Have you ever thought about what makes a person fight oppression? How often do you hear a person’s story behind the fight? Is their story important enough for you to hear?
Meet Florynce Rae “Flo” Kennedy. She lived from February 11, 1916, until December 21, 2000. In 1949, she graduated from Columbia University School of General Studies. In 1951, she graduated from Columbia Law School.
Initially, Kennedy was denied admission into law school. In her autobiography, she stated that the associate dean informed her that her rejection was due to the fact that she was a woman. She threatened to sue and was only then admitted. Interestingly, her law class consisted of eight women and one African American. Kennedy was that African American.
She grew up in a neighborhood that was mostly white. Although the Ku Klux Klan was present within her neighborhood, she had a happy childhood. Kennedy credited her parents for creating within her and her siblings a sense of security and worth. According to her, when others attempted to tell them that they were worthless, it was too late. They already knew their value.
Kennedy was an attorney, actress, author, lecturer and narrator. She was also an activist. In 1965, she was arrested for being in a neighborhood that the officer failed to believe she lived. She did live there, however. This event was the pivotal point that inspired her to fight racism and discrimination.
Kennedy was an early member of the National Organization for Women. She was not satisfied with their approach and left the organization in 1970. A year later, she founded the Feminist Party. Note, this was the party that nominated Shirley Chisholm for president. Kennedy also helped found the Women’s Political Caucus. In 1973, she co-founded the National Black Feminist Organization, an organization which focused on race and gender issues.
Kennedy’s work in the areas of race and gender has been extensive. She used her law degree and connections to advance social justice causes both in and outside of the courtroom.
In 1997, Kennedy received a Lifetime Courageous Activist Award. In 1998, Columbia University honored her with its Owl Award, an award for outstanding graduates. In 1999, Kennedy received the Century Award from the City University of New York.
Just think, what if the officer believed her when she said she lived on East 48th Street? What if she did not have a memory of her father having to ward off the Ku Klux Klan with a shotgun because they attempted to run her family out of the neighborhood? What if her parents did not instill within her a real sense of worth and security?
These things did all happen, however. At times a bit brash, Kennedy and her work left a lasting impression. Let us honor that.
Keisha Bell is an attorney, author and public servant. To reach Bell, email her at email@example.com or log on to www.emergingfree.com to view more of her work.