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Kennedy, Florynce 1916–2000

Florynce Kennedy 19162000

Lawyer, political activist, lecturer

Aimed for Law School

Activism Began With Media Workshop

Launched a Speaking Career

Selected writings

Sources

Flo Kennedy has had a remarkably long and visible career as a lawyer, militant activist, and feminist. Since the 1950s, when as an attorney she fought for royalty rights due the estates of musical legends Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker, Kennedy has unflinchingly attacked racism, inequity, and hypocrisy wherever she has found it. An original member of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the founder of the Feminist Party, Kennedy has been a vocal spokesperson for women, blacks, homosexuals, and other minorities, and a staunch defender of civil rights. Variously called outspoken, outrageous, profane, and a woman of immeasurable spirit, Kennedy was once described in People as the biggest, loudest, and indisputably, the rudest mouth on the battleground where feminist activists and radical politics join in mostly common cause. Fellow feminist and friend, Gloria Steinem, has said that for those in the black movement, the womens movement, the peace movement, and the consumer movement, Flo was a political touchstonea catalyst. Steinem, founder of Ms. magazine, also claimed that Five minutes with Flo will change your life.

Born Florynce Rae Kennedy on February 11, 1916 in Kansas City, Missouri, she was the second of Wiley and Zella Kennedys five daughters. Wiley was first a Pullman porter with the railroad and later owned a taxi business. Zella worked outside the home only during the Depression. Neither parent was very strict, and Kennedy wrote in her autobiography, Color Me Flo: My Hard Life and Good Times, that her parents protective attitudes combined to make her and her sisters feel very special. All of us had such a sense of security because we were almost never criticized, she recalled. She has suggested that her upbringing contributed significantly to her anti-Establishment outlook. I suspect that thats why I dont have the right attitude toward authority today, because we were taught very early in the game that we didnt have to respect the teachers, and if they threatened to hit us we could just act as if they werent anybody we had to pay any attention to, she wrote. She learned from her father that sometimes it is necessary to go to extreme measures to defend oneself. Kennedy remembers that her father showed up at school with a gun because the principal had threatened to whip her, and that her father once stood up to the Klu Klux Klan with a shotgun in hand.

Kennedys childhood, while not always prosperous, was a happy time. Zella instilled both tenacity and optimism in her daughter. Zella never accepted poverty, and yet she didnt resent it either, and we laughed a lot when we were really desperately poor, Kennedy wrote of her mother in Color Me Flo. She always made an effort to maintain some kind of esthetic surroundings. She was determined to have rose bushes, although our yard had too much shade. But every year Zella decided she was going to have grass and roses. We never had a single rose from any of those bushes, yet she persisted in going out and buying them. It was Zella who epitomized hope for usshe never gave up.

Aimed for Law School

Kennedy graduated from Lincoln High School in Kansas City at the top of her class, but she did not

At a Glance

Born Florynce Rae Kennedy on February 11, 1916, in Kansas City, MO; died December 21, 2001, in New York; daughter of Wiley (a Pullman porter and taxi owner) and Zella Kennedy; married Charles Dudley Dye (a writer), 1957 (deceased). Education: Columbia University, B.A., 1948, J.D., 1951.

Career: Lawyer, political activist, lecturer, author. Lawyer in private practice in New York, NY, 1954-66; founder and director of Media Workshop and Consumer Information Service, 1966; founder and director of Feminist Party, 1970; national director, Voters, Artists, Anti-Nuclear Activist and Consumers for Political Action and Communication Coalition (VAC-PAC); national director, Ladies Aid and Trade Crusade.

Member: National Organization for Women 1966-70; New York Bar Association.

immediately go on to college. Although she felt that one day she probably would attend college, opportunities for higher education for blacks were limited really kind of unheard-of, she stated. Instead, Kennedy opened a hat shop in Kansas City with her sisters, an enterprise that was fun, if not exceptionally prosperous. While Kennedy admitted she may have been a little more outspoken, a little crazier than the rest in high school, she was more interested in boys than politics. Within a few years of graduation, however, she was involved in her first political action. She helped organize a boycott when the local Coca- Cola bottler refused to hire black truck drivers.

Following her mothers death from cancer, Kennedy and her sister Grayce moved to New York in 1942. Ignoring those who advised her to become a teacher or a nurse at City College, Kennedy enrolled at Columbia University in 1944 as a pre-law student. She supported herself working at various part-time jobs. She explained her decision in 1976: I thought anybody with the brains and energy to become a teacher ought to want to become something better. She elaborated, I find that the higher you aim the better you shoot, and even if it seems youre way beyond yourself it always turns out that you can do a lot more than you thought you could. When in her senior year she again aimed high, attempting a concurrent enrollment at Columbia Law School, she was refused admission. Told she had been rejected not because she was black but because she was a woman, Kennedy was no less incensed. She promptly wrote the dean a letter suggesting the move was racially motivated and hinting that a lawsuit might follow. In 1948 she was admitted to the law school, one of eight women and the only black member of her class. She received her B.A. in 1948 and was awarded her law degree in 1951.

After law school Kennedy clerked with the law firm of Hartman, Sheridan, and Tekulsky, and she was admitted to the bar in 1952. By 1954 she had opened an office on Madison Avenue. It was rough going at times, and she had to take a job at Bloomingdales one Christmas in order to pay the rent. The late 1950s brought Don Wilkes, a law partner, and Charles Charlie Dye, a Welsh writer ten years her junior whom she married in 1957. Neither relationship was to last long. After several disappointing legal defeats, Wilkes ran off with most of the firms assets, leaving Kennedy over $50,000 in debt. Although Dye was very supportive during this crisis, the marriage was rocky due to his alcoholism, and he died soon after.

Activism Began With Media Workshop

Before Wilkes left, the firm had taken on a case for blues singer Billie Holiday. When Holiday died, Kennedy continued to represent the estate, and later she represented the estate of jazz great Charlie Parker as well. In both situations Kennedy successfully fought the record companies to recover money from royalties and sales due the estates. Kennedys experience with this estate work signaled the beginning of her disillusionment with law. Handling the Holiday and Parker estates taught me more than I was really ready for about government and business delinquency and the hostility and helplessness of the courts, she wrote in her memoir. She continued: Not only was I not earning a decent living, there began to be a serious question in my mind whether practicing law could ever be an effective means of changing society or even of simple resistance to oppression.

As a result of these experiences, as well as her conviction that a government conspiracy shrouded the assassination of President Kennedy, the enterprising attorney began to reassess her ability to effect social change through the judicial system. In 1966 Kennedy set up the Media Workshop in order to fight racism in media and advertising. When Benton and Bowles, a large ad agency, refused to provide the Workshop with requested hiring and programming information, the group picketed the Fifth Avenue office. After that they invited us upstairs, Kennedy recalled, and ever since Ive been able to say, When you want to get to the suites, start in the streets.

Thus began Kennedys career as an activist. She was highly visible in this role during the 1960s, picketing the Colgate-Palmolive building with members of NOW, and also protesting at WNEW-TV. The groups media protest led them to CBS, where they were arrested for refusing to leave the building. Eventually CBS withdrew the complaint.

In 1966 Kennedy represented activist H. Rap Brown and was present at the four Black Power Conferences, and at the Black political caucuses as well. She also attended the first meeting of the fledgling National Association for Women, but she was soon disappointed by NOWs reluctance to go head-to-head with the issues of the day. I saw the importance of a feminist movement, and stayed in there because I wanted to do anything I could to keep it alive, but when I saw how retarded NOW was, I thought, My God, who needs this? In November of 1971 Kennedy founded the Feminist Party. Its first action was to support Shirley Chisholms presidential candidacy. Nothing was to big for Flow to tackle. Kennedy, who coined the oft repeated phrase, If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament sued the Roman Catholic church in 1968 for interfering with efforts to liberalize abortion laws. The following year, she organized a group of people to challenge the constitutionality of New Yorks abortion law, which was subsequently liberalized in 1970.

Launched a Speaking Career

The speaking career that would take Kennedy through the next two decades began in 1967 at an anti-war convention in Montreal. She became incensed when Black Panther Bobby Seale was not allowed to speak. She wrote in her memoir: I went berserk. I took the platform and started yelling and hollering. An invitation to speak in Washington followed, and her lecturing career was born. Kennedys activist and speaking careers continued throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and included the Coat Hanger Farewell Protest on the abortion issue, anti-Nixon demonstrations, picketing Avon International for support for the three-hour Celebrate Women TV program, the MAMA Marchthe March Against Media Arroganceand the organization of a demonstration, a pee-in, at Harvard University protesting the lack of womens restrooms. In 1971 Kennedy co-authored Abortion Rap with Diane Schulder, and in 1981 she wrote Sex Discrimination in Employment: An Analysis and Guide for Practitioner and Student, with William F. Pepper. She was national director of Voters, Artists, Anti-Nuclear Activists and Consumers for Political Action and Communications Coalition (VAC-PAC) and also national director of the Ladies Aid and Trade Crusade. According to a Jet magazine article published in 1986, these organizations commandments include Thou Shall Not Use Our Dollars to Finance Racism and Sexism on Network Television. Kennedy, who called herself radicalisms rudest mouth, challenged military spending, suggesting that the government had contracted a new social disease, Pentagonorrhea.

In 1986 Kennedy was roasted by friends and colleagues at a 70th birthday party in New York City. Among those honoring her at the event were activist Dick Gregory and civil rights attorney William Kunstler. That Flo Kennedys career has lengthened to four decades is no surprise when one considers her approach to activism. She described her philosophy about her struggles and victories in her autobiography as being like a successful bath; you dont expect not to take another bath. Counter movements among racists and sexists and nazifiers are just as relentless as dirt on a coffee table. Every housewife knows that if you dont sooner or later dust the whole place will be dirty again.

Known for her flamboyant attire, which included her signature cowboy hat and pink sunglasses, Kennedy remained active, even from her bed. During the last few years of her life, she was bedridden due to a number of health conditions, but was still going after large organizations. At age 81, she was involved in a sexual harassment case against a large civil rights organization, the National Urban League. She died in New York, at the age of 84.

Selected writings

(With Diane Schulder) Abortion Rap, McGraw Hill, 1971.

Color Me Flo: My Hard Life and Good Times, Prentice-Hall, 1976.

(With William F. Pepper) Sex Discrimination in Employment: An Analysis and Guide for Practitioner and Student, Michie Co. (Charlottesville, VA), 1981.

Sources

Books

Kennedy, Flo, Color Me Flo: My Hard Life and Good Times, Prentice-Hall, 1976.

Notable Black American Women, Gale, 1992.

Periodicals

Essence, May 1995, p. 140.

Jet, March 31, 1986, p. 6; January 15, 2001, p. 18.

Los Angeles Times, December 28, 2000, p. B8.

off our backs, February 2001, p. 16.

People, April 14, 1974, p. 54.

Ellen Dennis French and Christine Miner Minderovic

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"Kennedy, Florynce 1916–2000." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Kennedy, Florynce 1916–2000." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved December 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/kennedy-florynce-1916-2000

Kennedy, Flo 1916—

Flo Kennedy 1916

Lawyer, political activist, lecturer

At a Glance

Aimed for Law School

Activism Began With Media Workshop

Launched a Speaking Career

Selected writings

Sources

Flo Kennedy has had a remarkably long and visible career as a lawyer, militant activist, and feminist. Since the 1950s, when as an attorney she fought for royalty rights due the estates of musical legends Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker, Kennedy has unflinchingly attacked racism, inequity, and hypocrisy wherever she has found it. An original member of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the founder of the Feminist Party, Kennedy has been a vocal spokesperson for women, blacks, homosexuals, and other minorities, and a staunch defender of civil rights. Variously called outspoken, outrageous, profane, and a woman of immeasurable spirit, Kennedy was once described in People as the biggest, loudest, and indisputably, the rudest mouth on the battleground where feminist activists and radical politics join in mostly common cause. Fellow feminist and friend Gloria Steinem has said that for those in the black movement, the womens movement, the peace movement, and the consumer movement, Flo was a political touchstonea catalyst.

Born Florynce Rae Kennedy on February 11, 1916 in Kansas City, Missouri, she was the second of Wiley and Zella Kennedys five daughters. Wiley was first a Pullman porter with the railroad and later owned a taxi business. Zella worked outside the home only during the Depression. Neither parent was very strict, and Kennedy wrote in her autobiography, Color Me Flo: My Hard Life and Good Times, that her parents protective attitudes combined to make her and her sisters feel very special. All of us had such a sense of security because we were almost never criticized, she recalled. She has suggested that her upbringing contributed significantly to hert anti-Establishment outlook. I suspect that thats why I dont have the right attitude toward authority today, because we were taught very early in the game that we didnt have to respect the teachers, and if they threatened to hit us we could just act as if they werent anybody we had to pay any attention to, she wrote.

Kennedys childhood, while not always prosperous, was a happy time. Zella instilled both tenacity and optimism in her daughter. Zella never accepted poverty, and yet she didnt resent it either, and we laughed a lot when we were really desperately poor, Kennedy wrote of her mother in Color Me Flo. She always made an effort to

At a Glance

Born Florynce Rae Kennedy on February 11, 1916, in Kansas City, MO; daughter of Wiley (a Pullman porter and taxi owner) and Zella Kennedy; married Charles Dudley Dye (a writer), 1957 (deceased). Education: Columbia University, B.A., 1948, J.D., 1951.

Lawyer, political activist, lecturer, author. Lawyer in private practice in New York, NY, 195466; founder and director of Media Workshop and Consumer Information Service, 1966; founder and director of Feminist Party, 1970; national director, Voters, Artists, Anti-Nuclear Activist and Consumers for Political Action and Communication Coalition (VAC-PAC); national director, Ladies Aid and Trade Crusade.

Member: National Organization for Women (196670), New York Bar Association.

Addresses: Home San Francisco, CA.

maintain some kind of esthetic surroundings. . . . She was determined to have rose bushes, although our yard had too much shade. . . . But every year Zella decided she was going to have grass and roses. . . . We never had a single rose from any of those bushes, yet she persisted in going out and buying them. It was Zella who epitomized hope for usshe never gave up.

Aimed for Law School

Kennedy graduated from Lincoln High School in Kansas City at the top of her class, but she did not immediately go on to college. Although she felt that one day she probably would attend college, opportunities for higher education for blacks were limited really kind of unheard-of, she stated. Instead, Kennedy opened a hat shop in Kansas City with her sisters, an enterprise that was fun, if not exceptionally prosperous. While Kennedy admitted she may have been a little more outspoken, a little crazier than the rest in high school, she was more interested in boys than politics. Within a few years of graduation, however, she was involved in her first political action. She helped organize a boycott when the local Coca Cola bottler refused to hire black truck drivers.

Following her mothers death from cancer, Kennedy and her sister Grayce moved to New York in 1942. Ignoring those who advised her to become a teacher or a nurse at City College, Kennedy enrolled at Columbia University in 1944 as a pre-law student. She supported herself working at various part-time jobs. She explained her decision in 1976: I thought anybody with the brains and energy to become a teacher ought to want to become something better. She elaborated, I find that the higher you aim the better you shoot, and even if it seems youre way beyond yourself... it always turns out that you can do a lot more than you thought you could. When in her senior year she again aimed high, attempting a concurrent enrollment at Columbia Law School, she was refused admission. Told she had been rejected not because she was black but because she was a woman, Kennedy was no less incensed. She promptly wrote the dean a letter suggesting the move was racially motivated and hinting that a lawsuit might follow. In 1948 she was admitted to the law school, one of eight women and the only black member of her class. She received her B.A. in 1948 and was awarded her law degree in 1951.

After law school Kennedy clerked with the law firm of Hartman, Sheridan, and Tekulsky, and she was admitted to the bar in 1952. By 1954 she had opened an office on Madison Avenue. It was rough going at times, and she had to take a job at Bloomingdales one Christmas in order to pay the rent.

The late 1950s brought Don Wilkes, a law partner, and Charles Charlie Dye, a Welsh writer ten years her junior whom she married in 1957. Neither relationship was to last long. After several disappointing legal defeats, Wilkes ran off with most of the firms assets, leaving Kennedy over $50,000 in debt. Although Dye was very supportive during this crisis, the marriage was rocky due to his alcoholism, and he died soon after.

Activism Began With Media Workshop

Before Wilkes left, the firm had taken on a case for blues singer Billie Holiday. When Holiday died, Kennedy continued to represent the estate, and later she represented the estate of jazz great Charlie Parker as well. In both situations Kennedy successfully fought the record companies to recover money from royalties and sales due the estates. Kennedys experience with this estate work signaled the beginning of her disillusionment with law. Handling the Holiday and Parker estates taught me more than I was really ready for about government and business delinquency and the hostility and helplessness of the courts, she wrote in her memoir. She continued: Not only was I not earning a decent living, there began to be a serious question in my mind whether practicing law could ever be an effective means of changing society or even of simple resistance to oppression.

As a result of these experiences, as well as her conviction that a government conspiracy shrouded the assassination of President Kennedy, the enterprising attorney began to reassess her ability to effect social change through the judicial system. In 1966 Kennedy set up the Media Workshop in order to fight racism in media and advertising. When Benton and Bowles, a large ad agency, refused to provide the Workshop with requested hiring and programming information, the group picketed the Fifth Avenue office. After that they invited us upstairs, Kennedy recalled, and ever since Ive been able to say, When you want to get to the suites, start in the streets.

Thus began Kennedys career as an activist. She was highly visible in this role during the 1960s, picketing the Colgate-Palmolive building with members of NOW, and also protesting at WNEW-TV. The groups media protest led them to CBS, where they were arrested for refusing to leave the building. Eventually CBS withdrew the complaint.

In 1966 Kennedy represented activist H. Rap Brown and was present at the four Black Power Conferences, and at the Black political caucuses as well. She also attended the first meeting of the fledgling National Association for Women, but she was soon disappointed by NOWs reluctance to go head-to-head with the issues of the day. I saw the importance of a feminist movement, and stayed in there because I wanted to do anything I could to keep it alive, but when I saw how retarded NOW was, I thought, My God, who needs this? In November of 1971 Kennedy founded the Feminist Party. Its first action was to support Shirley Chisholms presidential candidacy.

Launched a Speaking Career

The speaking career that would take Kennedy through the next two decades began in 1967 at an anti-war convention in Montreal. She became incensed when Black Panther Bobby Seale was not allowed to speak. She wrote in her memoir: I went berserk. I took the platform and started yelling and hollering. An invitation to speak in Washington followed, and her lecturing career was born. Kennedys activist and speaking careers continued throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and included the Coat Hanger Farewell Protest on the abortion issue, anti-Nixon demonstrations, picketing Avon International for support for the three-hour Celebrate Women TV program, the MAMA Marchthe March Against Media Arroganceand the organization of a demonstration at Harvard University protesting the lack of womens restrooms. In 1971 Kennedy co-authored Abortion Rap with Diane Schulder, and in 1981 she wrote Sex Discrimination in Employment: An Analysis and Guide for Practitioner and Student, with William F. Pepper. She was national director of Voters, Artists, Anti-Nuclear Activists and Consumers for Political Action and Communications Coalition (VAC-PAC) and also national director of the Ladies Aid and Trade Crusade. According to a Jet magazine article published in 1986, these organizations commandments include Thou Shall Not Use Our Dollars to Finance Racism and Sexism on Network Television.

In 1986 Kennedy was roasted by friends and colleagues at a 70th birthday party in New York City. Among those honoring her at the event were activist Dick Gregory and civil rights attorney William Kunstler. That Flo Kennedys career has lengthened to four decades is no surprise when one considers her approach to activism. She described her philosophy about her struggles and victories in her autobiography as being like a successful bath; you dont expect not to take another bath. . . . Countermovements among racists and sexists and nazifiers are just as relentless as dirt on a coffee table. . . . Every housewife knows that if you dont sooner or later dust . . . the whole place will be dirty again.

Selected writings

(With Diane Schulder) Abortion Rap, McGraw Hill, 1971.

Color Me Flo: My Hard Life and Good Times, Prentice-Hall, 1976.

(With William F. Pepper) Sex Discrimination in Employment: An Analysis and Guide for Practitioner and Student, Michie Co. (Charlottesville, VA), 1981.

Sources

Books

Kennedy, Flo, Color Me Flo: My Hard Life and Good Times, Prentice-Hall, 1976.

Notable Black American Women, Gale, 1992.

Periodicals

Essence, May 1995, p. 140.

Jet, March 31, 1986, p. 6.

People, April 14, 1974, p. 54.

Ellen Dennis French

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Kennedy, Flo 1916—." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Kennedy, Flo 1916—." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/kennedy-flo-1916

"Kennedy, Flo 1916—." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved December 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/kennedy-flo-1916

Kennedy, Florynce

Florynce Kennedy

American civil rights attorney, political activist, and pioneer in second-wave feminism, Florynce Rae Kennedy (1916–2000) was an outspoken advocate for liberal causes.

In her cowboy hat, pants, and pink sunglasses, Kennedy gained a reputation as a flamboyant activist who stood up to authority and did not care what people said about her. Only the second African-American woman to graduate from Columbia Law School, Kennedy fought for the rights of Black Panther members and African-American singers discriminated against by music companies. Disgusted by the racism in the courts, Kennedy turned her energy to activism, fighting for women's liberation, abortion rights, civil rights, and consumer protection.

Learned that Respect Must Be Earned

Kennedy was born February 11, 1916, in Kansas City, Missouri, the second of five daughters of Wiley and Zella Kennedy. Her father worked as a Pullman porter and waiter, and later owned a taxi business. Florynce got her determined attitude from her father. When Wiley bought a house in a mainly white neighborhood, he had the strength to fend off the Ku Klux Klan. In her autobiography, Color Me Flo, Kennedy describes the altercation. "They stood on the sidewalk … and said they wanted to see our daddy. When Daddy came out, they told him, 'You have to get out of here by tomorrow.' [Daddy] brought his gun … out with him and said, 'Now the first foot that hits that step belongs to the man I shoot. And then after that you can decide who is going to shoot me.' They went away and they never came back."

Flo's childhood was stable and uneventful, and the Kennedy girls were often praised. Zella, who was light skinned, was well educated and had attended "normal" schools, as Flo put it. Both parents valued education and instilled the view that authority and respect needed to be earned. Kennedy said in Color Me Flo, "We were taught very early in the game that we didn't have to respect the teachers, and if they threatened to hit us, we could act as if they weren't anybody we had to pay any attention to."

Admitted to Columbia Law School

Although Kennedy graduated top of her class from Lincoln High School in Kansas City, in 1934, she delayed going to college immediately afterward. She went into business with her sisters opening a hat shop, and worked at a variety of other jobs, including operating elevators and singing on a radio show. Shortly thereafter, when a local Coca-Cola bottling facility refused to hire black truck drivers, Kennedy organized a boycott—her first foray into social activism.

In 1942, Zella died from cancer. Flo and her sister Grayce moved to New York City, where Flo began attending Columbia University in 1944. Even though she was encouraged to become a teacher, Kennedy graduated four years later with honors and a bachelor's degree in pre-law.

Kennedy applied to Columbia Law School in 1948, but was initially denied admission by the dean. When she confronted him, believing the denial was based on her race and threatening to sue, the dean assured her that race was not the issue, but instead it was her gender. To Kennedy, neither discrimination would stand, and eventually Columbia changed its decision and admitted her. Flo Kennedy was one of eight women in her class, and in 1951 became only the second African-American woman to graduate from Columbia Law School (the first was Elreda Alexander in 1945). After passing the New York Bar in 1952, Kennedy worked as a clerk in a law firm in Manhattan, then opened her own private practice in 1954.

Inconsistent with her independent personality, Kennedy got married in 1957 to Charles Dudley Dye, a Welsh writer ten years younger than her. Feeling constrained by the properties of marriage and intolerant of Dye's alcoholism, Kennedy dissolved the marriage after a few years. They had no children. Dye died shortly thereafter. Kennedy noted, "Anyone who marries a drunk Welshman doesn't deserve sympathy."

Represented High Profile Legal Clients

With her growing desire for civil rights and corporate accountability, Kennedy took on some high profile legal clients, such as civil rights activist H. Rap Brown and a female member of the Black Liberation Front charged with bank robbery. In 1969, she assisted in representing several Black Panther members of the eastern branch of the organization who were charged with conspiracy to blow up stores in New York City. They were acquitted in 1971 after the longest political trial in New York's history.

Taking on discrimination by recording company behemoths, Kennedy represented the estates of jazz legends Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker that were suing to recover withheld royalties and sales. The racism she encountered in the courts and in these cases planted seeds of doubt in her whether practicing law was her calling and if she could bring about social change another way.

"Handling the Holiday and Parker estates taught me more than I was really ready for about government and business delinquency and the hostility and helplessness of the courts …" she wrote in Color Me Flo. "These … marked the beginning of a serious disenchantment … with the practice of law. By this time I had learned a good deal about the justice system, and had begun to doubt my ability to work within it to accomplish social change. Not only was I not earning a decent living, there began to be a serious question in my mind whether practicing law could ever be an effective means of changing society, or even of simple resistance to oppression."

Political and Social Activism

In the 1960s, Kennedy broadened her scope to include political involvement and battling oppression in a variety of arenas—racism, sexism, and homosexuality. She led boycotts of large corporations, including picketing the Colgate-Palmolive building in New York, leading protests at CBS headquarters, and participating in anti-Vietnam War and pro-liberation initiatives organized by Youth Against War and Fascism.

In 1966, Kennedy created the Media Workshop, an organization charged with fighting racism and discrimination in the media. The group led boycotts of advertisers who did not feature African Americans in their ads. After picketing in the street in front of an advertiser, Kennedy and the protesters were invited inside to discuss their grievances. Marsha Joyner recalled on the Civil Rights Movement Veterans website that Kennedy then quipped, "Ever since I've been able to say, 'When you want to get to the suites, start in the streets.'"

Kennedy's lecturing career may have started in 1967 after she attended an anti-Vietnam War rally in Montreal. When Black Panther Bobby Seale was not allowed to speak since his topic was going to be racism rather than be focused on the war, Kennedy took the platform and started yelling and protesting. She gained attention and was soon invited to speak in Washington, D.C. Never afraid to speak her mind, she said about herself in Color Me Flo, "I'm just a loud-mouthed middle-aged colored lady with a fused spine and three feet of intestines missing and a lot of people think I'm crazy … I never stop to wonder why I'm not like other people. The mystery to me is why more people aren't like me."

African-American Women for Women's Liberation

Another of Kennedy's causes was women's liberation, for all women, not just African-American women, and urged the two races to work together. Helen H. King quoted Kennedy in Ebony magazine as saying, "It is obvious that many black women are not prepared to work with whites in liberation because of the divide and conquer techniques always employed by an exploitative society. However, in many towns there are movements where black and white women are working one to one (in the movement)…. It's the same gig wherever you are. Whether you're fighting for women's lib or just black lib, you're fighting the same enemies."

In fighting for women's rights, Kennedy helped found the Women's Political Caucus and the National Black Feminist Organization. She was an original member of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and joined the group Radical Women to protest the 1968 Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Kennedy also founded the national Feminist Party, which in 1971 nominated Representative Shirley Chisholm (D-NY), the first African-American woman elected to Congress, for president. Kennedy even protested the shortage of female bathrooms at Harvard University by leading a mass urination on the campus grounds.

On the abortion rights front, Kennedy organized feminist lawyers in 1969 to challenge the constitutionality of New York state's antiabortion laws. She collaborated on briefs and cross-examined witnesses in pretrial hearings. The laws were overturned the following year. In 1971, Kennedy co-authored with Diane Schulder a book on the class action suit, Abortion Rap, one of the first books on abortion. Kennedy even took on the Roman Catholic Church by filing a tax evasion charge to the Internal Revenue Service, claiming that the church's vocal and financial campaign against abortion breeched its tax-exempt status and violated the federal constitution's call for the separation of church and state.

Ill Health in Later Life

For her 70th birthday in 1985, Kennedy was roasted at Playboy's Empire Club in New York City. Guests who came out to joke with her included comic-activist Dick Gregory, civil rights lawyer William Kunstler, and television talk show host Phil Donahue. On the lighter side of her activities, Kennedy was named director of Voters, Artists, Anti-Nuclear Activists and Consumers for Political Action and Communication Coalition (VACPAC), and director of the Ladies Aid and Trade Crusade, two tongue-in-cheek organizations fighting for consumer rights.

Despite quitting her lecture circuit due to back pains and ill health, Kennedy continued her activism throughout her life and produced a weekly interview show on cable TV. Throughout her career she lectured at more than 200 colleges and universities. She spent much of her later years confined to a wheelchair.

Kennedy died in her Manhattan apartment on December 22, 2000, at the age of 84. Speakers at her memorial at New York's Riverside Church included former New York Mayor David Dinkins, the Reverend Al Sharpton, Father Lawrence Lucas, Judge Emily Goodman, and Ti-Grace Atkinson.

As quoted in her New York Times obituary, Dinkins said about Kennedy, "If you found a cause for the downtrodden of somebody being abused someplace, by God, Flo Kennedy would be there." In recognizing Kennedy's tireless advocacy, Justice Goodman of New York State Supreme Court said, "She showed a whole generation of us the right way to live our lives…. Her point was that you have to fight on all the fronts all the time." As someone who was adamant about not wasting her life, Kennedy had said, "Sweetie, if you're not living on the edge, then you're taking up space."

Books

Kennedy, Florynce, Color Me Flo: My Hard Life and Good Times, Englewood Cliffs, 1976.

Notable Black American Women, edited by Jesse Carney Smith, Gale Research, 1992.

Periodicals

Ebony, March 1971.

Jet, January 15, 2001.

New York Times, December 23, 2000.

Online

Davis, Sue, "Flo Kennedy: An Irreverent, Outspoken Activist," Workers World, http://www.workers.org/ww/2001/flokennedy0201.php (December 7, 2006).

"Florynce Kennedy," http://www.depts.drew.edu/wmst/corecourses/wmst111/timeline_bios/fkennedy.htm (December 7, 2006).

Joyner, Marsha, "Florynce Kennedy," Civil Rights Movement Veterans, http://www.crmvet.org/mem/kennedyf.htm (December 7, 2006).

Moon, Terry, "Recalling Flo Kennedy," News & Letters—The Journal of Marxist-Humanism, http://www.newsandletters.org/Issues/2001/Jan-Feb/1.01_flo.htm (December 7, 2006).

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