Tag Archives: history

A Picture Worth a Thousand More …Lonnie G. Bunch at The NMAAHC- Black History


a repost … 2011

Lonnie Bunch, museum director, historian, lecturer, and author, is proud to present A Page from Our American Story, a regular on-line series for Museum supporters. It will showcase individuals and events in the African American experience, placing these stories in the context of a larger story — our American story

Few things date history as readily as fashion. The caveat “that was the fashion of the times” can be applied to everything from bustles and corsets to micro-mini skirts and polyester pants suits — fashions at the turn of the twentieth century and styles created during the 1960s-’70s.

While designs have changed over the years, one thing remained the same: from department store catalogs to high-end fashion magazines, the models dressed in the latest fashions were white.

So it was a major event when Katiti Kironde appeared in the August 1968 issue of Glamour College, the first African American to appear on a American fashion magazine’s cover. Six years later, in August 1974, Beverly Johnson became the first African American woman featured on the cover of Vogue magazine — the industry’s supreme publication. It was another landmark.

Like virtually everything else on the path to equal opportunity for African Americans, progress was slow and came in steps, not leaps. So when an African American woman first appeared in one of the fashion industry’s premier magazines, it was not on a cover or with a huge, multi-page layout.

Instead, seven years before Kironde’s Glamour cover, a coed at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), Willette Murphy, quietly appeared on the pages of the August 1961 issue of another hugely popular magazine, Mademoiselle.

Murphy, now Willette Klausner, was pictured wearing a simple skirt, top and jacket, and walking on the UCLA campus. Initially, she viewed the moment as “just another thing I’d done.”

Far from it: Willette Murphy’s appearance in the magazine was not merely “just another thing.” Her Mademoiselle photograph was groundbreaking. Yet, Murphy was unaware of her place in history, until a New York Times’ reporter contacted her family. “I guess my sister found out when the New York Times called my parents,” Klausner said in a published interview.

Her family was used to Willette achieving things African Americans rarely experienced at that time — she was UCLA’s first black senior class president, for example — but the call from the Times made the family realize that their daughter had made history.

For decades, in high powered fashion magazines like Vogue, Glamour and Mademoiselle, to the Sears and Roebuck and other mail order catalogs, to models walking runways in Paris and New York, the face of fashion had been white.

Images of African Americans were scarce even in popular, mainstream American magazines. Many white Americans were shocked when Dorothy Dandridge became the first African American female to appear on the cover of LIFE in November, 1954. It would be nearly four years later before another black American, boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, would find his way onto that magazine’s front page. Another African American female celebrity would not grace LIFE’s cover again until the December 8, 1967 issue which featured Pearl Bailey.

Imagine growing up black and female and seeing dress after dress, swimsuit after swimsuit, shoe after shoe — all pictured only on white women. Along with every other message sent to African Americans, this underscored the sense that African Americans were, to a great degree, nonexistent — even when it came to buying clothes.

Today fashion marketers, like marketers from every other industry, recognize that the face of America is as diverse as its people. They also recognize that African Americans’ buying power was estimated at $913 billion in 2009. A University of Georgia economics study projects that figure will rise to $1.2 trillion in 2013 — nearly 9% of the country’s estimated purchasing strength.

Today the power of the African American pocketbook is reflected on the covers of countless magazines — fashion, entertainment, and political publications which routinely feature black models, entertainers, authors, politicians and more.

Willette Murphy Klausner
Photo Courtesy of Ms. Klausner

Today, it is no longer shocking to walk into a supermarket and find an African American on a magazine cover. In March 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama appeared on the cover of Vogue, only the second first lady to do so. In recent years Vogue has seen a number of black women grace its cover.

Sometimes history is made in giant leaps. More often, however, it is made in smaller, sometimes unexpected steps. Willette Murphy Klausner would become the first black merchandising executive at Bloomingdale’s, later the first female corporate vice president at MCA Universal Studios and, together with Julia Child and Robert Mondavi, the co-founder of the American Institute of Wine and Food in 1981. Today, she is a successful theater producer.

It is her photo in Mademoiselle that we celebrate today. A picture that would launch thousands more.

Lonnie Bunch, Director

All the best,
Lonnie Bunch
Director
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On this Day … Nina Simone


On This Day: February 21
Nina Simone                           Born: February 21, 1933                           Died: April 21, 2003                           Age: 70 years old                           Birthplace: Tryon, NC, United States                           Occupation: Civil Rights Activist, Pianist, Singer, Journalist Read Nina Simone’s biography >>
Watch what else happened on this day >>

Dred Scott and Roger B. Taney – The human factor in history


Lonnie Bunch, museum director, historian, lecturer, and author, is proud to present A Page from Our American Story, a regular on-line series for Museum supporters. It will showcase individuals and events in the African American experience, placing these stories in the context of a larger story — our American story.

A Page From Our American Story

On March 6, 1857, in the case of Dred Scott v. John Sanford, United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney ruled that African Americans were not and could not be citizens. Taney wrote that the Founders’ words in the Declaration of Independence, “all men were created equal,” were never intended to apply to blacks. Blacks could not vote, travel, or even fall in love and marry of their own free will — rights granted, according to the Declaration, by God to all. It was the culmination of ten years of court battles — Dred Scott’s fight to live and be recognized as a free man.

The High Court’s decision went even further, declaring laws that restricted slavery in new states or sought to keep a balance between free and slave states, such as the Missouri Compromise, were unconstitutional. In essence, Black Americans, regardless of where they lived, were believed to be nothing more than commodities.

The Taney court was dominated by pro-slavery judges from the South. Of the nine, seven judges had been appointed by pro-slavery Presidents — five, in fact, came from slave-holding families. The decision was viewed by many as a victory for the Southern “Slavocracy,” and a symbol of the power the South had over the highest court.

The dramatic ripple effect of Dred Scott — a ruling historians widely agree was one of the worst racially-based decisions ever handed down by the United States Supreme Court — reached across the states and territories. It sent shivers through the North and the free African-American community. Technically, no black was free of re-enslavement.

Free Blacks, many of whom had been in Northern states for years, once again lived in fear of being hunted down and taken back to the South in servitude. Southern slave laws allowed marshals to travel north in search of escaped slaves. The ruling was such a concern to Free Blacks, that many seriously considered leaving the United States for Canada or Liberia.

The decision played a role in propelling Abraham Lincoln — an outspoken anti-slavery voice — into the White House. The slavery issue had already created a turbulent, volatile atmosphere throughout the nation. Dred Scott, like kerosene tossed onto a simmering fire, played a significant role in igniting the Civil War. The North became ready to combat what it viewed as the South’s disproportionate influence in government.

The court case lives in infamy today, but few people know much about the actual people involved. I suspect Scott and Taney never imagined they would play such powerful roles in our great American story.

Taney was from Maryland, a slave state, but had long before emancipated his slaves and reportedly paid pensions to his older slaves, as well. As a young lawyer he called slavery a “blot on our national character.” What turned Taney into a pro-slavery advocate is not clear, but by 1857, Taney had hardened, going as far as to declare the abolitionist movement “northern aggression.”

It is reported that Dred Scott was originally named “Sam” but took the name of an older brother when that brother died at a young age. Scott was born into slavery in Virginia around 1800 (birth dates for slaves were often unrecorded), and made his way westward with his master, Peter Blow. By 1830, Scott was living in St. Louis, still a slave to Blow. He was sold to Army doctor John Emerson in 1831 and accompanied him to his various postings — including stations in Illinois and the Wisconsin Territory (what is now Minnesota).

In 1836, Scott married Harriett Robinson. Reports vary on whether she was a slave of Emerson’s prior to the marriage or Emerson purchased her from another military officer after she and Scott had fallen in love. The series of events underscored the painful and difficult lives slaves led. Love, like everything else, was subject to the vagaries of their owners’ dispositions.

Emerson died in 1843, leaving the Scott family to his wife, Irene. Three years later, Scott tried to buy his freedom, but to no avail. Scott’s only recourse was to file suit against Mrs. Emerson. He did so on April 6, 1846, and the case went to a Missouri court the following year. He would lose this case, but win on appeal in 1850. Emerson won her appeal in 1852, and shortly afterward gave the Scotts to her son, John Sanford, a legal resident of New York. Because two states were now involved, Scott’s appeal was filed in federal court in 1854 under the case name of Dred Scott v. John Sanford, the name that came before Taney in 1857.

History is filled with dramatic and strange twists of irony and fate. Those factors can be found throughout Scott’s battle for freedom. Peter Blow’s sons, childhood friends of Scott’s, paid his legal fees. Irene Emerson had remarried in 1850. Her new husband, Massachusetts Congressman Calvin Chaffee, was anti-slavery. Following Taney’s ruling, the now-Mrs. Calvin Chaffee, took possession of Dred, Harriett and their two daughters and either sold or simply returned the family to the Blows. In turn, the Blows freed the Scotts in May, 1857.

Dred Scott, a man whose name is so deeply-rooted in our history, so linked to the war that would end slavery, would die just five months later of tuberculosis. However, he died a free man.

All the best,

Black History Month …a repost


by on Feb 9, 2012 still rings true

African American History Month honors the rich legacy of African Americans throughout our nation’s history. This year’s theme recognizes the unique contributions of African American women. February 9, 2012.