- Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site
International Civil Rights: Walk of Fame
Lena Horne
Lena Horne
1917 - 2010

Legendary singer/actor Lena Horne has fought against racism in the entertainment industry throughout her career and against racial discrimination in this country throughout her life. She entered show business at the age of sixteen, and in 1942, became the first African American performer to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio (Metro Goldwyn Mayer). Horne appeared in more than 16 feature films and several shorts between 1938 and 1978. Horne never had a leading role in her early films due to racism. While entertaining troops at Fort Reilly, Kansas during World War II, Horne filed a complaint with the NAACP because African American soldiers in the audience had to sit in back seats behind German POWs. Horne financed her own travel to entertain black troops when MGM Studios pulled her off its tour. In the late 1940s, Horne sued a number of restaurants and theaters for race discrimination and also became politically allied with Paul Robeson in the liberal organization Progressive Citizens of America. She joined Eleanor Roosevelt's unsuccessful campaign for anti-lynching legislation and worked on behalf of Japanese Americans who faced discrimination. During the anti-communist hearings in the U.S. Congress in the 1950s, Horne was among hundreds of entertainers blacklisted because of political views and social activism. In the 1960s, she performed in the South at rallies for civil rights, participated in the 1963 March On Washington, and supported the work of the National Council for Negro Women. Later in life, Horne acquired renewed fame after appearing in the film The Wiz (1978) and touring in a one-woman show in the 1980s.

The Horne family were a part of the black elite; several members were college graduates and held positions in organizations such as the NAACP and the Urban League. Her grandmother, an early suffragette and civil rights activist, was a primary influence on her life. Horne's 1981-82 Broadway show, "Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music," won a Tony Award. She has won three Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award (1989). She was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient in 1984. Her album Seasons of a Life, which was recorded in 1999, was released on January 24, 2006.