In a recent episode of “Mrs. America” on FX/Hulu, we’re taken into one of Florynce Kennedy’s legendary “Sundays at Flo’s” — a weekly gathering of feminists and black rights activists at her Midtown Manhattan apartment.
We get a good shot of Kennedy in action, scolding one of her guests for suggesting that gay women be excluded from her black feminist organization with these words: “There will be no Lavender Menace bullshit here. Lesbians are welcome. Horizontal hostility is not.”
An attorney, civil and women’s rights advocate, defender of abortion rights and the Black Panthers, Kennedy was the country’s most well known black feminist, instantly recognizable in her trademark cowboy hat and pink sunglasses.
You holler and you sing and you blow your whistles and you shake your shit, and you do your damn thing. . .
In 1971 she founded the short-lived Feminist Party, which nominated Shirley Chisholm for US president, a subject explored in the “Mrs. America” series.
Never at a loss for words, Kennedy traveled and lectured across America, working to unify black and white feminist groups, and urging collaboration between Black Power advocates and women’s liberation activists.
Her quick wit and sarcasm were legendary. ”Sweetie,” she once said, ”if you’re not living on the edge, then you’re taking up space.”
In 1967, Ms. Kennedy traveled to Montreal for a rally against the Vietnam War, where Bobby Seale, the Black Panther, was not allowed to speak. ”I went berserk,” she wrote in her autobiography, Color Me Flo: My Hard Life and Good Times. ”I took the platform and started yelling and hollering.”
An invitation for Kennedy to speak in Washington came next, launching a 20-year public speaking career. At her peak, she made $3,500 a pop.
“The Thelma and Louise of the 70’s” is how Steinem described her cross-country lecture tours with Kennedy. ”I definitely spoke first,” Steinem said, “because after Flo I would have been an anticlimax
(Photo courtesy of Antiochiana, Antioch College)
Whenever a man would ask if they were lesbians – a common enough “accusation” against feminists at the time – Kennedy would shoot back: “Are you my alternative?”
Listen to her here, defiantly raging against oppression at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, captured by radio station WYSO.
She speaks directly to those students who don’t approve of the way society works, but aren’t prepared to join the revolution.
“Do you disrupt at the beginning?” she asks them. “Do you sit quietly, you know? That’s always the problem. And if you’re not a committed revolutionary, it’s much more difficult. Because if you don’t dig the masochistic trip, and you’d like to live a good life, it’s not quite so easy to say ‘well, I’m going to start in with disruption. . . ‘”
No doubt about it— Kennedy was up for disruption.
Watch her signature mix of exuberance and profanity in this brief video, rousing her fellow feminists before the 1972 Democratic National Convention in Miami:
“You holler and you sing and you blow your whistles and you shake your shit, and you do your damn thing. Don’t worry about nobody. If you can’t sing, don’t worry. It’s the people’s chorus — it ain’t the rave. Whatever the fuck it is, dig it!”
Kennedy was especially gifted at inventing new words, like “jockocracy” and “Pentagonorrhea.” People magazine in 1974 wrote that Flo Kennedy was “the biggest, loudest and, indisputably, the rudest mouth on the battleground. . . “
Thanks Flo Kennedy — and rude mouths, loudmouths, and mouthy women everywhere.
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