Certainly, as late as the mid-20th century, in England, the word could be used to describe a black person or thing without any offensive intent.

Watch the old war movie "The Dambusters". It's the one about the Royal Air Force using a revolutionary bouncing bomb in an attack on German Hydro schemes. The attack was made by 617 squadron led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson. The code word used to signal the success of the mission was the name of his dog.

What was the name of his dog ?

Nigger

What type of dog was it ?

A Black Labrador.

He loved his dog. He meant it no harm at all in giving it that name, and no comment at all is made on it in the film.