- Historic Sites
Mammy Her Life And Times
BORN IN SLAVERY AND RAISED IN ITS PAINFUL AFTERMATH TO BECOME ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL AMERICAN ICONS, SHE HAS BEEN MADE TO ENCOMPASS LOVE AND GUILT AND RIDICULE AND WORSHIP —AND STILL SHE LIVES ON
September 1993 | Volume 44, Issue 5
But today Mammy is regarded in more complex ways too. The components of cliché have separated and grown more individual. Mammy has become mammies—real persons differentiated in literature and memoir, and problematic. A few years ago the New York Times editor Howell Raines’s magazine memoir of his own mammy, “Grady’s Gift,” struck many as sentimental, others as profound, but sketched the ambivalence that many former children encharged to former mammies have had.
Today Mammy’s Cupboard is in disrepair, looming like a mock Ozymandias over a changed landscape. Mammy’s paint is peeling, and her arms have fallen off. The restaurant is closed, its drive blocked with dozens of concrete birdbaths and garden elves, arrayed in a mocking dance. Mammy the stereotype continues to cast a shadow. But more and more it is possible to imagine Mammy as a kind of chrysalis, the fat woman from whom the proverbial inner thin woman has escaped, a shell from which the mature creature has at last emerged.