I spend so much time looking forward, sometimes I need a reminder to look back, marvel, and appreciate how far we've come.
I got a wonderful reminder from esteemed Caribbean-born author Nalo Hopkinson, who sent me a link to Yale's online Beinecke archive of rare books and manuscripts. In the Randolph Linsly Simpson African American Collection there are "vivid pictures of black life and American racial attitudes from the 1850s to the 1940s." Some are astounding, some are surprising, some are sad. All are worth seeing, absorbing, and appreciating.
This full length portrait of Zumigo; lady in very fancy dress and huge Afro, standing next to gigantic basket prop" was taken in 1880. WOW at her stunning hair! And her style is giving me inspiration – a ruffled skirt with a pair of flat boots might be in order this spring, for real.
This is titled "Sissaretta Jones, "the Black Patty" singer, entertainer, leader of a musical company." The photograph is undated, but Sissieretta Jones lived from 1868 to 1933, and she was a popular opera singer who performed at the White House for Presidents Harrison, Cleveland, McKinley, and Roosevelt – as well as the British Royal Family. Her life story is amazing.
This portrait of young black woman wearing a gingham dress and gold (tinted) jewelry is dated 1860. Unlike some vintage photos where even the woman's face looks evocative of a previous era, I think this woman possesses a timeless beauty.
Love this portrait of a "woman with "Afro" hair dressing" from 1880. Please check out her outfit – not sure if it's a top, or a dress. But the shoulder details are FLY and that's the kind of thing I see fashionistas rocking today!
WOW at this cameo portrait of a lady wearing spectacles; hair dressing comes to a point; elaborate dark dress. Was that the hot style back in the day? That hair is statement making and I bet the quality and age of the cameo portrait doesn't reveal any of its intricacy. Dated 1895.
There's something radiant and lovely in this cameo portrait of a young lady with with elaborate lace dress front..
I wish there was more detail here. I'd love to know what products these women used on their hair and skin, what their lives were like…so much more. But for now all we have are these stunning photographs. I hope you love them as much as I do.
This post originally appeared on the blog Afrobella. Republished with permission.