kat himmel | curious thing
history through portraiture

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down to eartha

down to eartha

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#art/#history: 'still i rise.' although written by maya angelou, this phrase could just as well belong to the indomitable eartha kitt (who died - very much railing away, according to her daughter - on this day in 2008). you may not recognise her without her catwoman mask, but that's a real shame. she warrants so much more respect than just an inductee into the annals of 60s telly-pop culture. born to an african-cherokee mother who'd been raped & impregnated by a white man, eartha felt rejected by all sides. too light of skin for her mum's side of the family & too dark for any caucasion relations (had anyone dared to finger the culprit), she was abused by the aunt who became her guardian when eartha's mum ran off with a man who wouldn't accept his woman's daughter. by 1943, eartha was in harlem & beginning to be known for her distinctive voice. in several years' time, orson welles would call her 'the most exciting woman in the world'. this is accurate, for defiance ran through eartha like blood. she'd learned to speak her mind when she saw injustice, which eventually got her blacklisted & blackballed by the CIA. during the vietnam war, she visited the white house. when lady bird johnson asked for her thoughts about the war, eartha spoke from her conscience. she said,

'the children of America are not rebelling for no reason. they are not hippies for no reason at all. we don't have what we have on sunset boulevard for no reason. they are rebelling against something. there are so many things burning the people of this country, particularly mothers. they feel they are going to raise sons – & i know what it's like, & you have children of your own, mrs johnson – we raise children and send them to war.'

kaboom! can you say, 'persona non grata'? eartha took her talent to europe where she lived for a number of happy years in self-imposed exile. all the while, she was advocating for peace & for the rights of women, children, the LGBT community, minorities...because she knew what it was like to feel vulnerable & unfairly treated. her kind heart, sharp wit & remarkable fortitude make it all the more poignant that she never learned the identity of the father she longed to know. because he was white & eartha's mum was black, his name had been expunged from the birth certificate she'd fought so hard to access.

have a happy eartha day!