Thursday, September 6, 2012

Autrilla Scott & A Place Called Hope

Autrilla Scott, like Rosa Parks, protested Jim Crow laws and fought for civil rights through education, and social and political activism. 

Autrilla Scott & Sunny Nash
Autrilla Scott (left) & Sunny Nash 

Autrilla Scott, like Rosa Parks, protested Jim Crow laws and fought for civil rights to change the world around her and to keep hope alive.  

I will miss Autrilla. She was a lovely person, a generous person with a goal to help other people. She, like Rosa Parks, lived through the era of Jim Crows laws and did not allow those racial restrictions to prevent her from living a satisfying life. In fact, like Rosa Parks, Autrilla Scott made great contributions in the city of Long Beach, California, toward removing barriers from the employment of both women and African Americans. "There was a Civil Rights Movement in California," Autrilla told me. "And I guess, I was a part of it."

BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way Edited by Sunny Nash
Edited by Sunny Nash

(l-r, rear) Evelyn Knight, Patricia Lofland
Bobbie Smith, Alta Cooke, Carrie Bryant
Vera Mulkey, Wilma Powell, Doris Topsy-Elvord
(seated l-r) Autrilla Scott, Maycie Herrington
Dale Clinton & Lillie Mae Wesley (not present) 

Limited Edition, Collector's Package Includes: 
Book, DVD, Signed Portrait

Autrilla Scott is among those in BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way, a book of historical profiles about women who made a difference in the history of Long Beach, California, The Foreword was written by Carolyn Smith Watts, who developed the concept for the project when she assembled the group for a photograph that was later displayed at an exhibition in the main gallery of the Historical Society of Long Beach.

These civil rights pioneers were part of the Civil Rights Movement in Long Beach, a movement with which few outside of the area are familiar. 

In fact, most people do not associate California with the struggle for civil rights because Civil Rights Movement efforts were concentrated in the Deep South, where Jim Crow laws were entrenched and had prevailed for centuries. 

For some time, California had remained outside the range of race riots, until the San Francisco riot in 1966 and the Watts Riots in 1965, the year that one of these women, Bobbie Smith, arrived in Los Angeles for her new job and found the city on fire. Later she was the first black woman in Long Beach to hold a public office, when she was elected to the Long Beach United School District. I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with these remarkable women about five years ago.


Like Rosa Parks, Autrilla Scott and the other women of BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way broke ground in civil rights and the destruction of Jim Crow laws.

Rosa Parks, Montgomery Bus Boycott
Rosa Parks, Montgomery Bus Boycott

However, long before the Watts Riots, California, which also had a smattering of Jim Crow laws on its books, but had an abundance of racial intolerance. Autrilla told me about times that she was discriminated against in receiving services. Those types of issues could only be addressed through the Civil Rights Movement, initiated  by people like Autrilla Scott, Rosa Parks, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Martin Luther King and other individuals and events in the Deep South.

The women in BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way are some of the first black women to hold certain corporate, governmental, political and business positions. For example, among them are the first black U.S. Chief Warfinger, the first black woman to chair a U.S. Defense Advisory Committee and the first black female Long Beach Vice Mayor. 

Martin Luther King Montgomery Bus Boycott
Martin Luther King
Montgomery Bus Boycott

One of these women marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. One of the women in this study, a clerk at the Tuskegee Airman School, became a nationally known historian of Tuskegee Airman History, collected by the University of California.

Like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Autrilla Scott struggled against Jim Crow laws and fought for civil rights

Autrilla Scott was born in the cotton town of Hope, Arkansas, in 1930, the youngest of seven children. This was the height of the depression and Jim Crow laws, making opportunities scarce for everyone and particularly for African American females like Autrilla's. However, her family's economic struggle did not match the hardships and desperation of most of their southern black and white contemporaries. "My father was in the importing and exporting business," Autrilla told me. "Using his wagon, my father picked up goods from other parts of the country that the trains brought to Hope and then he delivered them to local stores. It was a good living, but as black people, we faced the same discrimination as other black families in the community and across the South."

Autrilla's father died when she was nine years old, leaving the family without primary support, forcing her mother to become head of the family and, for the first time, working outside the home. Autrilla's siblings, too, then joined the ranks of their impoverished neighbors. "My mother also took in washing and ironing for other people to take care of us," Autrilla said. "She worked very hard to help us go to school. Our education was important to her. When I was in in teens, and in high school, I cleaned houses and babysat to help my mother pay the bills, but she insisted I stay in school and finish."

"When I was a young woman, the only way out of poverty," Autrilla told me, "Was  through education and hard work. That's how people can keep hope alive, even today." 

Autrilla Scott Believed in Education
Autrilla Scott
Believed in Education
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However, the schools available to Autrilla and other black students were segregated and many were inferior because of lack of funding. This was the same situation Rosa Parks had faced nearly two decades before in Alabama. Civil rights crawled very slowly in education and other institutions in rural areas, as well as rapidly growing U.S. urban pockets nationwide. In addition, civil rights were stymied by Jim Crow laws, lynching, terrorism, false imprisonment and prohibition of voting rights of African Americans. Civil rights did not change--could not have changed--without people like Autrilla Scott; Rosa Parks, 17 years older and Autrilla; Martin Luther King, just one year older than Autrilla; and so many others before her. 

Fighting the Good Fight:
The Story of the Dexter
Avenue King Memorial
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Autrilla and others in BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way and around the nation were in the local trenches fighting for the same civil rights cause as those activists were fighting for on the national level. Local trenches, prevalent all over the country, made the Civil Rights Movement into a national movement and made a significant contribution to the success of that national movement. After all, the national movement that became the Montgomery Bus Boycott and whose victory in the courts began the dismantling Jim Crow laws, started as a local movement in Montgomery, Alabama, by a local woman named, Rosa Parks.

As a teenager, Autrilla Scott babysat Bill Clinton before he was William Jefferson Clinton.

Photo - Toddler Bill Clinton
Toddler Bill Clinton

During my interview with her, Autrilla told me how she met the man who would grow up to become the 42nd President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton. 

"When I was in my teens," Autrilla said. "I took work cleaning houses so that I could stay in school and help my mother. One day when I was cleaning Roger Clinton's apartment, he came home with a little boy about two or three years old. He introduced the baby to me as Billy and asked me if I could babysit the child for a short time while he and the child's mother, Virginia Blythe, went on a date. I told him yes, I could." 

Autrilla babysat the future president many times after their first meeting. "He was a good little boy," she said. "And I didn't mind taking care of him. He was polite and very smart. knew even when he was quite young he would do something important with his life, but I have to admit I didn't know he would become President of the United States."

Bill Clinton & Autrilla Scott
Bill Clinton
& Autrilla Scott

After Roger Clinton and Virginia Blythe married, Billy eventually took his stepfather's last name, becoming William Jefferson Clinton. Autrilla Scott and Bill Clinton never forgot each other and the two of them met many times after those long ago days back in a place called Hope. 

There are special people like Autrilla Scott whose hands and heart have affected the great and small and left them better. When I see Bill Clinton, I smile because I know some of the good in him has something to do with Autrilla. It has to be that way because Autrilla affected people that way. 

After she graduated from high school, Autrilla married Olen Scott and, in 1950, moved to California. She was 20 years old. The couple had two children and five grandchildren. "I found discrimination here in California," Autrilla said. "I knew that discrimination was present in places other than the South, but I didn't expect racism to be as widespread as it was here in California." 

Autrilla moved to California five years before Rosa Parks ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott and less than a year later moved with her husband, Raymond Parks, to Detroit, where they found racism and discrimination in housing, employment and education. Autrilla Scott like Rosa Parks, was dismayed by racial conditions in her new home. Both women went to work trying to improve those conditions and continued to work toward improvement of U.S. race relations throughout their lives and, even as older women, did not give up the fight. And in death, their fight lives on.

Another thing I loved about Autrilla was that she never thought a person was too old to learn or to start all over again. After retiring from her career as a nurse, she went back to school and learned to write, with emphasis in poetry, essay and short fiction. She entered her work into competitions; had reading events; appeared at book festivals; and challenged younger writers to work as hard at their craft as she did. In 2008, I was at the Leimert Book Festival in Los Angeles. Guess who was also there under the tent with her own book--83-year-old Autrilla Scott, holding court among all those young writers and dishing out welcomed advice to people more than half a century younger than her. I loved that woman!

In her two memoirs, I Remember When: A Town Named Hope, Arkansas, and Stories from the Past, Autrilla reminisces about Bill Clinton's childhood, her own childhood, her life in times past, education, her pursuit of accomplishment in her later years and her civil rights and civic activism. 

Autrilla Scott - I Remember When:  A Town Named  Hope, Arkansas
I Remember When:
A Town Named
Hope, Arkansas

Autrilla Scott - Stories from the Past
Stories from the Past
Autrilla never forgot the lessons of her hometown or the life she left behind when she left Hope, Arkansas, and moved West to blaze new trails.

"Growing up in Hope, Arkansas, was an experience that compares to nothing else I have ever done in my life," Autrilla said. "It laid the foundation for who I am today and taught me many valuable lessons about family, live, love, and faith." 

A student of the late poet Manazor Gamboa of Homeland Cultural Center, Autrilla has poetry published in the Homeland Neighborhood Cultural Center Books of PoetrySilver Pearls; The International Library of Poetry; and The National Library of Poetry; read poetry for Press-Telegram columnist Tom Hennessy's Poetry Fest; and held readings at Long Beach Museum of Art. 

Autrilla Scott & A Place Called Hope

Autrilla Scott Lane
Autrilla Scott Lane 
Autrilla Scott and Rosa Parks provided an example to others and certainly made a difference to the lives of oppressed people in the United States. Autrilla became a community activist and was the first Long Beach African American to have a street named for her honor.  

Autrilla was a civil rights pioneer in Long Beach and an activist who fought Jim Crow laws in the southern United States as well as Southern California, a social and political activist who did not mind taking her battle to the streets, and an artist who wrote to inspire. 
Long Beach, California
Long Beach, California
Lbc Euro Oval Sticker
(Google Affiliate Ad)

By Putting together this tribute to Autrilla Scott, I hope that others can see her example of how to leave a legacy. Although many people do not possess the courage or the persistence to see a job through and get it done right like Autrilla, maybe you can find some small contribution to make in your life to make a difference in someone else's. Autrilla Scott made a difference in my life. Thank you for letting me share her with you.

Long Beach and I will miss you, Autrilla. It is an honor to have known you.

Sunny Nash

Bigmama Didn't Shop
At Woolworth's

by Sunny Nash
Sunny Nash—leading author on U.S. race relations—writes on U.S. history and contemporary American topics, ranging from Jim Crow laws to social media networking, using her book, Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's, chosen by the Association of American University Presses for understanding of U.S. race relations.

When I wrote my book, Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's, there was no FaceBook, which requires precautions against political correctness. because communications one key stroke away from insulting someone.

© 2012 Sunny Nash. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

~Thank You~

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

First Lady Michelle Obama - Woman in Love

Michelle Obama's speech was a love letter to Barack Obama.

We are fascinated with everything about Michelle Obama, from her bangs to her style of mothering, the way she walks and the fashions she wears. 

Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama
By Brophy, David Bergen
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Michelle Obama's Bangs

Personally, I don't like bangs anymore. I used to wear them many years ago but I decided bangs, especially long bangs that reach the eyebrows, covered too much of my face. When I looked into the mirror when I was wearing long bangs, I began to wonder what I was trying to hide? I'm not saying Michelle Obama is trying to hide anything but my long bangs made me take a second look and change my hairstyle to an off-the-face side sweep.

My friend, Deborah Willis, who included photographs from my collection in her book, Reflections in Black: a history of Black Photographers 1840-Present, published a stunning collection of her own photographs of Michelle Obama, Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs  in 2009 before the First Lady changed her hairstyle to bangs.

We have not been so interested in a First Lady's fashion since First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy changed the way American women dressed and styled their hair. Like Jacqueline Kennedy, Michelle Obama's dresses, casual wear, shoes, jewelry, makeup and fingernails are scrutinized closely. Who chose her nail color? I am surprised no one inquired about the First Lady's undies. She looks so fit. Does she wear Spanx?

Inaugural Ball, Barack Michelle Obama card
Inaugural Ball, Barack Michelle Obama card
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But most of all, we are fascinated with the romantic love affair between Michelle and Barack Obama. 

This is the first White House romance between the first couple we have witnessed up close and personal like this, such an obvious sexual attraction--the heat--when they appear together on television or one talking about the other. Many first couples may have loved each other, but not so openly as these two show how they are still smitten by each other with electricity sparking between them. If it is an act, it is a convincing one.

When I wrote my book, Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's, there was no FaceBook, which requires precautions against political correctness. because communications one key stroke away from insulting someone.

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Communications have changed and are light years ahead of the tools I used writing my book and columns on a personal computer. Social media have changed everything. 

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The speech proved Michelle Obama is a woman in love with a man she considers the sexiest and most romantic man on earth. That's OK. We should all be so fortunate to have a person like that in our lives. And we should not be afraid or ashamed to express how we feel about the person. There is something attractive about a person who is in love with a person who returns the love. 

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Michelle and Barack aren't pretending affection for one another. He seems to adore her. It's written all over Barack's face when he is looking at Michelle, talking about her or singing Al Green's Let's Stay Together to her on national television. 

The mere idea of Michelle seems to spill onto Barack's face. The feeling seems mutual. They really seem to be in love

Michelle Obama is a wife, mother, daughter, sister, First Lady and a strong female advocate for issues facing today's women. We either want to be like her or we want to know her, especially after hearing her speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Each title she holds is important, but in her own words, her title as mother is the one she feels is most important. 

Barack and Michelle's daughters are the center of their hearts. Michelle, like her own mother, is looking to the future through her most important legacy, Sasha and Malia. If all mothers thought in this way, and many of us do, we could make the world a better place. 
Michelle Obama: A Life
Michelle Obama:
A Life (Kindle) 
Not only is she a woman with much to say, she is a woman who knows how to say it. Whether you agree with her issues and topics or not, you have to admit that she knows how to make her case. What I noticed most about Michelle Obama was her ability to rise above the written speech and to infuse her own self into the words and transport her listeners to another place. She let us into her personal space and thoughts and then gave us what she wanted us to have of her. That takes skill. then she let us go gently because she knew that many of us were powerless in her presence.

This woman in love keeps our President happy, satisfied and able to face the issues of the nation and the world without having the wonder about where his woman's heart is.

Kindle Fire, Full Color 7" Multi-touch Display, Wi-Fi
Kindle Fire, Full Color 7"
Multi-touch Display, Wi-Fi
Many books in this post are on Kindle and Kindle Fire, Full Color 7" Multi-touch Display, Wi-Fi, which offers more than a million digital books, movies, TV shows, songs, magazines, news, apps, games and more in vibrant color, extra-wide touch-screen, ultra-fast web browsing, dual-core processing, free cloud storage and useful and attractive accessories like the Kindle Fire Leather Cover by Marware. Be sure to check all book links listed here for Kindle availability.

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Bigmama Didn't Shop  At Woolworth's by Sunny Nash
Bigmama Didn't Shop
At Woolworth's

Sunny Nash, Author of Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's
Sunny Nash
Sunny Nash uses her award-winning book, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, to write articles and blogs on race relations in America through topics relating to her life, including food, music, film, early radio and television, entertainment, social media, internet technology, publishing, journalism, sports, education, employment, the military, fashion, performing arts, literature, feminism, equal rights, social and political movements--past and present—to today’s post-racism era.
When I wrote my book, Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's, there was no FaceBook, which requires precautions against political correctness. because communications one key stroke away from insulting someone.

Follow Sunny Nash @ Twitter
Follow Sunny Nash
Communications have changed and are light years ahead of the tools I used writing my book and columns on a personal computer. I had no idea how easy it would become to inflict  political incorrectness.

Join Sunny Nash on Huffington Post
Also join me on Huffington Post for my comments and discussions on civil rights, race relations, politics, style, entertainment and other pressing issues of the day.

© 2012 Sunny Nash. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Rosa Parks, 1960s Fashion and Civil Rights

Vintage Ivory Dress
1950s Rockabilly 
Pencil Women's Dress

Fashion style of the 1950s and 1960s, a memorable part of the Civil Rights Movement, is known as vintage dress today.

MY MOTHER PAID ATTENTION to all kinds of news, including the way the stars dressed in the movies, the style of professional women on the job and the style of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy before and after the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy and she became known as Jackie O. First Lady Michelle Obama's style of dress is being scrutinized today as well as she performs her official job.

My mother liked classic style in her fashion. We did not dress like runway fashion models or stars in the movies. When I went to school and my mother went to her job, we wore the classically cut dress, simple white and other light colored blouses, and dark skirts, some with matching jackets. Professional women and school girls during the 1950s and 1960s walked a tightrope in their dress, not to appear too sexy on the job or in their roles as social activists. This was necessary to be taken seriously and also to avoid offending the populace. 

Rosa Parks Arrest & Booking Photo
PHOTO mugshot bus civil rights
Rosa Parks was a great example of simple and elegant style, making the proper presentation when she went about the job of sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the most powerful civil rights events in the history of the nation. One of the reasons Rosa Parks was chosen to define this important moment in history that recognized her as the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement was because of her understated style and dignity. Rosa Parks' image--dress and hair--became the standard for future 1960s female civil rights activists and other young women maturing during the era of Jim Crow laws.

Civil rights activist Rosa Parks, whose job was altering clothing at a department store, had a knowledge of fashion style and used style in her own conservative dress.

"I'd rather have one good dress, good pair of shoes with heels not too high, piece of quality jewelry or bottle of expensive perfume than a hundred cheap ones," my mother would say, associating outlandish prints, bright colors, busy patterns, distracting fragrances, loud laughter and uncontrolled behavior with people who lacked decorum and good taste. "A person should not have to buy a completely new wardrobe every year," my mother said. "Buy timeless clothing--simple style, classic lines, conservative colors, modest jewelry, an attractive and reliable wristwatch, and a great handbag." My mother's philosophy was, "Less is always better than more."

My mother introduced me to the little black dress. It could be worn for almost any occasion, depending on your accessories. Two years before my mother was born, Coco Chanel introduced the little black dress in 1926 and the dress has survived ever since. My mother's favorite style for the little black dress,  was a linen or linen-like fabric with a simple neckline and a hem length at least mid-knee. This formula also worked for dresses of other muted colors like gray, ivory or white, depending on seasonal color requirements.

When I was a teenager, fashion was moving away from the conservative style of Rosa Parks. Women were experimenting with fit and hemlines. I was not allowed to wear really high-heel shoes and sandals or short form-fitting dresses like the ivory dress above, a style my mother wore often. Foundations played an important role in the way clothes fit. But, of course, she had a wonderful figure and could pull this off without a care. I had a decent figure, too, but I wasn't allowed to show it off on my mother's watch. I was also denied the mini skirt because it showed too much skin.

SPANX Slimmer 
& Shine Strapless 
Slip (1059)
To get that near-perfect silhouette, most women in the 1960s and before had to rely on something called a girdle if control-top pantyhose would not do the job. Today, women who need more figure control have the option of undergarments like Spanx for waist, thigh and hip firming garments. I would have given anything for Spanx to slip under that little sheathe dress. All I had was a good bra.

Rosa Parks, Arrested
Montgomery Bus Boycott
My mother's simple elegant style also applied to our cosmetics and hairstyles. "Everything should be clean and easy," she said. "If your hair and your makeup look like you're working too hard, then you're working too hard to make it look right. Make sure your hair looks like it belongs to you and not to a wig shop." 

My mother said, makeup should not scream MAKEUPYour every day face should not look like a Halloween mask. "No clown cheeks, bright red lips or raccoon eyes, please." My mother made me wash my face before going out of the house if she thought I was wearing too much eyeliner, mascara, blush or lipstick. That was her job, she said, like going to school was mine.

My mother respected Rosa Parks and the Civil Rights Movement to destroy Jim Crow laws, and tried to get me ready for a different world from the one in which she grew up.

Littie Nash
Littie Nash
Two department stores downtown where my mother shopped carried her classic dress in muted tones. Those two stores allowed black people to try on a dress before a purchase, unlike cheap clothing stores. I often wondered why the expensive stores and the cheap stores had different policies toward African Americans. 

My mother said it could be one of several reasons. One: the expensive stores may have been owned and operated by higher-classed merchants who were more progressive; Two: the more expensive stores may have thought no black customers could afford their clothing so they would not have to face the possibility of allowing a black customer to try them on. Well, they did not know my mother--a good customer for good clothing with good money to spend.

Not every dress I owned was expensive like hers. My mother said that was because my clothing had to be replaced more often than hers. I was still growing. There were inexpensive shops in town where she would purchase items for me, without my being present. Remember, the cheap stores would not allow us to try on their clothing before we bought it. And we could not return the clothing if we found it did not fit after we bought it.

Singer Sewing Machine
Singer Sewing Machine 
Like Aunt Lucille's
Treadle Sewing Machine
 "Buttons & Bows"

If my mother spotted a school dress for me in a store window or a mail order catalog that held a hidden promise she could refine into a pleasing style, her keen eye caught it and sized up what needed to be done before she bought the dress. Could an unsightly bow be removed? Could the buttons be changed? Could the collar be removed? Could a hemline be altered? At home, my mother laid the dress on the bed and studied it, making a detailed plan how to modify the dress. At that point, she measured me.

Because my mother didn't sew on a machine or own one, she did all of her clothing alterations and decorative home crafts by hand. She made awesome creations with needle, thread. and thimble. Fancy tatting and embroidery were her specialties. But before modifications on clothing, my mother took dresses to Aunt Lucille to take in the seams and make them stronger. Aunt Lucille had a foot-powered Singer treadle sewing machine in front of the window in her living room. "The best light to sew by," Aunt Lucille said, "Is daylight."

Rosa Parks on Montgomery Bus
PSA/DNA #U51232
My mother respected Aunt Lucille's seamstress skills and civil rights work, which included secret NAACP voting rights meetings. I especially loved hearing about political and civil rights actions. Although I was never invited to participate in their conversations, I overheard my mother and Aunt Lucille talking about politics, sex and other things as Aunt Lucille reinforced the seams of my store-bought school dress or fitted me for dance costumes that she made from scratch, usually without patterns, based on my mother's description or a magazine picture. I was always glad when it took a while for the fittings. The two women seemed to forget I was there. 

Rosa Parks at Sewing Machine
Rosa Parks at Sewing Machine

In retrospect, I can't help but see similarities between Aunt Lucille and Rosa Parks, who was also a seamstress. Like Aunt Lucille, Rosa Parks altered clothing for people, but Parks also had a workstation in the Fair Department Store, located in downtown Montgomery, Alabama.

Rosa Parks rode the bus to and from work every day. One evening, when she got on the bus, she refused to obey the bus driver's demand that she give up her seat for a white passenger. This action by Rosa Parks initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott. I can't help but think that Aunt Lucille would have done the same thing. Neither Rosa Parks nor Aunt Lucille stopped their political work when the 1960s ended. In fact, I worked on voter registration committees, voter precinct redistricting protests and political campaigns with Aunt Lucille in the 1970s and '80s.

When Aunt Lucille finished her work on my school dress, Littie went about making the garment fashionably acceptable, removing all useless buttons, bows, ruffles, pockets, ribbons, lace, ric-rac, ropes, ties, braids, rosettes, fringe, fake fur, tassels or other shiny, unnecessary and unattractive decorations. She organized all of this "ugly stuff," as she called it, in jars, cans and spools, saving it for constructing throw pillows, curtain tiebacks and other home decor projects.

1960s dress
My Dress
Before Littie 

1960s dress
My Dress
After Littie

My mother changed buttons, resizing holes to accommodate her choices. If decorative buttons didn't serve as closures, she removed them. The dress to the left did not stand a chance. She changed shiny buttons for buttons closer to the fabric color and removed pockets, buttons and all. "No one needs to trace your wardrobe by its pedestrian pedigree," Littie said. "Simple is classic. Classic is timeless. Besides, we don't have money to keep re-buying school dresses every time uninformed tastes change."

When I was young, my mother and the other women in our neighborhood did not dress up in their best clothing for work. They saved the Sunday dress for special occasions. Most were domestic workers in the service of white private homes where they wore clean, ironed, plain cotton dresses. My mother, who had been a domestic worker, studied practical nursing to care for patients in their homes, where she wore white uniforms on a daily basis. Wearing work dresses and uniforms kept the need for special apparel low. In addition, uniforms garnered respect from my mother's patients and their doctors, who still made house calls at the time.

Fix-It and Enjoy-It 
Healthy Cookbook: 
400 Great Stove-Top 
and Oven Recipes
During my mother's nursing service, one of her patients, whom I met when I went to work with my mother on Saturdays, started to get better after eating my mother's cooking for a number of months. Her doctor asked my mother about the diet and learned that my mother had developed special recipes with nutrition for this person's diabetic condition. The doctor asked my mother if she could develop nutrition plans for other medical conditions. She said she would try and she did. After delivering these foods to the homes of sick rich white people, my mother became interested in combining her nursing with nutrition. She began to assemble a small library of her nutrition manuals, Diabetics & Heart Healthy Cookbooks and recipes in a corner of my bedroom, where she had made me a reading corner with a table and bookshelves, a place to study for school.

"You have to read," she said. "How else will you know anything useful? You have to write, too. How else can you ask for and get what you want? How do you think I fool all those white cooking judges into awarding me prize money for my recipes? I write my proposals and recipes in a way they understand."

Sharpening Writing Skills
"You write white?" I asked, sarcastically. "No." she said. "I write my recipe competitions proper English. I present excellent food products, time after time, in correctly written English. I use my writing skills. I don't always win, but I am always a finalist. There is no racial color in the process, as long as the judges don't know I'm black, and I only enter competitions that do not require an appearance," she said, smiling. "That way, the judges do not know my color and cannot use it to dismiss me when they get their team of chefs busy making my dishes."

Littie knew the limitations Jim Crow laws placed on her ambitions. She also knew, when I was growing up, Jim Crow laws were on their way out, even in my school life. Flickering black-and-white television images confirmed her belief that, one day, my color would not be an issue like hers had been.  "You have to be ready when the time comes," she said. "It won't matter what you will be allowed to do, if you are not prepared to do it and do not dress the part." I am not sure how my mother,the ultimate stage mother managed. 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. 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.

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.

Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's by Sunny Nash
Bigmama Didn't Shop
At Woolworth's
by Sunny Nash
My book, Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's, is about life with my grandmother during the Jim Crow era. Of course the book also features my mother, my father, relatives, friends, and places I visited. In the book, I try to cover my life outside of the politics of the nation. Although some elements of society are unavoidable, I want people to also see family and community as I experienced them as a child. 

Below is a look inside Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's
Chapter Three, Summer Days
Essay, "Dinner At Aunt Shorty's" Page 69

A tidy landscaped brick walk led to a shallow expanse of steps that framed a wraparound porch with floral-cushioned wooden furniture. A tall oval-glassed front door opened between columns supporting a balcony, behind whose small-paned French doors, was an upstairs sitting room where Aunt Shorty had kept an office when she was--as she called herself--a frontier businesswoman, operating her own profitable restaurant for more than thirty years. Low chandelier light reflected off matching china, crystal, and flatware. More elegant than pictures in any magazine I'd ever seen, the linen tablecloth, embroidered napkins, glowing candlesticks, and fresh flowers were arranged precisely. My grandmother wasn't nearly as impressed as I. Earlier in Bigmama's life, before she lost her fortune and was forced to sell her three hundred acres of prime Grimes County farmland for a fraction of its value, she'd had money and the good life, too.

© 2011  Sunny Nash
All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's by Sunny Nash
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.”

About Sunny Nash

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Sunny Nash – Race Relations in America