference and in headlines.


Islam: Youngest of the world’s three major monotheistic religions. Like Judaism and Christianity, its followers believe in a single deity. Muslims holy book is the Koran, which, according to Islamic belief, was revealed by Allah (God) to the prophet Muhammad through an angel in the 7th century in Mecca and Medina. (See Koran.) Muslims worship in a mosque and their weekly holy day, equivalent to the Christian Sabbath, is Friday. It is the religion of about 850 million people worldwide. Although Arabic is the language of the Koran, not all Arabs are Muslim and not all Muslims are Arabs. The holiest city in Islam is Mecca, in modern-day Saudi Arabia. Mecca is the site of the Kaaba, the cube-shaped black rock that is Islam’s holiest shrine. There are a number of sects in Islam, which include Sunni (the largest) and Shiite (the second-largest).


Jack and Jill of America Inc.: Service-oriented organization founded in 1938 in Philadelphia by Marion Stubbs Thomas and a group of mothers who wanted to bring Black children together in a nurturing and culturally enriching environment. The group has more than 8,000 members and is organized into seven regions nationwide, each with local chapters servicing families and communities. Spell out the and in title in all references.

Jim Crow: System of laws and practices that enforced racial segregation and discrimination against Black people, especially in the South, from late 19th century to the 1960s. Jim Crow was the name of a routine performed by Daddy Rice, a white minstrel show entertainer in the 1830s. Rice covered his face with charcoal paste or burnt cork and sang and danced in caricature of a silly Black person. Jim Crow became a racial epithet and synonymous with the brutal segregation and disenfranchisement of African Americans.

Journalism organizations:

  • The Capital Press Club – based in Washington, established in 1944 to expose Black journalists to newsmakers in government, politics, private and non-profit organizations when they were denied admittance to the National Press Club and the White House Press Association. The club is the nation’s oldest Black communications association. Its founders, among others, included Alfred E. Smith, Chicago Daily Defender; J. Hugo Warren, Pittsburgh Courier; Ralph Matthews Sr., Afro-American Newspapers; Joseph Sewall, Washington Spotlight; Ric Roberts, Pittsburgh Courier; St. Claire Bourne, New York Amsterdam News and Herbert Henegan, U.S. Information Agency. The group sought to improve the status and working conditions of Black journalists.

  • The Freedom Forum – based in Arlington, Va., a foundation dedicated to free press and free speech with newsroom diversity cited among its three priorities; the other two are the Newseum, an interactive museum under development in Washington and the First Amendment. The Freedom Forum was established in 1991 under the direction of founder Allen H. Neuharth as successor to a foundation started in 1935 by newspaper publisher Frank E. Gannett. The Freedom Forum is not affiliated with Gannett Co. An endowment of diversified assets provides its income.

  • The Maynard Institute – based in Oakland, Calif., a nonprofit corporation dedicated to expanding opportunities for minority journalists at U.S. newspapers. It has trained hundreds of journalists of color in the past 25 years. Journalist Robert C. Maynard co-founded the Institute for Journalism Education and it was renamed in December 1993, following his death, the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.

  • National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) – based in College Park, Md., an organization of journalists, students and media-related professionals that provides programs and services to and advocates on behalf of Black journalists worldwide. Founded by 44 visionaries on Dec. 12, 1975, in Washington, NABJ is the world’s oldest and largest organization of journalists of color. Many NABJ members also belong to one of dozens of affiliated local professional and student chapters. NABJ is acceptable on second reference.

  • National Association of Minority Media Executives (NAMME) – based in Vienna, Va., an organization of news and business-side managers and executives of color working across all media-related fields. Formed in 1990 by Carl Morris and Albert Fitzpatrick, who aimed for people of color to not only climb corporate ladders but into the executive ranks. NAMME is acceptable on second reference.

  • National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) – based in Washington and also known as the Black Press of America, is federation of more than 200 newspapers serving Black communities across America was initially organized in Chicago in 1940. NNPA is acceptable on second reference.

Juneteenth: Oldest known celebration of slavery’s ending. From its Galveston, Texas, origin in 1865, the observance of June 19th as Black Emancipation Day commemorates freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a day, a week and, in some areas, a month marked with celebrations, speakers, picnics and family gatherings.


kente: Colorful woven fabric used as blankets or cut and sewn into garments dating back to the 12th century and originating in Ghana. Royalty and important figures in Ghana society wore it during ceremonial events and special occasions. Kente is derived from kenten, which means basket, and is typically in an interlaced pattern. Kente is widely made and worn across West Africa and is also a symbol of African-American pride.

keloid: A raised scar that can develop after skin injury. During the healing process, the skin cells overproduce, creating a dense, dome-shaped formation. People of African or Asian descent are more likely to get keloids than those with lighter skin.

kicks: Slang for footwear.

Koran: Sacred book of Muslims, who believe that it contains the words of Allah dictated to the prophet Mohammed through the angel Gabriel. It is divided into 114 chapters or suras, and is accepted as the foundation of Islamic law, religion, culture and politics. (See Islam.)

Ku Klux Klan: Official name, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan; founded in 1915, a secret organization directed against Black people, Catholics, Jews and other groups. There are 42 separate organizations known as the Klan in America. Some do not use the full name Ku Klux Klan, but all may be called that, and the KKK initials may be used for any of them on second reference. The two largest Klan organizations are the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, based in Stone Mountain, Ga., and the United Klans of America, based in Tuscaloosa, Ala. An Imperial Board, composed of leaders from the various groups, meets occasionally to coordinate activities. Capitalize formal titles before a name: Imperial Wizard James R. Venable, Grand Dragon Dale Reusch. Members are Klansmen or Klanswomen.

Kwanzaa: Swahili for first fruits of the harvest; an African-American cultural holiday occurring Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 and derived from traditional African harvest festivals. A candle is lit each day symbolizing Kwanzaas seven principles: unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia), collective work and responsibility (ujamaa), cooperative economics (ujima), purpose (nia), creativity (kuumba) and faith (imani). The candle holder is called a kinara. Political activist Maulana Karenga is credited with creating Kwanzaa in 1966.


Landmark court decisions

  • Dred Scott vs. Sanford (1857) – Supreme Court holds that Congress cannot prohibit slavery in the territories, that Black people are not citizens, and residence in a free state does not confer freedom on them. The decision hastens start of the Civil War by sweeping aside legal barriers to expanding slavery and inciting anger in the North.

  • Civil Rights Cases (1883) – Declaring the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional, the Supreme Court strikes it down. The court said social rights beyond federal control, but Black people cannot be excluded from juries. Congress introduced the statute in 1870 and it became law on March 1, 1875. It held that all persons, regardless of race, color, or previous condition, were entitled to full and equal employment or accommodation in inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters and other places of public amusement.

  • Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896) – Supreme Court decides that if segregated railroad cars offer equal accommodations then such segregation is not discriminatory and does not deprive Black people of 14th Amendment rights to equal protection. The separate but equal doctrine was not struck down until 1954 in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka.

  • Guinn vs. United States (1915) – Supreme Court rules that the grandfather clause that disenfranchised most Black Americans is unconstitutional. The clause adopted by Oklahoma and Maryland exempted citizens from certain voter qualifications if their grandparents had voted; obviously, this did not apply to those whose grandparents lived before the 15th Amendment ratified.

  • Hansberry vs. Lee (1940) – Supreme Court rules that Black citizens cannot be prevented from buying homes in white neighborhoods.

  • Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) – Supreme Court unanimously overturns Plessey vs. Ferguson and declares that segregated public schools violate the 14th Amendments equal protection clause.

  • Gomillion vs. Lightfoot (1960) – Supreme Court rules that drawing of election districts so Black people constitute a minority in all districts violates the 15th Amendment.

  • Griggs vs. Duke Power Co. (1971) – Supreme Court makes its first ruling on the job-bias provisions of Civil Rights Act of 1964, declaring objective criteria, unrelated to job skills, for hiring workers are discriminatory if minorities end up disadvantaged.

  • Swann vs. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971) – Supreme Court upholds school busing for the purpose of ensuring racial balance in areas where segregation has been official policy and school authorities have not come up with a viable alternative to busing.

  • University of California Regents vs. Bakke (1978) – Supreme Court rules that the University of California Medical School at Davis must admit white applicant Allan Bakke, who argued that the schools minority admissions program made him a victim of reverse discrimination.

  • City of Richmond vs. J.A. Croson (1989) – Supreme Court declares illegal a Richmond, Va., set-aside program mandating that 30 percent of the citys public works funds go to minority-owned firms. Such programs only legal if they redress identified discrimination.

  • Busing Cases (1991-92) – Supreme Court issues Oklahoma and Georgia rulings, saying school systems don’t have to bus students to overcome school segregation caused by segregated housing patterns.

  • Cappachione vs. Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools et al. (1999) – Federal District Court Judge Robert Potter bars Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system from using race to assign students to schools, effectively ending court-ordered busing mandated in landmark Swann vs. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education case in 1971.

  • Tuttle vs. Arlington County (Va.) school board (1999) – Supreme Court rules the board cannot use a weighted admission lottery to promote racial and ethnic diversity.

  • Eisenberg vs. Montgomery County (Md.) Public Schools (1999) – Supreme Court rules that the school board could not deny a student’s request to transfer to a magnet school because of his/her race.

Links, Inc. The: Founded in 1946 by Margaret Hawkins and Sarah Scott in Philadelphia, now based in Washington, a community-service group with 10,000 professional women of color in 274 chapters in 42 states and three countries. Formed to provide a chain of friendship among Black women, services to youth and families, and support of education and the arts.

lupus: Chronic disease that affects immunity. Normally, the body’s immune system makes proteins called antibodies to protect against viruses, bacteria and other foreign materials. Lupus causes the immune system to attack healthy tissues and organs. It can harm various parts of the body, especially the skin, joints, kidneys, lungs, brain and heart. Lupus most often affects Black women.


Methodist Episcopal Church: American Protestant denomination whose initial progress in ministering to Black Americans was thwarted by segregationist policies. The term Methodist originated as a nickname applied to a group of 18th- century Oxford University students known for their methodical application to Scripture study and prayer. The nation’s principal Methodist body is the United Methodist Church, which was formed in 1968 by the merger of the Methodist Church and Evangelical United Brethren Church. It has 10 million members. The three major Black denominations are African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. (See African Methodist Episcopal Church and African Methodist Episcopal Zion.)

Middle Passage, The: The transatlantic voyages between Africa and the Americas that claimed the lives of approximately 1.8 million African slaves over a period of about 350 years. An estimated 12 million slaves were packed into slave quarters in the belly of ships. (See slavery.)

militant: Commonly used to describe an aggressive activist working for a cause; a person eager to engage in a struggle to achieve their goal; can be used to mean any individual engaged in warfare, a fight, combat, or generally serving as a solider. A militant view sometimes constitutes an extremists position. A militant state denotes being in a physically aggressive posture supporting an ideology or cause. Should not be used in place of terrorist. Militant is deemed to be a neutral term, whereas terrorist indicates reprehensible behavior by an individual or organization regardless of the motivations. Avoid using to describe a Black person who is simply hostile, belligerent or controversial.

Million Man March: Washington rally held on Oct. 16, 1995, and organized by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and the Rev. Benjamin Chavis to draw attention to the social conditions to Black men and to urge them to assume control over their lives. Some reports say approximately 900,000 Black men congregated on the Washington Mall; march organizers say over a million men were there.

Million Woman March: Philadelphia march and rally held on Oct. 25, 1997, and organized by community activists Asia Coney and Phile Chionesu and seeking to build coalitions within the Black community. An estimated 1.5 million Black women gathered on Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the event.

minister: Clergy member; pastor; person authorized to conduct religious worship or administer sacraments. Not a formal title. Do not use before a clergy member’s name. Nation of Islam followers and others often refer to Louis Farrakhan as Minister Farrakhan. (See Nation of Islam.) Avoid this title in news copy; better to say Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan on first reference and then Farrakhan on subsequent references.

minority, minorities: Group or groups differing especially in race, religion or ethnicity from the majority of a population. Collective when used as a noun. Does not refer to an individual, so avoid such phrases as: There are three minorities on the council. Also: Women do not constitute a minority, although they may be linked with minorities in various civil-rights contexts. Avoid saying, for example, the program is designed to encourage the representation of minorities if it also encourages the representation of women. Better to say the program is designed to encourage the representation of women and minorities. A better alternative is people of color when referring to a group. (See people of color.)

mixed: Sometimes used to describe a person who is biracial. Avoid the term in this context. (See biracial.)

Montgomery bus boycott: Yearlong protest in the Alabama city that galvanized the civil-rights movement and led to the 1956 Supreme Court decision declaring segregated seating on buses unconstitutional. (See civil-rights movement.)

Motown: Formerly Black-owned record company that became the most commercially successful and culturally influential of the 1960s, producing a distinct musical style and many singing icons. Motown Records is now part of the Universal Music Group. Can also be used as an adjective to describe the musical style or city in which it originated, Detroit.

mudcloth: Handmade African textile made of cotton originated centuries ago by women of Mali, West Africa. Mudcloth is an authentic traditional art form. The cloth is dyed in a tea of leaves and barks, then painted with mud and used for decorative purposes and garments.


  • blues, the – Music originating in the late 19th century that connoted both an emotional state and musical format. Emerged during troubled times of the post-Reconstruction South when Southern Black people experienced disfranchisement, oppression and violence. During the 20th century, the blues became the world’s most familiar musical form through its role in rhythm and blues (R&B) and early rock n roll.

  • calypso – African-Caribbean music combining syncopated phrasing and orchestration, which often includes guitars, maracas, brass and wind instruments, drums and steel drums (originally modified oil drums). The lyrics are frequently improvised and usually address current events or social concerns; folk music primarily from Trinidad.

  • gospel – Arising out of 20th century Black culture, a music style that builds upon the long-standing traditions of Black religious expression, incorporating joyous songs of celebration and worship.

  • hip-hop – Urban music that emerged in the late 1970s. An African-American musical innovation that blends classic R&B, pop and rap music. Hip-hop is a catchall term for rap and the culture it spawned. (See rap.)

  • jazz – Music of the 20th century characterized by improvisation, a distinctive rhythmic approach called swing and an expectation that each musician achieve a unique, individual sound. Jazz includes such styles as swing, big band, bebop, cool, hard bop, free jazz and contemporary acid jazz.

  • rap – Music of rhyming lyrics spoken rhythmically over musical instruments, often with a backdrop of sampling, scratching and mixing by DJs. Originally, rapping was called MCing and seen as supporting the DJ. Sampling involves reusing a portion of a recording as an element in a new recording. Scratching involves using your hand to move a vinyl record back and forth while it plays on a turntable, creating a distinctive sound.

  • R&B, rhythm and blues – Musical style evolving from the blues and laying groundwork for rock n roll. R&B developed after World War II and reflected the growing confidence of urban Black people. It broke through racial barriers, achieving unprecedented recognition in U.S. popular culture. R&B kept the pace and the drive of up-tempo blues, but its instrumentation was sparer and emphasis was on song, not improvisation.

  • reggae – African-Caribbean music originating in Jamaica that blends blues, calypso and rock n roll, and is characterized by a strong syncopated rhythm and lyrics of social protest.

  • soul – Music influenced by gospel and which emerged in the 1960s from R&B. The music, funkier and looser than the driving rhythms of R&B, gained popularity with songs that addressed social issues and Black pride.

  • spirituals – Songs of religious expression of slaves that often had a double purpose. While retelling the stories of the bible, the lyrics also allowed the slaves to secretly communicate plans for escape.

mulatto: A person who has a white parent and a Black parent. Avoid using the term; considered to be insensitive. Better to use biracial. (See biracial.)


NAACP: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded Feb. 12, 1909 by a multiracial group of activists, who called themselves the National Negro Committee. Its founders were Ida Wells-Barnett, W.E.B. DuBois, Henry Moscowitz, Mary White Ovington, Oswald Garrison Villiard and William English Walling. From its beginning, the NAACP’s mission has been to improve the legal, educational and economic lives of Black people. It is headquartered in Baltimore. The acronym is acceptable in all references.

NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc.: Founded in 1940 under leadership of Thurgood Marshall, the Legal Defense Fund provides legal assistance to poor Black citizens. It was originally affiliated with the NAACP, but it has been an entirely separate organization since 1957, with a national office in New York and regional offices in Washington and Los Angeles. Its nearly two dozen staff lawyers are assisted by hundreds of cooperating attorneys across the nation. Use Legal Defense Fund on second reference.

Nation of Islam: Religious movement established during the Great Depression in Detroit in 1930 by Wallace D. Fard, a salesman. Louis Farrakhan now leads the organization, in which key leaders have included Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X. The Nation of Islam’s teachings are of Black Nationalism and separatism. Many of its beliefs and practices differ from the Orthodox Islam Church. The Nation of Islam produces The Final Call, an internationally circulated newspaper and operates its National Center and headquarters in Chicago. Commonly known in the Black community as simply The Nation, use full name of organization in news copy. The Fruit of Islam is the organizations official security force, providing bodyguards for its leaders and others.

National Coalition of 100 Black Women: Founded in 1981, a nonprofit organization with 7,500 members in 62 chapters in 25 states. Its mission is developing socially conscious female leaders committed to furthering equality and empowerment for Black people, improving their neighborhoods and communities and serving disadvantaged youths.

National Negro League: Professional baseball league for Black people founded in 1920 by pitcher Andrew Rube Foster. During the Jim Crow era, Major League Baseball excluded Black players so they formed their own teams with Black people in all key roles. The Negro League was widely successful and supported in Black communities. Other Black leagues followed, including Eastern Colored League and Southern Negro League. Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball in 1947. Last Black clubs folded in the early 1960s.

National Urban League, The: Founded in 1910, the Urban League is a nonprofit, community-based organization that seeks to help Black Americans secure economic self-reliance, parity and civil rights. It is headquartered in New York City and has professionally staffed affiliates in 100-plus cities nationwide.

Negro: Use African American or Black. Do not use it to describe a person of African descent. Do not use Negress. (See African American, Black and race.) Term acceptable in organization names and historical references, for example, National Council of Negro Women or Negro National Anthem. The word Negro was adopted from the Spanish and Portuguese and first recorded in the mid-16th century. It remained the standard term between the 17th-19th centuries and was used by prominent Black American campaigners such as W. E. B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington in the early 20th century. Since the Black Power movement of the 1960s, however, when Black was favored as the term to express racial pride, Negro and related words such as Negress were dropped and now are out of date, even offensive in some cases.

nigger: Racial slur; a contemptuous term for a Black person. The word nigger was first used as an adjective denoting a Black person in the 17th century and has had strong offensive connotations ever since. It remains one of the most racially charged words in the language. Ironically, it has acquired a new strand of use in recent years, being used by Black people in referring to other Black people. Also known as the n-word. Nigga is a variation of nigger that also has gained traction in recent years. It is used frequently in entertainment culture, especially in rap lyrics and comic stand-up routines. Some people consider it altogether different than nigger, considering it a term of affection or just neutral. Many still consider it a slur, no matter the spelling. Do not use unless there is an extremely compelling reason to do so, and a supervisor approves it.

niggardly: Means stingy or miserly. It is sometimes perceived as insulting because it sounds like the offensive word nigger. Be careful with usage.


100 Black Men of America Inc.: National organization of Black men aiming to improve quality of life in their communities. The group started in New York in 1963 when a few Black men met to explore ways of making a difference. Over time, the group adopted the name 100 Black Men Inc. as a sign of solidarity. In 1986, it became a national entity and was renamed 100 Black Men of America Inc. and now boasts more than 10,000 members in more than 100 chapters, with 100,000 youths annually participating in mentoring and development programs.

Officer-involved shooting (New): Avoid use of the phrase “officer-involved shooting” in cases where police fire a weapon. It is nonspecific, misleading police jargon, which often leaves the audience with more questions. Journalists should insist on details such as what role did the officer(s) have in the shooting, including who fired. Tell the public what you know and explain if law enforcement officials do not answer questions or confirm details.

Oreo: Disparaging term for someone deemed to have shunned his or her Black culture and who acts white. Referring to the cookie, means being Black on the outside, but white on the inside; latter-day version of pejorative Uncle Tom. Do not use it. (See Uncle Tom.)


people of color: Acceptable use as a synonym for minorities. May also be used to describe groups such as journalists of color or women of color. (See minorities.)

primitive: Avoid using this potentially insulting term to describe a person or people.

projects, the: Abbreviated slang for housing projects. Do not use either term to describe a person’s dwelling. Better to say housing development.


quotas: A specific or presubscribed number that must be met to reach a certain goal. A buzzword often used in the affirmative action debate, however, it is not synonymous with affirmative action, which is a practice, activity or program aimed at correcting the enduring effects of discrimination and helping to diversify businesses, organizations and schools.


race: See ethnicity, race.

Rastafarians: Members of a political and religious movement among Black people Jamaica and several other countries. This messianic movement dates back to the 1930s. Rastafarians believe that Haile Selassie (originally known as Ras Tafari), a former emperor of Ethiopia, is the only true God and consider him the messiah. They believe that Black people are the Israelites reincarnated and have been subjected to the white race in divine punishment for their sins; they will eventually be redeemed by repatriation to Africa. These beliefs, first enunciated in 1953, can be traced to several independent proponents, particularly Marcus Garvey. Some Rastafarian rituals include the use of marijuana, considered a holy weed, and the chanting of revivalist hymns. Reggae music is the popular music of the movement.

reparations: Government-issued funding and social programs intended to compensate Black people for past injustices of slavery and discrimination. In 1988, America issued a national apology to Japanese Americans placed in American internment camps during World War II and paid each victim $20,000. This prompted many Black Americans to press for similar reparations. Some also cited as grounds for reparations the unfulfilled Civil War promise that each slave receive 40 acres and a mule; the millions of dollars of German aid to Jews following the Holocaust and the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after World War II. Reparations advocates have proposed packages ranging from $700 billion to $4 trillion. Most favor investing the money in education and economic development for Black communities. This proposed use of reparations contrasts with that of some earlier reparation movements that sought to create and fund an independent Black state (in Africa or the southern United States) or to secure pensions for ex-slaves and their descendants.

Reconstruction: Period after the Civil War in which attempts were made to rebuild the South and solve the political, social, and economic problems arising from the readmission to the Union of the 11 Confederate states that had seceded at or before the war. Most historians consider Reconstruction to have taken place 1865-1877. Newly emancipated Black people with the help of government and supporters assisted in reconstructing society.

redneck: A derogatory term for white people. Do not use it.

reverse discrimination: Used to describe discrimination against white people.


Sambo: Historically, term was used to describe a happy Black slave. Today, it is an offensive term. Do not use it in copy.

Scottsboro case: In 1931, two white women stepped from a train box car in Paint Rock, Ala., and falsely accused nine Black teenagers of rape while on the train. The case became a cause celebre and a symbol of racism and injustice in the South; the teenagers came to be known as the Scottsboro Nine or Scottsboro Boys. After several retrials, worldwide protests, two Supreme Court rulings, four of the nine were freed after six years in jail. In 1976, Gov. George Wallace pardoned all nine.

Sea Islands: Low-lying chain of more than 100 sandy islands off the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, extending between the Santee and St. Johns rivers and along the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. Considered the center of Gullah culture, the islands became home to many former slaves, similar to the maroon colonies in Jamaica and other areas. Islands within the boundaries of South Carolina include Parris Island, Port Royal Island and St. Helena Island. Those within Georgia include Cumberland Island (largest in the chain), St. Simons Island and St. Catherines Island (no apostrophes) and Sea Island. Amelia Island is within Florida’s boundaries. (See Gullah.)

sickle cell anemia: Inherited chronic anemia found chiefly among Black people, characterized by abnormal red blood cells. Unlike normal red cells, which are usually smooth and donut-shaped, sickle-shaped red cells cannot squeeze through small blood vessels. Instead, they stack up and cause blockages that deprive organs and tissues of oxygen-carrying blood. The disease has no cure but can be treated with drugs and or blood transfusions.

Sister, sista: Terms used to refer to a family member or an affectionate, respectful name for a church member, sorority member or another Black woman. Be mindful of appropriateness in news copy. May use in quotes.

slavery: The first Black African slaves in the American colonies arrived in the early 1600s. As the colonies grew, the demand for slave labor also increased. By 1750, 200,000 slaves lived in the colonies, the majority of them living and working in the South. Hundreds of thousands of slaves were brought to America during The Middle Passage and millions others died along the way. Slaves were forced to work farms and plantations, enduring brutality, cruelty, abuse and suffering. As injustices of slavery grew, resistance efforts formed, including the Underground Railroad. This secretive system of transporting slaves from safe house to safe house, helping them escape to free states or Canada, operated for years with Harriet Tubman, a former slave, as one of its leading figures. In 1861, the Civil War pitted the South, which favored slavery, against the North, which opposed it. [Several other political and economic factors also caused the conflict.] President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, declaring an end to slavery. In 1865, the 13th Amendment formally abolished slavery in the country. (See Juneteenth, Middle Passage and Underground Railroad.)

sports stereotypes: Avoid characterizations of Black athletes as naturally being better than athletes of other ethnic backgrounds. Such depictions are reminiscent of slavery, when owners described their male slaves as bucks and tried to breed them with female slaves to produce superior slaves.

Southern Cross: Confederate battle flag used during the Civil War, which remains offensive to some Black Americans because it represents the Confederacy and the era of slavery. The flag has a red background, with two blue stripes in a cross, and 13 white stars inside the stripes. Some have described the Southern Cross as a proud symbol of Southern heritage. The Ku Klux Klan and other racist hate groups have also appropriated it. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, more than 500 extremist groups use the Southern Cross as one of their symbols.

soul food: Items popular originally in the South and traditionally eaten by Black people. The cuisine originated during slavery when slaves were given leftovers or undesirable cuts of meat by their owners, which was supplemented by vegetables the slaves grew themselves. Today, the dishes include collard greens, fried chicken, ham hocks, black-eyed peas, yams and cornbread.


Third World: Commonly used to describe underdeveloped countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. These nation’s and the people there are often cast as being uncivilized or primitive. Avoid using the  term because of its negative connotations. Better to say developing countries. Use in quotes only if necessary.


Underground Railroad: In the United States before the Civil War, a vast network of people organized to free slaves from the South. It started in the colonial period and reached its peak in the early 1830s. An estimated 100,000 slaves were freed using the secretive system of safe houses and transportation. Slaves often used songs to relay messages of escape. Notable figures include John Fairfield in Ohio, the son of a slaveholding family, who made many daring rescues; Quaker Levi Coffin, who assisted more than 3,000 slaves; and Harriet Tubman, who made 19 trips into the South and escorted over 300 slaves to freedom.

United Negro College Fund, The (UNCF): Nations largest, oldest and most comprehensive minority higher education assistance organization. UNCF provides funding and services for 39 member historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), scholarships and internships for students at almost 1,000 institutions and faculty and administrative professional training. May use UNCF on second reference.

Uncle Tom: A term of contempt. Based on the main character, an elderly Black man, in Harriet Beecher Stowes Uncle Toms Cabin, a novel that protested the use of slavery. In today’s terms, it means a Black person who treats white people as superiors or who is eager to please them. Do not apply it to a person.

Uncle Toms Cabin (or Life Among the Lowly): 1852 antislavery novel and controversial bestseller by Harriet Beecher Stowe that increased sentiment against slavery. Main character Uncle Tom is a pious and faithful slave sold by his master to a brutal plantation owner, who later beat Uncle Tom to death. Before dying Uncle Tom prayed for his master’s repentance and salvation. Some historians credit the novel with helping to prompt the Civil War. (See slavery.)


Voting Rights Act: Enacted on Aug. 6, 1965, it empowered the federal government to oversee voter registration and elections in communities, especially in the South, that had used tests to determine voter eligibility and or where registration or turnout was less than 50 percent in the 1964 presidential election. It also banned discriminatory literacy tests and expanded voting rights for non-English speaking Americans. The law’s effects were wide and powerful. By 1968, for example, nearly 60 percent of eligible Black people were registered to vote in Mississippi. The Voting Rights Act was extended in 1970, 1975, and 1982 and despite some setbacks and debates had an enormous impact by helping elect Black lawmakers at the local, state and national levels.


wigger: A derogatory term used for a white person who mimics language, dress and mannerisms of Black people; a white person who acts Black.