How It Feels to Be FreeBlack Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement

How It Feels to Be FreeBlack Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement

Ruth Feldstein

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780195314038

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Abstract

How It Feels to Be Free tells a story about black women entertainers and their relationships to the civil rights/black power movement. The book focuses on six performers: singer and film star Lena Horne; South African singer Miriam Makeba; pianist‐vocalist Nina Simone; jazz singer and actress Abbey Lincoln; and stage, film, and television actresses Diahann Carroll and Cicely Tyson. All six were more than “just” entertainers, all six took risks when they used their celebrity status to support civil rights, and all six insisted, in all sorts of ways, that the liberation they desired could not separate race from sex. By bringing them center stage, the book demonstrates the multiple ways that culture mattered to black activism in the 1960s; there was far more to culture and civil rights than “We Shall Overcome.” How It Feels to Be Free also explores the transnational circulation of black politics and culture; women celebrities who were popular around the globe helped to “export” ideas about black activism in the United States, but their experiences abroad also shaped their participation in U.S. activism. Finally, this book argues that gender was critical to the simultaneous development of black activism and feminism. These women did not call themselves feminists; but with their performances in music, film, and television, and their work in front of and away from cameras, they offered critiques and made demands that became central tenets of feminism generally and of black feminism specifically.