Tallulah Bankhead, A Southern White Woman for Civil Rights

I just watched “The United States Vs. Billie Holiday” a few days ago and thought it was a great movie. One of the many things that surprised me was the romantic relationship between Billie Holiday and Tallulah Bankhead. I only knew about Bankhead from the Alfred Hitchcock movie “Lifeboat”. I googled about Tallulah Bankhead and was surprised to learn that she was a progressive activist who was a strong supporter of civil rights for African Americans, a brave stance for a Southern white woman in the early twentieth century.

Bankhead was a member of the Brockman Bankhead family, a prominent Alabama political family; her grandfather and uncle were U.S. Senators and her father served as an 11-term member of Congress, the final two as Speaker of the House of Representatives. She often publicly opposed her family’s support of racial segregation.

Tallulah Bankhead campaigned for progressive candidates her entire adult life. In 1924, Bankhead voted for Robert La Follette of the Progressive Party. In the 1948 presidential election, Bankhead supported the re-election of Harry S. Truman. After Truman was elected, Bankhead was invited to his inauguration on January 20, 1949 and she booed the South Carolina float which carried segregationist Strom Thurmond

.In Democratic primaries and campaigns of later years, Bankhead supported Estes Kefauver in 1952, Adlai Stevenson II in 1956, John F. Kennedy in 1960, Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 and Eugene McCarthy in 1968.

Bankhead was also a lifelong supporter of civil rights and opponent of Jim Crow. In 1940, Tallulah Bankhead helped to organize the Fourth Annual National Sharecroppers Awareness Week in New York City in May 1940. Its purpose was to raise awareness and funds for Southern sharecroppers who worked in semi-feudal conditions and faced state and vigilante violence when they attempted organize. Among the featured speakers were A. Phillip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Walter White and W.E.B. Dubois of the NAACP, David Dubinsky of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and Norman Thomas of the Socialist Party.

She tried to make sure that the casts of the plays and movies that she performed in were racially integrated. She shared the stage in a Chicago production of The Little Foxes for several weeks with African American actors Abbie Mitchell and John Marriott in the summer of 1940. In Alfred Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat”, she acted with African American actor Canada Lee. Tallulah Bankhead fought for the racial integration of the audience for the National Theater in Washington, D.C. in the late 1940s.

In the late 1940s, Tallulah Bankhead spoke out for James Hickman, an African American father of nine, who was facing execution for the murder of his slum landlord, David Coleman, also an African American, whom Hickman strongly believed was responsible for the arson/murder of his four youngest children. Decades ahead of her time, Bankhead spoke out against redlining and informal covenants that prevented Blacks from living where they desired in Chicago.

Tallulah Bankhead was a bisexual who was romantically involved with men and women of all races, including Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Hattie McDaniel, Alla Nazimova, and singer Billie Holiday.

About angelolopez

I’ve wanted to be an artist all my life. Since I was a child I’ve drawn on any scrap of paper I could get a hold of. When I went to San Jose State University, I became more exposed to the works of the great fine artists and illustrators. My college paintings were heavily influenced by the humorous illustrations of Peter De Seve, an illustrator for the New Yorker magazine. I also fell under the spell of the great muralists of the 1930s, especially Thomas Hart Benton and Diego Rivera. I graduated with a degree in Illustration. Angelo Lopez has had illustrations published in Tikkun Magazine, the Palo Alto Daily News and Z Magazine. From April 2008 to May 2011, Angelo's cartoons were regularly published in the Tri-City Voice, a weekly newspaper that covers the Fremont, Hayward, Milpitas, Neward, Sunol and Union City areas in California. He did a political webcomic starring his cartoon character Jasper for the progressive blogsite Everyday Citizen. Since December 2011, Angelo does a regular weekly political cartoon for the Philippine News Today, a Filipino American newspaper based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Angelo is a member of the Sunnyvale Art Club, and the Northern California chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. During the 1990s, he was a member of the part-timer workers SEIU unit in the city of Sunnyvale. Angelo won the 2013, 2015 and 2016 and 2018 Sigma Delta Chi award for editorial cartooning for newspapers with a circulation under 100,000. He has also won the 2016 RFK Book and Journalism Award for Editorial Cartoons. Angelo won first prize for the Best of the West contest in 2016 and third prize in 2017. Angelo is married to Lisa Reeber. They enjoy taking walks, watching movies and hanging out with their nieces.
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