Kitt was active in numerous social causes in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1966, she established the Kittsville Youth Foundation, a chartered and non-profit organization for underprivileged youth in the Watts area of Los Angeles. She was also involved with a group of youth in the area of Anacostia in Washington, D.C., who called themselves, “Rebels with a Cause.” Kitt supported the group’s efforts to clean up streets and establish recreation areas in an effort to keep them out of trouble by testifying with them before the House General Subcommittee on Education of the Committee on Education and Labor. In her testimony, in May 1967, Kitt stated that the Rebels’ “achievements and accomplishments should certainly make the adult ‘do-gooders’ realize that these young men and women have performed in 1 short year – with limited finances – that which was not achieved by the same people who might object to turning over some of the duties of planning, rehabilitation, and prevention of juvenile delinquents and juvenile delinquency to those who understand it and are living it”. She added that “the Rebels could act as a model for all urban areas throughout the United States with similar problems”. “Rebels with a Cause” subsequently received the needed funding.
Kitt was also a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, thus her criticism of the Vietnam War and its connection to poverty and racial unrest in 1968 can be seen as part of a larger commitment to peace activism.
Like many politically active public figures of her time, Kitt was under surveillance by the CIA, beginning in 1956. After the New York Times discovered the CIA file on Kitt in 1975, she granted the paper permission to print portions of the report, stating: “I have nothing to be afraid of and I have nothing to hide.”
Kitt later became a vocal advocate for LGBT rights and publicly supported same-sex marriage, which she considered a civil right. She had been quoted as saying: “I support it [gay marriage] because we’re asking for the same thing. If I have a partner and something happens to me, I want that partner to enjoy the benefits of what we have reaped together. It’s a civil-rights thing, isn’t it?” Kitt famously appeared at many LGBT fundraisers, including a mega event in Baltimore, Maryland, with George Burns and Jimmy James.17] Scott Sherman, an agent at Atlantic Entertainment Group, stated: “Eartha Kitt is fantastic… appears at so many LGBT events in support of civil rights.”
Kitt died from colon cancer on Christmas Day 2008, at her home in Weston, Connecticut.
Her daughter, Kitt Shapiro, discussed her last days with her mother:
“I was with her when she died. She left this world literally screaming at the top of her lungs. I was with her constantly, she lived not even 3 miles from my house, we were together practically everyday. She was home for the last few weeks when the doctor told us there was nothing they could do anymore. Up until the last two days, she was still moving around. The doctor told us she will leave very quickly and her body will just start to shutdown. But when she left, she left the world with a bang, she left it how she lived it. She screamed her way out of here, literally. I truly believe her survival instincts were so part of her DNA that she was not going to go quietly or willingly. It was just the two of us hanging out [during the last days] she was very funny. We didn’t have to [talk] because I always knew how she felt about me. I was the love of her life, so the last part of her life we didn’t have to have these heart to heart talks.
She started to see people that weren’t there. She thought I could see them too, but, of course, I couldn’t. I would make fun of her like, ‘I’m going to go in the other room and you stay here and talk to your friends.'”
- January, 17, 1927
- North, South Carolina
- December, 25, 2008
- Weston, Connecticut
Cause of Death
- colon cancer
- Cremated, Ashes given to family or friend