jazz’s lasses

I’m freaking out about this right now!  How on earth have I never heard of these women!?  I read the first article and thought “Oh, very cool.”  Then I saw the video…moments ago…currently freaking out.  Anybody wanna make a movie about this with me?  It would be like A League of Their Own kinda.  But with people of color actually doing something other than standing around wishing they could be doing something at which they, too, are really good.  That’s one of my favorite movies of all time, by the way.  I digress.  I wonder if it’s the racism or the sexism that’s kept this a “secret.”  Both I’m sure, but when I watch that video I’m mostly struck by the fact that these are women in positions I don’t think I’ve ever seen held by a woman.  Not then, not now.  And they came out of Mississippi!? O. M. G.

First All-Female Interracial Band Celebrated At Smithsonian

Written by News One

The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, the first all-female interracial band in America, faced down both Jim Crow and sexism in the 1930s and 1940s. Then, they faded into obscurity.

This week the Smithsonian Institution celebrates the Sweethearts’ legacy as part of the launch of the museum’s Jazz Appreciation Month.

the international sweethearts of rhythm

The Sweethearts’ exhibit will be on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC from March 25 to May 31. Members of the Sweethearts, which included Black, white, Latino and Asian women, will participate in several events on March 29 and 30 at the museum. Radio One founder Cathy Hughes, whose mother Helen Jones Woods was an original band member, will also be a participant [NewsOne is a division of Radio One]:

…Ms. Hughes will facilitate an brief (10 minute) onstage discussion with six of the original Sweethearts who will participate in programming at the Smithsonian:  They are Helen Jones Woods (trombonist), Ms. Hughes’ mother; Willie Mae Wong Scott (saxophonist), the child of a Chinese father and mixed race Native American mother, she grew up on Mississippi in 1920s; Sadye Pankey Moore (trumpeter), African American; Johnnie Mae Rice Graham (pianist), African American; Lillie Keeler Sims (trombone), African American woman who played with the Sweethearts their first year but later served as an educator and administrator in the NYC school system 40 years;  and Roz Cron, one of the first white woman to join the band. On March 30th, the Sweethearts and Cathy Hughes will participate in a 60 minute discussion on the Sweetheart’s legacy that will be webcast via UStream.

 

First integrated, female big band highlighted at Smithsonian

By Sally Holland, CNN

Washington (CNN) — When Rosalind Cron left home in the 1940s to join a teenage girl jazz band called the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, she had no idea what it would be like, as a white girl, traveling with the predominantly black band.

At the time, Cron said she thought “Jim Crow” was a man they were supposed to meet in the South. “I didn’t realize it was a law, and a very strict law — laws, plural,” she said.

State and local ordinances that mandated separate public facilities for blacks and whites made it illegal for Cron to share facilities with her band members.

Cron felt the discrimination because she lived on their tour bus with the other girls, hiding her race. For three years, she said, they were like her sisters.

She spent several hours in jail in El Paso, Texas, in 1944 when authorities didn’t believe the story she had made up that her father was white and her mother was black.

“They went though my wallet and there was a picture of my mother and dad right in front of the house,” she said. She was sprung a few hours later when the band’s manager brought two black girls to the jail who claimed to be Cron’s cousins.

By that time, according to Cron, the authorities that were holding her were glad to get rid of her.

“They just told us never to return. And as far as I know, we didn’t,” she said.

The risks were worth it to play her saxophone with what became known as the nation’s first integrated, female jazz band.

The International Sweethearts of Rhythm were founded at Piney Woods School in Mississippi in 1937, in part as a way for the students to help pay for their education.

They recruited members of different races to help with the “international” part of their image.

Willie Mae Wong had a Chinese father, a mixed-race mother, and no visible musical skills when she was recruited to the group as a 15-year-old. She was out on the street playing stickball when they picked her up.

“The director of the music was named White,” Wong said. “They called me ‘White’s Rabbit’ because he had to spend more time with me to teach me the beat.”

The name “Rabbit” has stuck to this day.

In 1941, the group separated from the school and went professional. They traveled on a bus to gigs across the United States, including venues like the Apollo Theater in New York and the Howard Theater in Washington.

During World War II, the Sweethearts traveled to France and Germany as part of a USO tour in 1945.

Pictures and mementos from the International Sweethearts of Rhythm are on display at the Smithsonian’s American History museum for their 10th annual Jazz Appreciation Month celebration in April.

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Six members of the band were in Washington this week to reminisce.

“It was a privilege to come from Mississippi and go and see the other parts of the world,” said Helen Jones, who played the trombone from the band’s founding until it disbanded.

“All I ever wanted to do was play a trumpet,” Sadye Pankey told a group gathered at the museum. And as for music education today, she feels bad for today’s students.

“Some of our schools in our country now have abolished the music, and it’s not fair,” she said.

Cron told the group that if music is your passion, you need to stick with it.

“Don’t let anyone come between you and your horns, or music,” she added.

empower women, eliminate racism

March 24, 1912 – April 20, 2010

Thank you, Dr. Dorothy Height!

Here’s an excerpt of a 2008 NPR interview with Dr. Height.  You can read the transcript in its entirety HERE.

Civil Rights Elder Sees Dream Come True

hosted by Michel Martin

MARTIN:  Dr. Dorothy Height began a lifetime of activism during the Great Depression, a time when the simple right to vote free of the fear of violence seemed like an impossible dream for many African-Americans. And at the of 96, she is still going to the office just about every day trying to further the cause of equal rights for all Americans. She’s serving as chair and president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women. She was kind enough to receive us at her office on historic Pennsylvania Avenue yesterday. We’re talking about President-elect Barack Obama’s historic win.

MARTIN: I wanted to ask you about that because you have been working in this field since you were a very young woman. I mean, really, your entire adult life. Since your early 20s you’ve been an activist. Did you believe this day would come in your lifetime?

…Dr. HEIGHT: Well, you know, I guess I got to – my faith was renewed working for 33 years with the YWCA of the United States. And I went there as a secretary or a staffer or something related to interracial education. After 33 years, I retired as a director of the Center for Racial Justice, and I split this organization, that from 1946 really set out to open its services to all women, regardless of race or with full regard for race, and so I saw the way an organization that was founded by white, Protestant women that now is very inclusive, and I was a part of that development.

When the YWCA in 1946 adopted an interracial charter, that was ahead of the Supreme Court’s decision on Brown versus the Board of Education, so that in a sense I had already the experience. And I listened to people when they kept saying – well, some people, particularly white people, will say this but they won’t go in. I also know that I worked with many white women who took a strong stand but they didn’t discuss it at home because their husbands didn’t agree with them, but they worked hard to see that the YWCA was integrated, as they called it. And today, the YWCA has Empower Women and Eliminate Racism as its slogan. And I think that made me know that there are many people who know that this is right to do and that they were willing to do it, but they didn’t necessarily announce it.

MARTIN: I remember that, reading in your memoir how your organization, the YWCA, was one of the first – and some precursor organizations were among the first to have integrated meetings, and how dangerous it was for some of these women to participate.

Dr. HEIGHT: At that time there were – when we had meetings, sometimes we were talking about the klan. Sometimes we found that we were denied services that we had been promised when they realized fully what it meant that we would be women of different races. But you know, I found that were strong women in all racial groups, and I think that’s what Barack Obama has shown us. There are people in every group who know what is right and who want to move, and they just need some kind of direction and some kind of feeling that other people are with them. I remember Dr. Mayo(ph) saying, I hear people say the time isn’t right. And he said, but if it isn’t right then it’s your job to ripen the time, and that’s the way I feel about it.

12 Nov 1960, New York, New York, USA — Eleanor Roosevelt is presented the Mary McLeod Bethune Human Rights Award by Dorothy Height, President of the National Council of Negro Women. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

…MARTIN: What role do you think civil rights organizations have now?

Dr. HEIGHT: Well, there’s still a lot of unfinished business. Right now you have going across the country a whole effort to destroy affirmative action. In other words, we’re finding that people are using civil rights in a negative way, and they’re calling it, this is a civil right. In a sense, these bills that are being introduced are really anti-civil rights, and they just use the term civil right in order to fool people and make them vote.

MARTIN: Are you speaking about Ward Connerly and some of his efforts to reverse affirmative action…

Dr. HEIGHT: Yes, Connerly has gone into several states, and he has does this in a misleading way, and I think people ought to be alert to it and realize that if you vote for what he is talking about, you’re cutting back something that got started during the days of Lyndon Johnson and was a part of the whole civil rights effort. It is not a preference. It is a way of saying, those who have been denied should be given an opportunity to be sought in (ph) so they can move ahead.

In 2004 President Bush presented Dr. Dorothy Height with the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor.

MARTIN: There are those who would argue, though, that – to be blunt about it – that Barack Obama takes these so-called excuses off the table. People look at that, and they say, look at Barack Obama in the White House. And they say, what discrimination? What could they possibly – what barriers?

Dr. HEIGHT: Yes. I think they will, but I would hope that they would also say to themselves, we need to look at who has the opportunities. We need to look at – Obama himself pointed that to us, that you can’t have a flourishing Wall Street and a destroyed Main Street. He could have also said, I’m working for the middle class, but we still have poverty. And we cannot divide up like that. We cannot say who’s hurting the most. We have to make sure they be dealing with everyone.

I have been working since my teenage days when I did an oration and won my college scholarship on the Constitution of the United States. I chose the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. And I looked and realized, here, now, at this age, I’m still working to make the 14th amendment and its promise of equal justice under law, making it real for everybody. That’s what you have to do.

MARTIN: Is there anything that you fear about an Obama presidency, about having an African-American – the first African-American in the White House?

Dr. HEIGHT: I suppose it’s not a real fear. It’s a hope that we will not take it for granted, that now we have achieved and all of our problems are answered. I think we will (unintelligible), as he did, as he said, I will be president of all the people. And by that he meant that he will work for all of us and that we all have to realize that there is unfinished business in civil rights.

It will – we don’t need the marches that we had in the past. But we need more consideration in looking at the boardroom tables and at the policies that are going on, looking at what’s happening in industry, what’s happening in terms of employment opportunities, housing and the like. So that I think it opens up a new way for us to look at our community.

And one thing, I go down now to Deep South and Mississippi and places, where during the ’60s, we moved with fear. I go down now and people are so welcoming that I forget what part of the country I’m in. And I think the people who are saying, we have no problem, have the biggest problem, that they really need to see how we can all work together and recognize that we need each other and see how we can really make this a society in which a person is judged, as Dr. Hayes(ph) said, on the basis of their character and what they do rather than on color of their skin or the language which they speak or their sexual preference, or any of those things.

MARTIN: Since you were a young woman yourself, you’ve been famous when you work with young people. Do you have any wisdom to share, perhaps, to a young Dorothy Height who might be listening to us?

Dr. HEIGHT: I like to say to young people today, you are the beneficiaries of what a lot of people worked and gave their lives for. And you are enjoying things – no matter how bad it may seen, you are still better off than any of those who worked to bring us to this point. And the important thing now is not to go it alone on your own, by yourself, but see how you will join with others. Get organized in how you will serve others and how you will help to move this forward.

And I was so excited to hear President-elect Obama, like they call him now, to hear him say that he needed our help. And I think he does. And we need it not by thinking just of what we want, but how can we help achieve the kind of roles that he has said. Because when you do that and we’re for something bigger than yourself, there’s no way you can help but grow, and that will help to prepare you for the future.

making the best of it

Taking into consideration the lunch counter sit-ins of 1960, I think this is a remarkable story…

Area Woolworth’s first black sales clerk calls hiring proud moment

Jean Fisher Curry was hired in 1961 to work a cosmetics counter in the front of the store.

By Tom Stafford

SPRINGFIELD — There were no lunging police dogs with bared fangs, no fire hoses knocking people to the ground, no instigators putting cigarettes out in the hair of protesters at lunch counter sit-ins.

The first apparent outward sign that Springfield’s F.W. Woolworth store would have its first ‘‘Negro’’ employee — to use the word customary at the time — was a note Jean Fisher, 15, received in class during the fall of 1961, her junior year at South High School.

“I was never in trouble,” said Jean Fisher Curry of Springfield. So when she got the note from the counselor’s office, “I thought, what did I do?”

It wasn’t what she did that was notable but rather what she was about to do.

Like other Distributive Education students, she was told she’d have to meet the standards: keep a B average and take special classes in the department.

“I think (Distributive Education) was the forerunner of the vocational school,” Curry explained.

But if she met the standards, she could work at Woolworth’s — the downtown one at High and Limestone streets.

The importance of that was not lost on Curry: “They didn’t have black people working in the store.”

A happy clerk

“I thought I’d be cleaning,” Curry said.

That might have been OK. Her mother had done that for years in what was called “private family work” — working as a domestic at the Tanglewood Drive home of Seymour and Anne Klein.

Jean Curry hugs her mother, Alberta Fisher, whose encouraging words helped her break new ground as the first black sales clerk at Springfield's Woolworth store. Staff photo by Marshall Gorby

Jean Curry hugs her mother, Alberta Fisher, whose encouraging words helped her break new ground as the first black sales clerk at Springfield’s Woolworth store. Photo by Marshall Gorby.

Being a domestic “never bothered her,” Curry said, “because that was honest work.”

And when the Kleins asked Alberta Fisher to run the lunch counter at Victory Lanes, it showed “they trusted her,” Curry said. “And she was happy with that.”

The job at Woolworth’s wasn’t a cleaning job, however — likely because the Distributive Education program didn’t train people for that task.

“They told me it was a sales clerk,” said Curry,” and I said, ‘Yeah.’ ”

As it turned out, her post would be at the cosmetics counter in front of the store, where she’d be seen by all who walked in the main entrance.

The sightings began soon after she turned 16 on Sept. 15, 1961, and got her work permit.

Shades of discrimination

Curry discovered a shade of racial reasoning involved in her placement in the store.

“They hired a black girl from North and me from South,” she explained. “Because I was light (-skinned), I worked at the front of the store. Because she was darker she worked in the back of the store with the pets.”

Asked whether that was the real reason for the assignments, Curry was emphatic: “There’s no doubt. I knew it, she knew it, and she resented it.”

Curry said that colored her attitude toward her own work: “What was I going to be mad about? I didn’t feel discrimination like somebody darker.”

The attitude ran in her family.

When the census came, the light-skinned Curries listed their race as mulatto., and in the militant black pride era, they joked about being “high yellow.”

Still, they had to follow rules of the racial road.

Springfield then was a town in which blacks weren’t allowed in the Liberty Theater and in which blacks were suspicious of drinking out of segregated fountains, wondering what white people put in them.

Blacks also tended to “stay within our culture,” Curry said, taking the elevator in the Arcade to the music store that catered to their tastes and frequenting the Center Street YMCA.

Woolworth’s also had its rules: Blacks could order only carry-out from the food counter.

And when Curry started, “we were told when we gave people change to lay it on the counter,” she said, thus avoiding problems with white customers who were uncomfortable having physical contact with blacks.

“But like I told (the girl from North),” Curry added, “we may get some money.”

At first, the pay was 65 cents an hour. The following year, it would go up to 85 cents — this in an era when $1 an hour was considered decent pay, Curry said.

In her youthful enthusiasm, “I didn’t think it was a job. I thought it was a career.”

In the same spirit, Curry, who knew that the actress Betty Hutton’s sister, Barbara, was part owner of the chain, half expected one or the other Hutton sister to show up some day, coming through the front door right into her area.

When she told people she worked at Woolworth’s “I always said ‘F.W.’ like I knew him.”

“I couldn’t even tell you what F.W. stood for.”

Her mother and God

The non-Hutton whites who came into her area in the front of the store fell into a couple of categories, Curry said.

“The older ones, the little white-haired ladies, they liked me,” she said.

“They were used to black people working in their homes and knowing their place. And I knew my place.”

“The other ones, I had to grow on them,” she said.

And she did, using the enthusiasm and bedrock values her mother taught her.

Part of it was common courtesy. “I was always very friendly. You just do that,” Curry said.

Also, “we were very religious,” she said. “We went to church. I think God had a place in that.

Constantly on her mind at that time was the desire “to make my mom and dad proud of me,” Curry said.

Finally, there was the work ethic her mother sought to instill in her children.

Throughout their childhoods, Mrs. Fisher recited a saying to her children to encourage them to do the best they could in everything they did.

“She said it so much to me that I knew it by heart,” Curry said.

All that you do, do with your might.  Things done by half are never done right.  All that you do, do with a zeal.  Those that reach the top, have to climb the hill.

Touching moments

If some of the white people of the time were uncomfortable touching blacks, the black friends and family who came to the store were the opposite.

They’d reach out, touch her and say “It’s so good to see you” when they came in, Curry recalled.

Her mother was especially proud.

“Out of all the girls, they chose her to be there,” said Mrs. Fisher, now 91, who also lives in Springfield.

“I was excited about it, really I was,” she continued. “All my whole family — my sisters, everyone — I was just telling everybody. And I still tell it now.”

Curry said the Woolworth’s experience helped her to feel a part of the larger community.

Already with a sense that Woolworth’s was a cut above the competitors of Kresge and McCrory’s, Curry soon got to know the downtown merchants as they stopped into Woolworth’s — people like William Greene, owner of an exclusive dress shop.

“I could go into stores and they’d let me lay things away. A lot of time black people couldn’t go into those stores,” she said.

Knowing as a customer, the mistress of one of the downtown businessmen also marked her as an insider.

“I felt like I was part of Springfield because I was doing those things,” Curry said.

“It wasn’t that I wanted to be white. I was being accepted for who I was, making the best of it. And I said some day I’ll tell these stories to my grandchildren, and they’ll love it.”

SOURCE

prom night in mississippi

ONE TOWN. TWO PROMS.
UNTIL NOW.

1954
The U.S. Supreme Court orders the integration of all segregated schools in America, including all their events.

1970
The town of Charleston, Mississippi, finally allows black students into their one high school. White parents refuse to integrate the school Graduation Dance, starting a tradition of separate, parent-organized White Proms and Black Proms.

2008

Change happens.

Oh. My. Goodness. Guys did you see this!?  Last night was the premiere of the HBO documentary Prom Night in Mississippi.  It was just so darn good.  One of my favorite documentaries ever!  In case you haven’t heard, the town of Charleston, MS had been holding two separate, segregated proms since the schools integrated in 1970.  Morgan Freeman offered to pay for the prom in 2007 if  they would just hold one for all of the students.  His offer was declined.  He tried again in 2008 and his offer was accepted.  The film exposes the climate of race relations in Mississippi and makes clear that this up and coming generation must make a conscious choice to break the cycle of division.

PNIMbutton230B

I have long been a fan of Morgan Freeman.  Probably since the first time I saw the movie Glory. Then he sealed the deal with Robin Hood and Shawshank.  Anyway, I was inspired by the way he spoke to the students and handled the adults on the school board, but the most poignant Morgan moment for me was when he said “If I go around hating you because you have blond hair and blue eyes, I’m doomed. You’re fine, but I’m doomed.”  I believe that with all my heart.  I’m always saying that this racism thing is a double edged sword.  On the surface it may seem like it’s just those being discriminated against who are being hurt by it, but I’ve always felt that most of the damage is done to the discriminator.  I just loved hearing him say that.

apr2709-promnight

There is a section of the film where the students are so openly talking about the ways they’ve been taught to be racist and pondering why this could be.  Some of the white kids come to the conclusion that it must be that their people don’t want mixed kids in their family.  That’s why the adults are so afraid of an integrated prom.  We’re told that one parent said, “I don’t want no n****r grinding up on my daughter.  I won’t have no mixed kids in this family.”  The fact that people think this way is certainly not news to me.  It’s my history.  I know it well.  And yet, I was so uncomfortable hearing it spoken aloud.  Like kinda squirmy.

There is one interracial couple in the film.  Heck, there is probably one interracial couple in the whole town, and they happen to be students at the school.  They do not hold hands in public.  They have never been on a date because her father, who insists that he is not racist, will not allow it.  He hasn’t “whooped her or nothin”, but he grounded her and took her phone away.  To his dismay she overcame it all and is still dating Jeremy.  They got the most applause during the senior walk at the prom.

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There are so many things I want to relay, but really I think you should just see the film.  Please.