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How It Feels to Be Free: Black Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement

By Ruth Feldstein

In How It Feels to Be Free, Ruth Feldstein examines celebrated black women performers, illuminating the risks they took, their roles at home and abroad, and the ways that they raised the issue of gender amid their demands for black liberation. Feldstein focuses on six women who made names for themselves in the music, film, and television industries: Simone, Lena Horne, Miriam Makeba, Abbey Lincoln, Diahann Carroll, and Cicely Tyson. These women did not simply mirror black activism; their performances helped constitute the era’s political history. Makeba connected America’s struggle for civil rights to the fight against apartheid in South Africa, while Simone sparked high-profile controversy with her incendiary lyrics.

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