Jacqueline Moore with Friends and Family (c. the 1960s)
Jacqueline Ella Moore is a woman who’s seen a lot of history. At 79, she’s lived through the assassination of John F. Kennedy, racial segregation, Watergate, and 911. Relaxing back into a brown easy chair in her living room, clad in a roomy black tee and matching pants, she tells me, “I was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on December 19, 1938. Part of the time I spent with my father’s mother, Grandma Watson, in Luther, Oklahoma, and part of the time I spent with my mother’s mother, Grandma Poole in Fairfield, Alabama, while growing up. She had all of her children’s children then,” she said.
Essie Poole’s Hat (c. the 1950s)
Oklahoma: My Hometown
Sometimes known as the Sooner State, Oklahoma received statehood, as the 46th state, on November 16, 1903. Cosmopolitan with a small town feel, Moore’s parents Bernyce and Bennie Watson left their hometown, Luther, Oklahoma for Oklahoma City, Oklahoma when they got married in June 1938. “They lived in an apartment,” she said. “My mother was a homemaker and my father made about $14 a week working in a furniture store as a janitor.”
Vintage Bead Necklaces (c. the 1960s)
Dissatisfied with their claustrophobic, structured life in Oklahoma, her parents decided to move to California in 1940. Nicknamed the Golden State it has always drawn outsiders because of its tolerance towards various lifestyles and ethnicities. “It was nice to finally live in a place where everyone didn’t know everyone else’s business,” Bernyce Watson said once.
When the Watson’s came to L.A., in 1940, they were part of a boom that caused California’s population to quadruple through 1990. From 1946 to 1948 they joined the group of “working-class African-Americans” who moved to Watts, California. “My mother’s sister, Essie and her husband Floyd, were really the first of our family to come out here,” Moore said. “They were living in Pueblo Projects when I came out, at six, with my cousin Andrea on the train.”
Downtown Los Angeles, photo by Daisy Naranjo
The Changing City
Many things have changed the energy of the city-immigration, crime and socio-economic issues-but the phenomenon that affected Moore the most then was geographical racism. “At that time, if you were Black, they assumed you were poor so that meant we lived in Jordan Downs Projects,” she said. Somewhat vague about direct experiences with prejudice, she insists children aren’t aware of that type of thing, and when she was growing up she just recalls they only went where they were welcome. “I was looking at a television program, the other day about Clifton’s Cafeteria, and I realized when I saw a lot of African-Americans in the picture, that that was one of the few places we were allowed to go.”
Moving Out of Watts, California
In 1948, even though Moore moved to a house on Chesapeake Avenue with her parents, she still came back to Watts to visit her Grandma and Grandpa Poole. “I actually stayed with them until the school year was out, on 108th Street, in a duplex that belonged to my Uncle Graff,” she said. Her grandfather was very loquacious and loved befriending people in the neighborhood. One of his favorites was Sabato (Simon) Rodia (1879-1965) “an Italian immigrant, construction worker and tile mason” who created The Watts Towers of Simon Rodia out of discarded bottles and other recyclables he found.
“We always laughed at him, and thought he was crazy because he walked around with a little red wagon full of junk,” she said.
The move to Chesapeake resulted in a large cultural shift, from the predominately African-American and Hispanic environment of Watts to a mixture of ethnicities, especially the Japanese on the Westside. Again Moore insists she didn’t notice any bias while attending Virginia Road Elementary School then. Unfortunately, at Mount Vernon Junior High, when a White teacher refused to let her enter her class in a borrowed coat because it was dirty, she couldn’t deny it existed. Instead of meekly walking back out, she acted in a manner characteristic of her familial background, and responded, “You don’t buy my clothes or pay for my cleaning.”
With the phenomenal box office success of Black Panther awareness of African-American style, and how it influences the fashion industry, has been in the news lately. Writer Fawnia Soo Hoo, in The Costume, Hair, and Makeup in Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’ Are A Celebration of Black Culture and Heritage (The Costume, Hair, and Makeup In Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’ Are A Celebration of Black Culture and Heritage, www.fashionista.com) wrote, “The costume, hair, and makeup were designed to create new, never-before-seen, and sure-to-be-iconic looks and personas…” Going back to the late 1940s and 1950s, when Moore was in elementary through high school, the popular styles for young girls were full skirts, shirtwaist dresses, and waist-length button-down cardigan sweaters. To reflect the middle-class lifestyle they’d attained, thanks to her husband’s self-employment with Busy Bee Maintenance, a rug cleaning business and junk enterprise in Watts, Bernyce Watson dressed Moore presentably and well.
Jacqueline Moore’s Beaded Cardigan Sweater (c. The 1950s)
Fashion Just Wasn’t Her Thing
“I never cared that much about clothing,” she said. “Still my mother dressed me like a paper doll, because she was competing with her sisters, and showing them how well off she was.” Always stylish, and matchy-matchy, she remembers for school she usually wore dresses, pleated and gathered skirts and jumpers. “I really wanted to wear straight skirts but I was too skinny then,” she said. Within walking distance, from Dorsey High School, of Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall she claims she primarily shopped at two department stores, the May Co. and The Broadway.
Despite a conscientiously chic mother, who usually wore slacks and coordinating tops, Moore’s passion for dressing up waned after she retired as an Administrative Assistant for Hughes Aircraft Company. She attributes it to weight gain and less money for clothes upon retirement. Other factors could also be the increasing casualness of today’s mainstream styles and a lack of guidance for older customers from retail establishments.
From the perspective of Black Panther it appears the movie proves African-Americans have come a long way, but when I asked Moore if she thought the culture was in a better or worse place, she said, “We’re worse off, because kids today take it for granted everything our generation achieved for them like desegregation and the vote. They don’t seem to be interested, in the history of Dr. King and our other Black leaders either, which is in contrast to the sixties and seventies when we were aware of and care about everything.”