When did Black Men begin to call each other "My Brother" or refer to someone as "That Brother"?

I’m not sure who started it or when. But Black men refer to each as “Brother” all the time.

Even black cops on The First 48 will often say to suspect “My Brother” and ask a question. Or you’ll hear witnesses say “That Brother is ***** crazy”.

I have a couple ideas. That it came out of the Black Power Movement in the late 60’s and early 70’s. The raised fists. But that’s pure speculation.

It’s common throughout the Baptist churches (probably other denominations too) to call someone Brother Name. for example Brother Jackson or Brother Jones. But they never say “That Brother” or just walk up and address the person as My Brother. They’d say “Brother Jackson, how are you today?” That’s how it’s done in every Baptist Church that I attended. Dr King of course was a Baptist Minister.

What’s the Straight Dope?

The earliest cite in the OED is from 1910

As you probably suspect, this usage is entirely different.


That is very surprising. Solidarity was such a central tenet of both the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Pride/Power movements. I’ve always thought either Dr King or Malcolm X popularized the term “brother”. Indicating that all black men had a common bond and oppressor.

Turns out the truth is quite… mundane. That’s quite interesting.

I’m sure that black people had the impulse for solidarity long before these two people came along. They weren’t wizards.

The term “soul brother” came into popular use in the mid 1960s. Seems that it kind of evolved into just “brother”. Just my wild guess.

A bit off topic here. In the labor movement, people refer to each other as brothers and sisters. That probably goes way back. Bernie Sanders addresses his crowds as “brothers and sisters”

This may be entirely incorrect, but I always assumed that the ultimate origin of the term was to be found in the institution of slavery, in which families were wantonly and randomly broken up for sale. Therefore, any other black man could potentially actually be your brother, or you could be related in some other way.

First usage and common usage are often separated by decades.

And usage means used in print. The print record of black slang is poor to nonexistent until at least after WWII.

I don’t find brother in one major source, Zora Neale Hurston’s 1930s Glossary of Harlem Slang. Harlem slang may have been very different from southern slang, however.

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

The OED reference is probably correct. Slaves adopted (and continue) thematic references for several reasons. Obfuscation and solidarity being the first that come to mind.

Don’t mess with my Brothers; that means you’re messing with me.

“Brother” as a title goes back at least as far as the Uncle Remus stories (Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox, etc.).

If you were a kid in the 60s do you remember that there was a heirarchy of "soul brother"s?

James Brown is soul brother #1. Sammy Davis Jr was soul brother #5. Those are the only ones I can remember.