Sunny Nash and Carolyn Smith Watts Honor Black Women in a book, BREAKING THROUGH, Lighting the Way

Sunny Nash and Carolyn Smith Watts celebrate 12 African American women who made a difference in the history of Long Beach, California, in the book, BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way.
Photograph by Carolyn Smith Watts
Photograph by Carolyn Smith Watts
Oct. 6, 2010 - PRLog -- This book is a testament to courageous women who lit new paths through perseverance and focus, said Sunny Nash, author of Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's (Texas A&M University) and among distinguished scholars from around the world who contributed to the eight-volume African American National Biography, edited by Henry Louis Gates and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, and produced by Harvard and Oxford.

“We all know women like Doris Topsy-Elvord, Wilma Powell, Vera Mulkey, Carrie Bryant, Alta Cooke, Bobbie Smith, Patricia Lofland, Evelyn Knight, Dale Clinton, Maycie Herrington, Autrilla Scott and Lillie Mae Wesley, even in our own families,” Nash said. “I created this model to show others how to commemorate women in their communities in a scholarly way, using journalistic guidelines in developing interview questions to elicit similar data across the range of female subjects.” Nash then edited the data, compiled the BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way book and produced a film to accompany the book.

Autrilla Scott, born in 1930, came to Long Beach in 1955. Scott, who is a published author and has a street named in her honor for community service, said, “Things do not always happen overnight. You have to be patient, especially when you are not the controlling factor.” Carrie Bryant, born in 1940 and came to Long Beach in 1960, is the first black educator to own and operate a private school in Long Beach. Bryant said, “The children in my school do not refuse to do anything they have been trained to do. I have three-year-old readers and spellers and speakers and singers. They are not a bit reluctant to compete because they have grown up learning.”

Carolyn Smith Watts, community activist and coordinator of the project, wrote the book's foreword. She said, “I am blessed to have known these women and I have a wonderful relationship with many. These 12 women have contributed over six-hundred years of experience to Long Beach. In the past fifty years, they have mothered hundreds of children, some of whom were their own and others were neighborhood children who needed love and support."

Doris Topsy-Elvord, born in 1931, the first African American female elected to the Long Beach City Council, said, “I believe my greatest contribution is showing people the advantages of doing the right thing.” Topsy-Elvord, also the city’s first  African American female Vice Mayor, was the first African American and the third woman to hold a position on the 100-year-old Harbor Commission for the Port of Long Beach, the second busiest U.S. harbor.

Maycie Herrington, born in 1918, who was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in 2007 for work at the Tuskegee Army Air Force Base during WWII, said, “One of my concerns today is that so many youth drop out of school. I cannot understand that. When I was in school it was such a privilege to go to school.” Evelyn Knight, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, said, “My advice to young people today is to be willing to challenge yourself and you must empower yourself through learning.”

BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way has been recognized by the Historical Society of Long Beach. Julie Bartolotto, Executive Director of the Historical Society of Long Beach and author of the book's preface, said, “Many women profiled in the book were part of that movement of people from the nation’s Deep South and Northeast to the West Coast. Their efforts made life better for their families and their community–and for current and future generations of Long Beach residents of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.”

Alta Cooke, born in Long Beach in 1936, the first African American high school principal In Long Beach (1987), said, “Get a good education. That is very important. Adversities happen. Go on. Do not think about the past except for the lessons the past can teach you. You have to meet the challenges and keep on stepping.” The late Lillie Mae Wesley, born in 1921, was a Parks and Recreation Supervisor and neighborhood parent. Wesley said, “To me, helping people is the most important thing a person can do in this life.”

Vera Mulkey, founding member of the African American Heritage Society of Long Beach, came to Long Beach in 1953 with her parents who were seeking jobs and a better education for their only daughter. Mulkey said, “My earnest desire is to make a difference in the lives of others.” Patricia Lofland, born in 1937, followed her parents to Long Beach in 1955. Lofland, who became the first African American member of the Long Beach City College Board of Trustees, said, “To young women, young mothers in particular, let your first career be raising your children…you only get one chance to mother your young children.”

Dale Clinton, born in 1927, wrote a 38-page letter to President Lyndon Johnson about poverty in America. She said, “Do what you want to do and don’t let anybody sway you.” Wilma Powell, the first female Chief Wharfinger for a U.S. Port, said, “I believe the number of women in positions to help other women up the ladder is growing.” Bobbie Smith, born in 1932, was the first African American woman to be elected to public office in Long Beach. Smith said, “One of the things that is so exciting about today is there are no barriers. Young woman can go wherever their abilities take them.”

“By living their lives beyond what seemed possible, these women demonstrated personal and professional survival and service to their fellow human beings, raising the level of goodness in the world,” said Nash, award-winning author whose book, Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s, is recognized by the American Association of University Presses as a useful tool for understanding race relations in the United States. “The contributions of these 12 women to their community are incalculable.”

A recurring theme in the conversations of this pioneering dozen was being prepared, meaning education, training and experience as the primary route they chose to become successful, advising the next generation of women to follow the same formula. However, all of the woman placed helping others, family and friends above any personal ambition they may have had for themselves. "Yes, of course, there are other women in our city with thousands of stories and each one invaluable," Smith Watts said. "And we are in the process of documenting the next generation in a project, Breaking Through: Young'uns.“

An internationally acclaimed photographer, Sunny Nash’s work is featured in Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers 1840 – Present, collected by the Smithsonian Institution; and recognized by Women In Photography International. Nash writes regularly for Ancestry Magazine and other historical publications, which she illustrates with her photography as well as historic reproductions.

Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s by Sunny Nash can be purchased at all major bookstores, domestic and international, as well as by following the link below.Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s by Sunny Nash:

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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. Her work appears in the African American National Biography by Harvard and Oxford; African American West, A Century of Short Stories; Reflections in Black, A History of Black Photography 1840 - Present; Ancestry Magazine; Companion to Southern Literature; Black Genesis: A Resource Book for African-American Genealogy; African American Foodways; Southwestern American Literature Journal and other anthologies. Nash is listed in references: The Source: a guidebook to American genealogy; Bibliographic Guide to Black Studies; Interdisciplinary Journal for Germanic Linguistics; Ebony Magazine; Southern Exposure; Hidden Sources: Family History in Unlikely Places; and others.

Bigmama Didn’t Shop At Woolworth’s by Sunny Nash:
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