Kitt's Purr Wore Down Racial Barriers

By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 26, 2008 7:00 PM CST
This Dec. 13, 1977 file photo shows Eartha Kitt with her daughter Kitt McDonald.   (AP Photo/Carlos Rene Perez, File)
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(Newser) – Eartha Kitt camped it up in Batman episodes and stirred live crowds with her crooning, but also nudged "Hollywood's color barrier several feet from the dominant crude stereotypes," Reed Johnson writes in the Los Angeles Times. The performer who danced with Katherine Dunham's troupe and acted alongside Sidney Poitier altered race relations on a more direct level, showing that a black woman could "inflame the great Middle American libido."

The gritty, South Carolina girl was also ahead of her time politically, Kilian Meloy writes on EDGEBoston. "I happen to have a great appreciation for the gay audiences," Kitt said. When the federal government hounded her for opposing the Vietnam war, "it was the gay guys who kept my name alive." She supported same-sex marriage, too, saying, "It’s a civil-rights thing, isn’t it?"