An Urban Legend that Binds Us: The word “Picnic”

Mar 17, 2008 | Commentary

 

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Richard O. Jones

Last summer, as my church prepared for their annual church picnic, one of our members suggested to me that we must not use the word ‘picnic' because it has strong ties to lynching Black people. I told my friend that she had been mislead. However, recently I received the following asinine e-mail:

This e-mail is being sent to you as a public service announcement and as information in the form of a little known Black History Fact. This information can also be found in the African American Archives at the Smithsonian Institute. Although not taught in American learning institutions and literature, it is noted in most Black history professional circles and literature that the origin of the term "picnic" derives from the acts of lynching African-Americans. The word "picnic" is rooted from the whole theme of "Pick A Nigger." This is where individuals would "pic" a Black person to lynch and make this into a family gathering. There would be music and a "picnic." ("Nic" being the white acronym for "nigger.") Scenes of this were depicted in the movie "Rosewood."

We should choose to use the word "barbecue" or "outing" instead of the word "picnic." Please forward this e-mail to your family and friends and let's educate our people.

My response was, "No thank you." I don't wish to misinform my friends and family with the likes of another vicious Internet hoax. Many Black people are too quick to believe negative rumors; therefore, I refuse to contribute to national ignorance. These type of hoaxes only serve to make Black people look stupid and by no means is an advancement in education. It is too easy to go to the library and research the origin of words in dictionaries and/or encyclopedias to believe and spread every bit or garbage that comes through cyberspace. I have heard the same thing many times but never seen the word "picnic" used as a reference to lynch Blacks in any book of history, not even in the "Slaves Narratives."  It seems to me that as many slaves and  ex-slaves and descendants of slaves who have written published books and papers and/or published newspapers during the era when lynching Blacks was commonplace there is no mention of that reference or connection. Ida B. Wells, Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington, The Crisis Magazine by the NAACP, Before the Mayflower by Leroy Bennett Jr., Soul of Black Folks, by W.E.B. DuBois, not even in the books by Black Muslims such as The Honorable Elijah Mohammed… nothing.

According to my extensive research long exhausted in and around the Los Angeles and Riverside Public Libraries, I found that the word picnic can only be traced to its French origin in the 17 century, which have nothing to do with the lynching of Negroes. In America since the 1800s the word only referred to outdoor cooking, which usually includes barbeque and family fun.

Email: richardojones1@verizon.net

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