Like many words, the definition depends upon the intent and inflexion of the user. Many Georgians were proud to call themselves "Georgia Crackers" who took the name from their ancestors who drove their cattle (cracking whips) south to Florida grasslands. That is the popular etymology among White rural Georgians, according to my late father who was born in the small town of Adrian, Georgia. He also pointed out that Atlanta's long-time minor league team was called the "Atlanta Crackers."
The New Georgia Encyclopedia says that the derivation is more complicated. It says that linguists trace the word to the Gaelic word craic which is still used in Ireland to describe entertaining conversation. In Elizabethian English, the word cracker meant braggert. Shakespeare's King John (1595) includes the statement: "What cracker is this . . . that deafes our ears / With this abundance of superfluous breath?" By 1760 the English, both in Colonial America and in Great Britain were using the word cracker to describe the Scot-Irish settlers in the back-country of the Southern American colonies. The Earl of Dartmouth received this report of the new settlers: "I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by Crackers; a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascalls on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia, who often change their places of abode."
African-Americans, however, shifted the meaning from positive to one of derision. Malcom X, in his speach "The Ballot or the Bullet," said "It's time for you and me to stop sitting in this country, letting some cracker senators, Northern crackers and Southern crackers, sit there in Washington, D.C., and come to a conclusion in their mind that you and I are supposed to have civil rights. There's no white man going to tell me anything about my rights." And, of course, in this famous Saturday Night Live skit with Chevy Chase and the late Richard Pryor applying a word-association test to racial epithets, "cracker!" was Pryor's comeback to "burr-head," and ranked just below "white trash," "honkey," "honkey-honkey" and "dead honkey" on Pryor's list of perjorative expressions for whites.