My Mother & The Thinkers

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My Mother & The Thinkers.

My mother said people who create, participate in and appreciate art are better thinkers than those who do not. 

Sunny Nash Signs Her Book

Sunny Nash Signs Her Book

“Those interested in literature and art handle conversation better,” she said. “It has to do with the way their brains work and how they decide to live their lives; maybe because they read.” Over the years, I have to admit that she was right dragging me to see exhibitions, making me read biographies about artists like Rodin and listening with me to classical music.

It wasn’t enough to just own a book. My mother said, “You’re no better off, if you don’t read the book, than you would be if you didn’t even own it.”

During the era of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Jim Crow laws, my mother tried to give me an elevated experience, I was not as receptive to it as she would have liked. I was distracted by the Civil Rights Movement that heating up when I was still young. So, she subscribed to national black periodicals and made me read about Brown v the Board of Education, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Freedom Riders and the Woolworth Sit-ins. Some of these events happened when I was so young that I was picking out words, one at a time, and asking her what they were. I wasn’t too happy about all that reading, either, but I began to appreciate her insistence that I become educated outside of my segregated world.

“Being a thinker means you want to know something about art,” she said. My Mother & The Thinkers.

Shooting Without A Gun

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In the neighborhood I grew up in, guns, knives, fists, chains and other weapons were common. I saw first hand what guns and other violence could do to a neighborhood, a family, a childhood.

On weekends, people got drunk and forgot what they had been taught at home, if they had ever been taught anything at home. As a child, I saw this behavior around me, no matter how hard my mother tried to shield me from it. The behavior was in my family. Cousins, aunts, uncles who visited sometimes had too much to drink, and sometimes started fights with each other or friends or neighbors or anyone handy.

Walking home from school, I passed five beer joints where drunks staggered to the sides of the buildings to relieve themselves in plain view. Fights were so common, we simply crossed the street to avoid being hit by flying beer bottles. My cousin was shot in the arm passing by a beer joint at mid-day. All the violence around me was hard to digest. People were saying it was because poor black people felt cheated and discriminated against; and they didn’t know any other way to handle their frustrations than violence.

Even the president wasn’t safe from the violence. President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas as I watched on television with the rest of my schoolmates. Some Americans said they were not saddened by his assassination and blamed his liberal Civil Rights policies for his death.

Kennedy_signing bill

President John F. Kennedy

At the time, I was child struggling with a life that was filled with violence. If the president of the United States could not be protected from violence, how could I feel safe? Television was filled with police violence against civil rights marchers and bus riders. Dogs were even set loose on little school children protesting Jim Crow laws.

When a man killed a cousin of mine by beating her to death with a car chain, he went to prison for about a year. I vowed to kill him when he got out, not because I was afraid of him. I felt pure vengence when I stole my grandmother’s gun from her underwear drawer. But I couldn’t find her bullets. She discovered my plan and confronted me. Later, she presented me with a Brownie camera and said, “Now, you can shoot without a gun.

Read more about Sunny Nash’s childhood in her book, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, about life with her part-Comanche grandmother, Bigmama, during the era of Jim Crow laws in the United States. 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.

Parenting A Race

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Parenting–making a home, keeping the family safe and providing for the children–was essential during the Jim Crow era and the Civil Rights Movement, when people like Rosa Parks stepped up to demonstrate to America’s black children how to get their civil rights.

Parenting, making a home and keeping the family sheltered and safe are activities that cross all racial, ethnic, economic and gender boundaries. Home and family got America through slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights Movement, assassinations of presidents and national leaders, integration, re-segregation and post-racism.

Jim Crow Could Not Stop Determined Mothers

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google-site-verification: googlea2c7f7a2683ba7eb.html by Sunny Nash 

My mother was a determined mother in the Jim Crow South and, like Rosa Parks, my mother also wrestled with racism.

Littie Nash, Great Mother

Littie Nash (1928-2008)

I write about my mother in my book, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, a memoir about life with my part-Comanche grandmother, Bigmama, during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Bigmama, born in 1890 and died in 1972, witnessed many significant changes in the world. Bigmama taught her children, including my mother her youngest child, how to survive in a hostile homeland, but also be prepared to take advantage of any opportunity for success that came along. And  if an opportunity did not come along, make your own opportunity.

My mother, as beautiful as she was smart, took her lead from Bigmama. Both women had a plan for me and made sure they were in control of the plan at all times, although I fought against their process often. Forgive me! I was kid just trying to be a kid. And they were interfering with that. As far as my mother was concerned, everything had a learning purpose. And learning, according to my mother, did not have to be fun. “Read because you want to know something,” she’d say. “Don’t read if you don’t want to know anything.” 

What was I to do with that choice? Be dumb?

Determined mothers in the South and the North had to fight Jim Crow to get their children a decent education. Some used the courts. In Trenton, New Jersy, in 1943, two mothers filed suit again a school district that led the New Jersey Supreme Court to abolish Jim Crow schools in that state. The Hedgepeth-Williams lawsuit was cited by the U.S. Supreme Court a decade later in the historic Brown v Board of Education, which dismantled Jim Crow education and outlawed segregation schools throughout the United Stats of America.

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 ~ On My Bookshelf  ~

Mothering the Race: Women's Narratives of Reproduction 1890-1930

Mothering the Race

I found a great book that I intend to read, Mothering the Race: Women’s Narratives of Reproduction, 1890-1930 (2001) by Allison Berg, professor of English at Michigan State University. 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.

Amazon’s review says Berg’s book about reproduction explores narratives of both African American and white women. Berg also used the work of feminists and socialists, such as Fannie Barrier Williams, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Angela Grimke, and Margaret Sanger to discuss the novels’ social environment and political background. According to the review, “Berg’s point of view is fresh, and her book should interest readers in women’s and feminist American literature.”

Allison Berg, author of Mothering the Race: Women's Narratives of Reproduction, 1890-1930

Allison Berg

The Choice ADVANCE PRAISE review of Berg’s book says, “This is a richly contextualized exploration of the politically charged meanings of motherhood in the public sphere. Berg shows very clearly how the experience and representation of maternity were fissured by race and class while also allowing us to understand the historical power of appeals to a notion of universal motherhood.” Rita Felski, author of The Gender of Modernity, says, “A thoughtful and intelligent contribution to our understanding of the cultural history of motherhood. Berg offers a nuanced account of women’s social and cultural position as inflected by class and race.”

Rosa Parks, Montgomery Bus Boycott

Rosa Parks Arrest

Rosa Parks, considered the mother of the modern Civil Rights Movement, sparked the  Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, challenging Jim Crow in America by refusing to give up her seat on a public bus in Alabama.  

My mother made me aware of Rosa Parks and the growing movement being led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We took newspapers and magazines from all over the nation and I was made to read them. My mother insisted that race relations in America were changing and I was going to be ready when they did. No one fought more rigorously against the consequences of Jim Crow on me than my mother, who demanded excellence from me–speech, grades, attire, behavior, entertainment.

List of Sunny Nash Race Relations Blogger Posts

There were certain television shows and movies I was not allowed to see when I was growing up. Early Hollywood did not fit into my mother’s parenting model. “Why do you need to watch Amos & Andy,” my mother asked. “You have Amos & Andy living down the street.” She was talking about our rather loud-talking neighbors a few blocks away who sometimes drank too much on weekends and stumbled past our house on their way home on Saturday nights. “Amos, Andy and the rest of them are not bad people,” she said. “But I don’t want you acting and talking like them.”  

Lena Horne, MGM Studio

Lena Horne (1917-2010)

My mother took me to the segregated movie theater often to see films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, starring Audrey Hepburn, my mother’s ideal role model for manners, hair and dress. She told me Lena Horne, another glamorous idol of hers, sang on stage and in movies. But during the 1950s movies starring African Americans, who played classy roles like  those played by Horne, sometimes didn’t make it into southern theaters. I only knew of most black entertainers from black newspapers and magazines like Jet, which went into publication in 1951 to fill the void in society and entertainment news about the African American community.

Now, I am glad my mother won the battles she constantly fought with me when I was growing up. What I did not see at the time, I see now. She was right on every level of my upbringing, preparing me for a successful life in a world that may or may not welcome me. Well, welcome or not, here I am! Read the story at Great Mothering in Jim Crow’s World.

 

© 2011 Sunny Nash. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

 

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