By Kelli Goff | TheDailyBeast.com
The death of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner is sure to draw strong reactions. Hefner’s most vocal critics have included high-profile feminists who despised how his Playboy empire celebrated women as sex objects.
But Hugh Hefner also played a far less known but still integral role in the quest for equality, using Playboy as a powerful weapon in our nation’s culture wars.
At a time when debate rages regarding the role celebrities—particularly white ones—should play in bridging our nation’s racial divide, Hefner’s surprising civil-rights legacy looms large.
Hefner opened his far-reaching media platform to black activists and entertainers long before other mainstream outlets did. He also opened his wallet to fund civil-rights causes.
Comedian Dick Gregory revealed in an interview that Hefner provided $25,000 toward a reward that Gregory later credited with helping break one of the civil-rights movement’s most notorious cases: the murder of three young civil-rights workers in Meridian, Mississippi.
Hefner was also an avid supporter of Martin Luther King Jr. and would go on to serve as a significant funder of the Rainbow PUSH coalition helmed by King acolyte Jesse Jackson. (Hefner donated to a number of progressive and legal causes throughout his life, including funding America’s very first rape kit, via his charitable foundation.)