The play Crowns, now playing at the Pasadena Playhouse, brought back memories of growing up in a Black Holiness church in hot Bakersfield, California. My wife, my sister and I went to the play on Saturday afternoon, and all through the performance I couldn't help but remember my mother and the other women in their hats. Growing up in the Church of God In Christ and dressing up for church on Sunday was a way of life. It was summed up by a line in the play that said on Sunday they were going to church to see the King and they had to dress appropriately.
When the actress mentioned Memphis, I knew that they were talking about the Church of God In Christ because that is where the headquarters of the Church has been since I was a child. My sister remembers a young man from Memphis telling the story about how he thought that all the members of the Church of God In Christ were rich.
When asked why he thought that, the young man said that when they showed up in Memphis for the annual Convocation they were dressed in hats and furs and driving fine cars. Little did he know that they showed up and showed out without necessarily having the riches they appeared to have, but they knew how to dress.
Dressing fine is apart of the Black tradition that this younger generation doesn't seem to understand. If they understood that, they would follow the tradition and we wouldn't be constantly shaking our heads at the way some of the young people dress. But then they don't go to church that much either.
Going to church when I was young was one of those things that at the time was agonizing as a child. But now that I am a man, I realize the benefit and understand the application of the saying "no pain no gain" to spending the day at church. There was Sunday School, morning worship service, three o'clock service and then, before evening service, there was 6:00 p.m youth service which COGIC called YPWW (Young People Willing Workers). The Baptist and the Methodist's also had their own version of these services. The point was that church was an all day affair. No one had a television to rush home to.
As young people we learned many things that carried us through school, and life. We learned obedience and respect to our parents and other older adults. We all remember the look across the church from mama that meant keep quiet or prepare for a whipping when you got home. We remember the weekly memorization of the key verse in the Sunday School class. We had to read that key verse and remember it, so we learned to read, just as our slave ancestors had learned to read, by reading the Bible and we learned how to study. Without thinking about it, we transferred the reading and memorization skills and experiences to learning in school classes such as English, history and math.
There were no statistics that showed only 50% graduating. You graduated because if you didn't pass a class, you took it over. The potential embarrassment of staying in and repeating a grade was motivation to learn and pass. Today that embarrassment element seems to have been lost along with much of the experiences that got Black America to where we are today.
See a play like this is a history lesson that will transform you back to a simpler time when we honored the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and how we acted and dressed and especially how the women got dressed up in their hats.