December 24, 2021
Happy Holidays
Times to Remember 
Christmas morning, c. early twentieth century
This Christmas and holiday season COVID cases are raging, and some gifts are hard to find, but many are taking to the road or air to gather and spend time with friends and family. Christmas trees are decorated, wreaths hung, menus planned, and the warmth of the season abounds. We at The HistoryMakers understand that 2021 brought us many a challenge. So, for this season we would like to share with you some favorite Christmas stories out of The HistoryMakers archives. 
Nat King Cole and his daughter Natalie singing Christmas carols, 1955
Los Angeles City Council member David S. Cunningham, Jr. (1935 - 2017) recalled the overall feel of the Christmas season: “Growing up in northern Illinois… That first snow of the winter… the moon comes out and glistens on the snow… it's just an experience that you really can appreciate. And it really gives you a sense of Christmas and it really gives you a sense of Santa Claus and it really gives you a sense of Christmas caroling and it being cold and putting on an overcoat and wrapping up.”[1]
Left: Family Christmas portrait, c.1960s
Right: Carving a turkey at the dinner table, c.1960s
Civil rights lawyer Randolph Michael McLaughlin told of his large family gathering: “Christmastime… Families would come [to New York City] from Philadelphia [Pennsylvania], from Salem, Mass [Massachusetts] and they literally just camp out in the entire house. Sometimes we had twenty people living in the house. We had ten of us in one room, all piled up on beds and whatever… but it was a great time.”[2] New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow similarly recalled: “It was big meals and people gathering and all of the relatives would come… the adults would determine at whose house it would be celebrated that year and everyone would show up… [with] a lot of food. My mom [Freddie Mae Blow] and my grandmother are great cooks and we ate 'til we went to sleep.[3]
Left, left to right: Louis Stokes, Louise Stokes, and Carl Stokes, undated
Right: E. Ethelbert Miller, c.1956-57 and his father, Egberto Miller, undated
U.S. Congressman Louis Stokes (1925 - 2015), the first African American member of Congress from Ohio, remembered Christmas holidays as a time for quality family time: “Because of the nature of my mother's [Louise Stone Stokes] employment [domestic work] and the fact she couldn't be with us a lot of times, Christmas probably was our most special time. She always reserved being with us on Christmas. And while we were very, very poor… they were happy times because it gave Mom and Grandmother [Fannie Brinson Stone] and Carl [brother, Carl Stokes] and I a chance to just really be together and enjoy one another.”[4] Poet E. Ethelbert Miller similarly remembered time spent with his father: “Opposed to waking up… on Christmas Day, after Midnight Mass we would wait for my father [Egberto Miller] to come home. And when my father came home, we could open our presents… And that was always a nice time… it would be like two o'clock in the morning and we're up. And… my father would be there for a little while and then he would fall back to sleep… and then we would wake up like six, seven, or eight, and play with our new games and toys.”[5]
Left: A woman smiling in her kitchen, c.1950s
Right: Christmas dinner, c.1950s
Iola Johnson, the first African American news anchor in Dallas, spoke of her mother’s turkey: “My mother [Eurea Lee Hubbard Johnson] always made a big turkey for Christmas… she'd stuff the turkey and then put a little of the dressing on the outside… and then she'd put her handprint there and bake it, and once it was baked her handprint would still be there… and everybody wanted a piece of the handprint when the turkey… and the dressing were finally cooked.”[6] The Roots’ producer James Poyser told of his family celebrating Christmas West Indian style: [We had] turkey, stuffing, but the West Indian slant… [with] rice and peas and the curry chicken… plantains and that kind of thing… Everything that we did was to just get a Jamaican twist to it, which I love.”[7] For obstetrician Dr. Sharon Malone, Christmas is a time to observe family traditions: I still make the breakfast that my mother [Bertha Davis Malone] used to make for Christmas every year… I get up, and nobody in my house eats it but me… But my mother… would make… fried oysters and grits and eggs for Christmas breakfast.”[8]
Left: Christmas pageant, undated
Right: Josephine Baker and two of her children decorating for Christmas, undated
College administrator Charlestine Fairley spoke in her interview of her family’s traditions: “My [paternal] grandmother [Rosie Farmer Dawson] would start baking and sometimes my aunt and some of her friends would come and they'd start baking the cakes and the pies and making candy, pralines… during the holidays we'd go from house to house to sample cakes and the goodies that different people had… We always had a Christmas pageant… everybody looked forward to having a new outfit and getting your hair fixed… with the straightening comb and the curlers. One of my aunts was a beautician, so I could always count on having my Shirley Temple curls just right for the holidays.”[9] Co-founder of the National Blacks Arts Festival Stephanie Hughley added: “We would decorate and there were lights everywhere, big trees, angel hair… all over her tree. We would put a thousand ornaments and lights and we'd decorate the whole house.”[10] Board games were popular for banker Willard "Chuck" Lewis: “We were board game fanatics (chuckle)… I can't tell how many games of Monopoly we played, how many games of bid whisk… chess, you name it.”[11]
Sisters with their Christmas tree, c.1940s
Corporate lawyer Myra McDaniel (1932 - 2010) remembered: “At Christmas we always bought our tree… and we didn't decorate it 'til late Christmas Eve, and… we went to bed in hopes that Santa was coming… I still have some of the Christmas tree balls that my mother had during the war [World War II, WWII], because you couldn't use metal. We have some balls that have little cardboard things that you hang them by, and I can remember we used pipe cleaners… when we ran out of hooks, 'cause you couldn't go buy hooks.”[12] Bernard Beal, founder and CEO of M.R. Beal and Company, shared his family’s tree tradition: “My [maternal] grandfather [John H. Beal, Sr.] … if he got a Christmas tree, it would be Christmas Eve or Christmas Day when the guy who was selling them had abandon them (laughter)… He'd go out and get one, and it would be a scrawny ass little tree (laughter), it'll be anything no one else wanted.”[13]
Left: “Bringing Home the Tree,” undated
Right: Roger Gore’s mother Lillian holding his son Reuben, 2002
Beauty care owner Roger Gore spoke of one Christmas tree in particular: “I can remember my mother [Lillian Gore] … one special Christmas, I think I was probably around six… And that year something happened where we didn't get a Christmas tree… the house was kind of like sorrow because we're thinking there ain't no Christmas tree… And I can remember it was snowing that Christmas and I'm looking out the window… [and] you could see up the street, my mother is dragging a tree… and we're all going crazy… [And when] I got older I thought about it… in the snow my mother dragged a tree fourteen blocks… that was the devotion she had for us.”[14]
Children in front of their Christmas tree, Norfolk, Virginia, c.1960s
James L. Jackson, a lifelong civil servant, community activist, and resident of East Point, Georgia, told the story of his very first Christmas tree as a boy: “I stole my [maternal] grandfather's [James Meadows] saw and went to the woods… And an old white fellow was farmin' …and he ran us out… shootin' up in the air. And I broke my grandfather's saw in two tryin' to get it out the pine. That was the first Christmas tree I'd ever seen… We run with that tree, got to school [Bayard Street School, East Point, Georgia] … and stood it up. And… we made our decorations… I didn't know what a Christmas tree was 'cause our Christmas [at home] was a chair set beside the bed. Then, you wake up Christmas morning and they'd have two little pieces of hard candy, two jelly candies… One apple, one orange, and that was done.”[15]
Left: Advertisement for a Radio Flyer wagon, 1954
Right: A girl with her new doll and tricycle, undated
Tuskegee airman Dabney N. Montgomery (1923 - 2016) recalled some favorite Christmas gifts: “I remember a red wagon I received at Christmastime… That was a joyous thing, shining bright and new… and then… my first bicycle… And this was an exceptional bicycle… it was like a Cadillac. I had some fun (laughter) on that bicycle. That was my baby (laughter).”[16] Lisa Price, founder of Carol’s Daughter, remembered one Christmas, “when I was about six, I woke up in the middle of the night and he [her father, Robert Hairston, Jr.] was in the living room doing his holiday thing that… would miraculously take place every Christmas Eve. And, I guess he didn't want to get caught… So, he saw me coming out of my room and he's like, ‘What are doing?’ And, I said, ‘Oh, I need a tissue, my nose is running.’ So, he tears off some toilet tissue and shoves it through the door. And, it wasn't enough… and I was like, ‘Daddy, I need, more…’ So, I ended up getting like the whole roll shoved through the door in my room. And, then he stands in the living room and he goes… ‘Ho, ho, ho, good evening Mr. Hairston. Have your children been good today?’ (Laughter) And I'm in my room and I go, ‘Santa's here, I've gotta go to sleep.’ And, I jumped into the bed and closed my eyes and went back to sleep.”[17]
Left: A girl on Santa Claus’s lap, c.1950s
Right: Christmas morning, c.1970s
And for little ones, there is always the excitement of Santa Claus. Amy S. Hilliard, founder and CEO of the Comfort Cake Company, recalled: “We'd wake up at the crack of dawn, and we're like, ‘We want to come downstairs.’ And my father would be downstairs, and he would say, ‘No, you can't come yet. Santa Claus is still here…’ And he would make us almost just go nuts with anticipation about when we could come. And he had movie cameras back then, and so he'd have to get all of his equipment set up. And when he would tell us we could come downstairs, it would be like a floodgate. We would tumble all over each other down the stairs to the tree. And we didn't have a lot of presents… but the ones we had were very special.”[18] Olympics executive Evie Garrett Dennis also remembered “waiting for Santa Claus to come and what we would have is perhaps an orange and an apple and some candy and some nuts and maybe a little gift, but it was always something for… all nine of us.[19] Hairstylist Michael "Rahni" Flowers added: “I still to this today am in wonder how my parents were able to do what they did… you would hear this stampede of children running down the stairs to this Christmas tree and paper flying… the aromas of my mother’s cooking. And… I really appreciated that, especially you know as I’ve gotten older. How they made all that happen so seamlessly was a miracle and that’s what my parents were.”[20]
Family around the Christmas tree, c.1940-50s
In future years, we will gather and marvel at how we made it through these times. But for now, let’s take the time to gather, relax and celebrate the season in a way that is personal and regenerative to us.

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy Kwanzaa to you!
[1] The Honorable David S. Cunningham, Jr. (The HistoryMakers A2005.231), interviewed by Larry Crowe, October 5, 2005, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 2, The Honorable David S. Cunningham, Jr. remembers the sights and sounds of his childhood.
[2] Randolph Michael McLaughlin (The HistoryMakers A2005.130), interviewed by Shawn Wilson, June 8, 2005, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 1, Randolph Michael McLaughlin describes family holidays growing up.
[3] Charles M. Blow (The HistoryMakers A2014.208), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, September 11, 2014, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 5, Charles M. Blow remembers the holidays.
[4] The Honorable Louis Stokes (The HistoryMakers A2005.071), interviewed by Racine Tucker-Hamilton, March 18, 2005, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 7, The Honorable Louis Stokes remembers the holidays.
[5] E. Ethelbert Miller (The HistoryMakers A2007.216), interviewed by Cheryl Butler, July 27, 2007, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 2, E. Ethelbert Miller remembers celebrating Christmas.
[6] Iola Johnson (The HistoryMakers A2006.088), interviewed by Denise Gines, May 3, 2006, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 3, Iola Johnson describes holidays in her childhood household.
[7] James Poyser (The HistoryMakers A2014.143), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, May 6, 2014, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 4, James Poyser remembers family holidays during his childhood.
[8] Dr. Sharon Malone (The HistoryMakers A2014.110), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, March 23, 2014, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 7, Dr. Sharon Malone describes her family's holiday celebrations.
[9] Charlestine Fairley (The HistoryMakers A2007.162), interviewed by Denise Gines, April 25, 2007, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 6, Charlestine Fairley describes holiday celebrations with her family.
[10] Stephanie Hughley (The HistoryMakers A2006.014), interviewed by Evelyn Pounds, February 13, 2006, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 3, Stephanie Hughley describes holidays with her family.
[11] Willard "Chuck" Lewis (The HistoryMakers A2006.021), interviewed by Ed Anderson, February 16, 2006, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 2, Willard "Chuck" Lewis remembers typical days and holidays in LaGrange, Georgia
[12] Myra McDaniel (The HistoryMakers A2007.048), interviewed by Denise Gines, February 6, 2007, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 7, Myra McDaniel recalls holiday celebrations.
[13] Bernard Beal (The HistoryMakers A2013.315), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, December 10, 2013, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 8, Bernard Beal remembers the holidays.
[14] Roger Gore (The HistoryMakers A2004.131), interviewed by Racine Tucker Hamilton, August 18, 2004, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 11, Roger Gore describes his memories of holidays as a child.
[15] James L. Jackson (The HistoryMakers A2005.180), interviewed by Larry Crowe, August 2, 2005, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 3, James L. Jackson remembers Christmas in East Point, Georgia.
[16] Dabney N. Montgomery (The HistoryMakers A2007.226), interviewed by Adrienne Jones, August 7, 2007, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 8, Dabney N. Montgomery remembers the holidays.
[17] Lisa Price (The HistoryMakers A2006.134), interviewed by Shawn Wilson, November 8, 2006, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 1, Lisa Price remembers her father's Christmas celebrations.
[18] Amy S. Hilliard (The HistoryMakers A2008.082), interviewed by Denise Gines, July 14, 2008, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 1, Amy S. Hilliard remembers the holidays.
[19] Evie Garrett Dennis (The HistoryMakers A2008.118), interviewed by Denise Gines, November 3, 2008, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 17, Evie Garrett Dennis describes her family's holiday traditions.
[20] Michael "Rahni" Flowers (The HistoryMakers A2013.226), interviewed by Anthony Poole, August 25, 2013, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 4, Michael “Rahni” Flowers remembers holiday celebrations.