What's It Wednesday #10
|The Laroche family|
We all know the story of the RMS Titanic that struck an iceberg during her maiden voyage on a beautiful calm April night in 1912 and slowly sank in the North Atlantic. What many people are not aware of is the fact that aboard that ship was one black family. Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Laroche and their daughters, Simmone and Louise were traveling from France to Haiti, which was the birthplace of Joseph. Even though Joseph studied to be an engineer in France, racial discrimination in France made it quite difficult for Joseph to get a high-paying job. The family’s only option was to return to Haiti. The Laroche family traveled second class on the Titanic, since 1st class was sold out. The couple was expecting their third child at the time they boarded the ship. Due to the fact that the Laroche’s were an interracial couple, they were harassed and taunted at every turn. After the historic ship struck an iceberg, Joseph loaded his wife and children onto a lifeboat. That would be the last time they saw each other because he went down with the ship.
Shortly after the Civil War, railroad businessman George Pullman crafted "sleeping cars" from regular passenger cars. This led to the hiring of many former slaves. These men were called Pullman Porters and were later known for their attention to detail, and the level of service they provided the passengers.
I collect Pullman Porter memorabilia in honor of these very hard working men. They not only worked for very low wages, but were overworked and dealt with countless indignities on the job. These gentlemen were also credited for the development of the black middle class. Many black families were afforded the opportunity to send their children to colleges and universities as early as the late 19th century.
When I was a little girl, there was a show that came on the television called "Julia". Whatever it was the adults always tuned in. I would later find out that this was a ground-breaking sitcom in that it was the very first time that an African-American female was in the non-stereotypical role such as a maid. Actress Diahann Carroll played the lead as nurse Julia Baker who was a widowed single mother. Her husband was a fighter pilot who had been shot down in Vietnam. When I became an adult collector, one of the first things I had to find was a Julia lunch box, just like the one I had as a little girl. She is proudly displayed in my kitchen.
Also in my kitchen is this placard of Uncle Remus. He is a fictional character that is an old slave who told stories about animals and a variety of old folklore. Children would gather around to hear an Uncle Remus story. Uncle Remus spoke with the slave dialect of the Deep South. Br'er Rabbit (Brother Rabbit) is the main character of his stories. Many of Uncle Remus' stories were and still are considered politically incorrect, culturally incensitive, and racist.
When we see Aunt Jemima, we think of a delicious breakfast of hot fluffy pancakes. This was not always the case. The character of Aunt Jemima dates back to the mid 1800s as a prominent character in minstrel shows. Some Aunt Jemima's were presented by performers in blackface. The character was later adopted for commercial use. Once she was used for commercial use she wore a 'kerchief on her head and an apron. At one point a former slave was used to act as the Aunt Jemima pancake mix spokesperson. Many viewed Aunt Jemima as the male "Uncle Tom" and therefore she was not necessarily regarded highly in the African-American community since she was seen as the stereotypical African-American female. Have you noticed Aunt Jemima's updated new look?
In the mid 1990s, the Mattel toy company joined forces with Nabisco to promote Barbie with Oreo cookies. This doll is called the Oreo Fun Barbie. The idea was little girls across the nation could play with Barbie and eat Oreos. There was just one problem. The term "Oreo" is offensive in the black community. It mean't that you were a black person on the outside but "acted white" on the inside. This reference included any black person who was able to speak the Queen's English or had any ambitions to do well. Needless to say, Mattel recalled the Barbie and it is one of the most sought after by collectors. Since I was one of those who was frequently called an "Oreo" in high school, I treated myself to my own Oreo Barbie.
As a scrapbooker, I am so grateful to have in my possession my grandmother's college scrapbook. I read it all the time. Every time I read it I discover something new. It is chock-full of historical references, pictures, schedules, menus, newspaper articles, and dance cards. Her World War II scrapbook is also equally as amazing.
In the scrapbook I found this certificate my grandmother received in 1932 for participating in a tree planting ceremony. This had so much significance for me due to the my own environmental and conservation efforts. She definitely planted a seed.
This is the program from when my grandmother graduated from college in 1932.
I had read my grandmother's scrapbooks hundreds of times. One particular day, I really focused on the people who were in attendance at her graduation. I almost fell out of my chair when I realized that Dr. Carter G. Woodson gave the Commencement Address at my grandmother's graduation from Florida A & M College (Now University) in 1932. Dr. Woodson was a noted African-American historian, author, journalist and the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. This is the man that is known as the "Father of Black History". 1926 was the beginning of Negro History Week which is now known as Black History Month which occurs every year in February.
I am so grateful for having been blessed with a grandmother who taught me the value of history and its people. She taught me to have pride and to never be prejudice.
What are some of your favorite moments in history?
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