Florynce Kennedy

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    Florynce Kennedy

    Florynce Kennedy (Bettye Lane photo; Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute)

    Florynce Kennedy was a lawyer who was one of the most dazzling and outspoken activists of the 20th century. In her trademark cowboy hat and pink sunglasses, she was both a gadfly and a catalyst for change.

    Born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1916, Kennedy learned from her parents that she had the right to stand up for herself. After high school, “Flo” opened a hat shop with her sisters. Within a few years she helped organize her first protest, boycotting a Coca-Cola bottler that refused to hire black drivers.

    Initially turned down by Columbia Law School, she was admitted after threatening to sue. She said, “I find that the higher you aim, the better you shoot.”

    Kennedy’s causes included women’s rights and civil rights, gay rights, abortion rights and media discrimination against women and people of color. Her motto was “Don’t agonize; organize,” and she did that. She helped to start the National Organization for Women, and then founded the Feminist Party and the Media Workshop to fight racial stereotyping.

    Florynce Kennedy died in New York in 2000. People magazine called her “the biggest, loudest and, indisputably, the rudest mouth on the battleground” of activist causes. In fact, New York Mayor David N. Dinkins said of her, “If you found a cause for the downtrodden or somebody being abused someplace, by God, Flo Kennedy would be there.”

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