Black people have been fabulous for a long time and author/writer/social media maven Nichelle Gainer knew it. That’s why she created the Tumblr site Vintage Black Glamour (now also on Facebook, Twitter Pinterest and Instagram to showcase the style and glamour of Black people while also providing a window onto a history that tells more than just the story of slavery.
Vintage Black Glamour is a visual record of movie stars, singers, models, writers, dancers, students, politicians, athletes and even regular folks who were well-dressed, sophisticated and gorgeously turned out. All the images are accompanied by historical information that includes who is pictured and what they accomplished, In many cases, there are surprising historical moments similar to our own Little Known Black History Facts.
Gainer’s intent was always to create a lavish coffee table book to showcase that history and that has come to pass. In June, Essential World/Rocket 88 Books will publish her dream come true – a book that proves that style, fashion and sophistication are also a significant part of our history. We caught up with Gainer to ask what the book and the vision were all about.
Blackamericaweb.com: What gave you the idea for Vintage Black Glamour in the first place?
Nichelle Gainer: I started the Tumblr site to generate interest for what I always knew would be a book. I conceived Vintage Black Glamour in 20005 as the coffee table book that it would be. I came up with the idea because I love coffee table books. I’d go to any number of bookstores and you’d see awesome books with Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and some of the great socialites like Babe Paley. In researching a novel, I saw an array of Black people from all walks of life and I was disappointed but not surprised that I didn’t see more of that in coffee table books. The other reason was my two aunts. One was a fashion model in the 50’s in fashion shows and beauty contests and another aunt was an opera singer. I knew there were more women like both of my aunts.
You’ve gotten a great response to Vintage Black Glamour through social media. Did that surprise you?
I was surprised how fast it grew. But I knew there were more people like me. I’m no different than anyone else. I grew up in the 80’s and my textbooks didn’t have a lot of Black history cultural or otherwise. There were the standard things in there so I knew people had things missing from their history books just like I did. I knew there would be people knocked out by the pictures like I was. Not just the celebrities but [other people.] Information is powerful. I’m flattered when teachers tell me they’ve used some of the things we’ve shared or when parents tell me they’re going to have their kids to do a report someone we’ve shown that they never heard of before. So that’s what it’s about so people can get the fullness of our history because Black history is American history.
Do you think these images make a difference in the way that people view African-Americans?
I had a writer I respect very much call me an image activist. I guess I am, in a way. A lot of images I put up are to counteract things. We have the right to be as mediocre or rachet as anyone else, but let’s not forget our excellence. Let’s not forget our contributions and beauty and our style and our grace and our intelligence. Let’s not forget that. I think it makes a difference if I put up a picture on Veteran’s Day of two Navy men in the 40’s serving their country in a time when they could not get a coffee in most places. I think it’s powerful to put up a picture of Jane Matilda Bolin, the first Black woman to graduate from Yale Law School. I think that’s its powerful to show Lena Horne at a Paris fashion show in the 50’s. I know some people say ‘I don’t need to see a Black ice skater to know I can skate.’ That’s fine. But some people do.
People often look at Black history in terms of suffering and oppression. Yet these pictures show that people were still accomplishing and achieving even in difficult times.
It’s important to keep it going whether it’s at Vintage Black Glamour or other channels. Part of the reason that John H. Johnson started Ebony magazine was because he wanted people to know that Negroes get married and have parties and weddings and live their lives and go to concerts and shop for shoes just like everyone else. It’s a shame but it’s always a push to recognize our humanity. The typical things that are known about Black History Month are the same things. All Black history is not negative. Even in the midst of those things, people lived their lives. They enjoyed their lives at some point, even in the midst of these terrible things. Not all of our history is depressed and downtrodden. We need to know the fullness of our history and I think learning about the happy, interesting, different parts of it is fun and empowering.
Vintage Black Glamour, the coffee table book, will be released this June. To join the mailing list and be notified about the book’s release, click here.