Lena Horne, battler for civil rights in Hollywood, dead at 92. (Oh, yes, she sang and acted too)

Lena Horne died last week at 92. I only knew of two prominent African-Americans when I was growing up in segregated Wilmington, Delaware. One was heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, and the other was singer Lena Horne. I knew she was a good singer, and quite beautiful, but I didn’t know anything else. I’m indebted to Jack Marshall’s EthicsAlarms.com blog for educating me about her groundbreaking role in the civil rights movement.

Marshall called Horne “Ethics Hero Emeritus” for her relentless fight against segregation and her principled refusal to play demeaning roles in the racist Hollywood environment of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Her career suffered, and she finally left Hollywood for Europe, where people didn’t seem to care much about her skin color.

There’s a fascinating PBS Fresh Air program, broadcast on May 14, that replays an interview that host Terry Gross conducted with Horne’s daughter, Gail Lumet Horne, in 1986. Listen to it for an inspiring story of this heroic woman.

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