I never asked my parents why Santa Claus was white, but in the small Maryland town where I grew up in the 1960s, he always was — on TV, on billboards, in classroom illustrations and in the local five-and-dime stores. Everything about Christmas was white — Jesus, Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, the wise men — everything, including the pictures of Santa that colored families, mine included, displayed in our homes.
The only African-American on most families’ walls was Martin Luther King Jr., and he didn’t achieve living room visibility until after his assassination in 1968. Even then, his 8-by-10 photo shared a special frame with images of Jesus and President Kennedy.
At Christmas, most colored kids saw Santa Claus as these icons’ equal, and it certainly struck me as heroic that he’d wriggle down our chimney to leave me toys. Setting out cookies and milk for a man who worked so hard was the least my family could do.
Every year, a few days before Christmas, our town sponsored a free movie day. Ushers led my white friends into the main part of the theater, while we coloreds were escorted into an overcrowded balcony. The biggest thrill came when the movie was over and we got to sit on Santa’s lap, as photographers snapped Polaroids and elves handed us each a box of candy and a big, bright orange.
Read more via Santa for Colored Girls | Diedre A. Ware.