The Tom & Lorenzo Archives: 2006 -2011

Lena Horne

The very definition of "fuck-you fierce."

"[H]er family imbued her with a sense of pride that would define her racial attitudes thereafter. Early on, she learned of the impressive legacy of her forebears: Her paternal grandmother held key positions with the NAACP and the National Urban League; her grandfather was the first black member of the Brooklyn Board of Education; her uncle served as an adviser on race relations to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

And Ms. Horne never forgot the words of her grandmother, who 'taught me about facing down, you know, looking people in their eyes and saying, "I don't like it," when a wrong had been committed."

"She became, as she once said, 'the first Negro sex symbol' (though devotees of Josephine Baker might have disagreed). But because Ms. Horne refused to take the roles of maids and prostitutes routinely accorded black actresses in that time, her movie career was confined to musical performances and never fully blossomed."

"[S]he never flinched from battles as she encountered them. When a patron in a posh Beverly Hills restaurant referred to her by a vile racial epithet, in 1960, she flung [a] table lamp, several glasses and an ashtray at him."

"I never had the great urge to be in the movies in the first place, only because I saw that it was Tarzan or nothing,' she said in the Tribune interview. 'I never fell for the myth. So when I saw the way things were going, I just got on out."

"You wouldn't be allowed to get on a particular bus, but you'd be asked to sign your autograph."

"[H]er outspoken manner did not endear her to Hollywood chieftains or to certain aspects of the movie-going public. In a notorious incident during World War II , she walked onstage at a USO show at Ft. Riley, Kan., only to see that German prisoners of war were sitting in front of black American soldiers.

Ms. Horne rebelled.

'I just walked off the stage and went up and sang to the back of the room,' she remembered, in the Tribune interview. 'It happened a couple of times, and they finally said, "Get her out of the USO."

'I just reacted as Lena, you know."

[Photo Credit: various sources]

Source: "Legendary singer, civil rights activist Lena Horne dies" [Chicago Tribune]

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