Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Rosa Parks, Jim Crow & Fashion

Rosa Parks set the fashion tone for the struggle against Jim Crow...

Delton Primitive Country Raggedy Ann Rag Doll with Cat, Green, 17"
Prim Primative Country 
Green Dress w/ Cat

But fashion in the 1960s was a cross between:
  • First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy
  • Rosa Parks
  • Twiggy 
  • Raggedy Ann  

In the 1960s, young women took their fashion cue not from Rosa Parks, but from the sophisticated First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, whose impeccable appearance captured the entire world each time she stepped out of the White House. And behind the most glamorous scenes in America, outside of Hollywood, Jacqueline Kennedy's husband, President John F. Kennedy, was authoring the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Abraham Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves one hundred years before. 

Twiggy - Fifty Fashion Looks  that Changed  the 1960's
Fifty Fashion Looks
that Changed
the 1960's
Teen magazines proliferated with stunning color covers of the latest celebrities and their fashions. No era in American history is more clearly marked by a range of fashion as the 1960s, where the mini skirt and guns met in an environment of violence and flower-power peace. The world became a big ball of politics where pop culture spun out of control and drugs became the new norm in some circles. With my mother's assistance, or shall I say insistence, my wardrobe reflected both Jackie and Twiggy, not too short to be indecent and not so long that I looked like my grandmother. 

"The clothing and music choices you make send messages," my mother said. "You can be stylish without looking and sounding like a street corner trinket."

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird
What was she talking about? I often asked myself. And when I asked what she meant by something, she would simply say, "Think about it." Days later, she would ask me what I came up with. My mother never forgot anything. And then we would discuss it. She sometimes even came up with an appropriate book on the subject for me to read. She read everything before passing it along to me. That always irritated me because I couldn't pretend to know what the book was about. That was the case with To Kill a Mockingbird. After reading the book, I was tempted to ask her if she wanted me to dress like Scout, the tomboyish heroin of Harper Lee's southern tale. I already knew the answer to that.

Sunny Nash, age 16
Sunny Nash, age 16

My mother liked the way the First Lady dressed. 

She said, "If I had a personal designer, I'd dress like that, too. But because I don't, I'll have to rely on my own taste and your father's wallet." And his wallet was not very big with no argument from him. My father accepted the fact that my mother wanted high quality clothing for herself and me. She preferred classic clothing in conservative colors, which she regarded as good taste and timeless, and had the same expectation for my attire. 

With the help of Oleg Cassini's timeless designs and a slender body, the First Lady changed the fashion world forever and skyrocketed his own career in fashion and turned most everything he touched into gold--from cologne to cars to luggage. Talking about setting priorities. First Ladies not only have access, but designers clamber at their doors to drape them in lush fabrics and jewels. They are First Ladies, after all.

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, Oleg Cassini her official designer
Oleg Cassini served as
The official designer
for First Lady
Jacqueline Kennedy

Born Oleg Cassini Loiewski, in Paris in 1913, he grew up in Florence, Italy. 

Cassini became an international star in the 1960s when he became the designer for First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. “We are on the threshold of a new American elegance, thanks to Mrs. Kennedy’s beauty, naturalness, understatement, exposure and symbolism,” Cassini said when he was appointed by the White House to be the First Lady’s couturier. Everything after Cassini's appointment, he set a new standard in American beauty and history. Mrs. Kennedy's original gowns, suits and dresses, now at the Smithsonian in Washington DC and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, were copied by every other designer and want-to-be- designer on the globe.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott, Rosa Parks at Sewing Machine
Rosa Parks at Sewing Machine

"Montgomery Bus Boycott"

1960s fashion was not at the top of the list for us. Survival in our new world was my mother's priority. 

Politics caused upheaval in the country as the Civil Rights movement loomed. My mother was more concerned with getting me educated to meet the changes she saw over the near horizon than making a fashion statement. I saw reports of poor children in the Alabama and Mississippi who had poorer schools than the Jim Crow schools I attended. 

My mother brought home magazines with studies by psychologists and social workers evaluating racial attitudes of elementary school children. She said she did not found it hard to believe that little black children picked white dolls as their favorite toys. After all, at that time, white dolls were the only dolls little black children had ever seen, besides black handmade rag dolls. The Civil Rights Movement was about much more than dolls.

Every day on the evening news, there were reports of violence over integration  in the Deep South and newspaper stories of marches, protests, police violence against little back children and lynchings. 

Lynching of Jesse Washington,  Waco, Texas on May 15, 1916
Lynching of Jesse Washington, 
Waco, Texas

Bigmama and elders in the neighborhood remembered the lynching of Jesse Washington in 1916 like it happened yesterday, and talked about the young victim like they knew him personally. Bigmama was 16 years old at the time of the crime. And there were more incidents of violence closer to home that were reminders of the way things were and still were. 

If Jim Crow policies in some department stores did not allow us to try on the dresses or shoes before purchasing, we did not shop there. 

"That's what the Civil Rights Movement is all about," my mother said. "Keeping us safe in our homes and not just about sitting with white people at the movies or riding on the front seat of a bus or sitting at a lunch counter or trying on clothes in a department store. This is so much bigger than that! This is about getting a good college education so you can get a good job, live in a better place and have a brighter future."

I have to admit that I felt vulnerable growing up watching Walter Cronkite report and show these images. I had nightmares many times that woke me at night in a cold sweat. Now, looking back, one of the purposes of showing those images was to wake people up and shake them with the realities some of us lived with daily. 

There were stabbings and gunfights in my neighborhood on many drunken weekends at local establishments and private homes. People were frustrated with their lives and lack of ability to escape that other America.

I knew early I would face difficulties. No one had to tell me. I could see it all around. Children were dying for the movement, even little girls my own age in Birmingham, Alabama, were bombed and killed while they preparing for Sunday School. Could I be next, I thought? It was my mother, my father, my grandmother and Rosa Parks who would not let me use the circumstances of my country to be less than... "There are no excuses for not reading a book," my mother said. "There are no excuses for being a slob. There are no excuses for not doing the best you can with whatever you have, no matter how little you have. There are no excuses for living a sloppy life." 

Littie Nash
Littie Nash

My mother accepted no excuses for being trifling, as she called being lazy and careless. 

And she wasted compliments on me when I did what I was supposed to do. She reserved accolades to celebrate real accomplishments, not just because I dragged myself out of bed before noon on Saturday or because I made an 'A' on my report card. "Some things you have to do," she said. "And those things pass, not without notice, but without an all-day hullabaloo." To support me, Littie 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.

"If you don't like the way things are going, change your life," my mother said. "Education is a way out, not the only way out, but a good place to start. And you WILL get into college." I knew she meant that. It seemed her most important goal was to make me smart and successful at something. What a woman! It took courage and imagination during the era of Jim Crow laws for my mother to give me what she thought I needed to get a job that would support me when I grew up. Jobs in the African American community were scarce. Good jobs were mostly nonexistent. Black men were economically and politically marginalized and black women were publicly disrespected on a routine basis.

Read more about my mother: Great Mothering in Jim Crow's World. Also check out another of my blog posts about the significance my mother placed on a college education. She believed that ignorance was an illness that could only be cured by learning. "People can learn on their own if they know how to read," she said often. "You do not have to go to college to learn and be educated. But education may help you get a better job." Read: College Education Was my Mothers Plan.
Littie Nash was one of the great thinkers, ultimate supporter, partner in adventure and inspiration for learning to live well on a shoestring. She gave me life, curiosity, imagination, courage and pride, even in a world that, at the time of my growing up, did not accept me as a full citizen. "You are who you think you are," she said. "Not who someone else thinks you to be. But remember, people form an opinion of you by the way you present yourself." I knew she meant, the way I dressed. 

Bigmama Didn’t Shop  At Woolworth’s  Sunny Nash
Bigmama Didn’t Shop 
At Woolworth’s 
Sunny Nash

Hard Cover
Bigmama Didn't Shop 
at Woolworth's

Amazon Kindle
Bigmama Didn't Shop 
at Woolworth's
I was young when I began to realize that there was a frightening world outside my home. Of course, I knew the frightening things that sometimes happened in my own neighborhood, like my cousin being murdered by her boyfriend because a stranger in a car whistled at her one evening coming from the store. I wrote about this tragedy in book about life with my part-Comanche grandmother during the Civil Rights MovementBigmama Didn't Shop at Woolworth's (Texas A&M University Press and available on Amazon Kindle)among collections of the Association of American University Presses as a resource for understanding U.S. race relations and recommended by the Miami-Dade Public Library System for Native American Collections.

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.

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. Nash’s book is recognized by the Association of American University Presses as essential for understanding U.S. race relations; listed in the Bibliographic Guide to Black Studies by 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. 

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Sunny Nash author of bigmama didn't shop at woolworth's
Sunny Nash

Sunny Nash--author, producer, photographer and leading writer on U.S. race relations in--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, 

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.

© 2013 Sunny Nash. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
~Thank You~

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