Thursday, August 18, 2011

Rosa Parks & Jim Crow Laws: A Brief History

Jim Crow laws danced off stage when Rosa Parks, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Little Rock Nine, Woolworth Sit-ins, Freedom Riders and the rest of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement  forced U.S. race relations to change.

Jim Crow Minstrel Character Singing & Dancing To Racist Music
Jim Crow Minstrel Character
Singing & Dancing
To Racist Music

Jim Crow laws are dead; Rosa Parks, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Martin Luther King and other civil rights protests saw to it.

However, the Civil Rights Movement did not gain America racial harmony. In the 1950s and '60s, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Brown v the Board of Education, Woolworth's Sit-ins, Freedom Riders and so many others battled discrimination and violence left over from the growth of Black Codes established to control slaves and free persons of color. Jim Crow laws were modeled from Black Codes .and used to strangled America throughout the Civil Rights Movement. 

Is it true that Jim Crow is still alive today in a different form in post-racism America?

No Food or Latino Allowed Beyond this Sign
Signs of the Times
Throughout literary history, it can be seen that Jim Crow was not just the stage character's name or music, but represented a symbol of fear in the hearts of African Americans and other white and nonwhite ethnic groups. These black codes and laws ruled the South, North, East, Mid-West and West into the Twentieth Century. Although there was no legal framework in American law to discriminate legally against ethnic groups other than African Americans, Jim Crow laws spread discriminatory treatment across all racial and color lines.

Race, Ethnicity, and Minority
Housing in the United
States by Momeni,
(Google Affiliate Ad)
Today, black codes and Jim Crow laws translate into hate crimes against Hispanics, the largest group in the United States against whom hate crimes are perpetrated. The FBI is reporting that 66% of hate crimes in this country are committed against Hispanics. It is estimated that the percentage would be higher if undocumented residents reported more hate crimes against them. Their fear of being discovered and removed from this country keeps them from reporting hate crimes against them. Hispanics, especially the undocumented from Mexico, believe they are easy targets because of their lack of U.S. citizenship and language. 

Jim Crow laws, prejudice and discrimination were not reserved for black Americans. Segregation was prevalent in most communities where color, features, accent, religion and customs were different. People were separated for housing, services, accommodations in public facilities and even music on the radio. 

The Politics of Ethnicity  in Settler Societies:  States of Unease
The Politics of Ethnicity 
in Settler Societies: States 
of Unease by Pe 
(Google Affiliate Ad)
The politics of ethnicity  began to form in Early American settlements, making it common all over the nation to see signs in businesses: No Mexicans, No Indians, No Jews, No Japs, No Niggers, No Italians, No Filipinos, No Chinese, No Irish, No Colored of Any Kind served here. Many times, people have a prejudice against a language or dialect. Understanding prejudice is the first step to eliminating the disease.

Learn a new language to combat language-based racism and prejudice.

One way to combat language-based racism is to learn to speak another language or to learn the music of other cultures that have become prevalent in your region. This will welcome the group and also expand your range of racial tolerance and understanding. If you can communicate with a person, you are able to develop empathy for them and realize you have more in common and you may have realized.Also, there are studies indicating that learning Spanish or another foreign languages will help fight the onset of Alzheimer's disease. 

My part-Comanche grandmother, Bigmama, the major subject in my book, Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's, said, "Integration was a matter of economics. They were losing too much money not serving us. When you weigh money against anything in this country, money will probably win."
In the 1830s, Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy" Rice, a white New York stage performer, painted his face with black cork and gave birth to the Jim Crow minstrel character, copied for decades. Rice gave Jim Crow laws a face, name, voice, music and song. Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy" Rice was born in 1808, the year U.S. African slave importation became illegal (but did not stop) and died in 1860, before southern slaves were freed. 

In the 1830s, Rice a failed performer, stole his act from a black man he saw singing and dancing for his own entertainment. 

Rice transformed what he saw into a character to commercialize, blackened his face and limbs with burnt cork--far darker than human skin. He perfected his blackface act of dance, music with a racist ditty to a white audience in a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, theater to rave reviews. Rice carried Jim Crow dance and music to white theaters throughout the United States--North and South--and to Europe, spawning copiers. Jim Crow music ensembles gave birth to a new genre of entertainment in America and the world, the minstrel show, which followed African Americans into every other medium of entertainment to come, including radio, movies, television and stage and did not end until after the Civil Rights Movement.

The Civil Rights Movement began long before Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was not long off the back roads as a rural attorney on the Eighth Judicial circuit traveling in his buggy hitched to his horse, Old Buck. He traveled 400 miles and stayed away from from home working ten weeks at a time stopping for court sessions in seven towns. On the road, he cut his speech-making teeth in tiny courtrooms and loved every minute of it.

Lincoln, a young self-educated lawyer and family man had ambitions. By 1844, he had won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives where he became acquainted with anti-slavery movements and the danger of perpetuating slavery and slave codes into western U.S. territories. Able to stop slavery, Lincoln was not able to stop the slave code from becoming the framework for the body of legislation later to be represented by Jim Crow laws.

Jim Crow in minstrel shows represented the stigma being fought by Sojourner Truth and others before Rosa Parks' generation of civil rights activists was born. Outliving slavery by 100 years, Jim Crow lived into the 20th century. As tensions grew, southerners kidnapped Jim Crow from stages and transformed the character into the preferred role for African Americans and imitators of black culture. Jim Crow made its way from theater stages to legislation, becoming a model, subverting gains African Americans were promised after the Civil War. Andrew Johnson and Abraham Lincoln did not share views on slavery or civil rights for freemen.

The Emancipation  Proclamation:  A Brief History  with Documents
The Emancipation Proclamation:
 A Brief History with Documents 
by Voren (Google Affiliate Ad)
Lincoln entered the presidential race in 1860 to fight the spread of slavery into the Western Territories. On January 1, 1863, during his presidency, Lincoln authored and issued the Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order freeing slaves in the U.S. South. By that time, northern states had already freed their slaves. The intent of the document was to prevent the further spread of slavery and to avoid black codes and job discrimination growing in Northern states in response to labor competition by freed slaves. These battles were still being fought when Martin Luther King  wrote letters from jail in the 1950s and, in the opinions of some Americans, still be fought today.

Executive Order Emancipation Proclamation
Executive Order
Emancipation Proclamation
Four months after Union armies defeated Confederates at the Battle of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address at the Soldiers' National Cemetery dedication in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. 

Eventually, Lincoln led the Union to victory and dismantled the institution of  human bondage in the United States. Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, an event covered in The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant.

Abraham Lincoln was shot  just five days later during the play, Our American Cousin.

Good Friday, April 14, 1865, Confederate sympathizer, descendant of Jewish-Portuguese thespians and a stage actor himself, John Wilkes Booth shot the president at the Ford Theater

With the popularity of blackface minstrel shows being at their height, Booth was certainly familiar with blackface minstrel shows. In fact, his nationally acclaimed  older brother, Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth, was said to have blackened his face and performed in minstrel shows early in his career.

What better way for a young student to be introduced to the history the United States than through the study of the nation's important documents. These lessons are fun, as well as informative later on when the student prepares for college entrance examinations. Also, these documents may be useful in preparing for US Citizenship Tests. 

Reconstruction President Andrew Johnson, had been Lincoln's vice president. When Johnson became president, he vetoed The Civil Rights Act of 1866, which declared, "all persons born in the United States are now citizens, without regard to race, color, or previous condition." Much of the spirit and language in the new law was drawn directly from  Lincoln as illustrated in his Emancipation Proclamation and alluded to in his Gettysburg Address. 

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 passed, in spite of President Andrew Johnson's veto. Passing the law did not accomplish its intent. Johnson's failure to protect the rights of former slaves resulted in the failure of Reconstruction. In the meanwhile, racist groups in the South began writing their own laws to maintain racial status quo, leading to the creation of Black Codes or Jim Crow laws and the further spread of the infamous blackface minstrel show. 

Stepin Fetchit & Will Rogers
Stepin Fetchit & Will Rogers
Play Clip: Judge Priest
Fox Studios (1934)

Black entertainers who were made to blacken up before taking the stage, later were allowed to play roles in early Hollywood without blackface, as long as their characters were dopey with shiftless attitudes and slurred unintelligible speech. Characterizations such as these were unacceptable to black people, but were retained for many decades, requiring a fight to be waged against Jim Crow in order to remove the degrading portrayals from the silver screen.

Race Relations in Southern California gives a closer look at racism and discrimination against black women in early movies and Southern California female professionals.

After the Civil War, the Reconstruction Congress passed The Civil Rights Act of 1866, which  declared, "all persons born in the United States are now citizens, without regard to race, color, or previous condition." This statement remained only a statement on the books through many decades of protest and resistance, while American society was allowed to create a system of legal discrimination, backed up by groundless biological assertions, and to sort out its demons on its own terms, in its own time.

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 passed over President Andrew Johnson's veto. Much has been said about the inaction of Andrew Johnson after the Civil War, when the United States was scheduled to enter a period of Reconstruction. This period was meant to be used to rebuild the nation and phase African Americans, both former slaves and free black persons, fully into society. As new citizens of the United States, former slaves could make and enforce contracts, sue and be sued, give evidence in court, and inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property. Persons who denied these rights to former slaves were guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction faced a fine not exceeding $1,000, or imprisonment not exceeding one year, or both. 

Strange Fruit: 
Plays on Lynching 
by American Women
Lynching by the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) became a key ingredient in the enforcement of the Jim Crow system in most parts of the officially segregated South and, to a large degree, universally enforced in the unofficially segregated North. When the KKK undermined the civil rights of former slaves, Reconstruction failed to guarantee their protection. Female African Americans who suffered retaliation for speaking out for their civil rights became victims of lynching, which led to a female outcry in the late Nineteenth Century against racially motivated lynching in the United States.

The 1896 Supreme Court decision, Plessy v Ferguson, legalized separate but equal when a black man lost his case against the railroad for refusing him a first-class seat in the white section of the train. The ruling laid a foundation for Jim Crow discrimination and segregation in accommodations, services, public education, housing, hiring, health, equal protection, representation and everything else.

Rosa Parks Montgomery Bus Boycott
Rosa Parks
Montgomery Bus Boycott

To reduce Jim Crow laws to a pile of rags in back of the stage, it took thousands of civil rights protests and activists of all races, including, Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Woolworth Sin-ins, Diane Nash, the Freedom Riders and others taking on Jim Crow, some whose names are unrecorded; others who died in the battle.

The ills of Jim Crow laws began to be rolled back 100 years later by President Lyndon Johnson when he signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965Until another President Johnson, Lyndon B. Johnson, signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Jim Crow held a firm hold on race relations in the United States. This Act reversed and prohibited employment discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion; and prohibited public access discrimination, leading to desegregation of everything that had been legally segregated by Plessy v Ferguson in 1896.

The death of Jim Crow laws had finally begun with the signing of this new law that began under President Johnson's predecessor, President John F. Kennedy, whose position Vice President Johnson had inherited after the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. Unlike President Andrew Johnson nearly 100 years earlier during Reconstruction, President Lyndon Johnson, during the Civil Rights Movement, put teeth into his new law and backed up its proclamations with inspirational words, as well as federal troops.

Join me on FaceBook
My mother, Littie Nash, wrestled with Jim Crow racism while giving me the life of a little princess with imagination and without the luxury of having a lot of money...Read more at: Great Mothering in Jim Crow's World.
Kindle Fire
Full Color 7"
Multi-touch Display

Many books are now available on the new Kindle Fire, Full Color 7" Multi-touch Display, Wi-Fi, which also offers more than a million digital books, movies, TV shows, songs, magazines, news, apps, games, and more. Enjoy the Kindle Fire's vibrant color, touch-screen with extra-wide viewing angle, ultra-fast web browsing, powerful dual-core processor, free cloud storage for your content and an array of useful and attractive accessories like the Kindle Fire Leather Cover by Marware.

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks:
Rosa Parks: A Biography
 (Kindle Edition)

And don’t forget about the kids! Kindle Fire and  products provide an excellent opportunity for parents to build a digital library for their children with a digital reader, affordable enough for each child to have their own.  

Kindle provides a wide choice in children’s reading and rich color pictures books like Rosa Parks - A Short Biography for Kids (Kindle Edition) by Jonathan Madden, an introduction to civil rights hero, Rosa Parks, is.a short biography, written and designed for kids, summarizing her protest to end Jim Crow segregation in the South. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Sunny Nash

Bigmama Didn't Shop
At Woolworth's
by Sunny Nash
Sunny Nash is author of Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's, chosen by the Association of American University Presses as one of its essential books for understanding race relations in the United States, Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's (Texas A&M University Press) is also listed in the Bibliographic Guide to Black Studies by the Schomburg Center in New York and recommended for Native American collections by the Miami-Dade Public Library System in Florida.

Sunny Nash's book, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, began when she was writing columns for Hearst and Knight-Ridder Newspapers in the 1990s. The columns were comprised of stories from her childhood in the Jim Crow South with her part-Comanche grandmother, Bigmama, her parents, relatives, friends, teachers and others in her life. She had no idea that these little vignettes would garner so much interest nationwide. But they did. With that, a managing editor at Texas A&M University Press, Mary Lenn Dixon, saw the merit in compiling these stories into a book and approached Nash about creating a manuscript of selected articles for review and eventual publication.

Sunny Nash's Publications List includes music biographies of jazz guitarist, Kenny Burrell; jazz trumpeter, Clark Terry; and R&B singer-songwriter, Ben E. King for the African American National Biography by Harvard and Oxford, edited by Henry Louis Gates and Evelyn Higginbotham. Nash's work also is collected in The African American West, A Century of Short Stories; Blacks in the American West and Beyond--America, Canada, and Mexico: A Selectively Annotated Bibliography; Reflections in Black, A History of Black Photographers 1840 - Present; Ancestry; African American Women Confront the West: 1600-2000; Black women in Texas history; Companion to Southern Literature; Texas Through Women's Eyes: The Twentieth-century Experience; Black Genesis: A Resource Book for African-American Genealogy; African American Foodways; Southwestern American Literature Journal; and other anthologies.

Other Products in this Post

© 2011 Sunny Nash
All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

My Zimbio

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Great Mothering in Jim Crow's World

Custom Search

During the era of Jim Crow laws, my mother taught me to navigate my racist environment, while also teaching me to be responsible for my treatment of other people--black and white.

Sunny Nash's Mother
Littie Nash (1928-2008)
Elegant in Everything She Did
Created Herself a Professional Career
My mother, Littie Nash, knew Jim Crow, as did Americans with a little too much tint in their skin, kink to their hair, slant to their eyes or accent in their speech. But Littie, like members of other persecuted ethnic and religious groups in America, figured out a way to survive and raise families in Jim Crow's world.

I grieve the loss of my mother. She had such an impact on me, when I was growing up in a racist environment. She planned the details for a successful life in a country that guaranteed a little black girl, at the time, no more than a career as a domestic worker, which my mother refused for herself and for me.

Along with survival skills to navigate Jim Crow laws, my mother also taught me something else just as important. I was six or seven years old, just starting school, when she noticed through childhood conversations with friends, my ability with words, and began cautioning me about my use of them. "You do not have the right to say whatever you wish to or about somebody," she said. "What you say can cut like a knife! And you will be responsible for the blood on the floor."

What was she talking about? I asked myself. "You are not so important that you can say anything you want without consequence," she said. "No one is that important." It took a while, but it finally came to me. Cutting people up and down with words is not a talent, even though it makes people feel powerful when they do it. But with power comes responsibility to restrain the temptation of words that flow easily, but cannot be unsaid. I learned through my mother's teaching and my own experience that restraint and reconfiguration of my thoughts and words make me feel even more powerful. That's what my mother meant. Responsibility to myself and others was the basis of her parenting. Everything else, she built on top of that.

As a child, I watched my mother go about life giving me an elegant example. Never preaching, she persuaded me to do well in school so I was eligible for activities in and outside of the regular academic routine. To support my efforts, my mother sponsored 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. This preparation was all about getting into college and being able to get scholarships to pay for college.

 Brown v Board of Education

My mother and other mothers in a similar predicament, like the one sitting on the steps of the Supreme Court in 1954 with her daughter, did not let Jim Crow stop them from giving their children a good life and preparing them for a future they saw over the horizon, although Brown v the Board of Education did not immediately change the way America operated.

The Brown decision addressed education, not other segregation issues, such as housing, employment, transportation, public services, accommodations or entertainment. For many decades in Hollywood, the casting of black film actors was particularly troubling, due to the subservient and degrading roles available to African Americans. These roles as bumbling idiotic clowns reinforced stereotypical roles Jim Crow America cast for black citizens in real life.

Jim Crow Museum
Ferris State University
Museum of Racist Memorabilia
Big Rapids, Michigan
People associate Jim Crow with black people denied rights by policies that began in Early America before slaves were freed in the North. Many believe racism was at its height before and following the Civil War when slaves were freed in the South. However, for centuries, before and after the Civil War, Jim Crow treatment included groups that were not slaves and are no longer remembered--or seen in modern times--as ever having had marginalized social and economic status. Signs read: No Jews and 'no' to many groups.

Some American bigotry, not based on color, reduced the social status of white citizens to that of citizens of color. Unwilling to allow any of these people the benefit of full citizenship, Jim Crow refused many Americans a range of rights--from voting to employment to trying on clothes in stores. The Irish--distinguishable by accent and culture, although as white as any group on American soil--were segregated in America.

For a time, Boston did not welcome Irish immigrants like President John F. Kennedy’s great grandparents who arrived in the 1840s escaping the Irish potato famine. Settling near the waterfront, looking for work and better lives for their children, many immigrants took jobs cleaning private homes, yards and stables, unloading ships and pushing produce carts. They lived in crowded, unsanitary, moldy and flood-prone cellars; converted warehouses; abandoned shacks; or alleys until they could afford better. 

Sign Dated September 11, 1915
Two Years before Birth
of John F. Kennedy (1917-1963))
First Irish-Catholic U.S. President
Boston Sign Company

Throughout history, Jim Crow bigotry pitted one impoverished U.S. ethnic group against another. When the Civil War was raging in the South, one of the worse racial conflicts in U.S. history at the time occurred in New York, where slaves had been free for decades.

Poor Irish immigrants went into black New York neighborhoods attacking and killing free black New York residents. The attacks were sparked over the threat to Irish job insecurity and to express their objection to emancipation of southern slaves that would migrate to New York and present cheap labor competition in an already scarce labor market, known to discriminate against the Irish.

Mother of John F. Kennedy (JFK), the first Irish Catholic President of the United States,  Rose Kennedy was born in 1890. However, her struggle to raise her children without the stigma of racism and bigotry against the Irish was still a challenge. As a young mother, Rose Kennedy's  family was barred from residency in some Boston neighborhoods, and her children were unwelcome in some organizations and recreational facilities. Irish fathers played a significant role in the lives of their sons passing on to them businesses and newly acquired political connections. But what about the daughters?

Rose Kennedy (center); Daughters: Kathleen
& Rosemary, Buckingham Palace, 1938
From: Lisa's History Room

Rose Kennedy was an example to mothers like mine, driven to give their little girls' lives charm, meaning, value, exposure to cultural experiences, education and a brighter future than those of their ancestors.

The Kennedy's: Makings of a Dynasty: “Rose (Kennedy) reigned supreme in the household. Like most Irish Catholic mothers, it was her duty to her children to raise them well. So that they may be great successes in society. In later years, Rose would lend her voice to those times: "a mother knows that hers is the influence which can make that little precious being to be a leader of men, an inspiration, a shining light in the world."

Although Littie Nash did not have a dynastic Kennedy heritage behind her, she took her mothering lead from great mothers like Rose Kennedy and her own mother, my part-Comanche grandmother, Bigmama. As dignified a woman in her own right as any Rose Kennedy or other woman in American society, Bigmama taught my mother how to live a proper life, balanced with accomplishment and generosity.
 That's what great mothering is and Mothers' Day should be a daily celebration for these women.

Between the 1954 Brown  v the Board of Education and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement that eventually destroyed Jim Crow came other significant strides toward equality, such as  the 1955-56 Rosa Parks Montgomery Bus Boycottthe 1960 Woolworth's Sit-ins and race relations battles in unlikely places like Southern California.

My first grade through high school was segregated, but under the strict attention of teachers who, like my mother, saw a future for me not like the lives they lived. Mine would be a better life, they were all confident, in spite of seeing on television violence in the American south in 1963, a year that would bring much racial strife.

Racial violence strengthened White House commitment to civil rights until, in the summer of 1963, Rose Kennedy's son, President John F.  Kennedy, developed and introduced a bold new proposal to strike down Jim Crow in the United States. This new weapon would be strong enough to strike more than  the feeble blows of the past.

John F. Kennedy, Civil Rights Proposal

Littie Nash was watching all the events surrounding the Civil Rights Movement. And she made me, my father and Bigmama watch, too.

On the CBS Evening News, Walter Cronkite announced that President Kennedy was preparing to take significant steps toward ending racial discrimination in America through specific new laws affecting federal employment, housing and contracts.

New laws? What about the old laws?

This official announcement was confusing and a shock to me and much of black America. How could Walter Cronkite be so calm about "ending racial discrimination?" Then I remembered, Walter Cronkite was calm about everything. It was his job to tell the news, but I needed more than that. "What does ending racial discrimination mean?" I asked my mother. "Will I have to change schools?"

"Not right away," she said. "It will take a long time for anything Walter Cronkite or President Kennedy is talking about to actually take place. But it will take place. And then your life will change. But don't worry about it, right now." How could she say, don't worry about it? I couldn't help but worry about it. Everything I knew was turning up side down. I didn't like the way I was treated when I went out of our world to shop or go to the movies or something. But how would I be treated by those same people who were now going to be forced by a new law to let me in the front door?

"Is going in through the front door really any better than the back door?" I asked my mother. "They lead to the same place."

"No, they don't!" She snapped and then seemed to realize that she was talking to a child and softened her voice, whispering, "The front door is better than the back door. Why else have so many fought and died for so long so that, one day, you can go in through the front door instead of the back like I have all my life?"

That statement summed up everything my mother was trying to do for me when I was growing up in Jim Crow's world. And I just came to the full realization of that, right now as I am writing and wiping away the tears, wishing I could tell her I finally understand. I take comfort in the fact that my mother saw me coming to this point as she watched me raise my own child like I had been raised, like she had been raised. And mothering makes the full circle when I see my child raising her child like she had been raised, like I had been raised, and like Littie had been raised by Bigmama. It makes  sense to me now.

"You can't control most things in the world," my mother said. "But you can control your own actions and try to be ready for the changes when they do come. Your actions will change the outcome for you, good or bad." I knew what she meant--good grades. It always boiled down to good grades because my mother's theory was, "it is better to know how to open a door than not to know how to open a door."

Later, on the evening of June 11, 1963, President Kennedy addressed the nation from the White House and explained his proposal for the changes in the laws that governed race relations in America and what those changes would mean to the citizens of the United States of America. We sat stunned looking at the television screen and having our feelings and small personal acts of protest validated. We felt it was a victory. The question of race that had been plaguing the United States since the birth of this nation was finally being answered that evening after dinner. This turn of events ushered in a long hot summer in Jim Crow America, which Walter Cronkite brought into America's living room.

Birmingham, Alabama, 1963
On June 12, civil rights activist, Medgar Evers, was assassinated in Jackson, Mississippi. That was only the start. Night after night, more disturbing news came from those Deep Southern locations with their insidious habit of hatred for black people and their resentment of the changes in race relations that the president had proposed.

"The white people who do not agree with the way things are need to see this," my mother said. "They need to know how it is for us. Seeing it on television is the only way most white people can get any idea how bad it is for black people in this nation."

"I hate them!" I said. "And they hate me. I don't want to go to school with white kids!"

"Nonsense," my mother said. "You don't know them and they don't know you. You can't hate what you don't know. Littie was right.

Violent encounters led to the organization of the March on Washington (DC) on August 28, 1963, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., inspired the Civil Rights Movement with his historic speech, I Have a Dream, at the Lincoln Memorial. As soothing as the speech may seem now by comparison to those dark days in American history, King's words fanned the flames in an ever-widening fire on the American social horizon.

September 15, 1963, Cronkite announced the murder of four little girls about my age in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, so explosive, it earned a nickname, Bombingham. The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing affected me more than other violence. When I saw the pictures of the little girls in the newspaper, they looked familiar to me for no reason. I didn't know them and then again, I knew them well. Those little girls could have been me and my friends.

I became more nervous than a cat when school started. Walking home backwards, I wanted to see danger coming up behind me, so I could run away before it caught up to me. I wondered how my family could protect me from all that lurked in the shadows. Suppose some mean people bombed our church or school? I stopped going out to play with my friends. I wasn't eating and began losing weight. "I know it's hard to pretend things are normal," my mother said. "But you can't go around the rest of your life being afraid to breathe. If you do, you won't have a life."

Allison Berg
In my examination of the subject of losing children in the Civil Rights Movement, I found a great book, Mothering the Race: Women’s Narratives of Reproduction, 1890-1930  (2001) by Allison Berg, professor of English at Michigan State University.

This book takes on the on the issues surrounding the notion of nurturing. Berg’s research focuses on twentieth-century American literature and culture, with an emphasis on African American literature and on issues of race, gender, class, and sexuality. The author examines fiction and its representation of motherhood and how this representation reflects broader public discussion on race, reproduction and female roles in society. Berg presents an argument in her book that motherhood in the early twentieth century shows black and white mothers as active managers of children in the household and wider environs rather than merely the producers of babies.

However, it was Walter Cronkite who mothered the nation on on Friday at 12:30 p.m. Central Standard Time, November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

I was at school watching a small television set with teachers and students. Images of the president's parade were interrupted suddenly. Walter Cronkite's image came on the screen. It was plain to see on his face that something was desperately wrong. Something bad happened. He formed his words carefully and told us what happened. He took off his glasses as I am sure they were fogging up at that moment. The he tried his best to calm the grieving nation. 

I became grateful that the television screen was small and I couldn't see it well. I didn't want this news. I didn't want to be part of this history. Even as a child, I knew this history would live on beyond my own life and would affect me and the rest of the planet in ways I could not imagine. All I wanted to do at that moment was to get home to my mother and cry. I knew she would understand what I was feeling. But in retrospect, Walter Cronkite did a pretty good of mother the nation that day.

Walter Cronkite Remembers
In the three-DVD set, Walter Cronkite Remembers, the legendary news broadcaster's life and career are covered. Included in the account of this remarkable life, Cronkite's broadcast of the Kennedy assassination is detailed. In his autobiography, A Reporter's Life, the news anchor spoke of his feelings that day.

After school, I walked home confused. All of my classmates were silent, too. What would we do without President Kennedy? I thought.  "We don't have a president," I said to my mother. "That's not true," she said. "We have a president. His name is Johnson."

"Johnson will be the white people's president," I said. 

"Do you think Kennedy was the black people's president?" She asked. "Do you think Kennedy really liked black people? Do you think he really knew any black people who were not serving him a meal or cleaning his room?"

I did not know the answer.

"And it's not Mr. Kennedy's fault that he and his family didn't know any black people," my mother said. "This generation of Kennedy's was not raised in a way that they could know black people or know how black people or poor people live."

"This generation?" I asked.

"They weren't always rich," she said. "When the early ones got here from Ireland, they were as hungry as anyone and couldn't do much better than black people. No one wanted them in their neighborhoods or would give them a good job or a break of any kind."

"How did they get so rich?" I asked.

"I read that the daddy was in the moonshine business," she said.

"The moonshine business?" I laughed. "Like Uncle Tinney?"

"Yes, like Uncle Tinney," she said, laughing.

"Where's all of Uncle Tinney's money?" I asked.

"Uncle Tinney wasn't as good a business man as old man Kennedy," she said. "Old man Kennedy  pulled his family up so high to where it doesn't matter where the money came from--there's so much of it--and this generation of Kennedy's does not know poor people any better than Lyndon Johnson does, maybe even less because Johnson was the first in his generation to climb out of poverty."

Sunny Nash's
Cowboy Uncle
Read more about Uncle Tinney, one of the black cowboys in my family, and many other colorful characters who galloped through my life, in my book, Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's, a family memoir.

I write the personal stories of my life with my family, particularly my part-Comanche grandmother, Bigmama, before and during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. And be sure to join this site for my latest posts on race relations in America today, the history of U.S. civil rights and associated significant and less known historical figures.

NOT THAT I DOUBTED Vice President Johnson as president of all of the United States. I just didn't know that much about him except that he was a Texan and could that be a good thing for black people? "We'll just have to see," my mother said about Johnson. "We have no choice. He's what we have now. And he is what he is, whatever that is." My mother liked giving people a chance to show themselves. She may have judged people but she never let me know that she did. "We'll see if Johnson can rise to the task or if he will sink like a rock under pressure."

For the next few days,  I was glued to the television interviews, scenes and photographs being shown over and over, trying to make sense of it all, trying to find answers to questions I was sure no one else could answer either. That Sunday, we went to Aunt Ruby's. I was watching television alone in the living room. Bigmama and my mother were in the kitchen with Aunt Ruby helping with the meal. My father was sitting on the porch with Aunt Ruby's friend. Aunt Ruby's daughter, Ruby Joyce, was away at college. Distressed by the president's assassination, Joyce had called Bigmama Friday night.

The television studio was filled with cigarette smoke as a reporter interviewed a witness who said he had seen Lee Harvey Oswald, the man accused of killing the president. New footage interrupted the interview. They said it was live action showing policemen escorting Oswald somewhere. The announcer said they were taking him to the county jail through the basement of the building. There were a lot of people in that dark hole of a place, I thought. Oswald looked frail and beaten up with a wound over his eye. I didn't feel sorry for him, though. 

Lee Harvey Oswald
Shot by Jack Ruby

Suddenly, short round Jack Ruby bounced into the scene with a gun and shot Oswald. I screamed! My world changed again, further shattered, the pieces spilling out on the floor. I felt like my brain was exploding; I saw streaks of light flying in front of my eyes and my breath went short. Everyone at the house came running into the living room to join me around the television--shocked. We couldn't believe the scenes that kept playing over and over. Everyone forgot about dinner. I don't remember eating the dinner or driving the 30 miles home later that evening.

Follow the link under the picture to read more and see videos about Lee Harvey Oswald and hear his interviews.

The events of this tumultuous period in history marked the official end of my childhood.  Oswald, only 10 years older than me, died and left a mystery behind that still haunts me to this day. I felt that Jack Ruby had cheated the world out of knowing the truth. My mother said, "Maybe the world is better off not knowing the truth about this." That was her way of saying, move on.

Although my mother was angry at the mainstream during those years for its treatment of African Americans, she analyzed the situation to see what was out there for her and how she could make it better for me. Systematically unraveling a problem, she always came up with the best solution available. "Getting mad and losing control of yourself is a waste of time," said Littie Nash, a card-carrying member of the problem solvers' club. "You could be using that time for something useful, instead of trying to make a trap for someone who's done you wrong and end up making a trap for yourself."

President Lyndon B. Johnson
& Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

THE NEXT YEAR, President Lyndon Johnson completed President Kennedy's civil rights legislation with the help of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others. Pushing on some of his colleagues with the threats of shame if they did not vote his way, promises of reciprocation if they did, and squeezing others for political favors they owed, Johnson got his vote.

At the time, I didn't know about the behind-the-scenes negotiations. I did not learn about back-door deals until I hooked up again with my Aunt Lucille when I was grown and she got me involved in politics. All I knew back in 1964 was that Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964. I was spending the summer in Denver with Aunt 

I was not there when my mother died. I was at an airport awaiting a connecting flight to take me to her. During my wait at the airport, I listened to music on the intercom at the restaurant that reminded me of her. My heart wandered back in time when we were both still young. The music that I heard, Dave Brubeck, then Kenny Burrell, lilting through the speakers, gave me feelings of peace, a sense of calm like the music gave me when my mother played it in our home when I was a child. She loved calming music, saying the world was too noisy. "Leave all that noise at the door when you come inside," she told me repeatedly when I was growing up. "And take your shoes off, too," she'd say.

I am not sure how my mother managed, but there was always money for books, magazines, a piano, sheet music, piano and dance lessons, costumes, classical music and jazz recordings, a machine on which to play the records and travel all over the country by train and bus, and by air when I was older.

My heart still wanders back to times my mother and I had together, times I shall never forget. She was my best friend for the rest of her life and I believe beyond. She was always there for me, telling me I could do something that seemed to me at the time to be impossible and then I did it. She was right, as usual. Through her, I became capable of so much more than I would have, had it not been for my mother. I had a career in music and later in  journalism and now I am an author because my mother believed in me and said I could be somebody. And I am.

Bigmama Didn't Shop
At Woolworth's
by Sunny Nash
In  the 1990s, when I began writing a column for  the local newspaper, my mother encouraged me to focus articles around  the experiences her mother, my part-Comanche grandmother, Bigmama. My mother then advised me to use the local column to build my reputation as a writer. She was  right again. The local column led to a regional column, then a syndicated column and eventually gave birth to my first book, Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's (Texas A&M University Press). My mother was delighted when this book came out. The idea that I had written about her mother and other ancestors pleased her.

It took a great deal of courage to live with dignity and raise me to have aspirations. About my upbringing, Littie got it right, although I took detours of my own along the way.

Latest Posts Covering:

The History of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement
Modern Race Relations in America

Sunny Nash
Bigmama Didn't
Shop At
Sunny Nash has also co-authored, edited or compiled several books, written three newspaper columns, created a major photographic study and exhibition, produced and written for television, and conducted public speaking tours. “Fortunately, writing comes easy to me and I am able to produce all kinds of copy and media—movie treatments, television scripts, book manuscripts, proposals, commercial jingles, whatever a client needs,” Nash said. “I also produce video for broadcast and Internet marketing and distribution. My client list includes corporations, cities, chambers of commerce, nonprofit organizations, real estate companies and all kinds of groups and individuals, The balance for any artist is making sure their own work does not suffer, while giving the client the best work possible.”

© 2011  Sunny Nash
All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

~Thank You for Viewing & Reading~
My Zimbio

Bookmark and Share