Ethyl Horton Venson, co-founder and first Queen of the Cotton Makers' Jubilee, broke many barriers that helped promote civil rights in Memphis.
Ethyl Horton Venson was a co-founder and the first Queen of the Cotton Makers Jubilee, one of the most important festivals in the African-American community of Memphis. Ethyl Venson was born in Eads, TN, on January 1st, 1908, the oldest of six children.
She married dentist Dr. R. Q. Venson, and together they became an influential couple in the black middle class of Memphis. In 1936, the Vensons founded the Cotton Makers Jubilee as a parallel festival to the segregated Cotton Carnival.
Initially, Mrs. Venson tried to find a Jubilee queen in her social club, but members were put-off by the expense of buying an inaugural gown. When her husband offered to pay for the gown of the first queen, Mrs. Venson informed him that she herself would be the queen.
Despite his protests, the inaugural parade featured the inspiring sight of Queen Ethyl in a white organza gown, seated next to King Eddie Hayes in a chauffeured Ford V-8. In 1985, after overseeing its fiftieth anniversary celebration, Ethyl Venson retired as chair of the Jubilee.
Beyond her role in the Cotton Makers Jubilee, she also broke barriers by being named the first woman and the first African American named to the Memphis Housing Authority.
Mrs. Venson died on January 20th, 1998.
To learn more about our region's history, visit the Pink Palace Family of Museums.