Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-Miramar) made the following statement in support of his legislation, H.R. 1815, the Lena Horne Recognition Act. H.R. 1815 passed the House of Representatives today by a vote of 410-2. (Please find attached a copy of the legislation).
"It is my distinct honor to pay tribute to Ms. Lena Horne with a Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of her many achievements and contributions to American culture and the Civil Rights Movement. I felt that I could not allow time to pass without honoring the life and legacy of Ms. Horne, who passed away on May 9, 2010 at the age of 92. Throughout her lifetime, Ms. Horne used her talent and fame to become a powerful voice for civil rights and equality.
"Lena Horne was the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honor for her lifetime contribution to the arts in 1984, and in 1989 she received a lifetime achievement Grammy Award. She has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for her work in both motion pictures and recording. Additionally, she has a footprint on the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. Although these and other monumental awards and honors were bestowed upon her, Ms. Horne's life was not a story of smooth sailing.
"Even given her extraordinary beauty and talent, she was often limited to minor acting roles because of her race. Among many lost opportunities was the role of Julie in the film adaptation of Show Boat. Ms. Horne had previously played this role in an adaptation of Act 1 of Show Boat that was featured in the 1946 film Till the Clouds Roll By. But due to the Motion Picture Production Code not allowing the depiction of interracial relationships in films, Ava Gardner was cast in this role instead of Lena Horne. Her fame in films was also limited due to the fact that during that time, many films were shot so that the scenes in which Black performers were featured could be easily edited out for Southern audiences.
"The struggle for equal and fair treatment became an inseparable and increasingly political part of Ms. Horne's life, even outside of the film industry. She toured extensively with the United Service Organizations (USO) in support of U.S. troops during World War II, where she was a major critic of the unfair treatment of Black soldiers. Outspoken on the issue, Ms. Horne refused to sing for segregated audiences or to groups in which German prisoners of war were seated in front of the Black U.S. servicemen.
"In 1981, Ms. Horne finally received the big break she had waited for her whole life -- a one-woman Broadway show. Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music, was the culmination of her triumphs and struggles. It enjoyed a 14-month run before going on tour and earned her a Tony award for distinguished achievement in theater and two Grammys.
"At the age of 80, Ms. Horne made the following statement, which I believe appropriately captures her legacy. She stated that: 'My identity is very clear to me now. I am a black woman. I'm free. I no longer have to be a 'credit.' I don't have to be a symbol to anybody; I don't have to be a first to anybody. I don't have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I'd become. I'm me, and I'm like nobody else.'
"Lena Horne was an extraordinary woman who refused to give up her dreams because of the color of her skin and used her beauty, talent, and intelligence to fight racial discrimination. Her perseverance and accomplishments are truly inspirational, having taught us all how to weather the stormy periods of our lives. I am honored that today, we may honor the life and legacy of Ms. Lena Horne with a Congressional Gold Medal, and through this recognition inspire others with her story."
Congressman Alcee L. Hastings serves as Senior Member of the House Rules Committee, Ranking Democratic Member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and Democratic Chairman of the Florida Delegation.