Green’s Dictionary of Slang

sambo n.1

also zambo
[Sp. zambo, used to describe those of mixed black and Indian or European blood. The word also describes a breed of yellow monkey. The US use, which emerged during the era of slavery, may have a different root; the Foulah sambo, uncle or Hausa sambo, second son, or name of the spirit. The suggestion by F&H of a third root, an African tribe, the Samboses (for whom they claim an appearance in a text of 1558) has no validity. Sambo began as a neutral term, but as slavery fell into increasing disrepute, so did its terminology. The word was widely popularized by Helen Bannerman’s best-selling children’s book The Story of Little Black Sambo (1923), but the term, and that book, have long since been considered unacceptable]

1. [mid-17C+] a derog. term for a black man; also found as a generic and used by blacks self-referentially .

2. [late 17C; 19C+] a direct term of address to any coloured person.

3. [19C+] (US/W.I.) a darker mixed-race skin colour; a person who is the child of a mixed-race person and a black person.

4. attrib. use of sense 3.

5. a Sudanese soldier.

6. [1980s] (US black) an obsequious black person.

7. [1950s] a general attrib. use, pertaining to black people or culture.

In compounds

sambo backra (n.) [backra n. (1)]

[1950s] (W.I.) a person of mixed race, usu. three-quarters black.