Florynce "Flo" Kennedy
The Life of a Black Feminist Radical
by Sherie M. Randolph
University of North Carolina Press
328 pages, Illustrated
Book Review by Kam Williams
"I first came upon [Flo] Kennedy when I was sitting on my sofa, flipping through TV channels, and old footage flashed across the screen of her... A friend watching with me... knew that she had been active as a feminist in the 1960s and 1970s, but she knew little else...
Who was this radical black woman? The more I learned, the more I was drawn to [this] black feminist who fought against multiple forms of discrimination.
I was also fascinated by the broad range of her actions, stretching from the legal defense of Black Power organizers H. Rap Brown and Assata Shakur to the struggle to legalize abortion. Kennedy stood at the center of so many battles, yet I had never heard of her, and there was not a single book or even a scholarly article about her life.
What started as a hobby of collecting information about this enigmatic black woman developed into... a full-scale biography."
-- Excerpted from the Introduction (page 2-3)
Florynce "Flo" Kennedy (1916-2000) was a radical lawyer who played a pivotal role in both the the feminist and black liberation movements. In fact, she was also a very vocal proponent of equal rights for gays, the disabled and many other minority groups. For, central to her philosophy was the notion that the underclasses were substantially oppressed because of the establishment's effective employment of a divide and conquer strategy designed to keep them forever at odds instead of united against the forces exploiting them.
In an expletive-laced speech delivered on a college campus in 1976, the irrepressible iconoclast reportedly bellowed, "My main message is that we have a pathologically, institutionally racist, sexist, classist society. And that [N-word]-izing techniques that are used don't only damage black people, but they also damage women, gay people, ex-prison inmates, prostitutes, children, old people, handicapped people, Native Americans. And that if we can begin to analyze the pathology of oppression... we would learn a lot about how to deal with it."
A visionary way ahead of her time, Flo frequently found herself frustrated by the behavior of her compatriots. For example, she was disappointed by the failure of white feminists to support Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm's 1972 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Today, thanks to Sherie Randolph, the legacy of this overlooked historical figure has not been allowed to slip through the cracks. Flo's critical contributions are carefully chronicled in this painstakingly-researched biography which begins with a detailed discussion of her childhood in Kansas City where she and her four sisters were taught by her parents to always challenge authority.
Despite segregation, Flo never would accept her second-class status, a mindset which served her well in a fight to gain admission to Columbia University Law School way back in the Forties. After graduating, rather than cashing in on the license to print money, she embarked upon an enduring career dedicated to alleviating the suffering of the downtrodden and marginalized.
A fitting, overdue tribute to an unapologetic firebrand and tireless advocate that time almost forgot.
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