Eartha Kitt confronts President Lyndon Johnson during lunch, January 1968.
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Before Colin Kaepernick, There Was Eartha Kitt

How the entertainer was blacklisted for standing up to the President.
After dessert, LBJ took to the podium and spoke briefly about how more police were needed on the streets, how there was “a great deal” that could be done to ensure “our youth are not seduced,” and that “the place to start is in the home.”

When the President was done speaking, Kitt stood up, physically stood, walked over to him and said: “Mr. President, what do you do about delinquent parents? Those who have to work and are too busy to look after their children?” The question took the President by surprise. He hemmed and hawed about a Social Security bill, about day-care centers, and then he quickly left the room.

Kitt sat back down, and remained sitting and quiet, as the lunching women spoke, mostly about the First Lady’s intention to “beautify America.” Finally, after Lady Bird asked for Kitt’s opinion, Kitt said: “I think we have missed the main point of the luncheon. We have forgotten the main reason we have juvenile delinquency.”

Then, Kitt brought up the war.

“You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed,” Kitt said. “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 from their mothers to be shot in Vietnam.”

“Mrs. Johnson,” she continued, “you are a mother, too…I am a mother and I know the feeling of having a baby come out of my guts. I have a baby and then you send him off to war. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot. And, Mrs. Johnson, in case you don’t understand the lingo that’s marijuana.”

The New York Times ran the story the next day, front page, a picture of Kitt, mouth wide open, Lady Bird looking on, bewildered, slightly terrified. The headline: Eartha Kitt Denounces War Policy to Mrs. Johnson, and: EARTHA KITT HITS U.S. WAR POLICY.

“A pale Mrs. Johnson rose and looked directly at Miss Kitt who leaned against a podium in the yellow walled Family Dining Room,” the Times reported. With her “voice trembling,” and “tears welling in her eyes,” Lady Bird told the room that just because there was “a war going on,” she saw “no reason to be uncivilized.”

“I took it,” Kitt would later write in her autobiography, “she was referring to me.”

The press ran with the story coast-to-coast, blowing it up, turning it into a tale of an ‘angry black woman’ making the sweet, gentle, white Lady Bird Johnson cry.
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