February 11 - Happy Birthday, Flo Kennedy

 Posted on February 11, 2018

She has a whole list of nouns after her name:

Civil rights advocate


I'm impressed already!

Born on this date in Missouri, in 1916, Kennedy was lucky enough to have a happy childhood and supportive parents. Of course, that doesn't mean that her family didn't have problems. The family struggled with poverty during the Great Depression - along with so many others! And, being a black family in a mostly white neighborhood, they felt the sting of racism from people who should have been friendly neighbors. At one point, the Ku Klux Klan tried to drive the family out of the neighborhood, by force! But the Kennedys stayed put.

Kennedy graduated from her high school at the top of her class, but she didn't at that point go to college. Instead, she earned money by doing many different sorts of jobs. She even owned her own hat shop, for a while. But when her mother died, Kennedy moved to New York City with her sister.

And there were a lot of colleges and universities in NYC!

So...Kennedy went to college and graduated with a pre-law major. But when she applied to law school at her own university, she was rejected.

The law school's associate dean hastened to tell her that it wasn't racial prejudice - she hadn't been rejected because she was black, he claimed.

Instead, it was because she was a woman.

I mean...come on! Was that supposed to make her feel better?
Kennedy told him that being rejected for being a woman felt the same as being rejected for being a black person. And...she threatened to sue the school.

Guess what? They let her in!

After graduating from law school, Kennedy opened her own law office. But all along, she worked just as hard with activism as she did with her law career. She had famous clients (like the estate of Billie Holiday and the Black Panthers), when it came to being a lawyer, and famous co-workers (like Gloria Steinem and Shirley Chisholm), when it came to activism.

Kennedy was famous for wearing
cowboy hats, pink sunglasses,
and other cowboy-ish clothing.
Kennedy seemed to have boundless energy to devote to doing good stuff. Just out of high school, she led a boycott against a bottler of Coca-Cola, because he wouldn't hire black truck drivers. She succeeded in getting the bottler to cave to her demands. In later life, she was on a board of a NYC theatre group that produced plays on feminist issues, she helped craft a Miss America protest, she filed tax evasion charges with the IRS against the Catholic Church because they were violating the separation of church and state, she helped to start the Women's Political Caucus and the Feminist Party.

She worked on helping people understand oppression through the lens of intersectionality. That means that she considered that class, race, gender, and sexual orientation couldn't be considered as separate things - and so oppression of poor people could not be considered separately from oppression of black people or oppression of gay people or oppression of women. The various aspects of humans are woven together in complex ways, and understanding that had to be one aspect of working to make things better.

Anyway, I'm impressed. Flo Kennedy really did work hard and really did make things better!

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