Florynce “Flo” Kennedy: Black Radical Feminist

It’s black history month, the perfect time to read about social justice trailblazers both celebrated and forgotten. Margo Jefferson’s wonderful memoir, Negroland, about growing up in a wealthy, elite African American family in the 1940s and ’50s, was my first introduction to Florynce “Flo” Kennedy, an outspoken black feminist who inspired Jefferson and many others. Jefferson said:

Florynce Kennedy was the first black feminist I saw in public and action. Lawyer, protester, organizer, she was born in 1916, the same year as my mother–and four years before women of any color got the vote. A whiplash tongue and a cowboy hat; suede and leather pants (am I imaging that she sometimes wore chaps?); dangling earrings and many necklaces (some with women’s rights symbols, some with bright stones and feathers). She was tall and fabulously grandstanding. She’d planted herself and thrived in every movement that counted: civil rights, anti-war, black power, feminism, gay rights. Her principles never swerved; her tactics never staled. She used to say something like this:
“When black women tell me feminism is a white woman’s thing, I tell them: you’ve spent all these years, all these centuries, imitating every bad idea white women came up with–about their hair, their makeup, their clothes, their duties to their men. And now, they finally come up with one good idea–feminism–and you decide you don’t want anything to do with it!”

When I read this passage late in Jefferson’s memoir I was determined to learn more about Florynce Kennedy. I was delighted to discover the recent biography Florynce “Flo” Kennedy: The Life of a Black Feminist Radical by Sherie M. Randolph, who was spurred to share her legacy.

floBorn in 1916 in Kansas City, Florynce grew up with a strong-willed mother and when a group of white men tried to force them from their home in 1919, she learned that there was strength if you “never took any shit.” Her parents stood up to those men again and again and Kennedy later said: “My parents gave us a fantastic sense of security and worth. By the time the bigots got around to telling us that we were nobody, we already knew we were somebody.”

Kennedy went on to Columbia University during WWII and went on to graduate with a law degree in 1951. During her years as a college student, Kennedy was honing her political views, bringing an intersectional lens while speaking out against interconnected systems of oppression, classism, sexism and racism. Kennedy started her own law firm in Manhattan in 1954 and earned a reputation among the white male lawyers of the time through her informal house parties; for a black woman in a white male dominated profession, networking enabled Kennedy to attract attention and gain respect.

Kennedy became a well-known figure in New York’s legal world, but attracted even more attention as her activism brought her to the fore in the Black Power and feminist movements in the 1960s and ’70s. Kennedy used street theater and her unique brand of humor to challenge racism, sexism and the abuse of power, pushing those movements to appreciate the interconnectedness of struggles. Although she stood alongside feminist legends such as Gloria Steinem, Florence Kennedy’s powerful influence and voice in the movement has been lost in the intervening years.

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Now is the perfect time to learn about the life and legacy of Florynce “Flo” Kennedy who said “whether you’re fighting for Women’s Liberation or …Black Liberation, you’re fighting the same enemies,” calling out that common enemy as “the racist sexist genocidal establishment.” Another of Kennedy’s rallying cries was this:

                       Don’t agonize, organize.

      – Posted by Misha S.

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Never Again: Japanese American WWII History and American Muslim Rights Today

Seventy-five years ago, approximately 7,000 Seattleites were ordered by the U.S. military to leave their homes and sent to incarceration camps. Most ended up at desolate Minidoka in southern Idaho. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, signed on February 19, 1942, two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, forcibly evacuated 120,000 Japanese Americans living on the Pacific Coast to one of ten concentration camps scattered across the country, where they would remain imprisoned for the duration of World War II until 1945.

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Minidoka War Relocation Center in 1943

Originally citing national security as justification, the government later admitted that the evacuations were unjust and “carried out without adequate security reasons.” Following a successful campaign for redress and reparations, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, officially apologizing on behalf of the United States government. In the act Congress called the incarcerations a “grave injustice,” which was “motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

The Seattle organization Densho has been working hard, through its online archives and oral histories, to tell the story of Japanese American incarceration in order to educate the public not only about the past, but to also shed light on issues of equity today, including the racism and harassment currently experienced by American Muslims. To observe the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, the Library will co-host the event, Never Again: Japanese American WWII History and American Muslim Rights Today at Seattle Center’s Fisher Pavilion with speakers from Densho, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and the ACLU of Washington this Sunday, February 19 at 2:00 P.M.

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The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience is also marking this anniversary with its new exhibit, Year of Remembrance: Glimpses of a Forever Foreigner, which runs February 16, 2017 to February 11, 2018. It, too, will explore past and present issues of discrimination and human rights. Check out this booklist and resource guide, created by the Nisei Veterans Committee, the Wing Luke Museum, and staff at The Seattle Public Library’s International District/Chinatown Branch to accompany the exhibit.

     – Posted by Heather M.

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For the Love of Data: An Open Data Release

lovedatascienceBack in the spring of 2012, Book 1 of the Fifty Shades trilogy did something for the first and last time at SPL—the physical copy circulated more copies than the e-book version.  Over the next three years, the e-book version had over 500 circs per quarter. Meanwhile, by early 2014, circulation of the physical book dropped to fewer than 100 per quarter. Continue reading

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Now More Than Ever, Reading is Power

This book you are now reading is a manifesto of sorts–my manifesto, a manifesto for readers. Because I think we need to read and to be readers now more than ever.

Every January I struggle to decide what I want to read. Do I catch up on what I missed the previous year, or do I read classics I’ve missed? Should I focus on new, enticing books just coming out, or read some topical nonfiction I’ve been putting off? I spend much of the month picking up and putting things down, casting about for the book or author that speaks to my mood. 2017 has created its own special reading vacuum, what with the upheaval in these United States, so I was pleasantly surprised when the book that provided the most balm and sustenance for me right now was a book about reading books. Continue reading

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This Valentine’s Day, Use Your Words!

What truly says “I love you” to your Valentine? A fancy dinner out? Good luck getting a table, or avoiding romantic indigestion as you navigate the desperate crush of other romance seekers. A box of chocolates? Hardly original, and not exactly helpful with our New Year’s resolutions. Do diamonds speak louder than words? Nope – not even close:

          Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
          Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme…

sonnetsWhen it comes to expressing your feelings, use your words. Or… borrow someone else’s! For millennia poets have spilled out their hearts on papyrus, parchment and paper, and into the air itself. From Sappho to Shakespeare, Ovid to Neruda, Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Mary Oliver, our shelves groan, sigh and sing with love’s burden, heavy as the heaviest heart, lighter than air. Here’s a list of just some of the books at your library packed with moving love poetry from all over the world, and all throughout the ages. Continue reading

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Working the Room: Making Space to Create

A place to think, to spread out, to collect one’s thoughts and work through ideas.  An environment where inspirations are realized, this is necessary to the creative process.  It can be a dining table doing double duty, the corner of a room, space in an attic or basement, but make space.  However you have to make it happen, make it happen. The place that gives you room to work is essential to an artistic practice.

If home is not an option, get creative! Consider use of limited-opportunity spaces such as in a workshop, sharing space or renting.  Work when you can as often as you can. The most important goal, however, is to have a dedicated space in which to see an idea grow. Writers have it easier than other disciplines since they can carry their “office” anywhere.  For those whose practice depends on objects or a place to get physical, locating and securing workspace is an ongoing enterprise.  SpaceFinder Seattle is an excellent place to begin your search. Continue reading

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Immigration and the Refugee Experience Presented in Comics for Kids and Young Adults

Comics can be an effective gateway toward empathy and understanding. Both fiction and non-fiction comics can help the reader visualize and develop context for a wide variety of human experience. Here are a few comics which may help younger readers learn about the lives and experiences of refugees and immigrants. Continue reading

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