Regennia N Williams, PhD
Distinguished Scholar of African American History and Culture
For the keepers of traditions in a variety of faith communities, women’s attire has long been viewed as more than just a fashion statement. Among those who engage in corporate worship activities, head coverings, for example, are often related to beliefs about modesty, outward signs of respect, unity, and the establishment of a sense of community. This fall 2020 series of articles on Faith, Family, and Fashion will shed light on different traditions in Northeast Ohio and encourage area families to share personal stories and images related to keeping religious traditions alive during COVID-19, even when large gatherings for worship and other purposes were sometimes discouraged.
While preparing to write my introduction for the series, I thought about “Hattitude Sunday,” a celebration that became increasingly popular among many Christian women following the publication of Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats in 2000. The publication’s beautiful black and white photographs and quotes from many of the women in those photographs document the pride that is associated with looking your best, especially on Sunday morning, and doing your best to support the church, an institution that historian W.E.B. Du Bois described as both a “social center” of Black community life and a “religious center of great power.”
As children attending Sunday morning worship services at Cleveland’s New Joshua Missionary Baptist, my siblings and I looked forward to the annual Easter programs that provided opportunities for us to wear Easter bonnets and chapeaus and hone our public speaking skills during special holiday pageants.
In recent years, as young people, in particular, began to embrace the sneaker culture and more casual attire for school, work, and worship, I have always been pleasantly surprised to meet those faithful members of a special sisterhood of Black church women who continue to wear their crowns with style and grace. For them, every Sunday is “Hattitude Sunday.”
As ministers or the spouses of ministers, music directors, worship leaders, deaconesses, missionaries, Sunday school teachers, and church mothers, these women hold respected positions of great responsibility, and their life stories help to inspire other members of their families, their congregations, and their communities.
For this reason, I asked Mrs. Tonya Byous, an accomplished educator and a church and community leader in her own right, to help me launch what I hope will be an intergenerational, interreligious dialogue about Faith, Family, and Fashion, by telling the story of her grandmother, Mrs. Zephrine Burks. We look forward to sharing the details of Mrs. Burks’ life story along with those of other women in the coming weeks. We also welcome your suggestions for women that we might include in this series.
For more information about the Share Your Story initiative, please click Here.
1st Image: (In 2014, the women of the East View United Church of Christ in Shaker Heights, Ohio welcomed the opportunity to participate in the congregation’s “Hattitude Sunday” program. Pictured here (left to right) are Marian Elder, Jacqueline Johnson, and Jewell Kirkland. They are holding gift copies of Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry. Photograph courtesy of Regennia N. Williams.)
2. (Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats in 2000.)
3. (Left to right: Lana, Regennia, and Nathaniel Williams, Jr. at the New Joshua Missionary Baptist Church, c. 1963. Photo courtesy of Regennia N. Williams.)
4. Mrs. Zephrine Burks. Photo courtesy of Tonya Byous.)