From Oprah Winfrey to Angelina Jolie, George Clooney to Leonardo DiCaprio, Americans have come to expect that Hollywood celebrities will be outspoken advocates for social and political causes. However, that wasn't always the case. As Emilie Raymond shows, during the civil rights movement the Stars for Freedom - a handful of celebrities both black and white - risked their careers by crusading for racial equality, and forged the role of celebrity in American political culture.
Focusing on the "Leading Six" trailblazers - Harry Belafonte, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dick Gregory, and Sidney Poitier - Raymond reveals how they not only advanced the civil rights movement in front of the cameras, but also worked tirelessly behind the scenes, raising money for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legal defense, leading membership drives for the NAACP, and personally engaging with workaday activists to boost morale.
Through meticulous research, engaging writing, and new interviews with key players, Raymond traces the careers of the Leading Six against the backdrop of the movement. Perhaps most revealing is the new light she sheds on Sammy Davis, Jr., exploring how his controversial public image allowed him to raise more money for the movement than any other celebrity. The result is an entertaining and informative book that will appeal to film buffs and civil rights historians alike, as well as to anyone interested in the rise of celebrity power in American society.
Emilie Raymond is associate professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is the author of "From My Cold, Dead Hands": Charlton Heston and American Politics.
"This gem of a book is well written and on a timely topic. It will make an invaluable contribution to both civil rights and entertainment history."
-Randal Maurice Jelks, author of Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement
"Emilie Raymond provides deep insight into how entertainers helped shape the civil rights movement. Stars for Freedom is a valuable, eye-opening book."
-Aram Goudsouzian, author of Down to the Crossroads
"Stars for Freedom analyzes a little-known but fascinating aspect of the Civil Rights movement: how African-American actors and entertainers in Hollywood contributed their money, connections, and fame to promote the cause. As Emilie Raymond shows, the political success of figures such as Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poiter, and Sammy Davis, Jr. forces us to reconsider whether modern celebrity culture can, in fact, encourage something more than mere trivial entertainment. An illuminating and entertaining read."
-Steven Watts, author of Self-Help Messiah: Dale Carnegie and Success in Modern America and Mr. Playboy: Hugh Hefner and the American Dream
"Stars for Freedom is a brilliantly researched, eloquently argued and beautifully written book that shows how important the work of black celebrity was to the civil rights movement. Raymond reveals how the activism of a few courageous stars shaped the perception, and deepened the purse, of a movement that sorely needed their funds and fame. This is a path breaking study that restores the honorable place of black entertainers in bolstering a movement that transformed a nation at a critical juncture in our history. "
-Michael Eric Dyson, author of April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Death and How it Changed America
"During this moment of #BlackLivesMatter, Emilie Raymond's fascinating book is an illuminating reminder of that first generation of Black artists and entertainers to reflect contemporary social justice realities in their work."
-Mark Anthony Neal, author of Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities