Long before Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, Gabrielle Union, Janelle Monáe, Kerry Washington, Keke Palmer, Rihanna, Shonda Rimes, Taraji P. Henson and Viola Davis came on the scene, there was Eartha Kitt.

Born on a South Carolina plantation in 1927, Eartha Kitt would become a multitalented actor and singer, a comedian and dancer, and a civil rights activist. Kitt was one of the few Black actors on TV, playing the role of Catwoman on the 1960s Batman television series. This was a time when there were so few Black faces on TV that Black folks would call their friends and family on the phone when one of us actually appeared on the screen.

While Eartha Kitt is known for her talent as an entertainer and celebrity, little is known about her activism and the price she paid to her career for speaking out against a sitting president – to his face and in his house.

Kitt played a powerful role as Catwoman, in her skintight catsuit and sensual purr, at a time when Black people were feeling their sense of power, demanding power, fighting for change and speaking truth to power on civil rights and the war in Vietnam. This Black woman was on top of her game, and could have used her influence and celebrity status for any number of things. She chose to speak out against injustice.

In 1967, Eartha Kitt testified before Congress on behalf of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s juvenile delinquency legislation. The following year, the First Lady (Lady Bird Johnson) invited Kitt to a White House luncheon, the Women Doers’ luncheon to discuss this question: “Why is there so much juvenile delinquency in the streets of America?” Kitt expected the luncheon would be a lot of nonsense — flowers, champagne, a chance to show off. I felt a con coming on.” Perhaps this respectable White House luncheon crowd did not expect the outspoken Eartha Kitt to condemn America for sending young Black men to die in Vietnam.

Johnson told the crowd that the problem with delinquency starts in the home. Kitt told President Johnson to his face that the issue was not delinquency, but rather that young people were “angry because their parents are angry . . . because there is a war going on that they don’t understand.”

“Boys I know across the nation feel it doesn’t pay to be a good guy,” Kitt said. “They figure with a record they don’t have to go off to Vietnam. You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. They rebel in the street. They will take pot and they will get high. They don’t want to go to school because they’re going to be snatched off from their mothers to be shot in Vietnam.”

Kitt added: “Mrs. Johnson, you are a mother too, although you have had daughters and not sons. I am a mother and I know the feeling of having a baby come out of my guts. I have a baby and then you send him off to war. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot. And, Mrs. Johnson, in case you don’t understand the lingo, that’s marijuana.”

Ok, Eartha, we see you!

As a result of her public statement, Kitt was monitored by the CIA and her career was ruined for a decade. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter welcomed Kitt to the White House. She died in 2008.

The moral of the story is that when the President asks you a question, either you say what people want to hear or you speak the truth. And when you are a Black celebrity, you can use your influence to move things forward. This is an example of Black women using their celebrity status to stand up to power and stand up for the community.

David A. Love, JD - Serves

BlackCommentator.com as Executive

Editor. He is a journalist, commentator,

human rights advocate, a Professor at

the Rutgers University School of

Communication and Information based in

Philadelphia, a contributor to Four

Hundred Souls: A Community History of

African America, 1619-2019, The

Washington Post, theGrio,

AtlantaBlackStar, The Progressive,

CNN.com, Morpheus, NewsWorks and

The Huffington Post. He also blogs at

davidalove.com. Contact Mr. Love and


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