Florynce Rae “Flo” Kennedy was an African-American lawyer, activist, civil rights advocate, lecturer and feminist. 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. 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. Kennedy met with the dean and threatened to sue the school. They admitted her. She was the only black person among eight women in her class. In a 1946 sociology class at Columbia University, Kennedy wrote a paper that analogized the discourses of race and sex. “Kennedy hoped that comparing ‘women’ and ‘Negroes’ would hasten the formation of alliances. Kenned became a lawyer. She used Intersectionality as her approach to activism. Sherie Randolph, in her book Florynce “Flo” Kennedy: The Life of a Radical Black Feminist, quotes Flo saying: “My main message is that we have a pathologically, institutionally racist, sexist, classist society. And that niggerizing techniques that are used don’t only damage black people, but they also damage women, gay people, ex-prison inmates, prostitutes, children, old people, handicapped people, native Americans.
Kennedy was one of many narrators in the second volume of a film entitled Come Back, Africa: The Films of Lionel Rogosin, which discussed African-American history as well as apartheid in South Africa. This film was created to “serve as a unique piece of African American oral history. In 1974, People magazine wrote that she was “The biggest, loudest and, indisputably, the rudest mouth on the battleground.” In 1997, Kennedy received a Lifetime Courageous Activist Award, and the following year was honored by Columbia University with their Owl Award for outstanding graduates. In 1999, the City University of New York awarded her the Century Award.
Florynce Rae “Flo” Kennedy was born in Kansas City, Missouri on February 11, 1916. She died on December 21, 2000, at the age of 84.