Warrior Women

Got a new book for my overstuffed To-Be-Read list. From the NYTimes:

Ruth Feldstein’s important new book, “How It Feels to Be Free: Black Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement,” is an original exploration of the little-known but central role that black entertainers, especially black women, played in helping communicate and forward the movement’s goals. Lena Horne, Miriam Makeba, Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, Diahann Carroll and Cicely Tyson — the black women entertainers in this book — were popular at the height of an organized global struggle for black freedom, from around 1959 till the mid-1970s. They were influenced by this movement, even as they helped shape it.

Ms. Feldstein, an associate professor of history at Rutgers University in Newark, has not written tell-all celebrity biographies of these women. Nor is hers the story of a group of women working together, though Simone, Lincoln and Makeba became close friends. “How It Feels to Be Free” is a work of cultural history that insists upon the importance of popular art to the work of social change. Ms. Feldstein convincingly argues that “culture was a key battleground in the civil rights movement” and that the women in this book anticipated much of what would later emerge in the more militant black power movement and in second-wave feminism. Though a scholarly book, it should be of interest to an intelligent, general readership…

“In all sorts of ways, they insisted that the liberation they desired could not separate race from sex,” she writes. Describing her friendship with Hansberry, Simone recalled they “never talked about men or clothes or other such inconsequential things when we got together. It was always Marx, Lenin and revolution — real girls’ talk.”…

18 replies
  1. 1
    raven says:

    I saw Nina Simone in 1971. She made all the white folks move to the back of the auditorium before she would perform. No one minded.

  2. 2
    Big R says:

    I know I’m just an ignorant White Dude, but who is Hansberry?

  3. 3
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Big R: Per Wikipedia:

    Lorraine Vivian Hansberry (May 19, 1930 – January 12, 1965) was an American playwright and writer.[ She was the first black woman to write a play performed on Broadway. She lived for 34 years and inspired Nina Simone to write the song, “To Be Young, Gifted and Black”…

    The play in question was A Raisin in the Sun.

  4. 4
    Big R says:

    @Anne Laurie: Derp. I recognized the name once I saw it in full. Cultural silencing, anybody? I does it.

  5. 5
    BillinGlendaleCA says:

    Joe Scar has a happy, NYT says intel warned of attacks at Benghazi. Good thing we don’t have to talk about that non-scandal Bridgegate.

  6. 6
    NotMax says:

    What, no Eartha Kitt?

  7. 7
    Schlemizel says:

    Back in the late 50’s, maybe the early 60’s mom took me to see Miriam Makeba. I was old enough to know there were black people (one of my friends in kindergarten was black) but not old enough to know that being black in the US was a problem. I remember I enjoyed her singing a lot but I have no idea if she spoke about South Africa or politics. It was subversive in its own way, I saw people of color without any preconceived notions or expectations. By the time I was old enough to here people say things about race I was already conditioned to believe they were just like me.

  8. 8
    TS says:


    Joe Scar has a happy, NYT says intel warned of attacks at Benghazi. Good thing we don’t have to talk about that non-scandal Bridgegate.

    Also too, democrats may as well stay home in November – everyone hates the government (Joe makes sure that is government and not congress – despite too many people equate the two).

    Tuesday MJ said there was so much more talk about bridgegate than Benghazi!! – and he has been talking about Benghazi ever since. The lies of the political media are staggering.

    Anyone who gets their information from any cable/MSM source must truly think the only way to save America is to vote republican – no wonder the President uses the “grassroots” method of getting out the truth.

  9. 9
    Schlemizel says:


    Let me guess – there was a PDB titled “Al Qiada determined to attack in Benghazi”

  10. 10
    BillinGlendaleCA says:

    no wonder the President uses the “grassroots” method of getting out the truth.

    Joe calls that campaigning and it’s really bad. Though, I remember a President that talked about going over the heads of Congress to the people. Ronald something or other.

  11. 11
    Sly says:

    Related to the topic: I always liked the story of how Nichelle Nichols met her biggest fan.

  12. 12
  13. 13
    WereBear says:

    Thank you, AL. Bought through the BJ Amazon link for extra brownie points.

    It was a shock to me, later in life, to discover my parents did harbor some racial attitudes. But for their time, they were advanced; and to their credit, they did not share any of it with us until we were grown and had established our own thoughts.

    Though I do remember my mother painting a black lawn jockey, white. I’ll have to ask her about that.

  14. 14
    jake the snake says:


    I was going to bring up Nichelle Nichols. Roddenberry deserves some credit, but Ms. Nichols sacrificed other opportunities to
    stay on Star Trek as an example.

  15. 15
    Aleta says:

    Thank you for this; beautiful, and coincidentally timely for me and my niece this morning. Thanks also for the book info.

  16. 16

    While we were watching the “That’s Entertainment!” movie marathon on New Year’s Eve, I heard a story I had never heard before — Lena Horne desperately wanted to play the role of Julie, the “tragic mulatto” in love with a white man, in the 1951 remake of Show Boat, but the Production Code Administration (Hollywood censors) decreed that the role had to be played by a white woman, because you could have a story about miscegenation onscreen, but you had to populate it solely with white actors to protect audiences from the horror of seeing Lena Horne kiss a white man.

    Also, MGM deliberately shot Horne’s appearances as stand-alone numbers so Southern theater owners could cut her out without damaging the rest of the film.

    Maria McKenzie has a little more on her blog, and you can see what Horne could have done with the role with the role here.

  17. 17

    Also, another interesting-sounding book popped up when I added How It Feels to Be Free to my wish list:

    Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora

    It was published in December of 2013, so there aren’t any reviews yet.

  18. 18
    Thursday says:

    @jake the snake:

    Tangentally related: have you read how Shatner made sure the famous “first interracial kiss on TV” made it to air? Hilarious stuff!

    Whelp, popped in a request for the local to bring this in, only to find out my own reading skills aren’t up to snuff: can’t order books that aren’t out yet, apparently. So faked the publication date and ordered it any way.

Comments are closed.