Home / Arts / Books / How it Feels to Be Free: Black Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement (Oxford University Press), by Ruth Feldstein
Friday, Feb. 21, 2014

How it Feels to Be Free: Black Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement (Oxford University Press), by Ruth Feldstein

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Aside from Rosa Parks, the women of the civil rights movement tend to be overshadowed by Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and other prominent men. In How it Feels to Be Free, Rutgers history professor Ruth Feldstein sets out to show the contributions of five black women entertainers, singers Nina Simone, Miriam Makeba, Abbey Lincoln and Lena Horne, and actresses Diahann Carroll and Cicely Tyson. Black women faced many constraints in the entertainment industry, Feldstein reminds us; “definitions of desirable femininity remained tied largely to middle-class white women.” Small steps were huge at a time when Carroll’s starring role in a TV series was understood as crossing barriers. How it Feels to Be Free examines the contributions to race and gender equality by five remarkable women, occasionally at the expense of the larger picture. Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” reached more ears than anything by Makeba, yet goes unmentioned.

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