Posted today on the Facebook page of the National Museum of African American History and Culture:
“Vanilla Beane, is a milliner, or hatmaker, known for her custom-made pieces adorned by civil rights activist Dorothy Height.
“Born Vanilla Powell in Wilson, N.C. in 1910 [sic; actually 1919], as the youngest of seven. She moved to Washington, D.C. in 1942 where she met her husband, Willie Beane. Working in the downtown Washington Millinery Supply and as a seamstress in the 50s, she sharpened her craft. After leaving the company, Beane continued to passionately make hats while working as a mail clerk for the General Services Administration. In 1979, she opened Bene Millinery & Bridal Supplies on Third Street in Northwest Washington to serve the African American community that kept the tradition of ornate hats alive, especially in the church. The 106 year-old milliner paid a visit to the museum on Grand Opening day. You can see an example of a millinery shop in our Power of Place exhibition on the fourth floor.”
According to birth records, Vanilla Powell was born in 1919 in Wilson County to James and Martha Hagans Powell. Her father, born about 1876, was the son of Ichabod and Mary Ann Lassiter Powell. (Mary Ann’s parents were Silas and Orpha Simpson Lassiter.) Her mother Martha was the daughter of Charles and Charity Thomas Hagans.