June 30 is the birthday of the late singer, actress, and activist Lena Horne.  Ms. Horne was born in 1917 and died on May 9, 2010.  She was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., but she lived in a variety of places with a variety of relatives during her lifetime. 

“Both sides of her family were a mixture of European American, Native American, and African American descent, and belonged to the upper stratum of middle-class, well-educated people.” (Wikipedia)  “Colored” was a term used in reference to black people, and no matter how diverse Ms. Horne’s genetic background was, she was considered “colored” just the same.  (“Colored” is now considered archaic/offensive when referring to African Americans.) 

Ms. Horne was “the first black performer to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio.”  She signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn Mayer in 1942.  However, since she was “colored” just the same, she was edited out of some films before they were shown in theaters that “would not show films with black performers.” In spite of experiencing discrimination, Ms. Horne had a successful nightclub career and appeared in several TV shows.

As noted, Ms. Horne was also a Civil Rights activist who actively pursued equality for black Americans.  She objected to performing before segregated audiences.  She reportedly left the stage and performed at the first row of black soldiers during one performance because the black soldiers had been seated in rows behind the upfront rows of German POWs.  Although they were serving their country, black soldiers were treated unfairly because they were “colored” just the same. 

The Lena Horne Recognition Act of 2015 directs the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate to arrange for the posthumous presentation, on behalf of the Congress, of a Congressional Gold medal in commemoration of Lena Horne in recognition of her achievements and contributions to American culture and the civil rights movement. The U.S House of Representatives passed this bill, and it has been sent to the Senate.

Recently, a friend commented on how amazed she was that President Obama is defined by his black heritage even though it is known that his mother was white.  Yep.  No matter what his genetic makeup, he is “colored” just the same.

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...