Fears Shared by Families of Sunny Nash and Lena Horne

“...fear can’t take over a body unless a body gives in to it,” said Bigmama in Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s by Sunny Nash. whose book explores real as well as seemingly irrational fears people feel in their daily quest for survival.
By: ksun
Sunny Nash Signing Books Los Angeles
Sunny Nash Signing Books Los Angeles
Sept. 11, 2010 - PRLog -- What people fear is a topic addressed by the formerly nationally syndicated columnist, Sunny Nash, in her book, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, which is comprised of Nash’s columns for Hearst and Knight-Ridder newspapers, and recommended by the Association of American University Presses as a tool for understanding race relations in America.

In “Cousin Hudge, the Traveling Fiddler,” an essay from Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s by Sunny Nash, the author writes: “After slavery, lots more Indians hid out and mixed with Africans to keep from being put in the pen or killed,” Bigmama said. “Cut off their hair and they blended right in (into black families).”

Similarly, Lena Horne's grandfather, Edwin Frank Horne, who was Native American, continued to pass as African American in New York after migrating there from Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he had published and edited a black newspaper, Justice. According to Lena Horne's biographer, James  Gavin, "Astonishingly, Edwin wasn't even a Negro, but the son of a white Englishman and a Native American mother. During Reconstruction, Native Americans had suffered worse discrimination than blacks. For his children's sake, he'd decided to pass as Negro."  

In “Faces on Dark Thrones,” another essay from Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, Sunny Nash explores her great aunt’s fear-based beliefs and her grandmother’s explanation of them. Nash writes: I walked into the darkened bedroom through a blistered doorway that, in 1954, when I was only five years old, seemed very tall to me. Inside the room, heavy draperies sagged from two narrow floor-to-ceiling windows, sealed shut so long ago that several seasons of dead houseflies lined their sills. My Great-Aunt Sis said the carpenters had painted the windows shut when they worked on the house back in the forties. But, according to my grandmother, Bigmama, Aunt Sis lied about the windows. Bigmama said the windows were not painted shut at all. Aunt Sis had ordered the workmen to nail them shut because she was afraid.

“Afraid of what?” I asked.
“Everything!” Bigmama said. “Her own shadow, owl hoots, and even night falling.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Some of my people have lived three generations with one eye open over their shoulder,” Bigmama said. “Fear is bred in prairie blood, always on the run. Afraid the ghost of some old dead soldier will pop out their eyes and lock them up in a pen. Sis passed that awful curse to my children since she has none of her own. But fear can’t take over a body unless a body gives in to it.”

The Prairie People Bigmama referred to were the remnant bands of Amerindians—full- and half-bloods--particially or wholely absorbed into other American cultures in the United States like Sunny Nash's and Lena Horne's families, sinking deeper and deeper into those other cultures until they virtually disappeared into their new society, accepting the restrictions of their new status that included not being able to try on clothing before purchasing items and facing general non-return policies in clothing stores.

"Bigmama’s father, my great grandfather, Primus Minor, was one such case of a dark-skinned Amerindian marrying into and hiding among the members of a black family because African Americans were treated better than Native Americans in some places in Texas and other parts of the United States," Nash said. "Race and racism are more complicated concepts than they first appear to be. In my book, I explore both concepts from the perspective of my grandmother, Bigmama."  

Below is a video in which Nash reads from her book, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, and shares pictures of some of her ancestors.

“Sunny Nash's writing makes readers feel they are there, experiencing the characters' anxieties, fears, joys, and hope, according to Rebecca C. Burgee, Pimmit Hills Alternative High School in Falls Church, Virginia. “Young people will learn a lot from this book; it is poignant in its teachings about discrimination.”

”Indeed, Bigmama had a stoic bearing which combined with a wry sense of humor to produce a genre of cryptic, often cautionary witticisms all her own,” wrote Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, Mississippi Quarterly, Vol. 51, 1998. ”Bigmama delivered one of these gems, for instance, in response to young Nash's materialistic yearnings before Christmas one year. Nash, excited by the glitter of downtown holiday decorations, told her grandmother, "I want to go window shopping," to which Bigmama replied, "Get the catalog"

Sunny Nash’s book, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, can be purchased from all major bookstores as well as the Republic of Texas Museum in Austin, operated by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, whose mission since 1891 has been to preserve Texas heritage and historic structures and landmarks around the state, such as the Alamo and stories like those in Sunny Nash’s book, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s.
Buy Now - Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s: http://sunnynash.blogspot.com/p/bigmama-didnt-shop-at-woo...

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About Sunny Nash: Author of Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's, Sunny Nash is an award-winning writer, photographer, producer and public speaker. Nash's work appears in the African American National Biography by Harvard and Oxford Universities; African American West, A Century of Short Stories; Reflections in Black, A History of Black Photography 1840 - Present; Ancestry Magazine and Ancestry.com; The Companion to Southern Literature: Themes, Genres, Places, People; Black Genesis: A Resource Book for African-American Genealogy; African American Foodways: Explorations of History and Culture; Southwestern American Literature Journal and many other anthologies and collections. Nash is listed and quoted in reference editions: The Source: a guidebook to American genealogy; Bibliographic guide to Black studies; Interdisciplinary journal for Germanic linguistics and semiotic analysis; Ebony Magazine; Southern Exposure; Hidden Sources: Family History in Unlikely Places; and other research.
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