Originally posted on Daily Kos
Written by: Denise Oliver Velez
I remember the first time I saw the photo above. I thought about the hundreds of times I had seen “Rosie the Riveter,” who became the symbol for World War II women workers, and whose image was adopted by the feminist movement. Rosie was white. This woman was not.
I knew black women worked in war factories. My mom worked in a parachute factory in Maryland during the war. I hadn’t seen photos of them either, though I finally tracked one down.
I didn’t grow up with the idea that women were housewives who stayed home, and that going out of the home to work was something extraordinary because of wartime. The women in my family worked. They worked from sun-up to past sundown when they were enslaved, and after emancipation they worked as domestics, nannies, cooks, seamstresses, hairdressers, nurses, and schoolteachers. My college-educated great aunt Martha was a barber in the Woodward & Lothrop department store in D.C. (which was affectionately known as ‘Woodies’), the first black woman to hold that job. She was applauded by white people for ‘breaking a barrier’ and as a credit to her race and gender. I always thought it would have been more just had she been given a job as an educator, because of her training.
The women I knew who ‘stayed home’ were often taking care of the children of family and neighbors who did work, providing off-the-books day care.
I didn’t grow up with the idea that black men didn’t work. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) explores the history of the “shiftless and lazy stereotype” of black people.