I was the Mistress of Ceremonies for a National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) event recently. This year marks their Fourth Annual Breakfast of Honor, Women of Many Hats, which recognizes women of courage and strength.
I made a presentation on my new book – N’DIGO Legacy Black Luxe: 110 African-American Icons of Contemporary History – to the 500 ladies at their breakfast. I was delighted to see women of stature who were educated, nicely dressed and who wore hats – church hats and fashionable hats.
It was a cross-generational affair where they presented a scholarship to a young woman who has been accepted to 27 different colleges to study engineering. She cried real tears as she received yet another scholarship. These young women are taught to go forward, become educated and return to your communities to do well.
Mary McLeod Bethune called the National Council of Negro Women the ‘organization of organizations.’
The legendary educator Mary McLeod Bethune founded this organization in 1935. She called the NCNW “the organization of organizations.” It is a non-profit with the mission of advancing opportunities and quality of life for African-American women, their families, and communities.
The NCNW fulfills this mission through research, advocacy, and national and community-based services and programs in the United States and Africa. With its 28 national affiliate organizations and its more than 200 community-based sections, NCNW has an outreach to nearly four million women, all contributing to the peaceful solutions to the problems of human welfare and rights.
Symbols Of Glory
Legendary powerhouse Dorothy Height chaired the organization from 1955 until 1997. She was involved in the Civil Rights Movement and worked with presidents dating back to the Roosevelts. Ms. Height was always perfectly groomed and seldom seen without her hat, the symbol of a well-dressed woman.
These ladies wore hats. As a breakaway from servitude and maid uniforms, Black women of yesteryear wore gloves and fancy hats to church on Sundays, adorned with ribbons, bows, flowers and feathers. The hats were symbols of glory, special and beautiful. The hats became church tradition for Black women, affectionately called “crowns.”
The event I emceed had a “Parade of Hats” where the women, of their own free will, strutted the aisles with their hats and the top three were voted a prize.
The President of the Chicago chapter is Mrs. Julie Annette Jones, and Ms. Andrea Botley is the Committee Chairwoman. These are not household names, but they should be. Their heads are down as they go about their work. They are a force.
It was a thrill to see the ladies in hats. I did not know to wear a hat that day and as I approached the stage, I stated it. I was given the prettiest princess-like hat by Mrs. Melinda Hill that perfectly topped my outfit.
As I cherished my hat gift, I thought about our traditions, our Black traditions that made us stand-up people. So many of these traditions have changed or been lost. I thought about the generation that Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation.” These are the people who went to war and built communities. Those ladies wore hats and gloves on Sundays as they dressed to the hilt.
The National Council of Negro Women is an organization comprised of Black women that have become educators, social workers and businesswomen, who have been involved in running their communities at every level. That ranges from being the stewards and mothers of the church to community organizations and what is now referred to as civic engagement.
They awarded each other for their professional achievements in business, excellence in education, community service, and they even honored a Woman of the Year. This organization holds true to the original values of Mrs. Bethune and carries on in fulfilling her mission of service and challenge.
This is a sisterhood organization for and about Black women. They gave out scholarships and public service awards to women of achievement. They demonstrated the courage and strength of Black womanhood.
They had fun. They are protectors of our people. They encourage. They achieve and they vote and they are the ladies who wear hats. I wonder what would happen if little girls of today had to wear hats to school.