On May 10, 2010, entertainer and civil rights activist, Lena Horne died at the
grand age of 92. Even at 92, she remained one of the most beautiful women in
the world. Her chiseled cheekbones and jawline still prominent and her eyes still
alive and vibrant after 92 years of living. If you were born in the 90's or post Y2K,
you might not have a full appreciation of why the world is mourning the loss of
this great talent. Visit wikipedia and read about her. You will read that she was
an amazing woman whose talent, beauty and grace made her an international
superstar in a time when bigotry, prejudice and segregation were the law of the
land in these United States. When Halle Berry became the first African American
to win an Oscar, she gave a tearful shout out to Lena Horne for paving the way. I
always tease that I'm Halle Berry's age, which is about the only thing we have in
common. But I can share that the phenomenal Lena Horne was also a member
of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. like me, so I share that in common with this
In one of the many satellite radio tributes that I listened to when I learned of Lena
Horne's death, I learned that Lena Horne always felt guilty about her success.
She knew that she was a talented singer and actress, but she said that she felt
guilty that she was "able to be successful in the entertainment industry because
whites found her "look" acceptable and they were comfortable with her." I
inferred that she probably felt guilty that there were other people of color who
were her equal or superior in talent, but who didn't catch the break that she did,
because their look was not as acceptable to whites.
Lena Horne was a very fair skinned African American woman with long, wavy
black hair. Some might say that she would have been able to "pass" back in the
day. I don't see it, even in old photographs, she looks like a black woman to me.
Maybe because I have women in my family who were as fair or fairer than Lena
Horne, so I know that we come in all different shades. To "pass" means that a
black person is passing for white. It was a very common phenomenon during the
Jim Crow times. Fair skinned African Americans would often pretend to be white
so that they could receive preferential treatment typically reserved for whites. I
The Elegant Race of Lena Horne May 11, 2010
know someone now who's passing, a parent on my child's sporting team, but
that's a blog for another time. In the 40's, Lena Horne was invited to perform at
some of the most fabulous venues of her time, and had to enter through the back
door because blacks were not allowed to enter through the front door. Not even
the entertainers. They couldn't eat in the restaurant or stay in the hotel either.
They could perform there, but had to eat in the kitchen and stay at a place that
allowed blacks or sleep in their tour bus. It was a sad, despicable time in our
Many entertainers fled and chose to live in other countries i.e. France and
Germany where segregation didn't exist. Lena Horne could have fled too, but
she chose to stay in the U.S. and work for change.
The lovely Lena Horne held her head high, used her God given talents to pursue
her craft and became the darling of millions, white and black. A caller on a radio
show entitled "Make it Plain" on Sirius 146 described her as "elegant." That's the
perfect word for her. When I heard that I thought, wow! That word sums it up.
She was elegant. "Stylish, graceful, classy, sophisticated." In the midst of the
madness of her time, Lena Horne was elegant. She used her talent and beauty
to capture the hearts of millions and fought for social change. I'm sure some of
her adoring white fans thought (perhaps subliminally): "if the elegant Lena Horne
thinks things should change, maybe they should be changed." Lena Horne was
pretty and popular. This is a current phenomena too: when the popular group
blesses something, others line up in agreement.
In my second novel, Camp Colorblind, the issue of race is explored when one of
the girls becomes involved in an interracial relationship. She also becomes
friends with a group of girls that are not like her core group of friends and learns
that the issue of race is less important than she had previously perceived. Funny
how life experiences have a way of dispelling the stereotypes and prejudices
passed down from parents and ignorance. This life changing experience stays
with the character in Camp Colorblind, and she uses it to soften and dispel her
The Elegant Race of Lena Horne May 11, 2010
friends' misconceived notions. It's a step in the direction of becoming colorblind
where race matters less and less.
Someone once said to me that "God makes people attractive so that others will
be attracted to them and God can use them for his purpose." I really believe that
God used Lena Horne's beauty and talent to help soften the hearts of a hardened
nation gripped in the horror of segregation. Even as a mature woman well into
her 70's, I heard someone describe a brief encounter with Lena Horne as
"incredible like light was just radiating around her."
The elegant race of Lena Horne. Like the girls in my books, I hope that the world
becomes more and more colorblind, where race matters less and less and less.
Where we focus on character and contribution and not color. But I'd be lying if I
said that I wasn't proud that Lena Horne was of my race, because I am, but I'm
especially proud that she will be most remembered for her character and
contributions. Rest in peace, Soror Horne!