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Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy Onassis has been placed among saints in Stanley Crouch’s eyes. He associates her with some of the most influential people the world has known. He places her among the ranks of Mahalia Jackson, Bessie Smith, and the Virgin Mary, whom have all had significant effects on race relations. Stanley Crouch grew up in the slum area of Los Angeles, California (Lamb 2). Despite the fact that he is an African American, Stanley fought his way out of poverty to become one of the most famed black jazz critics and foremost authors of many influential speeches and papers. He tells in "Blues for Jackie," how Jackie Kennedy has influenced race relations and the connection she had with the domestics with whom he grew up. It is, in part, because of Jackie and the other individuals with which she is compared, that there are stronger ties between blacks and whites. Without the Jackie Kennedys and Bessie Smiths, the world's pool of racial suppression would be full of sewage.
Growing up on the Mississippi River among six siblings, Mahalia Jackson knew what it was like to be racially secluded. She was reared by her father who was a minister and was singing in his choir at the age of five. In her early teen years she worked as a launderer and also as a housekeeper, but she dreamed of one day becoming a nurse ("New" 1). Mahalia began traveling throughout the Midwest to sing at different Baptist Churches. Her popularity began to soar, and she signed a record deal to become "the only Negro whom Negroes have made famous," as the African American press described her ("New" 2). She was inspired by Bessie Smith. When she worked as a servant, she said "when the old people weren’t home and I’d be scrubbin’ the floor, I’d turn on a Bessie Smith record to make the work go faster" ("New" 1). Mahalia would not stop at just being a famous gospel singer. She had her own radio program and television show that aired on CBS. She went on to manage several businesses and become involved in real estate. She preceded Dr. Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement before he gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech.
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Another influential woman compared to Jackie is Bessie Smith. Bessie was thought to be the "Mother of the Blues." She lived during a time that was fueled by racism. The Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow Laws had a major role in the suppression of the black race during her years. She was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1894 ("Blue" 1). Her mother and father died before she reached her teen years. She was reared by her older sister, but it was her oldest brother, Clarence, who had the most influence on her life. With his help she learned to sing and dance, which she did on street corners for pennies passers by would give her. She did this until she signed a record contract with Columbia Records. Her career took off in the South despite the fact that she led an extreme lifestyle that included, drinking, fighting, and bizarre sexual encounters with both genders. In 1935, while driving with her lover Richard Morgan through Clarksdale, Mississippi, their car struck and oncoming truck. Her arm was dismembered, and she bled to death ("Blue" 2). She and Jackie each had family members they loved taken from them. Jackie had a miscarriage, a son die of premature birth, and her husband’s intelligence splattered across her lap. Bessie had her parents taken from her at an early age. These two women lead very different social lives. Jackie was eating dinner at the White House while Bessie was fornicating in a motel somewhere, but despite their differences they were both looked up to by Stanley Crouch’s domestics.
Further in the essay, the connections Stanley Crouch makes between Jackie Kennedy and the Virgin Mary can be seen. The Virgin Mary was the unbroken mother of Jesus Christ. She was not only a virgin, but more importantly she was without sin. She is seen as a saint by many and a mother figure by almost everyone connected to Christian belief. Honored by both races, she is seen in many statues holding the limp sacred body of her son Jesus Christ. Jackie is often remembered as holding her husband's brains in her hands after his life was stolen from him. The courage that Jackie showed at her husband's funeral and the way she handled her entire life filled with death enables Stanley Crouch to compare Jackie to the Virgin Mary.
The lives of these four human beings have differed enormously in almost every aspect from social class to occupation. However, parallels and similarities in their lives all point to their amazing ability not only to become a role model, but also to inspire those who are willing to listen. Their inspiration has shaped the many improvements in past racial issues and will certainly provide a guide for future racial issues.
Blue Flame Café. Bessie Smith. 27 Jun. 1998
New Orleans Online. Mahalia Jackson. 25 Jun. 1998
Lamb, Bryan. Booknotes, Americans finest authors on Reading, Writing, and the Power or Ideas. 1997. National Cable Satellite Corp. 27 Jun. 1998