Florynce Kennedy

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Kennedy, c.1976 in a cowboy outfit she was noted for wearing.[1]

Florynce Rae "Flo" Kennedy (February 11, 1916 – December 21, 2000), was an American lawyer, activist, civil rights advocate, and feminist.

Early life[edit]

Kennedy was born in Kansas City to an African-American family. Her father Wiley Kennedy was a Pullman porter, and later had a taxi business. The second of her parents' five daughters, she had a happy childhood, full of support from her parents, despite experiencing poverty in the Great Depression and racism in her mostly white neighborhood.[1] She later commented: "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."[2]

Kennedy graduated at the top of her class at Lincoln High School, after which she worked many jobs including owning a hat shop and operating elevators. After the death of her mother Zella in 1942, Kennedy left Kansas for New York City, moving to an apartment in Harlem with her sister Grayce.[1] Of the move to New York she commented, "I really didn’t come here to go to school, but the schools were here, so I went." In 1944 she began classes at Columbia University School of General Studies, majoring in pre-law and graduated in 1949. However, when she applied to the university's law school, she was refused admission. In her autobiography Kennedy wrote, "The Associate Dean Willis Reese, told me I had been rejected not because I was a Black but because I was a woman. So I wrote him a letter saying that whatever the reason was, it felt the same to me, and some of my more cynical friends thought I had been discriminated against because I was Black."[3] Kennedy met with the dean and threatened to sue the school. They admitted her.


Kennedy graduated from Columbia Law School in 1951. By 1954 she had opened her own office, doing matrimonial work, and some assigned criminal cases. She was a member of the Young Democrats. In 1956, she formed a legal partnership with the lawyer who had represented Billie Holiday in regards to drug charges. Kennedy then came to represent Holiday's estate, and also that of Charlie Parker. She also worked as an activist for feminism and civil rights, and the cases she took on increasingly tended to be related to these causes. She was close friends with fellow Columbia law graduate Morton Birnbaum MD, whose concept of sanism she influenced during the 1960s.[4]

In the 1970s Kennedy traveled the lecture circuit with writer Gloria Steinem. If a man asked the pair if they were lesbians – a stereotype of feminists at the time – Kennedy would quote Ti-Grace Atkinson and answer, "Are you my alternative?"[5] She was an early member of the National Organization for Women, but left then in 1970, dissatisfied with their approach to change. In 1971 she founded the Feminist Party, which nominated Shirley Chisholm for president. She also helped found the Women's Political Caucus. Beginning in 1972 she served on the Advisory Board of the Westbeth Playwrights Feminist Collective, a New York City theatre group which produced plays on feminist issues.

Kennedy supported abortion rights and co-authored the book Abortion Rap with Diane Schulder. The phrase "If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament," is sometimes attributed to Kennedy, although Gloria Steinem attributed it to "an old Irish woman taxi driver in Boston," who she said she and Kennedy met.[6] In 1972, Kennedy filed tax evasion charges with the Internal Revenue Service against the Catholic Church, saying that their campaign against abortion rights violated the separation of church and state.

Kennedy established the Media Workshop in 1966 to picket and lobby the media over their representation of Black people. She stated that she would lead boycotts of major advertisers if they didn't feature black people in their ads. She attended all three Black Power conferences and represented H. Rap Brown and the Black Panthers.

Kennedy often dressed in a cowboy hat and pink sunglasses.[7] Once, to protest the lack of female bathrooms at Harvard, she led a mass urination on the grounds. When asked about this, she said: "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. Maybe you do too, but I never stop to wonder why I'm not like other people. The mystery to me is why more people aren't like me." [2] In 1974, People magazine wrote that she was "The biggest, loudest and, indisputably, the rudest mouth on the battleground."[8]


Kennedy acted in the films The Landlord (1970, adapted from Kristin Hunter's 1966 novel), in which she played "Enid", and the independent political drama Born In Flames (1983, directed by Lizzie Borden), in which she played "Zella".[9]

Private life[edit]

In 1946, Kennedy wrote a monograph called "The Case Against Marriage", which she later summarized in her autobiography as

"...the idea being that marriage is a crock. Why should you lock yourself in the bathroom just because you have to go three times a day?"[10]

In 1957 Kennedy married science fiction author Charles Dye , who was previously married to fellow science fiction author Katherine MacLean.[11] Dye suffered from alcoholism and died circa 1960, in his mid-thirties. Kennedy never remarried or had children.[1]

Later life and death[edit]

In 1976, Kennedy wrote an autobiography called Color Me Flo: My Hard Life and Good Times (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall), in which she wrote about her life and career. She died on December 21, 2000, at the age of 84.[1]



  1. ^ a b c d e Busby, Margaret (January 10, 2001). "Florynce Kennedy". The Guardian. Retrieved September 12, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Steinem, Gloria. "The Verbal Karate of Florynce R. Kennedy, Esq.", "Ms.blog" on the Ms. Magazine website (August 19, 2011). Accessed June 15, 2012.
  3. ^ Kennedy, Florynce R. Color Me Flo: My Hard Life and Good Times, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1976.
  4. ^ Burnbaum, Rebecca. "My Father's Advocacy for a Right to Treatment", Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 38:1:115-123 (March 2010).
  5. ^ Martin, Douglas, "Flo Kennedy, Feminist, Civil Rights Advocate and Flamboyant Gadfly, Is Dead at 84", The New York Times, December 23, 2000.
  6. ^ Bardi, Jennifer. "The Humanist Interview with Gloria Steinem" The Humanist (September–October 2012).
  7. ^ "Feminist Flo Kennedy, Civil Rights Lawyer, Dies", The Washington Post, December 24, 2000.
  8. ^ Patricia Burstein, "Lawyer Flo Kennedy Enjoys Her Reputation as Radicalism's Rudest Mouth", People, April 14, 1975, Vol. 3, No. 14.
  9. ^ "Florynce Kennedy (1916–2000)", IMDb.
  10. ^ Kennedy, F. (1976), "Just a Middle-Aged Colored Lady". In Color Me Flo, p. 2.
  11. ^ "Dye, Charles". The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Retrieved 12 September 2014. 

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