Diahann Carroll — Freedom Fighter & a Crush
Diahann Carroll was a multi-generation crush.
She hypnotized folks on Broadway.
Then, she captivated us when “Julia” debuted (small screen) and, the movie Claudine (big screen). A triple threat! Then, decades later, she came back and crushed us as Dominique Deveraux on Dynasty in the 80’s. A quadruple queen. Her beauty was unquestionable. And, FYI, you had bet not question her love of Black people, either.
She was ground-breaking in her role as a Black female lead on prime time TV, in the show called “Julia”. Getting that show to air required jumping over some hurdles, though. She explains the story of Julia Baker’s genesis via the link (click her name to learn more or visit Archive of American Television on YouTube).
Just last week, I had the honor of meeting her daughter, Suzanne Kay, and an awesome network of Black women who are linked as the “Daughters Of The Movement”. Ms. Kay, and the other Black women, who were born with brilliance in there genes, assemble on stages to enlighten the world about their lived experiences as children of icons.
I attended one of the inspiring, revealing and hilarious discussions on the final day of the March On Washington Film Festival, less than a week ago.
An hour wasn’t enough time with them. I appreciated the chance to shake all their hands and thank them for the conversation/history lesson. But, I needed to pass a special message to Ms. Kay. I asked her to thank her mom, for me, for her memorable work. I realized that was something I needed to do. She was decades ahead of her time and right on time, at the same time. Saying, “thank you”, was the least I could do.
I wasn’t much older than her TV son, Cory, when I soaked in her beauty weekly. I liked most of the family shows back then (Brady Bunch; Partridge Family; The Courtship of Eddie’s Father; The Beverly Hillbillies; Bewitched). I loved those shows, even if I didn’t really comprehend why their casts were so monochromatic.
I was clearly awed by Julia, when she came on the scene. That show was EXTRA good to me. Yea, Julia was ground-breaking, but most folks don’t talk about how deep her commitment was to speaking truth to power — especially at a time when Black people & women had so much to fight for (once again). Julia came on the scene during a difficult moment in America (much like now). She used the show to take a stand. As she explained in an older interview, some folks didn’t think a comedy (or Black single woman as lead) would be “approriate” show during the racial & social tumult of the 60’s. She was celebrated and criticized for that role. But, Diahann persisted.
I told Ms. Kay that I especially appreciated a particular episode, which you must see (or see again), titled, Am I, Pardon the Expression, Blacklisted? (Click to view or find it at DailyMotion.com). For those in racial justice work, you will appreciate how much this episode still matters. It is a 22 minute master class for those who don’t understand the fight, and for those who don’t appreciate the many battlefields of American history. I’m glad that this episode, and others, are memorialized on the web. The storylines on some TV shows of that era are reminders of past battles & victories. They serve as playbooks for the work that is, still, very necessary, today. Ms. Kay appreciates that I remembered it.
Ms. Kay shared many the stories of her mom and talented dad, which probably won’t be shared in the many tributes that will certainly be written and recorded, with Ms. Carroll’s passing today.
Folks will talk about her beauty. They will remember her ground-breaking, memorable roles. But, most won’t discuss her activism — including engagement with SNCC and other Black liberation support. Networks won’t likely replay the chain-breaking & activism-inspired episodes of Julia, since folks still try to suppress the Black Power message of the 60’s (and in 2019).
I’m glad that Ms. Kay shares the bigger stories of her legendary mom.
The systems that, once, tried to silence freedom fighters and Black social change warriors, use old and new tactics today. Remember, there’s nothing new under the sun-Ecclesiastes 1:9. Back then, Julia (thanks to Diahann Carroll’s #BlackGirlMagic), wasn’t going to be silenced. Diahann Carroll wanted people to understand that racism and injustice was real. Yes, she had Julia talking about #1619 & giving Black/American history lessons on prime time TV — in 1968!
Julia was so many things. She was a widow, who lost her Black husband to the Vietnam War. She was a loving mother of Cory (Marc Copage). She was intelligent. She was a nurse with a federal security clearance. She volunteered for organizations that were “anti-ignorance” AND stood up against bosses who wanted to silence her. That was just one episode! And, yes, years later, she could be a rich, Black diva, going toe-to-toe (and slap-to-slap) with a White diva. She was so much for all of us — as was Diahann Carroll; an award-winning mom & wife, who was loved by many.
I encourage you to share the timeless episode of Julia with those who don’t understand why folks who fight for racial equity and justice are tired of forgiving unfairness that is deeply rooted in this nation. Remember the fight she was in continues. Use your platforms for good.
And when you’re finished with the episode, watch the movie Claudine and/or listen to the soundtrack. It’s been on repeat for me for the past few weeks, coincidentally. Check the words of: Mr. Welfare Man; To Be Invisible; On and On. Gladys and the Pips brought the music for the beautiful legend Claudine/Julia/Diahann Carroll.
P.S. There are so many stories that can be told by these daughters (brilliant in their own skin) and their illustrious parents. They discover new things about one another, and share amazing tales in these conversations. Check out one of their rich conversations, which was hosted by the International Center of Photography, in New York, in March, 2019.
It was moderated by writer and Emmy-nominated producer Tanya Selvaratnam. There are several of these “Daughters”, but this conversation featured: Gina Belafonte, daughter of Julie and Harry Belafonte; Suzanne Kay, daughter of Diahann Carroll; Stacy Lynch, daughter of Bill Lynch a “founder” of the group; Hasna Muhammad, daughter of Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee; Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz; Dominique Sharpton, daughter of Reverend Al Sharpton; and Keisha Sutton-James, granddaughter of Percy Sutton.
You will want to learn more and will certainly respect these folks that much more.