Felicia Kahn, Trailblazing Equal Rights Activist and a “Giant of the City of New Orleans,” Dies at 91

[dropcap]F[/dropcap]elicia Kahn, a pioneer of the modern women’s rights movement in Louisiana and one of the state’s most prominent political organizers, died this morning in New Orleans. She was 91 years old.

“We’ve lost one of strongest champions for equal rights and equal pay for women, but Felicia Kahn’s work will continue through the many people she inspired,” Gov. John Bel Edwards wrote, in a statement released on Twitter. I’m proud to say that I knew Felicia and will work to ensure that her legacy lives on throughout Louisiana and the nation.”

In a statement published on his Congressional website, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond praised Kahn as a “giant of the city of New Orleans.”

“(Her) work and passion gained her admiration throughout the country,” Richmond wrote. “One was never confused about her values or priorities, she was always in pursuit of the upward mobility and wellness of everyone. With her death we lost a champion for the advancement of women, and our commitment should be to carry on that work with the same determination and vigor. We will miss Felicia’s passion and vitality.  Our city and the nation is better off because of the work she carried out each day.”

Kahn, a lifelong Democrat, remained actively involved in politics until her death.

Only two weeks ago, she was considering changes to the bylaws of the Independent Women’s Organization, a group that she relaunched in 2010 and now one of the state’s largest and most influential independent civic organization. During the same meeting, she was re-elected to the organization’s board of directors and named as a committee chair.

“I was born a Democrat, but Felicia Kahn helped raise me into the Democrat I am today,” wrote state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party. “She was a prominent part of my rise in public service and inspired my commitment to women’s equality, and for that I will be eternally grateful. Before I was even old enough to vote, I attended political organizing meetings led by Felicia. Her example made me long to become an advocate for the causes we shared.”

In 2016, Kahn attended her tenth Democratic National Convention as a delegate for Louisiana. At the age of 90, she was the second-oldest delegate in the country and became the subject of national and international media attention, including this segment on a popular current affairs program in the Netherlands:

Felicia Schorenstein Kahn was born on July 11, 1926 and grew up in Uptown New Orleans. Following her graduation from Isidore Newman School, where she had attended since the first grade, she enrolled in Newcomb College, earning a degree in sociology.

Because Kahn’s maternal grandfather, Sam T.  Alcus, had earned a fortune in the lumber business in Massachusetts, her parents had always lived comfortably, though not extravagantly, and as a child, they encouraged her to pursue an education and an independent career.

Although diminutive in stature, Kahn’s mind was always a bundle of kinetic energy. “A force of nature” is how her friend Michael McHale of Lake Charles and many others described her on social media.

Kahn became involved in political organizing shortly after graduating college. She had been inspired by a meeting with Martha Robinson, then-President of the city’s League of Women Voters, and for the next seven decades, Kahn remained a constant presence and leader in countless causes and political campaigns.

The vast majority of her work occurred behind the scenes. In the early 1970s, for example, she helped push the Democratic National Committee to select more female delegates. But in 1975, she threw her hat in the ring in a race for state representative, ultimately falling short to Clyde Bell.

She ran again in 1979, but a 23 year old named Mary Landrieu decided to jump in as well.

In 2004, she discussed her career in advocacy with the Midlo Center for New Orleans Studies in an extended interview:

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Lamar White, Jr.
Lamar White, Jr. is an award-winning writer and the publisher and founder of the Bayou Brief, Louisiana’s only statewide news and culture publication. Born and raised on the banks of the Red River in Alexandria, he is a proud product of the Louisiana public education system and a graduate of Rice University in Houston and SMU’s Dedman School of Law in Dallas. Lamar has been writing about politics and public policy in Louisiana for twenty years, beginning as a weekly youth columnist for his hometown paper, the Town Talk. After earning his undergraduate degree in English and Religious Studies, Lamar moved back to Alexandria, where he launched a popular blogsite, CenLamar, and worked for five years as the Special Assistant to the Mayor. He exposed significant problems with Louisiana’s school voucher program, which resulted in a series of other investigations and ultimately in the removal of several schools from the program. He was the last person to argue online with Andrew Breitbart. He investigated and then broke the report that U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise had once attended a white supremacist conference. He was the first to share a photograph of Bobby Jindal’s portrait in the state Capitol. He exposed U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy’s incomplete timesheets while the then-representative moonlighted as a physician. He earned headlines in Texas after the gubernatorial campaign of Greg Abbott falsely claimed he had been exploited as a “campaign prop” by Abbott’s opponent, Wendy Davis, and after exposing U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign for relying on online “bot farms” to counter Beto O’Rourke, and he earned headlines in Mississippi after publishing videos of U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith making bizarre comments about public hangings and voter suppression tactics which were both perceived as racist. Lamar was the recipient of the 2011 Ashley Morris Award, given to the writer who best exemplifies the spirit of New Orleans, and in 2019, he was honored as one of Gambit’s Top 40 Under 40 and as the year’s Outstanding Millennial in Journalism at the annual Millennial Awards. He has been the subject of profiles in the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, Above the Law, and the Advocate and has appeared multiple times as a guest on CNN and MSNBC. Lamar currently lives in New Orleans with his two golden retrievers, Lucy Ana and Ruby Dog.