First Black Woman Winery Owner Shares Life Story of Her ‘Light Skin Privilege’
Iris Curtain was the first black woman in the United States to own a winery. The pioneer spent her retirement reflecting on her life. Now she tells her revolutionary story in her memoirs, From WHITE to BLACK: a life between two worlds (8790 Pictures Inc., $39.00, June 19).
Born in 1936 to a Creole family in New Orleans, Rideau shares a powerful and inspiring story of navigating a world of “contradictions, confusion and success” as a black woman during the Jim Crow era, according to her site. website. She is from the city’s 7th arrondissement, where she remembers learning from her grandmother how to pass as white.
“My formative years were spent in New Orleans in the oppressive atmosphere of segregation,” Rideau explains on his website. “During those impressionable years, I lived in both white and black. My fair skin allowed me a life of privilege.
She continues: “When I moved to the city as a ‘colored’ (black), I experienced racism so degrading that it was unfit for any human being. I was told where I couldn’t eating, drinking or shopping, and being told to get off the sidewalk when a white person was walking by was one of my most impressionable and lasting memories.
Chronicling his story from rags to riches, the memoir reveals periods of his life that were riddled with conflict, racism and sexual assault. From moving to California with her mother to having to support a child as a teenage mother, Rideau worked in a grueling sweatshop to make ends meet. During this time, she attends evening classes.
“It was the turning point in my life, this sewing factory. It was like I would never stay here,” Rideau told the Los Angeles Times. “I went back to night school and worked in the factory during the day. And I took business classes, which I loved.
As a black woman, Rideau’s opportunities were slim until she landed her first front office job at an insurance agency. Her determination then led her to become the first African-American woman on the West Coast to own an insurance agency in 1967. Then, in 1978, Rideau founded a financial securities company, becoming the first African-American woman. American to own a stock company on the west coast.
After leading the two companies for 32 years, Rideau embarked on another adventure. In 1995, she founded a winery in the Santa Ynez Valley, an appellation in Santa Barbara County.
“I brought my culture to the valley and I really had no competition,” Rideau said. The Los Angeles Times. “[Guests] would leave and go on the wine route and tell other people about the wonderful experience they had had at Rideau.
In honor of Juneteenth, the memoir will be released on June 19, according to WIN Advisor. It is available for pre-order on Amazon.