February is traditionally set aside to celebrate “Black History Month” and in keeping with that theme, the Douglas County Museum of History and Art is spotlighting an engaging part of the African-American culture with a colorful new exhibit.
The exhibit, “Sacred Places and Divine Fashion,” is a celebration of historic black churches in Douglas County and the fabulous hats worn by many of their female members, said Collin Cash, tourism director at the museum.
The exhibit, which runs from now through March 12, features a selection of photos and history from local Baptist churches and African Methodist Episcopal churches, sometimes called the A.M.E church.
“Since February is traditionally for Black History Month, we wanted to do something a little different — a little fresh,” said Cash. “We wanted to do something for the historic black churches of Douglas County and it has always been fascinating to see the black women wearing hats.”
Cash said the theme, “Sacred Places and Divine Fashion,” came about because the women and their hats are “divine” and they are worn in “sacred places.”
Many of the hats on loan for the exhibit are from the personal collection of Catherine Wynn, a long-time docent at the museum.
“Feathers, fringe and fur are just a few of the flamboyant embellishments showcased by the 20 or so hats on loan from local residents,” said Cash. “Visitors to the exhibit can learn the fascinating history behind the centuries-old custom of wearing elaborately adorned ‘crowns’ to church while marveling at the beautifully fabricated and extravagantly decorated hats on display.”
Several churches are represented in the exhibit including Tranquil A.M.E. church on Dorsett Shoals Road, Basket Creek Baptist Church and Cemetery on Capps Ferry Road, Zion Hill Baptist Church on Colquitt Street, established in 1823, and Fairfield A.M.E. on Highway 5, established in 1912.
Black women and church hats were celebrated in the book, “Crowns” (2000) by Michael Cunningham and Craig Murberry. The book tells the stories behind black women and their hats, according to Erica Taylor in an article “Little Known Black History Fact: Church Hats,”
In an excerpt from “Crowns:”
“Don’t wear a hat wider than your shoulders. Don’t wear a hat that is darker than your shoes. If your hat has feathers, make sure they are never bent or broken. Sequins don’t look good in the daytime. Easter hats should be white, cream or pastel SEmD even if it’s still cold outside. For a look that is both elaborate and demure, try a chapel veil.”
In 2002, an off-Broadway production of the book was released by playwright Regina Taylor. The gospel musical celebrates the role of hats in black Southern culture.
In an article, “History of Black Women Wearing Hats at Church,” author Nicole Kidder calls wearing flamboyant hats to church a “deeply-rooted tradition in the African-American community that has both spiritual and cultural significance.”
Kidder said in the article that prior to the 20th century, most American Christian women followed Corinthians 1:11 and covered their heads in worship, but for early African-Americans, God’s house was not only a sanctuary of hope and salvation in a brutal world, it was one of the few places where they were allowed to hold important positions of leadership.
Wearing the flamboyant “heaven-reaching hats” was the way of “catching God’s eye” in hopes He would hear their prayers. Wearing the hats also became a symbol of success, according to Kidder, a source of which she called “hattitude.”
The exhibit is free and open to the public during regular museum hours through March 12 on Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the last tour at 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with the last tour at 2 p.m.
The public is also invited to a free gallery reception for “Sacred Places and Divine Fashion” on Feb. 28 from 3 to 4 p.m., which will include light refreshments.
In addition to the gallery reception, an exciting free business networking event will be held at the museum Feb. 23 from 4 to 6 p.m. What makes it extra exciting is that attendees are encouraged to wear church hats and their “Sunday best” attire as a nod to the exhibit. Refreshments will be provided.
Admission to the museum is free, although donations are always appreciated. The museum is located at 6754 Broad St. in downtown Douglasville in the old Douglas County Courthouse.