“Crowns”

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Eastern Market hat stand, Washington, DC

Below are excerpts from the foreword to a book called “Crowns, Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats.” Written by Maya Angelou, the foreword is a beautiful description of their lives, the burdens they bear, and the comfort and joy they find in Sunday morning church services where they wear their hats. I stumbled upon it yesterday, and in reading it, I couldn’t help but think of the shooting that took place earlier this week at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and wondering, “What if?”

What if Dylann Roof could have found a way to appreciate the Black women in church hats and to understand that their lives are filled with daily struggles just like everyone else’s, just like his. What if he could have found what they have found in their Sunday morning church services — a community of people who understand them, a sense of peace, a sense of place, and joy? What if, instead of a gun and the anger, hate and rage that must’ve gone into pulling the trigger, he had found the equivalent of a Black woman’s church hat?

“Sundays are a precious gift to hardworking women who have labored unceasingly through the workweek. Remuneration is rarely commensurate with the outlay of energy. That is to say, working women work large and are paid small.

They generally use Saturdays to tend to home matters: i.e., to clean the house, wash and iron clothes, and cook for the coming week. They usually find their first deep breath around bedtime on Saturday night.

And then Halleluja, Hosanna! Sunday morning comes. If the woman is African American, she has some fancy hatboxes on a shelf in her closet. She will have laid out the clothes she plans to wear to church, the stockings and the shoes, but the choosing of the hat is saved for Sunday morning itself. The woman may, depending on how many she has, lay them all out, but not on the bed (it is said to be bad luck to put a hat on the bed). She may try on each hat two or three times before she dresses, just to see which one goes with her most recent hairdo.”

“She looks at her reflection from every possible angle. And then, she leaves home and joins the company of her mothers and aunties and sisters and nieces and daughters at church whose actions had been identical to hers that morning. They too had waited longingly for the gift of a Sunday morning. Now they stroll up and down the aisles of the church, stars of splendor, beauty beyond measurement. Black ladies in hats.”

— By Maya Angelou, from the Foreword to “Crowns, Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats,” a book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry.

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