A profusion of flowers adorns this wide-brimmed hat worn by journalist Ethel L. Payne (1911-1991). A photo from the early 1960s shows Payne, whose love of hats bloomed in early adulthood, wearing this pistachio hat with panache. Accented with a matching bow and tulle, the custom hat bears a bouquet bursting with pink roses, velvety violets, green leaves, and glass grapes, all stitched to the hat by hand. Both wide-brim and floral hats remained popular during much of Payne’s reporting career, from the 1940s to the 1970s. However, fancy hats, sometimes known as “crowns,” continue to hold special significance as an African American cultural tradition. A Chicago native, Payne moved to Washington, DC in 1952 to cover national and international news for the leading African American newspaper, The Chicago Defender. The lifelong civil rights activist reported from thirty countries over the course of her trailblazing career, becoming known as the First Lady of the Black Press.
Ethel Lois Payne Collection, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Gift of Avis R. Johnson.