Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Jim Crow in Southern California

Twelve African American women helped destroy Jim Crow tradition in Long Beach, California, and helped to change Jim Crow laws in the South.

Evelyn Knight 
Marched with King

Thought racism only occurred in the American Deep South? Wrong. Racism occurs wherever race matters enough to change the way people treat each other. 

"I remember when we were refused service in Long Beach restaurants," said Evelyn Knight, who marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  "I was sitting in my living room in Long Beach, California, when I heard Dr. King on television calling folks to action. After Bloody Sunday, he said he needed help! It didn't matter that I had a good job at that time. I told my employers I had to go to Selma. It didn't matter to me what they said. And I packed my bag, boarded an airplane and flew south to do my part to win the vote for my people down there!"

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson 

Signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

"Going to Alabama to march with Dr. King from Selma to Montgomery," Knight said. "I knew I was helping to change more than Alabama; I was helping to change the South and also Long Beach. After President Johnson signed that voting rights legislation to make sure my Alabama people got the vote, I went back that following year and worked to register them!" 

A new exhibition, BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way, will chronicle the life of Evelyn Knight and the lives of 11 other African American female legends who made a difference in history and culture of Long Beach, California. The exhibition of historic photographic restorations, document reproductions, artifacts, and ancestral papers will open Tuesday, September 29, 2015, at 3:00 p.m. in the Atrium Center & Theater in Long Beach Public Library off of City Hall Public Plaza, 101 Pacific Ave., Long Beach, California. Beginning at 2:00 there will be a Press Conference in the Miller Room and a Reception in the Atrium Garden.

Profiles of African American Women who made a difference 
To the history of Long Beach, California
Edited by Sunny Nash
Foreword by Carolyn Smith Watts

(l-r, rear) Evelyn Knight, Patricia Lofland, Bobbie SmithAlta Cooke, Carrie Bryant, Vera Mulkey, Wilma Powell
Doris Topsy-Elvord(seated l-r) Autrilla ScottMaycie HerringtonDale Clinton & (not present) Lillie Mae Wesley 
"Long Beach, California, was not perfect, racially," the 12 African American women agreed, but they persisted in changing Jim Crow traditions in Southern California, and marched in Civil Rights Movement demonstrations to change Jim Crow laws in their nation. 

Autrilla Scott and Sunny Nash
The late Autrilla Scott (left)
One of the 12 Women
Sunny Nash (right) Editor & Producer
In a project that began in 2007, humanitarian, Carolyn Smith Watts, and author, Sunny Nash, began chronicling the lives of the twelve living legends of Long Beach, California, and paying tribute to them through books, television documentaries, online research programs and this upcoming exhibition. Since that time, two have passed away, Autrilla Scott and Lillie Mae Wesley. 

BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way explores race relations in America and Southern California, strained during the migration of black females coming from the segregated South during World War II primarily for employment. Long Beach was more progressive than towns in Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama and other parts of the Jim Crow South where some of the 12 black women were born and raised. However, employment, education and housing required racial change these black women helped to make in Long Beach. 

The late Autrilla Scott pictured above and other women in BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way are accomplished in a variety of areas--Congressional Gold Medal, nanny to a future president, papers in the Library of Congress, activist who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other national, state and local achievements and honors in education, government, civil rights and others. Read Autrilla Scott & A Place Called Hope.

In preparing BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way, I learned that people of color all over the nation, including Southern California, have felt the effect of racial oppression at some time in their lives throughout American history. In the beginning, the inability of the United States to  take any meaningful steps in race relations was due to the Jim Crow system in place for more than 100 years. The Jim Crow system stymied any attempt at race relations by committed black and white citizens in a nation that reeled from the effects of the Civil War and Reconstruction for nearly a century and continues to be tainted by the emotions of coming generations.

Custom search civil rights history here.

Dale Clinton
Civil Rights Activist
Wrote letter to President Johnson
about poverty in America
1968 letter collected by the Library of Congress
Women with similar philosophies are profiled in a book, BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Wayhistorical profiles--filmed, compiled, edited  and written--about twelve African American women who made a noteworthy difference in the history of Long Beach, California, and will be featured in the coming exhibition. This exposure will allow people of all races to learn about the triumphs over racism by these women and others of their time, to experience primary accounts of their lives as Americans and their struggles as black women, and to get a better understanding of race relations in the United States.

The women in BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way, some born as early as 1918, do not have famous names and their contributions to race relations in America, may have gone unnoticed had this book not been published. This type of project about women who defied all odds can give a writer unlimited material from which to draw topics for public speaking engagements and have the double benefit of featuring women like these in BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way and helping to expose the community to their stories and contributions to race relations in America.

Alta Cooke, Breaking Through Lighting the Way
Alta Cooke Posed for Article
in the Press-Telegram, Long Beach
BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way came from a photograph by Carolyn Smith Watts, humanitarian and coordinator of the project said, “I am blessed to have known most of these women and I have a wonderful relationship with many. These 12 women have contributed over six-hundred years of experience to Long Beach. In the past fifty years, they have mothered hundreds children, some of whom were their own and others were neighborhood children who needed love and support. Yes, of course, there are other women in our city with thousands of stories and each one invaluable."

© 2015 Sunny Nash. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
~Thank You~

Sunny Nash – Race Relations in America

Thursday, March 12, 2015

My Mother

...the Reason I am

Littie Nash
Littie Nash

My mother was my most effective race relations adviser. 

"Do your best at what you do you," my mother said. "You are responsible for that. If you don't do your best, you can only blame yourself. Doing your best may not change the way some people treat you, but doing your best goes a long way toward the way you feel about yourself. And you are the only person you really need to impress."

My mother did not lavish me with compliments and I do not fault her for that. She  believed compliments and accolades should be reserved for special achievements. She reserved celebrations for real accomplishments and occasional birthday parties. My mother loved me even if she didn't compliment my every move. As an adult, I understand that she was teaching me independence and confidence in my own abilities. 

"You know what you have done," she always said. "Let that knowledge--be it good or bad--serve you. Good and you can repeat whatever it was. Bad and you can cease with it."

I admit, when I was a little girl listening to all her wisdom, I was mostly confused. But I realized early in my life that compliments were not to be thrown around because I dragged myself out of bed before noon on Saturday or because I made straight-A report cards. 

"Some things, like making good grades, you have to do," she said. "And those things pass, not without notice, but without an all-day hullabaloo. I notice," she said."Do you?"

Not that I really wanted to do all the things Littie insisted I do, my mother sponsored my piano, ballet, tennis and swimming lessons, dance performances, recitals, literary and classical music club memberships, summer camps, school trips and science fair exhibits, still managing to squeeze out of our tight budget money for the dentist to install braces on my teeth. She did her best with little to start with; I was not a prize! 

Rosa Parks Arrest Montgomery Bus Boycott 1955
Rosa Parks Arrest
Montgomery Bus Boycott 1955

It took courage and imagination during the Jim Crow era for my mother to give me what I needed. 

My mother schooled me about life in the American South and made me read about Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. I could tell by looking around the neighborhood that jobs for African Americans were scarce and good jobs were mostly nonexistent for them. Black men were economically and politically marginalized.

Black women were publicly disrespected on a routine basis. I'm not at all sure how they got along back then. I was there and I have little memory of a day-to-day routine that was executed with grace and dignity. 

"Look what Rosa Parks is doing for you," my mother told me when I was six years old and in first grade. "What are you going to do for her?" 

I had no idea what the right answer to that question was, but I didn't have to wait for very long to find out. 

"You are going to go to school and do the best you can. And I don't mean kind of your best or just good enough! I mean your best! You are a little colored girl and you are going to have to do everything better than just good enough, better than good! You are going to have to do very good! Better than very good! The best you have in you!"

Montgomery Bus Boycott 1955-56 - Woman Hitchhiking
Woman Hitchhiking
Montgomery Bus Boycott 1955-56
I wonder sometimes how I would have dealt with racial humiliation indefinitely or if I would have learned to fight the system like Rosa Parks and other women of her time. My mother had her own way of fighting the Jim Crow system. She was fighting it with me as her primary weapon. 

By the time I graduated from high school, it was against the law to do to me what was customary treatment for black women only a couple of years earlier when I was a child and people stared at my mother and me in department stores and shook their heads when we asked to try on a garment. In the cheap stores, we were not allowed to try on apparel and discouraged from touching it. I couldn't understand why those shabby dresses were considered so precious that we couldn't try them on or even touch them without sneers from the sales ladies. 

"The policy does not state you can't try on the dress," my mother explained, pulling me out of a store on day. "The policy is that you can't use their fitting room."

"If we can't use their fitting room," I asked. "Where are we supposed to try the clothes on?"

"One old sales biddy suggested I strip down in the store and try on the bad-cut suit because she knew no self-respecting lady would do that," my mother said. 

"What?" I was shocked.

"And if you buy their sheeny mammy-made outfits," my mother said. "You can't bring them back!"
Former Edges on the Corner, Bryan, Texas
Former Location of one of the Better Stores

My mother shopped a lot through mail-order catalogs. Our postman, Mr. Walton--the first black U.S. Postman in our town--was not fond of our shopping habits, having to carry all those packages in all kinds of weather, but he was always nice, not because his wife and my mother were good friends or because his wife was my first-grade teacher or because I was best friends with his son, Charles, but because Mr. Walton had a job to do. 

Mr. Walton knew, being our town's first black postman, he had to do that job better than anyone else would have. Being the first meant that his superior performance could open doors for the next black postman. 

When the money situation in our household improved, my mother was able to shop at the more expensive stores, where there was no fitting-room policy. In the better stores, we could try on clothes like other human beings, although we couldn't buy as many items as we could have at the cheap stores. My mother said, the better stores didn't have a fitting room or no-return policy because they didn't expect to have a black clientele. 

"The good stores don't mind taking our money," she said. "As long as we conduct ourselves properly and do not come in hooping and hollering, pulling all the garments off racks, dragging them floor, stepping on them, destroying the displays, leaving the store wrecked and acting like...well, you get the idea. Let's go shopping!"

Our shopping habits changed when my mother started her little food business in our kitchen providing meals for some ill older patients she cared for as a practical nurse. She made healthy ingredient substitutions so the dish tasted like the dish to which the patient was was accustomed. Eating well, they thrived. Doctors saw improvements in their health and began requesting that my mother make special foods for their other patients. My mother took an idea and her talent with food and changed our lives. 

"Good enough is not good enough for me," my mother said. "And if never learn anything else from me, learn that!"

I owe my success and my resilience to my mother.  

Read more about my mother in my blog posts: 
Littie Nash, one of the great thinkers

  • She believed that ignorance was an illness that could only be cured by learning. 

Great Mothering in Jim Crow's World

  • "People can learn on their own if they know how to read," she said often. 

College Education Was my Mothers Plan

  • "You do not have to go to college to learn and be educated. But education may help you get a better job."

In the 1990s, I wrote columns for Hearst and Knight-Ridder newspapers--stories from my childhood with my part-Comanche grandmother during the Civil Rights Movement. Texas A&M University published a collection of the stories about which Robin Fruble of Southern California said, "Every white person in America should read this book! Sunny Nash writes the story of her childhood without preaching or ranting but she made me realize for the first time just how much skin color changes how one experiences the world. But if your skin color is brown, it matters a great deal to a great number of people. I needed to learn that. Sunny Nash is a great teacher," Fruble said.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Eleanor Roosevelt, Marian Anderson & the Lincoln Memorial

Civil Rights Path Forged in 1939 by Eleanor Roosevelt and Marian Anderson

Photo: Eleanor Roosevelt and Marian Anderson
Eleanor Roosevelt (left), Marian Anderson (right)
Marian Anderson sang a historic concert at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, nearly one-quarter century before the Lincoln Memorial became the location of the Martin Luther King "I Have a Dream Speech" at the conclusion of the March on Washington in 1963. 

Both Marian Anderson's concert at the Lincoln Memorial and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream Speech" at the conclusion of the March on Washington were inspired by outrage against Jim Crow tradition and Jim Crow laws.

The March on Washington attracted a racially mixed audience of more than 200,000 in a peaceful protect against racism and poverty in America. Marian Anderson's concert attracted a racially mixed audience of more than 75,000 to her free concert, arranged by then First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt after Anderson's application for performance at Constitution Hall was denied, based on her race. Marian Anderson was not permitted to bring song to Constitution Hall for her performance because the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), in charge of the facility, did not rent the space to nonwhite performers.

DAR Letter to Eleanor Roosevelt on Marian Anderson

Page 1, Letter to Eleanor; Page 2 Letter to Eleanor

When Eleanor read the letter about the snub the Daughters of the American Revolution made toward Marian Anderson's request to use Constitution Hall, Eleanor wrote a letter in which she resigned her membership and expressed her displeasure of the organization's treatment of Anderson. The First Lady, then went about making alternative arrangements for the Anderson concert.

"The DAR had adopted a rule excluding African-American artists from the Constitution Hall stage in 1932 following protests over "mixed seating," blacks and whites seated together, at concerts of black artists. You may read a 2-page letter from Mrs. Henry M. Robert, Jr., president general of the DAR, responding to Mrs. Roosevelt's resignation." "From: National Archives and Records Administration

Reassigned to the Lincoln Memorial by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, 

African American opera singer, Marian Anderson, sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and her performance launched her as the voice of the Civil Rights Movement. The audience was silent as Anderson presented her program with dignified presence, commanding respect of the universe.

The civil rights activism of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt did not begin or end with the Marian Anderson affair. The daughter of the brother of President Theodore Roosevelt, Eleanor like learned her politics at the dinner table. Being of independent mind from the start and maturing into an independent person of action, Eleanor became force with which to be reckoned.

After marrying Franklin Roosevelt and then becoming First Lady, her columns, speeches, journals were captured in print. Behind the scenes it is said that she influenced the president's racial tolerance, although, not so much his actual civil rights policies, which were avoided due to southern dominance of the Democratic party.

The First Lady's philosophy is published in books, newspapers and magazines. So, it was no surprise that the Marian Anderson concert was arranged by First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, when the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to honor Anderson's application for a license to perform at Constitution Hall in Washington DC. The policy of the segregated city of Washington supported their decision. Anderson "was not white," her manager Sol Hurok was told by facility administration.

Until her death in 1962, Eleanor Roosevelt was a dedicated supporter of civil rights. Her social activism dates back to the 1939 Marian Anderson and DAR controversy over the use of Constitution Hall in Washington DC. the establishment of the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II and support of the peaceful protest doctrine of Martin Luther King.

"Charles Alfred Anderson, the first African American to earn his pilot's license, became the first flight instructor when the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) was organized at Tuskegee Institute in October 1939. The army decided to model its training program on the CPTP and hired Anderson to teach the Tuskegee pilots," Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project

From 1949 until she died in 1962, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote a column in McCall's, If You Ask Me, in which the former First Lady answered reader questions. In 1963, the same year as the March on Washington, Roosevelt's quotations were collected and published.

Marian Anderson at Lincoln Memorial
Both the March on Washington, led by Martin Luther King, and the Marian Anderson concert drew suspicion of trouble with gatherings so large in the nation's capitol. However, neither reported trouble. They both drew like-minded people who were there to make difference in the way the United States of America conducted its business at home and abroad.

Nearly one-quarter century at Marion Anderson, Martin Luther King did the same thing with his powerful voice and speech. And there was no question in either case, that one was witnessing history as portrayed by true Americans.

Marian Anderson was born in 1897 and died in 1993.
Eleanor Roosevelt was born in 1884 and died in 1962.

No person of any color, creed, religion, ethnic origin, nationality or economic class is more American than Eleanor Roosevelt and Marian Anderson, both of whom came upon this earth called to do a duty and neither failed in their performance of that duty.

Find more on civil rights and race relations here. Start your Custom Search

    Bigmama Didn’t Shop  At Woolworth’s  Sunny Nash

Hard Cover

Amazon Kindle
Sunny Nash author of bigmama didn't shop at woolworth's
Sunny Nash
Sunny Nash is an author, producer, photographer and leading writer on U.S. race relations. She writes books, blogs, articles and reviews, and produces media and images on U.S. history and contemporary American topics, ranging from Jim Crow laws to social media networking. Sunny Nash is the author of Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's (Texas A&M University Press), about life with her part-Comanche grandmother during the Civil Rights Movement.

Sunny Nash’s book is recognized by the Association of American University Presses as essential for understanding U.S. race relations. Nash's book is also listed in the Bibliographic Guide for black studies at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York; and recommended for Native American collections by the Miami-Dade Public Library System in Florida. Nash uses her book to write articles and blogs on race relations in America through topics relating to her life--from music, film, early radio and television, entertainment, social media, Internet technology, publishing, journalism, sports, education, employment, the military, fashion, performing arts, literature, women's issues, adolescence and childhood, equal rights, social and political movements--past and present—to today's post-racism. homepage

© 2014 Sunny Nash. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. 
~Thank You~

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Teatime Rituals and Outdoor Entertaining

Teatime and evening meals outdoors make a poor family feel rich.

Texas Tea Map
Texas Tea Map

In the 1950s, when I was young , my mother and I sipped tea with lemon on Saturday afternoons under the shade of our mulberry tree. 

We enjoyed lounging on reclaimed, painted-to-match lawn furniture in our little garden like we were English royalty. When neighbors passed and they had time to spare, she invited them for a cup of tea and a cookie. "A cup of tea, a cookie and a smile cost pennies and make a person feel special," she said. It seemed natural for her to transform something or someone without offending or belittling. 

Drinking tea made her feel better and look younger, Littie said. 

Teabag & Cucumber Eye Compress
Teabag & Cucumber 
Eye Compress

"Just because you don't have a lot of money," she said, "doesn't mean you don't deserve to feel good or look good." 

My mother learned many of her teatime practices from a family in our neighborhood whose ancestors had been Chinese immigrants. By the time I knew these people, they were as African American as the rest of us, having been totally immersed within the African American community through marriage. 

However, the forefathers of these Chinese immigrants had told by them the story of their heritage and warned them to preserve what they had been told, lest their historical accounts be lost and forgotten. Chinese contributions were more than teatime. The American West, a historic, glorified and mythologized region of the United States, hardly acknowledges significant presence or recognizes how and why Chinese immigrants arrived, nor documents their diaspora traveling to other regions of the nation such as the Mississippi Delta, making the Chinese American West a story of its own.

After tea, my mother wrapped used teabags in plastic wrap and kept them in the refrigerator. Later, she used them for under-the-eye compresses. "Teabags to get rid of eye bags," she said. We didn't waist anything, even a used teabag. 

My mother reserved her more expensive imported Chinese Japanese teas, which she ordered from catalogs, for occasions when it was just the two of us. 

Don't Toss That Teabag!
They're not Trash!
At the time I was still a child and didn't have under-eye bags and, following my mother's instructions to the tea, I still don't. To this day, I press green tea- or black teabags under my eyes for an afternoon refresher before tossing the tea bags into the trash. My mother was right about tea helping to restore health, being an inducement to meditation and getting rid of bags under the eyes. 

Natural Ways To Get Rid of Bags Under the Eyes

Get Rid of Bags Under the Eyes, Iced Cucumber Slices
Iced Cucumber Slices
Get Rid of Bags 
Under Your Eyes
"Women have been figuring out how to look good with and without no money for centuries," she said. "The older ladies made their own beauty creams before face creams with skin lightening and tightening concoctions came on the market and the old-fashioned homemade wrinkle remedies work better than the store bought ones." 

Cucumber gel from real cucumbers was one of her specialties. She mixed the cucumber gel with brewed green tea and stored it in glass jars in the refrigerator. Another ritual of outdoor entertainment was bringing out a bowl of very thinly sliced cucumbers in ice. On a hot summer day, it was particularly refreshing to place slices over our eyes as we relaxed and talked. 

Red bird in a tree
On occasion at teatime, my mother brought
art supplies out and painted birds in the tree 
In the backyard relaxing under the mulberry tree sipping tea, we talked about the teatime rituals in a book she bought on how the ancient Chinese and Japanese ceremonies and tea customs that deepened one's understanding of everything. 

My mother was not only very smart, she was practical in her approach to raising me during the Jim Crow era. She knew Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King were out there trying to change things, but she also knew those changes were not going to come immediately. There were so many places African Americans couldn't go and so many things we couldn't do at that time in history, my mother's only recourse was through books and her own imagination. Therefore, she had to devise a method of cultivating me on her own if she wanted to expose me to other cultures. So, under her elegant touch, she turned the simplest occasions, like teatime or eating ice cream, into momentous events. 

Making tea was as important to my mother as taking tea. 

Teatime Magazine

Making Tea 

Photography by Mac Jamieson

Making tea is a serendipitous event. There is no manual that guarantees perfect tea if you follow five easy steps. Read 10 books by tea experts and you will find 10 different procedures and brewing times. The only constant more

25 Best Homemade Ice-Cream Recipes

Although teatime was a ritual my mother honored, she also loved ice cream and often combined the two.

I could write books on my mother's second-hand fix-ups or giving poor relatives and neighbors their first experience with an elegantly set table with fine mostly mix-matched China plates and crystal glasses, proper use of silverware, dinner conversation and indoor plumbing. 

Homemade Peach-and-Toasted Pecan Ice CreamThis homemade treat is packed with two Southern favorites: refreshing peaches and nutty pecans. The sweet peaches add great texture, and the pecans pack in a crunchy bite to this homemade ice-cream recipe. From: Southern Living

Vintage White Mountain Ice Cream Freezer
Vintage White Mountain
Ice Cream Freezer
Littie made old-fashioned ice cream from a 100-year-old recipe, given to her by her grandmother and used her grandmother's antique wooden ice cream freezer, which stayed in the family for years, coming first into the possession of my grandmother via her mother. As a child, I remember taking turns with other children cranking the ice cream freezer. My mother usually made vanilla but occasionally mixed in fresh seasonal fruit or berries or mint from our garden, all of which she also used in our teatime rituals. I don't know what finally happened to the ice cream freezer, which would be mine by now.

Sausage and Veggies on the Grill
Sausage and Veggies on the Grill
DURING ICE CREAM SUMMERS, before we had air conditioning and before outdoor entertaining was fashionable, my mother prepared lavish cold-cut suppers to serve in our backyard. Sometimes, if the budget allowed, she cooked a few vegetables, sausage links or other meats on her barrel grill. She had a ton of grilling recipes from books and magazines that she was always anxious to try out on company. She learned her grilling skills from a host of pit bosses in and out of our family--black, white and Native American. 

Black Cowboys of Texas 

Littie talked about Saturday Night Suppers at Uncle Tinney's house when she was a young girl living on an isolated Texas farm. 

Uncle Tinney, only one of the black cowboys in our family. There were black cowboys and Indian blood in every family I knew. You could see it in the hair, cheekbones and dark red coloration in the skin. 

Uncle Tinney was married to my grandmother's sister, part Comanche through their father, my great grandfather, who knew about the old way and taught it to his offspring and in-laws of offspring. That could be the way Uncle Tinney learned some of his outdoor cooking techniques.

My mother said, "Uncle Tinny dug in the ground behind the house and lit a slow fire in the hole. Then he placed a whole pig or most of a pig wrapped in corn shucks in the hole and smoked the pig all day Friday. On Saturday just before the supper, he took out the tender meat, falling off the bone. With fresh white bread his wife baked in their outdoor oven, Uncle Tinny made sandwiches to sell at the supper. Everybody from miles around--black, white and brown--came to eat, drink Uncle Tinney's home-brewed beer, listen to Cousin Roy play is guitar and sing out of tune, and kick up dust dancing in the side yard.

Find more start your Custom Search here.

Ojibwa Woman Cooking, An Ethnographic Biography of Paul Peter Buffalo
Ojibwa Woman Cooking
An Ethnographic Biography 
of Paul Peter Buffalo
"My father taught all of us children how to hunt, clean and cook wild meat outdoors," my grandmother said. "That's the old way, the only way when he was a boy. Our people were starving. Wild meat and small game were how we survived because there was no money or store to buy meat. 'And why should you buy meat?' Bigmama's father would ask, 'when you can go out the back door and bag a rabbit or a squirrel, skin it and cook it over an open fire for supper.' So that is what we did," Bigmama said.

Much changed during the period between my grandmother's childhood and mine. When I was a little girl, my mother had a job, not making much money, but some. She said it didn't take a lot of money to transport us to someplace magical. "Everybody needs to have a magical place," she'd say. "All it takes were a few simple things, a little imagination and a nice cup of tea to start things off."

Before Outdoor Lighting, All-weather Lawn Furniture or Air Conditioning

outdoor lights hanging in trees similar to my mother's
Similar to my mother's outdoor lighting

Littie made a makeshift table from a rough wooden door under the mulberry tree in our little garden, and strung white holiday lights on low hanging branches. Our house had no outdoor lighting fixtures, except for a corner street lamp that came on at dusk and went off at dawn, about the time Mr. Hines's roosters began calling for morning into light.

She would decorate that table like it was in a palace or somewhere and you simply forgot you were in the low-end part of town that still had unpaved streets. Nothing matched, but she didn't care. Nothing had to match to make it elegant.

Portable Suitcase
Record Player

To complete outdoor entertaining, Littie brought out a record player she had bought at a yard sale. 

This old fashioned portable suitcase music machine was our third second-hand record player. Our first portable suitcase music machine only played large thick plastic 78 rpm (revolutions per minute) disks. Our second record player had two speed--78 rpm and 45 rpm for playing the smaller disk with the big hole in the middle. This suitcase music machine was deluxe as far as we were concerned because it had three speeds--78, 45 and 33 rpm. The 33 rpm was the latest. It played LPs (long playing), albums as they were called, the largest disks. 

My mother needed this new 33 rpm format to play her new LPs, albums as they were called. She connected the machine to power in the kitchen and brought the machine to the back door in the evening to lilt music of her favorite jazz artists, like Kenny Burrell or The Dave Brubeck Quartet. As soon as the studio released the music in 1959, she bought Dave Brubeck's album, Time Outjust to get the hit single, Take Five.

Similar to my mother's outdoor table setting
With music in the background, Littie went about covering the old door with a crisp bed sheet substituting for a  white linen tablecloth and laying out the goodies. Neighbors--often invited to our backyard gatherings--were required to bring their own chairs and sometimes they brought a little something to offer at the meal. 

"You can't throw an outdoor supper and let your friends stare from their yards," Littie said. "If you don't have something to offer them, keep your supper inside, no matter how hot it gets in there!"

My mother shared without expectations that our neighbors would reciprocate, not because they had less than we had. Some of them had as much or more. But most people don't know how to make a party out of next to nothing like my mother did. Few people I have ever known were as organized in planning anything as my mother. And no one I have ever known has been as sharing as my mother. I learned a lot from her but I wish I had learned more about generosity and grace. People just don't think like my mother, even me. 

Climbing Red Roses
Climbing Rose Garden
Many neighbors thought we were rich, but we were poor, too. My mother made up the difference by conducting our lives with style. Because of her, we were rich and we lived elegantly, complete with fresh floral arrangements cut from Littie's flower garden. At the front of the house on each side of the steps leading up to the porch, there were Easter Lilies; on either side of the porch, there were red roses climbing on the porch supports and banisters, white and yellow roses down below in the beds, and other colorful flowers and fruit trees blooming around the yard every spring and summer. 

Learn Outdoor Table Arranging
Learn Outdoor Table Arranging
never wondered, when I was a child, how my mother provided--no invented--so much with so little. I just took it all for granted. She knew how and, without making a big fuss, gave me a great life. I remember outdoor entertainment at Littie's looking something like this outdoor setting. 

My mother got so good at outdoor entertaining, grilling and creating recipes she could have written a book. Instead, she went to college and studied nutrition. 

When summer comes, hot sweet evening air stirs memories of Littie's outdoor entertaining suppers. As much as I miss her, I never want those memories to fade and as long as there is summer, they never will.

    Bigmama Didn’t Shop  At Woolworth’s  Sunny Nash

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Sunny Nash author of bigmama didn't shop at woolworth's
Sunny Nash
Sunny Nash is an author, producer, photographer and leading writer on U.S. race relations. She writes books, blogs, articles and reviews, and produces media and images on U.S. history and contemporary American topics, ranging from Jim Crow laws to social media networking. Sunny Nash is the author of Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's (Texas A&M University Press), about life with her part-Comanche grandmother during the Civil Rights Movement.

Sunny Nash’s book is recognized by the Association of American University Presses as essential for understanding U.S. race relations. Nash's book is also listed in the Bibliographic Guide for black studies at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York; and recommended for Native American collections by the Miami-Dade Public Library System in Florida. Nash uses her book to write articles and blogs on race relations in America through topics relating to her life--from music, film, early radio and television, entertainment, social media, Internet technology, publishing, journalism, sports, education, employment, the military, fashion, performing arts, literature, women's issues, adolescence and childhood, equal rights, social and political movements--past and present—to today's post-racism. homepage

© 2014 Sunny Nash. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. 
~Thank You~

Sunny Nash – Race Relations in America