This week in history: Kickass black feminist Flo Kennedy born

Florynce Rae “Flo” Kennedy was born in Kansas City, Mo., 100 years ago on February 11, 1916. She was a lawyer, activist, civil rights advocate, lecturer, writer and feminist. She loved being outrageous and was known for her lively outspokenness.

Daughter of a Pullman porter, Kennedy graduated from Columbia Law School in 1951. She handled the estates of jazz artists Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday. She was an early member of the National Organization for Women. In 1971 she founded the Feminist Party, which nominated Shirley Chisholm for president. She also helped found the Women’s Political Caucus and participated in the 1967 Atlantic City Miss America protest. She founded the National Black Feminist Organization in 1975.

Kennedy used what we would today call “intersectionality” as her approach to activism. Sherie Randolph, in her biography of the radical activist, quotes Flo saying: “My main message is that we have a pathologically, institutionally racist, sexist, classist society.” And, she continued, “techniques that are used don’t only damage black people, but they also damage women, gay people, ex-prison inmates, prostitutes, children, old people, handicapped people, native Americans. And that if we can begin to analyze the pathology of oppression…we would learn a lot about how to deal with it.”

Among her writings, Kennedy contributed the piece “Institutionalized oppression vs. the female” to the 1970 anthology Sisterhood is Powerful: An Anthology of Writings From The Women’s Liberation Movement, edited by Robin Morgan. In 1976, Kennedy wrote an autobiography, Color Me Flo: My Hard Life and Good Times. She also collaborated with William Francis Pepper on the book Sex Discrimination in Employment: An Analysis and Guide for Practitioner and Student. Kennedy died on December 21, 2000, at the age of 84.

In 2015 the University of North Carolina Press released Florynce “Flo” Kennedy: The Life of a Black Feminist Radical, by Sherie M. Randolph. Rather than recount more of Flo Kennedy’s biography, we thought you might enjoy

A few choice quotations

“I’m just a loud-mouthed middle-aged colored lady with a fused spine and three feet of intestines missing and a lot of people think I’m crazy.”

“Maybe you do too, but I never stop to wonder why I’m not like other people. The mystery to me is why more people aren’t like me.”

“You’ve got to rattle your cage door. You’ve got to let them know that you’re in there, and that you want out. Make noise.”

“Cause trouble. You may not win right away, but you’ll sure have a lot more fun.”

“When you want to get to the suites, start in the streets.”

“Freedom is like taking a bath: You got to keep doing it every day.”

“Countermovements among racists and sexists and nazifiers are just as relentless as dirt on a coffee table. Every housewife knows that if you don’t sooner or later dust, the whole place will be dirty again.”

“The whole concept of authority is what I think Women’s Lib and Black liberation are about.”

“Our parents had us so convinced we were precious that by the time I found out I was nothing, it was already too late – I knew I was something.”

“There are very few jobs that actually require a penis or vagina. All other jobs should be open to everybody.”

“If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”

“The biggest sin is sitting on your ass.”

“Don’t agonize, organize.”

“Sweetie, if you’re not living on the edge, then you’re taking up space.”

Source: Wikipedia. Citation for quotes: Jone Johnson Lewis. “Florynce Kennedy Quotes.” About Women’s History. Date accessed: January 29, 2016.


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Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.