Lena Horne

Credit Line
John W. Mosley Photograph Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia, PA.

Lena Horne (1917–2010) was a singer, actress, and outspoken advocate for civil rights. Photographed here by Mosley at twenty-seven years old, she had already achieved national fame because of a seven-year movie contract with Metro Goldwyn Mayer. Mosley captures a sense of genuine anticipation and sincerity in Horne’s expression. Despite the alluring fashion and provocative dress, Mosley’s portrait presents the great star as a warm, down-to-earth person.

Horne launched her career at age 16 performing at Harlem’s Cotton Club. An extended booking at New York City’s Savoy Plaza Hotel resulted in a number of movie appearances and established her as the highest-paid African American entertainer in the United States. Despite her success, Horne had to overcome profound racism and refused to take on any roles that were disrespectful to black women. Her skin was considered “too light” to star with many of the African American actors of the day. She experienced humiliating racial discrimination and sued a number of restaurants and theaters in the late 1940s. Horne began working with Paul Robeson, a childhood friend, in the Progressive Citizens of America, a political group opposing racism. During World War II, she used her own money to travel and entertain the troops and assisted Eleanor Roosevelt in her mission for antilynching legislation. After the war Horne worked on behalf of Japanese Americans who faced discrimination.

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