"Huckleberry Finn" and the N-word debate

Should a publisher replace the N-word with "slave" in Mark Twain's classic novel?

"The publisher says they are providing a service," Pitts told David Bradley.

"They are," Bradley said.

"There are school districts that won't deal with Huckleberry Finn, and they remove this word and now they're able to have their students read and deal with Huckleberry Finn," Pitts remarked.

"No. It's not Huckleberry Finn anymore," Bradley said. "We're talkin' about students: What are we teaching them? This may be their first encounter with slavery. It shouldn't be their only one. But that's one of the reasons we can't mess around with it. There is a reality there that you cannot avoid."

"But do you lose that reality when you take out the N-word and replace it with 'slave'?" Pitts asked.

"Yeah. 'Slave' is a condition. I mean, anybody can be a slave. And it's nothin' for anybody to be ashamed of. But 'nigger' has to do with shame. 'Nigger' has to do with calling somebody something. 'Nigger' was what made slavery possible," Bradley explained.

Randall Williams told Pitts the word is poison.

Asked if he used the word, Williams said, "Oh, I used to. I grew up sayin' the word. It was all I knew. I never gave it any thought."

Williams runs NewSouth Books in Montgomery, Ala. - cradle of the Confederacy and where Jim Crow was once king.

Williams, a son of Alabama, says the civil rights movement changed him as it did much of the South. For him, the subject of race and the N-word goes beyond any debate about the book. It's also about how far the South has come.

"We learned to think differently about it and thank God we did," Williams told Pitts. "I mean the movement didn't just free, you know, black southerners. I mean it freed white southerners too."

"Freed you from?" Pitts asked.

"Freed us from the sin of...you know, this...a big sin," Williams said.

"Kids use it... artists use it, the black rap artists use it, as you know, as I well know. Brothers use it all the time...when they talk to each other," Pitts said to David Bradley.

Bradley told Pitts, "I love it."

"'You're my nigger, man.' Look, in every group, there are words that you use, there are inflections, there is knowledge about what a word means to you, or to me, or how I mean it when I say it that is not an insult. I think one of the things that offends white people about it is that they can't say it. They say, 'Well, is it because of my inflection, or is it because...' It's, 'No, because you're not us.' Jeff Foxworthy says, you know, 'You can't make jokes about a redneck unless you are one.' You can't say 'nigger' unless you are one, and unless you are willing to accept everything that goes with it, which is a lot of good stuff, you know? And that's what they want, they want that good stuff," Bradley said.

"What's the good stuff that goes with that word?" Pitts asked.

"Having an awareness that you have, your people have overcome centuries of oppression. The pride of saying, 'Yeah, you can say anything you want and it won't slow me down one bit,'" Bradley said.

"But the word is hurtful," Pitts said.

"The word is not hurtful. How it is used is hurtful, the people who is saying is hurtful," Bradley replied.