Taylor Humin: This is the first full-length work written about Flo Kennedy; meanwhile, Gloria Steinem, her contemporary and fellow activist, is a household name. Why isn’t Kennedy better known?
Sherie M. Randolph: Despite Kennedy’s willingness to seek the media’s spotlight, the media often ignored her leadership in the women’s movement. She was black and middle-aged, and her image did not fit neatly with the media’s fascination with the “young,” “hip” new women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The media had a bias toward stereotypically attractive women (read white and young) and often preferred to center or elevate in the press those women who fit this category (Gloria Steinem and Ti-Grace Atkinson, for example).
Often the media coverage of Kennedy’s actions did not mention that she was even a member (or an early or founding member) of organizations such as NOW or that she was a feminist. Instead, Kennedy was often portrayed as an organizer who was working alongside NOW or other feminist groups, but not as a leader of these organizations and actions. Some scholars have repeated this bias by ignoring or under-analyzing black feminism and Flo Kennedy.
Kennedy was well known to most radical activists during the 1960s and 1970s because she was a lawyer, fundraiser, and very skilled at drawing media attention to her causes. As a media-savvy activist, she was skillful in gaining the media’s attention for her actions; which ranged from pee-ins to protest Harvard Law School’s lack of bathroom facilities for women to marches down Fifth Avenue to protest the assassination of Martin Luther King. She relied on street theater to draw the notice of the media (and therefore advertisers, etc.) and potential organizers. Yet, until my book, history has forgotten her.
One Supreme Court decision announced this June received limited notice, in part because it came out the same week as momentous decisions on marriage equality and the Affordable Care Act, and following the horrific tragedy at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. But the Court’s decision in a fair housing dispute, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs et al. v. Inclusive Communities Project, merits serious attention as LGBTQ activists and their allies move on to tackle employment and housing discrimination and as the momentum from the campaign to remove the Confederate flag from public places turns toward a broader agenda. The ruling could be especially significant for activists working to end the disproportionate placement of polluting factories and hazardous waste facilities in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.
Charleston is nicknamed the “Holy City,” because of the many steeples that punctuate the graceful poetry of its skyline. There are more than 900 houses of worship in the Low Country, representing all of the world’s major faiths, and more than a few minor ones. Some of the congregations were founded in the 1600s, others in the 2010s. Some meet in grand buildings on the National Historic Registry, others in humble strip mall storefronts. Regardless of how old they are or where they meet, Charleston’s congregations are driven by faith. That faith was sorely tested this week with the racially motivated murders of worshipers in Emanuel AME church. How could a city so steeped in faith witness a scene of such unimaginable horror in one of its holy places?
A favorite trick of Golden’s was to add a well-known author, philanthropist, politician, or actor to the circulation list of the Carolina Israelite without the celebrity’s knowledge, then mention the famous person in print as one of the newspaper’s loyal subscribers. It’s amazing how often this led to real friendship! The famous and powerful liked Golden for the same reasons so many regular folks did—his straight talk, his encyclopedic knowledge on politics and history, and his refreshingly tart humor.
By the 1980s, the Charleston police department and departments around the country were deployed to fight two “wars” on the home front. They fought a war on crime, of course, but also on drugs. Thinking about policing as war and civilians as the enemy led to a crackdown on impoverished urban minority communities the likes of which the country had never seen before.
In 1966, Charles “Charlie” Scott (b. 1948 in NYC) became the first African American student to attend the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill on an athletic scholarship. He decided to attend UNC rather than basketball powerhouse Davidson College after a wrenching moment at a small café in Davidson, North Carolina. Former Davidson College basketball star Terry Holland, who both played and later served as assistant coach under the college’s legendary coach Lefty Driesell, and UNC law professor and civil rights attorney Daniel H. Pollitt, who was a passionate advocate for social justice in Chapel Hill during the 1950s and 1960s, vividly recall Scott’s historic decision. Pollitt worked with Dean Smith, UNC’s beloved basketball coach (1961-1997) and Robert Seymour, progressive minister at the Olin T. Binkley Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, to recruit Charlie Scott and to help integrate the university community.
Transgender steelworkers are the most vulnerable people I interviewed. The option of invisibility isn’t available to those who transition at work. And every change that shows, every single solitary detail, becomes a focus of teasing, harassment, violence, and abuse.
I asked him to recall all the people he has worked with—all his union brothers and sisters, down through the years—and count the gay ones. Almost surprised, he said there were none. Of course, he knew as well as I do that there have been many, but that they did not identify themselves as such. My task is then to convince him that their silence was not simply a choice, but rather that it was made in fear, and comes with crippling consequences.
The image of the beautiful southern belle/lady was, by definition, racially exclusive, and many black women would have keenly felt its discriminatory power. There were occasions, however, when individuals and institutions attempted to claim the image for black women, to challenge its underlying racial assumptions and reframe its meaning. An interesting example is a photo spread that ran in Ebony magazine in 1971 entitled “Belles of the South” that featured young women from southern historically black colleges. The magazine said very explicitly that it wanted to prove that not all southern beauties were white—that black women were belles of the South, too.
Queer rights becomes the paradigmatic symbol of the west – in Russia, gay liberation had gained some momentum until Putin linked gay rights with Western values, which then led to the systematic, legal oppression of gays in Russia today. The government is literally going into homes of gay people and taking their children away. And these Russian gays can’t hide, because during the period of comparative freedom, they had come out, and now have public personas. There’s no such thing as going back into the closet – once you’re out, that’s that. Their little window of freedom now targets them for state-sponsored abuse as the freedom and progress queers experience in the USA is used to punish queers globally.
A video of Rebecca Sharpless’s talk on the history of African American women cooks in white households in the South, given at the 16th annual Southern Foodways Symposium, October 2013. Video produced by the Southern Foodways Alliance.
Durham’s ManBites Dog Theater hosts “The Best of Enemies,” a play based on the book by Osha Gray Davidson about the unlikely friendship between a poor white member of the KKK and a poor black civil rights activist in 1960s North Carolina.
It is fitting that in this 80th anniversary year of the 1933 rally the North Carolina NAACP is once again in the headlines, this time for its leading role in the recent Moral Monday protests at the state legislature.
The modern civil rights movement fought for racial equality and to create an interracial “beloved community.” People in the movement did not make a distinction between action in the schools, the voting booth, or the streets toward those goals. Education was another arena for fighting racism and securing equal resources and opportunity. Seeing school desegregation as an integral part of the civil rights movement reminds us that an equal education is a basic human right that has been fought for but not yet achieved, and that overcoming racism in the classroom as in the community remains a moral imperative. For many local people, like Suzy Post, in Louisville and Jefferson County, the civil rights movement continues because the struggle to protect desegregation and through it achieve educational equity and better human understanding has not yet been won.
Even though the museum recognizes Smith’s protest, if only barely, her protest tells us something valuable about the production of history and the sanctification of certain experiences over others. Here, a single person with a particular set of memories and a determination to remember a figure of such importance as King in a specific way finds herself facing an institution with a public commitment to remembrance that has become her own horror.
It was not just careers that came to an end in Woodrow Wilson’s Washington. African Americans also lost a claim to their legitimacy as American citizens and participants in the national state. Marked as corrupt and untrustworthy, black Americans have struggled ever since to clear their names as honest and trust-worthy citizens, a struggle that continues into our own time.