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Lena Horne was the first black woman to get a contract with a major Hollywood Studio
By John Lawrence
Born into a black bourgeoisie family in 1917, Lena Horne was signed up in the NAACP by her grandmother, Cora Calhoun Horne, a college graduate, at the age of two. The Hornes owned a four-story residence in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn.
The distinguished Horne family included teachers, activists and a Harlem Renaissance poet. Lena’s uncle became dean of a black college. According to James Gavin’s biography of Lena, Stormy Weather, the black bourgeoisie were descendants of favored slaves “privileged blacks who, by virtue of their brains or their sexual allure to their masters, had worked in the house, not in the field. During the decade-long heyday of Reconstruction, they’d used their cachet to start businesses and gain social standing.”
Lena’s grandmother drilled into her respectability at all costs. She was to use proper diction, no dialect allowed, and always present herself as a lady. Cora was a determined fighter for black causes, and, despite her disdain for whites, she married a white man. According to Gavin, Cora’s cafe au lait skin, thin lips and delicate nose betrayed generations of intermingling with whites. Her maiden name, Calhoun, came from her father’s slavemaster in Georgia, Dr. Andrew Bonaparte Calhoun. His uncle was Senator John C Calhoun who championed slavery as God’s will.
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“The legacy of the United Farm Workers union in its first decade provides us with key lessons for the present and future. It reminds us that grass-roots power organized and deployed by ‘disposable’ workers, fearlessness in the face of corporate exploitation, and the political uses of music, theater, and ritual can change history. In 2015, in a society based on greed and personal ambition, we ignore these lessons at own peril.” –Jorge Mariscal, Professor, UC San Diego
While Monday, March 31st is the official César E. Chávez day, activities celebrating his legacy as a labor and civil rights leader will continue into May. The day is commemorated to promote service to the community in honor of his life and work. The ongoing activities are about continuing that legacy.
Thanks to the UCSD Blink, produced by the faculty and staff of that fine institution, for providing us with a list of activities over the next six weeks honoring the life and achievements of César E. Chávez.