Everyone knows Eartha Kitt for her famous Christmas classic “Santa Baby,” her unapologetic sex appeal and her phenomenal performing skills. Yet few know that decades before she was the hilarious villain, Yzma, from The Emperor’s New Groove, she was blackballed for lowkey reading the First Lady of the United States, Lady Bird Johnson, for filth. In 1968, Kitt was asked how we [read: middle to upper class white women] can fix the problem of juvenile delinquency in the U.S. [read: how can we get the youth to act right without actually fixing any systemic issues but still feeling better about ourselves].
To which Madame Kitt replied:
“You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. They rebel in the street. They will take pot and they will get high. They don’t want to go to school because they’re going to be snatched off from their mothers to be shot in Vietnam.”
And then she followed it up with this:
“Vietnam is the main reason we are having trouble with the youth of America. It is a war without explanation or reason.”
This statement, though brief, was revolutionary due to the time and the place where it was said. Kitt didn’t just say this in an interview or in a strongly worded letter to the White House. She said them TO THE FIRST LADY’S FACE.
And where do you fancy she said them? IN THE WHITE HOUSE, in front of the President of the United States and a bunch of white women. Even after the luncheon was over and the news spread like wildfire that Kitt had “made the First Lady cry,” the pinnacle of class and grace that was Madame Eartha was not sorry.
So as you can guess, the powers that be were pissed and proceeded to blacklist her in the U.S. She received personal threats from the CIA at the behest of President and Lady Bird Johnson and was unable to receive steady work in the U.S. for almost a decade.
Fortunately for all of us, Kitt was able to continue her career in Europe and proceeded to remain in touch with various activists across the world. She was eventually welcomed back into the American mainstream and was able to re-establish her career, but there’s something to be said for having your career almost singlehandedly destroyed by the U.S. Government simply for speaking your mind.
Rest in power, Queen Kitt.
Tags: activism, actors of color, Black Excellence, Black History, Eartha Kitt, Lady Bird Johnson, LBJ, Lyndon B. Johnson, NEVER FORGET, poc, Vietnam, Vietnam War, women of color