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All this happened ostensibly because Ms. Smith sang a couple of minstrel songs in the 1930s (out of the 3,000 that she recorded during her career) which used words and imagery that are considered racially offensive today. It should be pointed out that other artists of the time (both Black and White) recorded similar songs using the same terms—indeed, such imagery was commonplace in traditional songs as well-known as Swanee River and Old Kentucky Home.
I don’t know if Ms. Smith was racist in her heart or not. But the chivalrous part of me can't stand the idea that a woman dead for 30 years and unable to defend herself is having dirt kicked on her gravestone. I did a little research about Ms. Smith as a result of this controversy, and I ran across the following quote which she said on the public airwaves on the day after VJ-Day (Victory over Japan Day, for those of you in the Millennial generation, 😉), August 15, 1945:
"Millions must be fed and clothed. Other millions must be taught an entirely new way of life: a philosophy which does not include aggression and cruelty and the absolute worship of a Hitler or a Hirohito. They must be taught that there is no super-race, that all men are equal and have an equal right to enjoy the fruits of this earth and the tranquility and decency to which the truly civilized subscribe."This quote formed part of the closing of Ms. Smith’s radio program on that date. The program, entitled Kate Smith Speaks, broadcast on CBS radio from the late 1930s through the late 1940s. For a while, it was the most popular program on daytime radio. The quote may be found in the book, Kate Smith Speaks: 50 Selected Original Radio Scripts, 1938-1951 by Richard Hayes.
Call me crazy, but this statement does not sound like the sentiment of an inveterate racist to me. Perhaps other evidence will emerge, but at this point, the accusation of racism against Kate Smith looks fairly ridiculous, particularly when compared against how selflessly she used her talents during her lifetime. As Dan Cirucci detailed in a column over the past weekend: "during World War II, she traveled nearly 520,000 miles to entertain troops and sold a record $600 million in war bonds in a series of round-the-clock radio appeals. One of these, a 24-hour marathon on Feb. 1, 1944, raised a record $110 million in pledges." Indeed, these charges against Smith seem so ridiculous that they may be a cop-out.
My suspicion is that the perceived problem with Kate Smith, as identified by the massive corporate sports culture, is less about racism than about three little words that make them supremely uncomfortable these days: