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Article

Paul Stillwell

pioneer black naval officer, was born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, a predominantly black community, one of twelve children of Tecora and Alexander Arbor. He had two sisters and nine brothers, and his ancestors had received land in the area when slavery ended. Outgoing, humorous, and loquacious by nature, Arbor possessed a typically rural southern sense of place. During an oral history interview in the mid‐1980s, he described Cotton Plant as, “A little place that only me and the Good Lord knows [with a population of] 1,661 up until the day I left, and there's never been that many since.” Like his siblings, Arbor received a private school education. During his years in Arkansas he attended Arkadelphia–Cotton Plant Academy. Around 1930 the family left the farm area and moved to Chicago as part of a northerly migration of blacks seeking employment opportunities Arbor s father worked as a carpenter ...

Article

Stephen Bourne

Black Londoner whose life as a working‐class seamstress was documented in Aunt Esther's Story (1991), published by Hammersmith and Fulham's Ethnic Communities Oral History Project, and co‐authored with Stephen Bourne. Aunt Esther's Story provides a first‐hand account of Bruce's life as a black Briton in the pre‐Empire Windrush years. Her father, Joseph (1880–1941), arrived in London from British Guiana (now Guyana) in the early 1900s and settled in a tight‐knit working‐class community in Fulham. He worked as a builder's labourer. When Bruce was a young child, Joseph instilled in his daughter a sense of pride in being black. After leaving school, she worked as a seamstress, and in the 1930s she made dresses for the popular African‐American stage star Elisabeth Welch. She also befriended another black citizen of Fulham: the Jamaican nationalist Marcus Garvey She told Bourne he was a nice chap ...

Article

Patricia Hunt-Hurst

one of the pioneers of black women in fashion modeling, was born in Texarkana, Texas; she was the seventh of eight children. Her mother was a school teacher and her father a carpenter and farmer. Dorothy studied biology at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, where she completed her degree in 1945. She planned to study medicine, but when her mother died she moved to Los Angeles to live with family. While there she earned a master's degree in education at the University of Southern California, married, and started her modeling career.

The fashion industry in the late twentieth century included the major fashion centers of New York and Paris New York was known for its American ready to wear and Paris for its couture or made to order dresses of original designs Fashion models were vital to the display of the designs in both facets of the ...

Article

Wendy A. Grossman and Sala E. Patterson

was born Casimir Joseph Adrienne Fidelin on 4 March 1915 in Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe’s largest city and economic capital. Fidelin posed for several photographers in Paris in the 1930s, including Roger Parry, Wols (Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze), and Man Ray. Although there is remarkably little written documentation about her, Fidelin is widely recognized as the model featured in an extensive assembly of images by Man Ray and acclaimed as the first black model to appear in a major American fashion magazine.

Fidelin emigrated with her family to France following the catastrophic September 1928 hurricane that swept the Caribbean archipelago and the South Florida peninsula killing twelve hundred people on her native island She came of age in Paris in an era in which the influx of émigrés from the French colonies in the Caribbean fueled the creation of a vibrant diasporic Antillean music and dance community that coincided with and ...

Article

Mohamed Adhikari

South African trade unionist and political activist, was the only son of David Gomas and Elizabeth Erasmus. John Stephen Gomas was raised in Abbotsdale near Cape Town. After his father abandoned the family, Elizabeth moved with her son to Kimberley in 1911. Here Gomas entered an apprenticeship at a tailor’s workshop in 1915, where his employer, Myer Gordon, a Russian immigrant, introduced him to socialist ideas. In 1919 Gomas joined the International Socialist League, the African National Congress (ANC), and the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU). Toward the end of that year his participation in a successful clothing workers’ strike transformed the quiet, bookish youth into a vociferous champion for workers’ rights.

In 1920 Gomas moved to Cape Town where he worked privately from home as a tailor He was active in the ICU the ANC and the Tailors Industrial Union Attracted by its militancy and ...

Article

Theresa A. Hammond

consumer markets specialist and business school professor, was born in Chesterfield County, Virginia, to Thomas D. Harris Jr. and Georgia Laws Carter. Thomas Harris was a messenger for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and also worked as an embalmer, and Georgia Carter Harris was a homemaker. Thomas stressed the importance of education for his three children, tutoring them in math, anatomy, and English after dinner. Harris attended Kingsland Elementary School (one of the black primary and secondary schools funded by Sears, Roebuck philanthropist Julius Rosenwald to improve education for black southerners) in Chesterfield County, Virginia, and D. Webster Davis High School, the Virginia State College laboratory school, in Petersburg, Virginia. While in high school, Harris earned a certificate in barber practice and science. He cut soldiers' hair on the nearby Fort Lee army base to help pay for his education at Virginia State College.

Harris s education ...

Article

Iman  

Caryn E. Neumann

model and cosmetics-company founder, was born Iman Abdul Majid in Mogadishu, Somalia, the second of five children born to Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born Arabic teacher and diplomat, and Marian Abdul Majid, a Somalia-born midwife. “Iman,” a name generally given to a boy, means “to have faith in Allah.” As the first girl born to her father's family in three generations, Iman appeared as a gift from Allah.

Very much a “daddy's girl,” Iman worshipped her father. A fighter against sexism, Mohamed adhered to the theory that girls should be treated well at home to enable them to surmount any restrictions that society might try to place upon them. Accordingly, Iman was sent to boarding school because her father felt that such an environment offered girls the best education.

To his delight Iman did well in her studies of Arabic Italian geography and mathematics She eventually left boarding school ...

Article

Dennis Gouws

teacher, model, dramatist, and collector of African American artifacts, was born in London to a West Indian mother and a British father, of whom little is known. It is believed that his mother was black and his father was white. Nor is it known when Jackman came to the United States, but he was raised in Harlem, New York, and graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School, where he befriended the poet Countée Cullen. Jackman earned a BA degree from New York University in 1923 and an MA from Columbia University in 1927. For more than three decades he taught social studies in the New York Public Schools.

Aptly described as the non writer whom everyone adored Jackman inspired tributes from those prominent Harlem Renaissance personalities with whom he socialized Griffin 494 Cullen for example dedicated an early version of his poem Advice to Youth ...

Article

Beth Kraig

model, singer, performance artist, and actress, was born in Spanishtown, Jamaica, the daughter of Marjorie and Robert Jones. Her mother was a clothing maker whose design skills influenced her daughter's eventual reputation as a fashion trendsetter. Her father was a minister whose charismatic preaching influenced his daughter's sense of drama. Jones, a twin, was one of seven children, and the large family shared an enthusiasm for music that shaped her childhood ambition of becoming a singer.

Like thousands of people of African descent from the Caribbean, the family relocated to the United States to seek more opportunities. They settled in Syracuse, New York, in the 1960s, with the parents preceding their children to the United States and then reuniting the family in 1964 in their new home. Jones continued her education in Syracuse and enrolled in Syracuse University in 1968 where she focused on ...

Article

Jennifer Fleischner

slave, dressmaker, abolitionist, and White House memoirist, was born Elizabeth Hobbs in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, the daughter of Armistead Burwell, a white slaveholder, and his slave Agnes Hobbs. Agnes was the family nurse and seamstress. Her husband, George Pleasant Hobbs, the slave of another man, treated “Lizzy” as his own daughter, and it was not until some years later, after George had been forced to move west with his master, that Agnes told Lizzy the identity of her biological father. While her mother taught her sewing, the skill that would make her name and fortune, it was George Hobbs who first instilled in Lizzy a profound respect for learning. Ironically, it was Armistead Burwell, who repeatedly told Lizzy she would never be “worth her salt,” who probably sparked her ambition to succeed and prove him wrong.

As a young girl Hobbs lived in ...

Article

Elena Bertoncini Zúbková

Swahili poet, scribe, calligrapher, woodcarver, performer, tailor, musician, and dance master, was born in Lamu on the northern coast of Kenya. Nicknamed Kijum(w)a, “little slave,” by his mother at his birth (hoping this nickname would be auspicious), his full name was Muhammad bin Abubekr bin Omar Kijumwa (also Muhamadi bin Abu Bakari, Mohamed Abubakar Kijumwa, and other possible transliterations from the Arabic script). He studied at the qurʾanic school, made the pilgrimage to Mecca three times, and became a renowned and versatile artist, who handed to his son Helewa the craft of carving the beautifully ornamented doors in Lamu. Among other skills, he made musical instruments and was a famous player of the kibangala a seven stringed lute He passed most of his life in Lamu but in the 1890s he worked as a scribe in the small protectorate of Witu inland from the Kenyan coast which was part ...

Article

LaRay Denzer

Ghanaian political organizer, was a young dressmaker from the Osu (Christianborg) section of Accra. Little is known about her early life. The Italo-Abyssinian conflict galvanized her interest in politics. Like many black people in the colonies, Europe, and the United States, she was outraged by Italy’s brutal attack on Ethiopia, one of Africa’s two remaining independent countries. In October 1935 she was appointed a member of the Ethiopian Defence committee, a body jointly established by the West African Youth League (WAYL) and the Ex-Servicemen’s Association to raise funds to support the Ethiopian resistance. Impressed by her fervor, the editor of the Vox Populi, a Gold Coast (now Ghana) newspaper, described her as a “noble example of sincere racial sympathy.” The editor called on male leaders to pay more attention to women’s issues, especially education and participation in public affairs.

Lokko became involved in the WAYL, established in 1934 ...

Article

Noliwe Rooks

entrepreneur and philanthropist, was born Annie Minerva Turnbo on a farm in Metropolis, Illinois, the tenth of eleven children of Robert Turnbo and Isabella Cook, both farmers. Robert and Isabella owned the land they farmed and were able to provide comfortably for themselves and their children. After her parents died of yellow fever in 1877, Turnbo went to live with an older sister in Peoria, Illinois.

As a young woman Turnbo grew dissatisfied with the hair grooming methods then in use by African American women which often involved the use of goose fat soap and harsh chemicals for straightening purposes Stronger products to straighten naturally curly hair generally damaged the hair follicles or scalp One of the methods recommended by such products advised users to wash their hair and lay it out flat while using a hot flatiron to apply the solutions Even washed and laid out ...

Article

Mary K. Dains

Malone, Annie Turnbo (09 August 1869–10 May 1957), African-American businesswoman, manufacturer, and philanthropist was born in Metropolis Illinois the daughter of Robert Turnbo and Isabella Cook farmers Little is known of the early childhood of Annie Turnbo Malone except that she was second youngest of eleven children Her parents were former slaves in Kentucky Her father joined the Union army during the Civil War and her mother escaped to Illinois with her small children After the war Robert Turnbo joined his family at Metropolis where he became a farmer and landowner Following the death of both parents Annie went to live with older brothers and sisters in Metropolis and later Peoria and Lovejoy Illinois She completed public school education in Metropolis and attended high school in Peoria Because of ill health she did not complete her high school education In these early years Malone dreamed of making ...

Article

Tiffany M. Gill

The dawn of the twentieth century witnessed the materialization of the black beauty culture industry and the emergence of the black female beauty industry mogul. Annie Turnbo Malone, while not as well known as her contemporary, Madam C. J. Walker, pioneered many of the methods and goals of this global enterprise and transformed the role of African American women in business.

Annie Turnbo Malone was a child of the Reconstruction Era. Her father, Robert Turnbo, fought for the Union in the Civil War while her mother, Isabella Cook Turnbo fled their native Kentucky with their two children Eventually the family reunited in Metropolis Illinois and the couple had nine more children Annie was second youngest Robert and Isabella Turnbo died while Annie was young and her elder sisters raised her After moving to Peoria Illinois Annie attended high school where she acquired a fondness for chemistry which combined ...

Article

R. Iset Anuakan

barber, entrepreneur, and inventor was born in Greene County, Alabama, the oldest of Holly and Olean (Jordan) Morrow's seven children. As a child, Willie worked on a farm planting corn and cotton. He worked in the fields before going to school, and he learned to cut hair by practicing on the children there. He became a barber at the age of seventeen when his mother took him to meet Jim Pierson, the owner of the Oak City Barber Shop in Tuscaloosa. Pierson employed him for three years and gave him a set of Oster clippers that replaced the rudimentary clippers he had used. Barbering became his lifelong vocation and would lead him into the beauty business—a world in which many African Americans had made their fortunes.

In 1959 Morrow took a train to San Diego, California, to work with his uncle, barber Spurgeon Morrow and to ...

Article

Felix James

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 5, 1859, George A. Myers was the eldest of Isaac Myers and Emma V. Myers's three children. In May 1868 his mother died. Two years later Myers enrolled in the preparatory department of Lincoln University in Chester County, Pennsylvania. After his father married Sarah E. Deaver, he returned to Baltimore, where he graduated from the city's first grammar school for African American children. Because of the racial practices in that city, however, Myers was denied admission to Baltimore City College.

Myers left Baltimore in 1875 and worked as an apprentice to Thomas James, a veteran painter in Washington, D.C. Not liking the trade, he returned to Baltimore and studied the barber trade under Thomas Gamble and George S. Ridgeway He pursued this trade against the will of his father who had wanted him to enroll in Cornell Medical ...

Article

Gloria Chuku

Nigerian businesswoman and political activist, was born Mary Nwametu Onumonu on 16 October 1898 in Oguta, Nigeria. Her father was Chief Onumonu Uzoaru, one of the first two warrant chiefs appointed for Oguta by the British colonial government. Her mother was a veteran entrepreneur who dealt in palm produce, which she sold directly to the European traders in exchange for assorted imported goods, including textiles. Mary attended elementary school at St. Joseph’s Girls’ Convent in Asaba, Nigeria. Soon after graduation in 1920, she married Richard Nzimiro, a clerk with the United African Company (UAC). Their relocation to Port Harcourt, the site of many foreign businesses, opened opportunities for Mary and resulted in the expansion of her trading enterprise. Her husband resigned from his job and helped Mary manage the business.

As a petty trader at Illah Mary dealt in salt and palm oil But when they moved to Port ...

Article

Martin J. Manning

Parks, Lillian Rogers (01 February 1897–06 November 1997), White House seamstress and author, was born Lillian Adele Rogers, the daughter of Emmett E. Rogers, Sr., a waiter, and Margaret “Maggie” Williams Rogers. Source information is sketchy regarding her early years, but her godchild, Peggy Holly, believes that Lillian Parks was born in the District of Columbia and as a child spent summers with relatives in Virginia. Her father—by Parks's account an alcoholic unable to hold a job—left his family when she was a child; in 1909 her mother took a job at the White House at the beginning of William Howard Taft s presidency and often found it necessary to take her daughter along with her when she went to work A victim of polio at the age of six Parks used crutches for the rest of her life She attended St Ann s Catholic School ...

Article

Martin J. Manning

White House seamstress and author, was born Lillian Adele Rogers, the daughter of Emmett E. Rogers Sr., a waiter, and Margaret “Maggie” Williams. Source information is sketchy regarding her early years, but her godchild, Peggy Holly, believed that Lillian Parks was born in the District of Columbia and as a child spent summers with relatives in Virginia. Her father—by Parks's account an alcoholic unable to hold a job—left his family when she was a child. In 1909 her mother took a job at the White House at the beginning of William Howard Taft's presidency and often found it necessary to take her daughter along with her when she went to work A victim of polio at the age of six Parks used crutches for the rest of her life She attended St Ann s Catholic School and Stephens Elementary School in the District of ...