An Epic Era in Black History

Posted by Danyell Twyman on Feb 26, 2015 5:11:00 PM


LIM College is celebrating Black History Month, a celebration that seems especially poignant this year given the number of racial conflicts that took place over the course of 2014 and spilled into 2015. It’s important to remember that the successes of the Civil Rights Era have not meant total victory for equality.

The Civil Rights Era produced iconic images and figures in politics and popular culture. As I sit down to write this article, I'm trying to figure out how I, as a black woman, can compare black history in the 1960’s to today, and what the relationship is between our culture and that culture. 

Self-identity and personal agency were the running themes in the 1960's and 70's; it was an era in which black people wanted to be identified by who they were as individuals and not by the color of their skin. Personal style, of course, was important, as it is a manifestation of self-expression--I mean choosing your identity rather than having it imposed upon you. Three examples to consider--of many--are Malcolm X, The Supremes, and Marvin Gaye.

Malcolm's browline glasses created the image of strength and power that complimented his controversial message and powerful protests. Like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., his insistence on a professional appearance--and his glasses in particular--represented study, contemplation, seriousness and intelligence.


Source: Wikimedia Commons

There were also The Supremes, their wigs and their glamorous and extravagant outfits. Whether it was their gorgeous gowns, false eyelashes, or dramatic makeup, they were front-runners in style and beauty for black women and created a boom in black cosmetics.


Source: Wikimedia Commons

Then there was Marvin Gaye’s knit cap, which is suggestive of creative struggle--it is a digression from the slicker, more commercial look he carried through most of the 1960's and reflected change and introspection. Gaye would transition from his pop hits in the 1960's to his 1971 masterpiece What's Going On--generally considered to be one the greatest albums ever made--about which, according to Rolling Stone, he said, "In 1969 or 1970, I began to re-evaluate my whole concept of what I wanted my music to say...I was very much affected by letters my brother was sending me from Vietnam, as well as the social situation here at home. I realized that I had to put my own fantasies behind me if I wanted to write songs that would reach the souls of people. I wanted them to take a look at what was happening in the world."


Source: Wikimedia Commons

It will be interesting to see what small hallmarks of self-expression develop again as these issues persist for a new generation.

Topics: culture, black history month

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