1952: Jackie “Moms” Mabely with her wealth of laughs and good humor, tops the holiday all-star review at Booker T. Restaurant’s Flamingo Room. (AFRO Archive)

By Jessica Dortch
AFRO News Editor

“I know what to do to get myself a young boyfriend. All you have to do is knock on their door and ask them: ‘say doll do you have change for a $100 bill?” And the crowd goes wild. Today, that joke might garner a few chuckles, but in the early 20th Century, it was borderline obscene and outrageously funny. Nobody knew humor like Moms Mabley which proved to be the secret ingredient for her successful comedy career spanning five decades. Even today, Moms is still regarded as the funniest woman in the world. 

Like many other successful entertainers, the road to fame was filled with twists and turns and rough terrain. 

Born Loretta Mary Aiken on March 19, 1894 in Brevard, N.C., just two years after the AFRO’s founding, Moms endured a series of heartbreaking experiences early on. By the age of 14, both of Moms’ parents had died suddenly and tragically. She was also raped repeatedly as a teenager, resulting in unwanted pregnancies and children whom she gave up for adoption. 

Filled with grief, she ran away to Cleveland, Ohio and joined minstrel shows and Black Vaudeville performers. Night after night, one of the acts that captivated Moms the most was comedy. 

She began to craft her own act, creating jokes from a mixture of humor and human experience, which the audience could relate to. 

Often seen on stage wearing an oversized dress, mix-matched tights and floppy hat, Moms was strapped with an arsenal of quick quips she could unleash on an eager audience. However, she used her fame to bring awareness to many social issues plaguing Black Americans like racism and inequality.