Black Print with a White Carnation: Mildred Brown and the Omaha Star Newspaper, 1938-1989

By Amy Helene Forss | Go to book overview

3
Politics of Respectability

“Wake up! Wake up! And give these future citizens an opportunity to develop into the kind of men and women to which you can point to with pride.” Like a mother shaking her offspring, Mildred Brown Gilbert scolded her readers for not paying enough attention to themselves and their children. It was time to stop “expecting God and white folks” to do what the community could do by itself. If Omaha’s largest minority, especially its black youth, only knew “what to wear, how to wear it, when to wear it and where to wear it,” the mainstream population would take the black community more seriously. As the black matriarch of the neighborhood, Mildred insisted that the Near North Side could “wipeout mass ignorance” by learning proper etiquette. It was a common solution employed by black middle-class women associated with racial uplift organizations such as the Phyllis Wheatley Club and the Urban League. Like many other black American women in the twentieth century, Brown adhered to what Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham labeled as the politics of respectability.1

Higginbotham’s Righteous Discontent explained how this middleclass phenomenon originated among black Baptist women at the 1900 Woman’s Convention. By mirroring the white middle-class cult of true womanhood ideals, the politics of respectability supplied the foundation from which African American church women demanded complete equality with white America. Creating a mainstream respectability also refuted northern white misconceptions of southern black migrants. While the politics of respectability empowered women, it also created a counter middle-class image: “Their discursive contestation was not directed solely at white Americans; the black Baptist

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Black Print with a White Carnation: Mildred Brown and the Omaha Star Newspaper, 1938-1989
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Part 1- Laying the Foundation 19
  • 1- A Family of Fighters 21
  • 2- Involving the Community 43
  • 3- Politics of Respectability 59
  • Part 2- Ensuring Her Success 81
  • 4- Working within Her Space 83
  • 5- Collective Activism and the de Porres Club 101
  • 6- Restricted Housing and ‘Rithmetic 123
  • Part 3- Transferring Ownership to the Community 141
  • 7- Changing Strategies for Changing Times 143
  • 8- The Death of An Icon 165
  • Notes 179
  • Bibliography 211
  • Index 233
  • In the Women in the West Series 242
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