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NORTH -- More than 250 people came together to celebrate the extraordinary life and accomplishments of late North native Eartha Kitt, internationally acclaimed singer, dancer, actress, writer and activist, at the Eartha Kitt Gala on Jan. 14 at North Middle/High School.

Kitt's daughter, Kitt Shapiro, and her husband, Allan Rothschild, were among those attending the event. Proceeds from the Gala will benefit the Cooperative Ministries of North.

“My mother was amazing. She started every morning by thanking God for her being able to see and hear the birds and for every breath. She had a love of life that she passed on to me. My childhood was filled with travel, humor and learning. She taught me to be true to myself," Shapiro said.

“My mother was a force to be reckoned with. If I had to describe her in a word, it would be, 'WOW!' My mother always said she was 'of the earth' and described herself as a 'cotton-picker from the south.' Although life was not always easy for her, she remained true to her roots and her family.”

Kitt, who was best known for her distinctive voice on vocals like "Santa Baby" and her captivating portrayal of the infamous Catwoman in the hit "Batman" TV series, was born in North on Jan. 17, 1927. She died on Christmas Day in 2008. 

Barbara Jeffcoat of North, one of the Gala organizers, said, “This is a nice affair and a good way to honor one of our own.”

"Ms. Kitt's accomplishments are an inspiration for our youth. She experienced tough times as a biracial child and was sent to New York to live with an aunt, but she never forgot that North was her hometown and she never stopped caring about the people here," North Town Councilman Jeff Washington said. "Her life serves as a positive influence.”

North Mayor Patty Carson said she and her husband, Doyle Carson, drove Shapiro and her husband to see her mother's old home place while they were in town.

"We also viewed one of the Cooperative Ministries' projects and other areas around town. It is wonderful that Kitt and Allan were able to come for the Gala. Kitt is the one who suggested that (the proceeds) be used as a fundraising event for the Cooperative Ministries.”

Susan Bowman of North said, “This is a great affair. Eartha Kitt is legend here in North, and it is awesome that her daughter can participate. This is a great inspiration for our young people and everybody else, too.”

Resident Vervia Sanders added that the gala was a very positive event, and Glenda Brown of North said it was a good way for the community to fellowship with each other while showing support for a native daughter.

The gala began with a silent auction of items including a barbecue for 35 people, several books on North family genealogies, signed Eartha Kitt memorabilia and prints by acclaimed photographer Cecil Williams of Orangeburg.

Rev. Rick Jones, pastor of North First Baptist Church, introduced WIS-TV meteorologist Von Gaskins, who was the mistress of ceremonies. Gaskins said she was “pleased as punch” to have been asked to participate because she was such a fan of Eartha Kitt's work and was excited to meet her daughter and her husband. She said Kitt's legacy had come full circle in that she will always be remembered, not only around the world, but in her hometown of North.

Rev. Glenn Edwards, pastor of Chapel Hill Baptist Church, gave the blessing prior to the dinner.

Following the meal, Dr. Thomas Brown, pastor of St. Mark's UMC, gave a brief overview of the Cooperative Ministries of North.

“The Cooperative Ministries started in 1995 as an agreement between area churches and citizenry to help those individuals in need," Brown said. "Cooperation means working together to bring about positive results. This is the first year of concentrated fundraising efforts, and all area churches and citizens should be recognized for their efforts."

"In the past year, we have been able to return $15,000 to the North area community to help those in need,” he added.

A tribute honoring Kitt and her successes was offered by Rev. Marie Ray, pastor of North UMC, and Rev. Jerald Sanders, pastor of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church.

The mayor presented a "Key to the Town of North" to Shapiro; Bernice Stratford of Virginia and her daughter presented Shapiro with a bouquet of flowers.

Describing herself as one of Kitt's biggest fans, Rosa Bogar presented Shapiro with a communal banner. The banner featured signatures collected at a program celebrating Eartha Kitt that Bogar was part of in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Jan. 8. Also signing the banner to pay homage to Kitt were students at North Middle/High School.

Bogar, along with state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Rev. Rick Jones, citizens of North and other interested parties were responsible for the S.C. Legislature proclaiming Jan. 17 as Eartha Kitt Day in South Carolina. It would have been Kitt's 90th birthday.   

Shapiro thanked those in the North community for their devotion to her mother. She said her mother believed that "whatever you take from the earth, you must return with love and kindness."

“My mother always said that however you treated someone or something, it would respond in kind. Thank you for remembering her and celebrating her accomplishments," Shapiro said. "I hope that the celebration continues each year and that it is focused in Orangeburg County."

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Contact the writer: mitchumsherryl@gmail.com.

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