Keith Baird, Linguist Who Fought the Use of ‘Negro,’ Dies at 94

The next year, as racial tensions ignited in American cities, he said in an Ebony magazine article, “The continuing depressed economic and social status of the African people in America, enforced and maintained by the dominant European-originated Americans, is symbolized and instrumentally promoted by the continuing use of the déclassé designation ‘Negro.’”

Mr. Baird was not the first to suggest the use of Afro-American — it caught on for a while — but he approached the debate as a linguist and historian, not as a politician or a civil rights leader.

“We say that we speak as we think,” he told Ebony. “In fact, we tend to think as we speak.”

In 1970, he called for the “semantic liberation” of African-Americans, writing in the journal Social Casework that they — not the “conquerors” who had brought their ancestors to the Americas in chains — needed to dictate the terms used to describe themselves and their community.

By then, Mr. Baird had left teaching languages at Bushwick High School in Brooklyn for positions that brought him into a growing African-American studies movement. He began as director of Afro-American history for a Queens school district in 1967 and moved two years later to Brooklyn as the associate director of the community education center at the Ocean Hill-Brownsville district.

The district was one of three in the city experimenting with decentralization of the school system, a combustible racial, political and educational issue. Mr. Baird was part of a group of educators who developed a curriculum that emphasized black and Puerto Rican history. “We aren’t concerned with putting one culture over another,” Mr. Baird said, “but with supplying the missing pages of black culture.”

In 1968, Mr. Baird advocated citywide decentralization when he ran to unseat Albert Shanker as president of the United…

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