Frank Sinatra Was A Progressive Champion Before Progressivism Was Cool

On this 100th anniversary of his date of birth, many are remembering Frank Sinatra’s crooning voice, his hunkish Hollywood roles and even his occasional brawls with press.

What more should remember, though, if not learn for the first time, is that the Chairman was very vocal outside of music, too.

Sinatra was politically active, a strong supporter of progressive social issues and a prominent spokesperson for everyone’s equal rights.

And while he moved toward the GOP when his old friend Ronald Reagan entered politics, Sinatra still paved the way for progressive ideals to be practiced in entertainment, and still strongly supported those same beliefs.

Here are four particular progressive causes that Sinatra championed:

Political Activism

Sinatra learned about political issues straight from his mother, who was a ward leader for the Democratic Party in New Jersey. He once said:

My mother had me in an election parade when I was a young boy. I never thought about it; I just think it is the duty of every American citizen to take part in political races and vote.

While still a young twenty-nine, the already-famous singer volunteered with FDR’s re-election campaign in 1944, even helping voter registration drives. He thought that such activism might paint a negative image on him, and even harm him professionally, but he put those personal risks aside to aid the public good. At a Roosevelt-Truman campaign event that same year, he told a crowd of 20,000:

Some people tell me I may hurt my career by taking sides in a political campaign. And I say to them: ‘To hell with this career. Government is more important.’

Sinatra also volunteered with and contributed to the campaigns of Harry Truman, Adlai Stevenson, and Jack Kennedy.

Women’s Right to Choose

Here’s another subject in which his mother had obvious influence on him. According to The Sinatra Files, while she was a midwife in trade, Dolly Sinatra also performed abortions for young women during the Depression, a time when families could not afford to have children. She was arrested multiple times in this era when abortion was illegal.

The Chairman supported women’s choice, too, and praised his mother for her work.

She was out there fighting for women’s rights before women even knew they should have them.

Equal Rights for Minorities

Sinatra found discrimination against African-Americans to be just as offensive as the prejudice he faced early in life as a first-generation American of Italian parents. He was very vocal in criticizing racism early on. In 1947, for example, he said:

We’ve got a hell of a way to go in this racial situation. As long as most white men think of a Negro as a Negro first and a man second, we’re in trouble. I don’t know why we can’t grow up. It took us long enough to get past the stage where we were calling all Italians ‘wops’ and ‘dagos,’ but if we don’t stop this ‘n*gger’ thing, we just won’t be around much longer.

He’s also credited with leading the fight against segregation in Las Vegas. Sinatra threatened to have The Sands casino shut down in 1955 when it wouldn’t serve a black entertainer in its restaurant. At the same location, after he saw an African-American couple refused a room in its hotel, Sinatra argued directly with the casino’s owner and got its guest policies changes, and even its hiring policies.

Sinatra also performed at a 1961 benefit for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That same year, he led other entertainers in a boycott of hotels that refused to accept black guests.

The Negative Role of Religion

Sinatra was raised to be a devout Catholic, but he was quick to criticize the negative effects of religion on society. He told Playboy in 1963:

There are things about organized religion which I resent. Christ is revered as the Prince of Peace, but more blood has been shed in His name than any other figure in history. You show me one step forward in the name of religion and I’ll show you a hundred retrogressions.

Even though Sinatra did affiliate with the Reagan administration, he never changed his mind about any of these progressive issues. He remained a voter’s advocate and promoter of women’s and minorities’ rights throughout his lifetime.


Featured image from Library of Congress (Public Domain) via Wikipedia

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