History and Historiography

Remembering Eartha Kitt

By Chung Wong

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A day after her birthday, Santa Baby singer Eartha Kitt aka Catwoman would lose her career after being invited to the White House today in 1968, for her charity work with youth-at-risk. Lady Bird Johnson invited 50 mostly wealthy women to discuss the rise of urban crime. After others fawned over President Lyndon B Johnson, Eartha stood at the podium and said, “Vietnam is the main reason we are having trouble with the youth of America. It is a war without explanation or reason..we raise children and send them to war.” Her “voice trembled and tears welled in her eyes.” No one clapped. Reporters left room to air the incident. She pointed at Johnson, saying youths at the Nov 12, 1966, Sunset Strip Riots, rebelled because they cannot get to you. “Overnight, Kitt became a bad mother, a fornicator, a user of profane language, an improper person with offensive opinions,” wrote Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones. The Johnsons ordered a CIA dossier on her to damage her reputation. She never got hired again for years. In 1974, a New York Times reporter with the dossier told her “‘President Johnson has decided that you should not be seen anywhere–and that’s why you’re having a hard time getting any work.’” She is part Cherokee.

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