Sex kitten. Sultry star. The original Catwoman. African American diva. Those are some of the many descriptions used to describe Eartha Kitt, whose death on Christmas Day made the front pages of a multitude of newspapers and websites across the country.
But buried deep in the laudatory obituaries of Kitt was something that I long remembered in reading history books: her unwillingness to be a multiracial woman who celebrated her blackness with unrepentant truth.
Kitt could have been one of the countless stars who, in the presence of power, just held their tongue, smiled for the cameras, and went on about her business.
But in 1968, on a visit to the White House, she was asked at a luncheon by the First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, her thoughts on the Vietnam War. Instead of the kind of answer many would expect of a star, that is nothing that all important, Kitt spoke her mind, saying, "You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. No wonder the kids rebel and take pot."
Those 21 words reportedly caused the First Lady to burst in tears...and there went 10 years of Kitt's career in America Forget TV shows, Broadway musicals, recording contracts and movies. Her stellar and multidimensional career dried up, forcing her to pay the bills with bookings in Europe. She wasn't brought back into the fold in her own country until 10 years later when President Jimmy Carter invited her back to the White House.
Her story is no shock to anyone who understands history, which is replete with similar tales. Just ask the gifted and talented Paul Robeson.
So while we cherish the memories of the original Catwoman, play her mesmerizing song, "Santa Baby," and crack up laughing at her over-the-top performance as Lady Eloise opposite Eddie Murphy in Boomerang, let's not praise the singer, dancer and actress Eartha Kitt. We should also thank God for the revolutionary spirit that occupied the same space in the body of this incredibly talented - and courageous - sister.
There are moments when a person has to speak truth, even if it might hurt someone. Kitt knew that the war in Vietnam was a worthless exercise, and she wasn't willing to hide the truth. Unfortunately, the First Lady wasn't able to handle the truth.
The Roland Report is the news blog from Essence magazine. Click the view button below to read more.