Tuesday 8 May 2018

Eartha Kitt, Lady Bird Johnson, and the Vietnam War

On 18th of January 1968, first lady Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Johnson (1912-2007) invited Eartha Kitt (1927-2008) to a Women Doer's Luncheon (with the subject "Why is there so much juvenile delinquency") at the White House. At first, she declined: "I thought it would be a lot of nonsense - flowers, champagne, a chance to show off." The first lady's social secretary kept calling her, Eartha Kitt reconsidered.

In "the private family dining room on the second floor of the country's most famous home", women were seated at the table talking about the place settings for the menu and the possibility of meeting President Johnson.
"The atmosphere began to hit me but still I hoped it might become a constructive opportunity to air the problems we had supposedly come to talk about." Eartha Kitt

After dessert, the president walked in and talked. He said that there was a great deal people could do to prevent youth delinquency and that the place to start was in the home. When he finished, Kitt rose and asked what he was going to do about delinquent parents, those "who have to work and are too busy to look after their children". He pointed out that due to a bill recently passed millions of dollars were going to be given to day-care centres and that the women were invited to discuss what (else) to do. During the women's presentations, Kitt sat silenty. Then it was her turn to speak:
"I think we have missed the main point of this luncheon. We have forgotten the main reason we have juvenile delinquency.You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed. They rebel in the street. They will take pot … and they will get high. They don’t want to go to school because they’re going to be snatched off from their mothers to be shot in Vietnam."
Afterward, there was no car waiting to take her back to the hotel, she hitchhiked back. Her entertainment bookings were cancelled, she was blacklisted (which she was unaware of), no longer found work in the U.S., and mostly worked in Europe for many years (via).

"The children of America are not rebelling for no reason. They are not hippies for no reason at all. We don’t have what we have on Sunset Blvd. for no reason. They are rebelling against something. There are so many things burning the people of this country, particularly mothers. They feel they are going to raise sons — and I know what it’s like, and you have children of your own, Mrs. Johnson — we raise children and send them to war. 
Young folks are choosing to be “bad” because they don’t understand this war. They would rather dodge the draft than join up. In their minds, “it pays to be a bad guy.”"
Eartha Kitt

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photographs via and via