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Friday, June 30, 2017


"Lena Horne’s stage career began in the early 1930s and ran until the 1990s. Raised by a feminist grandmother, she left school when she was sixteen to work as a chorus girl in the Cotton Club where she and other African American entertainers performed for an exclusively white audience. A few years later, she worked in New York nightclubs and toured with the all-white Charlie Barnet Orchestra, making her the first African American to do so.

She continued to face racial barriers, however, and was often barred from staying at the hotels where she performed, especially in the Southern states..."

Lena was popular with black and white G.I.s  When she performed for them, she noticed that black soldiers were forced to sit further back from the stage. This marked the beginning of her turn toward Civil Rights Activism. 
"Lena Horne once said that World War Two helped make her a star. She was popular with both black and white servicemen. She sang on army radio programs and traveled to perform for the troops. During one event, she noted that German prisoners of war were permitted to sit closer to the stage than black soldiers. She criticized the way black soldiers were treated by the army. These experiences led to Lena Horne’s work in the civil rights movement."

Lena Horne was also very much a feminist, like her grandmother, though I've never seen her identify herself as such. But something of her grandmother rubbed off. It was thought a story about Lena Horne and Rosa Parks that I became interested in the roots of male supremacy in the black community.  

Apparently, Lena that tried to take Rosa Parks around to give interviews to reporters during THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON.  When she did so, the male supremacy came flowing out of the black men running the event. They made sure black women did not talk and did not give interviews.  Daisy Bates wound up being allowed to speak for all of 60 seconds. 
Josephine Baker's agent made arrangements to insert Josephine into the day's events. And she was actually allowed to speak BEFORE but not during the main stage events--which is why she is not on the program that day. 

Not only did black men make sure Rosa and other women were pushed to the back and forget to seat at least one prominent black female activist, according to Dorothy Height(?) interview I heard, a lot of black women activists were sent back to the hotel before the March was even over. A number of black women activists were in a cab on their way to the hotel listening to Martin Luther King's "I have a dream speech" on the cab's radio.  

As a result of the story of Lena and Rosa at the March On Washington, I decided to dig and learn. One of the other things that I learned was that other black women, like Anna Arnold Hedgeman, were indeed offended by treatment as second class citizens by black men and wound up meeting after The March On Washington. Some became founding members of the N.O.W., the National Organization For Women.

Today, as a result of a little research, I've found out that Lena was very aware of colorism's benefits and costs too. 
"She soon moved to Hollywood where she began acting in movies. Due to her lighter skin tone, MGM pushed her to “pass as a Latin” rather than as a black woman, but she refused. Instead, she was cast in insubstantial roles, and her scenes could be easily removed (as many scenes with African American actors were in the South). She did star in two “all-black” musicals, Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather, both released in 1943."

Like most black women, Lena Horne was beautiful inside and out. She pushed back against overt racism of whites, the sexism of black men she revered, and the unacknowledged colorism of blacks and whites both. That means Lena Horne was braver than most.