NATURISM IS FOR “every body,” as the saying goes, and its offer of freedom, health, and social equality are inherently available to any and all. Yet naturism in North America remains blindingly white. – Mark Storey Nude & Natural 25.3
Described as the golden age of nudism by some the post World War II era of nudism wasn’t so golden for African-Americans in the U.S. The African-American experience in the clothes free community reflected very much what was happening in the rest of society. The racial prejudice and segregation present in the broader society was present in the U.S. naturist/nudist subculture. Perhaps inspired by the experiences of “negro” GIs returning from WWII in Europe or buoyed by the ideals of emerging civil rights movement, the African-Americans actively sought to take part in naturist/nudist/ communities, clubs and camps. This interest was significant enough to permit a report on the phenomenon by the prestigious African-American magazine Ebony.
This influx of African-Americans seeking to participate in the practice by joining the increasing number of nudist club, camps and “colonies” as they were called, became The Negro Problem in American Nudism. In his piece in N magazine, What is the Answer, Mark Story looks at the historical record of the naturist/nudist community to address this issue. It seems from this well written investigative piece that there were several streams of responses to issues of African-Americans’ place in American nudism. All the racial polarities endemic to the time period were present in the nudist community. First, there were white nudists who thought blacks didn’t belong in white nudist communities and would be better served to start their own nudist clubs, association and organizations. It would seem that plain racism was the primary driver behind this view.
Why had some nudist clubs barred blacks from membership and why were some clubs still doing so? Straightforward racism was the answer in many cases. The toxin permeated North America and nudists were not immune to it.
In this 1966 issue of Sunshine & Health, Hal Collins lamented the lack of outreach to blacks and encouraged nudist leaders to “lead the way to greater understanding and play an active role in making true brotherhood a living reality.”
Another stream of thought expressed by white nudists was the perspective that making room for African-Americans was the progressive thing to do. One blogger natethreepoint0 has done this writer and the clothes free community a great service and transcribed the record of one nudist club’s effort to discuss the interest of “negroes” in becoming members of their club. You can see the reproduced issue of the MARS club newsletter chronicling the clubs actions and discussion here. The account rehearses the discussion among club members as to the wisdom and morality of accepting a “negro” family that applied for membership. The conversation includes the oft heard reasons why the family should not be accepted. For example, they were the “right” kind of people for the club and the common fear that accepting one such family would lead to a flood of many more which, alongside the loss of white members, would lead to the club being overrun by the “negroes”. In the end, the members of the club decided the right choice was to accept the family or any “negro” family of the same caliber should they apply.
“I’m sure,” he said, “all right-thinking people are glad that our colored friends should desire to be nudists. Also that they should desire to have their own groups where they may enjoy the fellow-ship of their own race.”
Opinions on how to address the “negro” problem in American nudism were varied for black folks as they were for their white counterparts. Many blacks took up the challenge to start their own clubs almost as soon as it was offered, reflecting the sentiments expressed by white nudist Steve Brenton.
One such black nudist referring to himself as Oscar HM wrote to the predecessor of the American Association for Nude Recreation, the ASA, asking for help getting a national negro nudist organization started under it auspices. This echoed the call of Brenton for a National Negro Sunbathing Association. As early as 1949 black folks formed non-landed clubs like the Brownies of Kansas City which had a majority of black members though they still welcomed whites who became members.
From Jet magazine November 21 1968;
Not all the black nudists saw the above approach of creating separate but equal clubs as the right one. While the civil rights movement was emerging in the broader post world war society a similar struggle for equal rights and acceptance was going on in the American nudist community. It seems the movement had its own leader akin to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the person of E.J. Samuels. Samuels challenged the conventional thinking of white and black nudists who proposed the separate organization approach. Samuels pointed to economic sustainability as one of several reasons why he thought the approach was flawed. Samuels and his family became ambassadors of the black nudists to white nudist community visiting many nudist clubs and camps, breaking the race barrier at many of those clubs in true Jackie Robinson fashion. Samuels spoke honestly about the issues facing the black community exploring nudism.
The dearth of Negro applicants to nudism is in part due to the fact that Negroes felt sure of a stinging rebuff they didn’t even try for a place in the sun
..management found the negroes suspicious of nudist motives convinced that nudist liberties meant sexual license some Negro women were willing to pose as nude models but could not accept the idea of becoming nudists.
“If anyone resents their presence, it is certainly not apparent.” Herbert Nipson, Editor, Ebony magazine
Samuels was invited to speak to the Western Conference of the ASA to share his views. He and his wife became members of the DeAnza Club. Samuels and his wife went on to be the first black delegates to the ASA convention. He was shadowed by Herbert Nipson who wrote about the Samuels family in an article on Nudism and Negroes for Ebony magazine. (For those who may not be familiar, the monthly Ebony magazine was, at the time and still is to some degree, one of the most prestigious and well read publications in the black community.
When all is said and done, history paints a different picture of African-Americans in American nudism than one would expect. One should note that despite the current dearth of African-Americans participating in social nudism, African-Americans were involved in the American nudism movement. The involvement was not monolithic nor was it simple passive participation. African-Americans took responsibility for their desire to participate in the clothes free lifestyle. They were intentional in pursuing what seems today to be unusual practice for people of African decent. This writer wishes more of this aspect of the connection between African-Americans and naturism, nudism and clothes free living were more well known. As a side note, I wish more of the archives of the naturist organizations magazines were digitized. I would have gratefully delved into their depths to learn more of this untold story of African-Americans, naturists, nudists and clothes free.
Mark story Race__3
Story, Mark | Nude & Natural 25.3
Blandburg, Dorine Supples and Vic Blandburg,“Soul Barers Naturists,” N 11.2 (1992): 98-99.
Brenton, Steve,“A Plan for Colored Nudists,” Sunshine & Health 14.6 (June 1945): 7.
Brown,Warren,“A Camp Owner Speaks Out on Integration,” Nude World No. 14 (Summer 1966): 50, 52-53.
Cinder, Cec,“The Negro Problem in American Nudism,” Eden No. 16 (1966): 48-53.
Collins, Hal,“Nudism and the Negro,” Sunshine & Health 33.2 (March-June 1966): 26-31.
Hartman, William E., Marilyn Fithian and Donald Johnson, Nudist Society: The Controversial Study of the Clothes-Free Naturist Movement in America, rev. by Iris Bancroft (Los Angeles: Elysium Growth Press, 1991), pp. 43, 54-57, 146, 198, 274, 433-435, 438, 441-442.
H. R., Oscar,“In Behalf of Colored Groups,” letter to the editor in Sunshine & Health 13.10 (September 1944): 6.
Indira,“Nudism in Hongkong,” American Nudist Leader 3.28 (1952): 18-19.
Linke, Uli, German Bodies: Race and Representation After Hitler (New York: Routledge, 1999).
Nipson, Herbert,“Nudism and Negroes,” Ebony 6.10 (August 1951): 93-94, 96-101.
Payne, Robert M.,“Beyond the Pale: Nudism, Race, and Resistance in The Unashamed,” Film Quarterly 54.2 (Winter 2001-02): 27-40.
Ross, Chad, Naked Germany: Health, Race and the Nation (Oxford: Berg, 2005).
Samuels, E. J.,“Light Out of Darkness,” Sunshine & Health 13.11 (November 1944): 19-20.
“On Negro Nudism,” Sunshine & Health 14.8 (August 1945): 21-22.