Before Beyoncé There Was Eartha Kitt

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By Tonyaa Weathersbee

Nearly half a century before Beyoncé made law-and-order types like former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani whine on Fox News over her Super Bowl Homage to the Black Panthers and the Black Lives Matter Movement, Eartha Kitt made the First Lady cry.

Yes. Kitt, the sultry singer and actress known for her unique, purring voice –immortalized in the vintage Christmas song “Santa Baby”- was invited to a Women’s Doers Luncheon at the White House in 1968 by Lady Bird Johnson.Kitt was invited because she had testified before Congress in favor of President Lyndon Johnson’s anti-crime legislation. But she didn’tshow up to praise the President, but to criticize him.

According to Lady Bird’s biographer David Murphy, Kitt, who opposed Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War, stood up during the question period and said:“Boys I know across the nation feel it doesn’t pay to be a good guy. You are a mother too though 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 kid’s rebel and take pot. And Mrs. Johnson, in case you don’t understand the lingo, that’s marijuana.”

 Lady Bird was near tears when she responded that being at war didn’t mean that working for better things should cease. Obviously she missed Kitt’s point; that the very real prospect of youths being drafted to fight in Vietnam once they turned 18 made most attempts to improve their lives futile.

But Kitt paid for making that white lady cry.Her career plummeted in the U.S., and she was forced to work in Europe for more than a decade. The CIA kept files on her. The FBI investigated her. She wound up on the enemies’ list of the next president, Richard Nixon.

“The thing that hurts, that became anger, was when I realized that if you tell the truth – in a country that says you’re entitled to tell the truth – you get your face slapped and you get put out of work,” Kitt later told Esquire Magazine.

This year, that same hypocrisy that Kitt experienced was directed toward Beyoncé – when she used her art as her voice to focus the nation’s attention on black people and black youths who aren’t being killed by enemy combatants whose job it is to kill, but by police whose job it is to protect.

Her performance at Super Bowl 50 – one in which she featured dancers dressed in Black Panther berets and leather – was culled from her latest song and video “Formation.”  It is a protest video, one in which Beyoncé extols black pride and culture with lyrics such as “I got hot sauce in my bag swag,” and “You mix that Negro with that Creole, make a Texas Bama,” and exposes black pain with imagery of her sitting on a New Orleans police car sinking in the floods from Hurricane Katrina and a black child dancing before a row of armed riot police.  “Stop Shooting Us,” is also scrawled on a wall in the video.

The video and performance, however, inspired a lot of white whining.

 Tonyaa J. Weathersbee is a multiple award-winning columnist and multimedia journalist in Jacksonville, FL. To learn more about her and her work, go to www.tonyaajweathersbee.com or www.facebook.com/tonyaajweathersbee. Or follow her @tonyaajw.

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