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House panel approves African-American bill


'TC ANNAPOLIS -- When Elijah Cummings was young, he looked up the word "Negro," saw that it meant black and felt ashamed.

But today, he's called an "African-American," and the Baltimore delegate said that gives him a feeling of pride and connection to his heritage.

After he spoke yesterday, he and his colleagues on the House Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee unanimously approved a bill that calls on the state to refer to blacks as African-Americans in laws and regulations. State procurement laws, for example, refer specifically to blacks.

"One thing African-Americans need is to be connected to something. Being connected to Africa is very important. African-American people are moving more toward acceptance of their heritage," Mr. Cummings said. "To be African-American is to say you came from somewhere."

Del. Joanne C. Benson, D-Prince George's, agrees. She said she also felt ashamed to be called black when she was young. "When I was a child growing up, we were taught that anything that had the term 'black' in it was negative -- the dark, clothing," she said after the meeting.

A white delegate, however, wondered if most blacks wanted to be called African-Americans. Del. Victor A. Sulin, D-Anne Arundel, said he had seen a survey showing a preference for "black" over "African-American." Mr. Cummings replied that being a leader means leading the way.

Del. Carol S. Petzold, D-Montgomery, asked why the legislative Black Caucus, which supports the bill, hasn't changed its name to the African-American Caucus. "I really feel foolish supporting the bill if the group asking us to support it hasn't taken the first step," she said.

Committee Chairwoman Anne S. Perkins, D-Baltimore, explained that the bill was introduced by Del. Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, not by the Black Caucus.

Ms. Benson said the Black Caucus planned to take up the issue of changing its name when it learns the bill's fate. The bill now goes to the House floor for a vote.

"The caucus will lead by example, and I think I speak for the vast majority of the Black Caucus," she said.

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