with Larry King
Oct. 15, 2002
King: First, for openers, we thank Harry
Belafonte for giving us this time exclusively. Second, to also
inform you that I've known Harry Belafonte for over 40 years.
I've also known Colin Powell for well over 12 years, consider
both friends. Harry Belafonte needs no defender. His work in
activism in well noted, but I will tell you that I was with him
in Miami Beach when he became the first black to stay at a Miami
He was a close friend of Martin Luther King, worked as a
humanitarian, won numerous prizes, including a Nelson Mandela
Courage Award. He has—he brought together performers like
Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen, was responsible for
"We are the World." His work with troubled youth,
President Kennedy named him a cultural adviser to the Peace
Corps. The list could go on and on.
Harry Belafonte doesn't need anybody talking about his
credit, but he did surprise many of his friends and followers
with a statement on a San Diego radio station. Let's listen to
(Begin audio tape)
Harry Belafonte, Activist: There's an old saying in
the days of slavery. There are those slaves who lived on the
plantation, and there were those slaves who lived in the house.
You got the privilege of living in the house if you served the
master. Colin Powell was permitted to come into the house of the
(End audio tape)
King: All right, Harry, what did you mean?
Harry Belafonte: First of all, let me hasten to say, Larry,
that this was never meant to be a personal attack on Colin
Powell's character. What it was meant, however, to be was an
attack on policy, and the reference and the metaphor used about
slavery—it is my personal feeling that plantations exist all
over America. If you walk into South Central Los Angeles, into
Watts, or you walk into Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati, you'll
find people who live lives that are as degrading as anything
that slavery had ever produced. They live in economic
oppression, they live in a disenfranchised way. In the hearts
and minds of those people, and millions of others, you're always
looking for hope, and whenever somebody within our tribe, within
our group, emerges that has the position of authority and power
to make a difference in the way business is done, our
expectations run high.
Many times, those expectations are not fulfilled. But when
such an individual is in the service of those who not only
perpetuate the oppression, but sometimes design the way in which
it is applied, it then becomes very, very, very, very critical
that we raise our voices and be heard. And...
King: I'm sorry, I don't mean—isn't it possible,
Harry, one, that Colin Powell, who has stood up for his country,
fought for his country, may have disagreed in counsel, but
supports his president in a tough time of need—why compare
that to being—as a slave?
Harry Belafonte: Because, I think, to a great degree, that
which governs us is really the extent to which we are permitted
by the forces of power in this country to do what it is we can
do to make a difference.
The civil rights movement was a huge struggle against an
enormous opposition. You know, many people who lived under that
tenet and what we had to do to try to position people in high
places to make a difference so we could change the way in which
our democracy functioned was part of the game.
And Colin Powell is in that position. And I do believe that
the policies that have been expressed by the administration he
serves are less than honorable.
It is not just about what I say. Last year, in South Africa,
the United Nations under Kofi Annan gave us an excellent
opportunity in convening the International Conference on Racism
directed by a woman of remarkable credentials, the former
president of Ireland, Mary Robinson. There was a place where the
United States should have been in attendance, and given us the
benefit of thought on a very grievous set of conditions that
affect the human family -- the issue of race.
And in that instance, the United States government sought to
turn its back on the thousands of people who were gathered there
to make a difference. And Colin Powell was the point person on
that distancing of our country. You know...
King: What did you want him to do? What do you want
him to do?
Harry Belafonte: I would like him to live up to a higher
moral standard. You know, Jeffords doesn't have to be the only
one who sits in disagreement with the policies of this country
and this government and acts upon it out of conscience.
Where is Colin Powell's conscience? In a time when the world
is getting ready to go up in flames in a war that's hugely
ill-advised, you know. Today we are going to go after Iraq. You
know, where do we go next? After Iran? And then, when our
present friends fall out of favor with us, do we go after
King: But can't Colin Powell have a belief that the
Iraqi situation is the administration's point of view, is
correct and agree with its principles without giving up his own
-- you're assuming that he's going against his principles. Maybe
they are his principles.
Harry Belafonte:Well, if they are his principles, then I
sit opposed to them. I have to make the assumption that it's not
his principles because of what he said . . . at the Republican
National Convention when he gave that remarkable speech. Or when
he said going through the United Nations as the vehicle through
which this problem should be settled. To do anything less than
that and to stick to that mandate I think is a sellout.
King: So you think he is selling -- has he
disappointed you, then?
Harry Belafonte: Yes. You know, unfortunately. He has. As I
said before earlier, we have high expectations. Necessarily for
those who come from color, who come from a history of
oppression, or at least an understanding of it. And what we
would hope is that people who come from that experience would
use it effectively to change the way in which others do business
in the world of oppression.
King: Do you have the same views about Condoleezza
BELAFONTE: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. Even more so.
Because I've never heard from Condoleezza Rice even the
suggestion towards some of the more lenient thoughts or some of
the more appropriate thoughts that Colin Powell has expressed.
King: Let's say they share your beliefs and are trying
to do the best from within. Do you want them to make a moral
statement and quit the administration? Do you want them to speak
out and say, I was opposed but -- what do you want Colin Powell
or Condoleezza Rice -- let's concentrate on Colin -- what do you
want him to do?
BELAFONTE: Colin Powell is not a victim here. Let's
get that straight. Colin Powell is a individual, he's a man of
enormous resources, he has an enormous intelligence, he has that
agenda. What is that agenda, Colin? I mean, you know, you speak
about the disenfranchised, you speak about the fairness of race.
You speak about democracy. Everything that is in your
administration's policy runs contrary to that fact.
King: And Condoleezza -- you feel the same way. So if
you were them, you would quit.
BELAFONTE: If I was them, I would use the platform to
speak out against the ill-advised policies of the
administration. I would go as far as inviting to be fired, if
that's what happens. You know, Colin Powell's on the brink of
being nominated for presidency of this country. Obviously, he's
held in high esteem. He doesn't have to grovel to anyone.
You know, nor do I suggest that that's necessarily what he's
doing. Maybe his agenda is that of the president's. He often
says that he serves them with great pride and with great
passion. That's unfortunate.
King: In retrospect, were your remarks a bit harsh by
going into a comparison to slavery? To making him appear like,
well, put it frankly, Uncle Tom?
BELAFONTE: Well, I think those who have the capacity
and the courage to make a difference by doing bold things, who
refuse to apply that condition, are more often suspect of
selling out than they are of standing brave and courageous as
others have done.
You know, I didn't refer to him as an Uncle Tom. I said,
those who sit in the service of the house and those who sit in
the service of those who languish on the plantation. America has
many plantations, even today. Not only in America, those
plantations sit in many places around the world, where I've seen
I work for the United Nations. I go to places where enormous
upheaval and pain and anguish exist. And a lot of it exists
based upon American policy. Whom we support, whom we support as
heads of state, what countries we've helped to overthrow, what
leaders we've helped to diminish because they did not fit the
mold we think they should fit, no matter how ill advised that
thought may be. It is not without reason that I make my
King: Harry, I want you to just spend a moment
watching Colin Powell's response when I asked him about your
remarks on our show about ten days ago. Here's Colin.
(Begin video clip)
Colin Powell, Secretary of State: If Harry had wanted
to attack my politics, that was fine. If he wanted to attack a
particular position I hold, that was fine. But to use a slave
reference I think is unfortunate and is a throwback to another
time and another place that I wish Harry had thought twice about
(End video clip)
King: Want to comment?
Harry Belafonte: Yes. Let me first of all tell you, Larry,
slavery is a noble part of black history. It's an anguished part
of this country's history. Most of who and what we are was
shaped during the period of slavery. Our forefathers, those who
were courageous and noble enough to resist tyranny, shaped their
thoughts during slavery.
And the plantations were a difficult place on which to live
and to work. There's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing
wrong to talk about the plantation and to throw back to the time
of slavery. Why not? It's part of our history. As a matter of
fact, we've forgotten it much too quickly and much too easily.
King: But it was obviously you hurt him, Harry. There
was pain in him because he obviously admires you a great deal.
You're one of the greater entertainers of all time. You both
have a Jamaican heritage. He must have felt a closeness to you.
He had to be -- I mean don't you feel bad that you hurt him?
Harry Belafonte: I still feel closely to Colin Powell. I'd
still like to reach for him. He's not the first person in office
who has eluded us or presented an opportunity to do some good
that we thought we could never have.
Bobby Kennedy, was when he first came into office, somebody
that we looked at with enormous anguish and suspicion because we
didn't feel that he understood the struggles of black people in
this country. And our task was to reach to him and to provoke
him and to push him until he became a human being who was
awakened to the cause of the peoples of this country who sit
disenfranchised and who were living in oppression in a very
violent time in our nation, when racism was legal. And look at
what happened to him by the end of his life because those of us
who spoke out awakened him to understand that what he's doing is
King: We'll be right back with more of Harry Belafonte.
We'll include some phone calls. Mr. Belafonte, thankfully enough
also still entertains. Appears in concert frequently and is
welcomed wherever he goes. This is a very fascinating discussion
which I hope you find as interesting as I do. We'll take a break
and come back.
(Begin video clip)
William J. Clinton, President of the
United States: Today
he [Harry Belafonte] continues to bring art and activism together
to inspire all of us to live our lives with passion and with
concern for others.
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in congratulating Harry
(End video clip)
King: Was that -- what was that medal, Harry?
Harry Belafonte: It was the National Medal for the Arts. It
was given to me by President Clinton. And I was very honored to
King: You've also been critical of President Clinton
Harry Belafonte:Yes, I have.
What's wrong with criticism? What's wrong with the voice of
dissent? What's wrong with another point of view? That's what
America is built on. And I want to tell you something -- the
minute we lose that right and that capacity to do that, we've
lost our soul as a nation.
King: You would not change the statement?
Harry Belafonte: No. I would perhaps put it in a context
that would be a little bit more -- like the opportunity you're
giving me now to put it in a context, but in essence, I wouldn't
change the statement.
King: But Colin Powell has been a voice in the
Republican party for moderation. Many didn't like his views on
abortion, he's pro- choice. He certainly has stood up for
affirmative action. He had a lot to do with integration in the
military service. He has been a bulwark to black people in
America, who look for -- as you looked for -- you looked for the
Martin Luther Kings and others -- who look for people who are
example of leadership.
And this administration, while it's being wrapped, has a
secretary of state who is black and a National Security Adviser
who is black. That's never happened before.
Harry Belafonte: You're still dealing with the personality
of the man. What I'm dealing with are the issues about the
policies that he serves. That's what this is about.
We're getting ready to go to war. American boys and girls are
going to be dead on some foreign battlefield again. In a place
that all advice doesn't suggest that it's the best move we could
make. That's a serious, serious concern for the citizens of this
country. It is about the policy, Larry. It's not about the man.
I like Colin Powell. I like his West Indian background. I like
his intellect. I like a lot of things that he does and his
style. What is at fault here is a policy that's taking this
country to hell.
You know, to quote Shakespeare these days is not the most
popular thing, that not a lot of artists can do, but I would say
to you, that in the closing act of "King Lear," the
character says, "'Tis the time's plague when the -- when
mad men lead the blind.'"
And I tell you, there's madness that's in the world today and
what even exacerbates the problem is that nowhere do you hear
voices of reason coming to the table with ideas and thoughts
that could change the scenario because they're not given the
opportunity to be here.
Amelia Robinson whom I just mentioned, she was one of the
leading voices in the United Nations. We worked tenaciously to
getting her dismissed and now she's gone. Why?
King: Isn't one of the classic examples of madness in
the world Saddam Hussein?
Harry Belafonte: Absolutely. No question.
King: So what do you do about him?
Harry Belafonte: Go through the United Nations and follow
the Council and the principles of the international family.
That's what we do about it. Stop bullying the world. Stop
saying, That you do it our way or no way counts. That is not
King: And if the United Nations says we will take
military action, you then support it?
Harry Belafonte: Yes. If the United Nations decides to take
action, then I would stand by the United Nations.
King: On -- by the way, where were you on 9/11?
Harry Belafonte: On another channel, getting ready to launch
a work that I had just done. I was on NBC and just about to go
down to the World Trade Center for breakfast. Had the incident
happened just an hour later, I might very well have been one of
King: All right. Now, the world changed that day,
Harry, you had to admit that. We can't sit around -- I mean, it
may be fine to say that this is what we're based on, but we're a
nervous nation. And when you're nervous and when there's a
threat of -- look what's going on in Washington, Maryland and
Virginia now, you have to act in ways that may not be standard
with the morality and the history of this country.
But we've never faced this before. Isn't that just being
Harry Belafonte: I challenge that our only option to conduct
that is new to us, that is villainous, is to do something that's
immoral. I don't buy that. I don't buy that at all. I think
there are a lot of ways in which these situations can be dealt
with and should be dealt with.
King: So you don't think we have to change anything?
We could just go on as we have?
Harry Belafonte: Oh no. I think we have to change a lot.
Mostly, how we helped breed the playing ground in which a lot of
thinking tyranny comes out of. Our hands are not clean, Larry.
There are nations all over this globe that suffer from policies
that we have implemented. People go away bitter with a great
sense of loss and families are destroyed.
Terror isn't only our experience. Terror is experienced by
people all over the place and we have helped instigate some of
King: How about those who say, let's say, Condoleezza
Rice is a classic example of how we've come a long way. Here's a
woman who 30 years ago wouldn't have made a dent. She goes to
professor at Stanford, she's a National Security Adviser in the
You may disagree with her policies, but wouldn't you say,
you've come a long way?
BELAFONTE: Absolutely. There's no question we've come
a long way. Nobody dismisses that. That does not, however,
diminish how far it is we still have to go. And just evoking the
person's gender, because Condoleezza Rice is a woman, and her
color, because she's black, does not justify abdication of moral
responsibility. That does not make it all right or better.
If she were a Jew and were doing things that were anti-semitic
and against the best interests of people, that would also stand
the same way. This is not about color. It's not about gender.
It's about policy. It's about what choices we make as a people,
about the human family and where we're going and what we're
doing. That's what this is about.
King: And that's what General Powell said in his
statement on this show. Criticize me on my policy, but don't go
back to making me a slave in the house of a master and because
I'm a good slave, I get to serve in the house. That was taking
it too far to hit him personally.
Harry Belafonte: Well, I'm glad it woke him up. I'm glad it
made him pay attention.
I'm not too sure that I'd have gotten on your show discussing
this in this way if these things are not happened. That was not
my intention, incidentally. I was caught in a very passionate
moment in that radio interview. And I spoke my piece. But now
that it is on the table, fine, I will continue to speak my
thoughts on the subject and I will stand corrected if I have
made error, but I do believe that what I am talking about is
what is not being discussed. It is who stands responsible for
the mistakes this nation makes because it doesn't want to listen
King: Would you like to sit down with the Secretary?
Harry Belafonte: Love to.
King: We'll take a break and come back with more of
Harry Belafonte. We'll include some phone calls for one of the
great -- by the way, little known fact: his "Calypso"
album, which really made calypso music in America, was the first
album to sell over a million copies.
We'll be right back.
King: Harry Belafonte and a group -- he put it all
together, "We are the World."
Let's take some calls for one of the great entertainers of
modern times, Harry Belafonte.
Marietta, Georgia -- hello.
Caller: First of all, I want to say that I have a lot
of respect for both of you, and Harry, I just want to say that
while I respectfully disagree with what you said about Colin
Powell, I am curious as to what your friends, your family, and
especially your counterparts in the show business arena had to
say about your comments.
King: Good question.
Harry Belafonte: Well, most of my friends with whom I've
talked about have been somewhat caught up in this fracas, and I
think, by and large, everybody understands what I meant,
understands where I'm coming from, and they see no villainy in
it, and I think they are -- they stand by me.
KING: Were any critical of you, Harry?
Harry Belafonte: Well, some thought that the public was
going to have a big problem, because the public does not come
from the same kind of a sophisticated sense of history and all
the different things that I've been exposed to, so I think
people are going to have difficulty. But then, people have
always had a difficulty around the issue of race, slavery, and
King: Well, because many of the public would say, as
you said, slavery is a great -- as a part of American history,
many would say, the farther we get away from it the better, and
referral was only taking it back to bad times.
Harry Belafonte: That would be true if the playing field
were equal, if it were level. If all things were honorable. But
the truth of the matter is that this country knows so little
about what truly went on in slavery, black and white, that we're
still living out its mistakes. We're still living out its
principles, we're still living out its culture in -- in very
King: Indianapolis, Indiana -- hello.
Caller: Hello. I'm calling to tell Mr. Harry how much
I admire him for taking a stand, and I'm also an
African-American, and I would wonder if he had an opportunity,
would he serve politics, that he would make a difference to us
because we need somebody to take a stand.
King: Would you ever run yourself, Harry?
Harry Belafonte: Well, I was put upon once to run for the
Senate in the United States of America against D'Amato, as a
matter of fact, and a lot of people thought that I stood a good
chance to make a race out of it.
I stepped away from that because I genuinely believed that
the platform that I have as an artist, the work that I do with
the United Nations, sits above suspicion because I have no
agenda, so to speak. I don't serve a political party. And I
thought that my service to the things that I believe in and to
this nation that I deeply believe in, was best served by staying
where I was.
King: Did the Academy Awards this year impress you,
two black Americans winning the top two awards?
Harry Belafonte: Well, I'm always pleased when black
Americans are rewarded for some achievement. I'm always very
suspicious, however, and I look very carefully at what does the
award dismiss? What does it suggest is correct when, in fact, so
much is incorrect? And I think that, you know, there are a lot
of people who just said, for instance, Hollywood is not above
the issue of discussing what goes on with racism. And one day,
we should get into that debate about how blacks really think
about what's going on in the culture of this country.
King: You mean blacks are not telling us what -- many
blacks you know are not telling us what they really think?
Harry Belafonte: I'll tell you this, Larry, many black
people still live out the -- the facade of the minstrel. We wear
a mask. Much of what we say and what we do is done in metaphor,
and done with subtext and other meaning, because we have not had
the best of experiences when you go straight to the heart of the
problems in this country, because this nation becomes so
punitive when it hears the truth about us.
King: You discussed this with your old friend Sidney
Harry Belafonte: Yes, Sidney and I have talked about it from
time to time. We've not talked...
King: He's not the activist you are.
Harry Belafonte: No, he's not. Nor does he have to be. Nor
does he have to be.
King: You don't criticize him for not being as active
Harry Belafonte: No, no, no, no. No, no, no. I don't
criticize him for not being -- people make choices they want to
make. That's the point here in a way. We must be held
responsible for the choices that we make. I'm not holding Colin
Powell responsible for something about Colin Powell as -- as a
man. It's about the things that he embraces, and the policies
that he serves. That's the problem.
* * * *
King: Morristown, New Jersey, for Harry Belafonte --
Caller: Hello. Mr. Belafonte, I heard you just the
last segment talking about the fact that you are against the
future killing of innocent American boys under the new -- this
administration's new policy.
I'm the mother of a 23-year-old boy that was killed on --
Tower One because he was an American citizen. I really don't see
where you think that you are -- this has happened already. Our
boys have been killed.
I feel that you're talking first as a black man, as an
American secondly, and that's saddens me and I think it would be
sadden all of us -- the 3,000 families whose people were mowed
down because we were Americans trying to live the American
dream. My boy was killed because he went to work. And I just
wish you would address that.
Harry Belafonte:I served in the United States Armed Forces
and the United States Navy during the second World War as a
I've also served some of the most remarkable Americans of our
century. I was embraced with and worked for Eleanor Roosevelt,
John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Paul Robeson. When you take a look
at men like Martin Luther King, with whom I marched and served,
and the more recent history, people of the moral stature, of
people like Nelson Mandela.
I sit and I grieve with each and every American who lost some
loved one on 9/11. And I also sit and grieve with every American
mother who lost some son to the Ku Klux Klan. Tyranny is not
exclusive in the experience of Americans just to 9/11. A lot of
people have known terror and terrorism. It's a sad thing.
And I'm not first black and then American. I've always been
and will be first American and then whatever I happen to be,
like the mosaic that makes up this country.
And I'm sorry if what I have said and the way in which I
interpret our policy offends you to the degree you think I am
ignorant of and willing to dismiss the death and the pain that
our nation feels. As a matter of fact, quite the contrary. It is
precisely the pain that I know that this nation feels that I
dread seeing us go through more of it, to lose more sons, more
daughters, because we are being ill advised on how to deal with
the ills of the nation.
Deal with hunger. Deal with poverty. Deal with
disenfranchisement which is rampant among the 6 billion people
who make up this planet. I see most of them. I spent time in
Rwanda where 800,000 people were murdered in a matter of months.
Violence is not mutiny, it's not new to the world. We've got to
stop it and I make a plea for it.
And I hope we can find policies and thinkers and people who
will come to their senses and lead us out of this abyss.
King: I only got a minute left but I want to ask you a
question about rap music and it uses the "N" word a
lot. There's a lot of denigration of women in music. You have
any thoughts on it as a proponent of free speech?
Harry Belafonte: Yes, I think it's somewhat shoddy that
we're constantly evoking free speech in the face of immoral,
unethical conduct. If I had the choice of what to do about free
speech, I'd fight to the death to maintain it. Even in the face
of these transgressions.
But because there are a lot of people spinning off profit
from denouncing their mothers, their daughters, putting
themselves in their most degraded level of our social
experience, and having it rewarded by the larger society is
certainly not a way of working ourselves into a greater and more
noble fabric of culture and human relationships.
King: So, Harry, in essence, you are glad you have
restructured the dialogue.
Harry Belafonte: I'm very glad to have been given the
opportunity to at least explain my point of view more fully. You
know, there are a lot of "N" words and there are ways
in which to deify someone or to vilify someone like Colin
Powell. That was never the intention.
The idea that you work in the house of the master is almost
in itself its own opportunity to do some mischief and to make a
difference. But when you are in that place and you help
perpetuate the master's policy that perpetuates oppression and
pain for many others, then something has to be said about it.
King: Thank you, Harry, as always.
Harry Belafonte: The master in this instance is, of course,
the president of the United States.
King: Good seeing you, as always, and thanks for doing
Harry Belafonte: Thank you very much, Larry, for having me.
King: Harry Belafonte, the famed entertainer,
humanitarian and activist, and his point of view.
© 2002 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
Harry Belafonte (at 80) on Clinton &
Obama Selma Campaign—"We
are hearing platitudes, not platforms. What do they
plan to do for people of color, Mexicans, for people
who are imprisoned, black youth? What are their
plans for the Katrinas of America?"
Belafonte, Harold George (Harry)
(b. March 1, 1927, New York, N.Y.), African American singer, actor,
producer, and activist, who has used his position as an entertainer to
promote human rights worldwide.
Belafonte continues to use his power as an entertainer
in the struggle for civil rights. His production company, Harbel, formed
in 1959, produces movies and television shows by and about black
Americans. Belafonte's idea for the hit song "We Are the
World" generated more than 70 million dollars to fight famine in
Ethiopia in 1985. Two years later, he became the second American to be
named UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
Harold George "Harry" Belafonte, Jr.
(originally Belafonte; born March 1, 1927) is an American
musician, actor and
social activist. One of the most successful pop singers in
history, he was dubbed the "King of
Calypso," a title which he was very reluctant to accept
(according to the documentary Calypso Dreams) for popularizing
Caribbean musical style with an international audience in
the 1950s. Belafonte is perhaps best known for singing the "Banana
Boat Song," with its signature lyric "Day-O." Throughout his
career, he has been an advocate for
civil rights and
humanitarian causes. He was a vocal critic of the policies
George W. Bush Administration.—Wikipedia
* * *
Sing Your Song
Harry Belafonte on Art and Politics, Civil
Rights & His Critique of President Obama
Harry Belafonte, legendary musician, actor and
humanitarian. He’s the subject of a new documentary
about his life, called Sing Your Song. This
interview was conducted at the 2011 Sundance Film
Festival in Park City, Utah.
Belafonte Whited Out In Oakland /
I'm So Pissed Off
* * *
Harry Belafonte talks Civil
Rights Martin Luther King + being
Black in ’60s Hollywood with The
Guardian—Leke Sanusi—3 July 2012—The
stately Harry Belafonte is a
historical force as well as a
creative one. Having sung, danced
and acted his way into the history
book and the hearts and minds of
music and movie lovers over the
course of a six-decade career, the
towering 85-year-old also marched,
picketed and debated his way to
changing the course of the world as
we know it, playing a seminal role
in the fight for Civil Rights.
A stunning triple threat, Belafonte
stood, and still stands, as an
imposing figure, catching the eye
with his undeniable looks, but
amazing audiences with his ability
to entertain; he is truly a man born
for the stage. A theatrical soul and
spirit. Developing close
relationships with several
proponents of the nonviolent
factions of the Civil Rights
Movement, the son of a Martiniquan
chef and a housekeeper of Jamaican
descent soon became one of the faces
of the battle for equality, standing
alongside the likes of the Reverend
Martin Luther King, Jr., and
An icon, a legend and inspiration, the
one-time calypso recording artist has lived
through and experienced the tectonic shifts in
American culture. Belafonte watched as Reverend
King was shot on the balcony of The Lorraine
Motel in Memphis. He was 36 when JFK
was assassinated in Dallas, 41 when Robert
Kennedy was struck by three bullets in a kitchen
passageway of The Ambassador Hotel. He
celebrated as Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Civil
Rights Act of ’68, and smiled on with the likes
of Joan Baez and Alice Walker at the
inauguration of Barack Obama.
influential performer and activist recounts his
experiences and tells the untold story of his
life in the critically-acclaimed documentary,
Sing Your Song.
biographical film charts Belafonte’s growth and
development, delving into his upbringing and
mapping out the trajectory of his career.
Directed by Susanne Rostock, the film begins
with Belafonte’s birth in Harlem and then
embarks on the journey of his life, highlighting
his efforts in the quest for civil rights.
In a video
The Guardian‘s Sarfraz Manzoor and Cameron
Robertson, Belafonte opens up about his life,
Sing Your Song, and his book My Song: A Memoir
of Art, Race & Defiance. He
discusses his friendship with Martin Luther
King, Jr., his relationship with JFK, and the
inhumanity of segregation.
about his influences and the figures that
inspired him to persevere in the face of
discrimination, Belafonte explains:
In Harlem I saw all the heroes: Paul
Robeson, Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis,
Jesse Owens, Louis Armstrong, Ella
Fitzgerald. We all lived in the same
place; the poor and the rich. That’s
not quite the way today. If it
wasn’t for television, we’d hardly
know one another.
. . .I was befriended. Paul Robeson
was the first one. Then came Dr.
W.E.B. Du Bois — one of the greatest
intellectuals of the 20th century.
These men stood strong and tall in
the terms of dealing with human
degradation and human pain. They did
things about it.
Then there was a woman named Eleanor
Roosevelt. She was the wife of the
President of the United States of
America. She threw her lot in with
us, and was constantly in our
and impressive as ever,
with undiminished gravitas and effervescence,
Belafonte explores the culture and atmosphere of
his life and times, putting things into
perspective and reminding us all of the heroes,
heroines and giants of the not-too-distant past.
* * *
* * * * *
To the Mountaintop
My Journey Through the Civil Rights Movement
A personal history of the civil
rights movement from activist and acclaimed journalist
Charlayne Hunter-Gault. On January 20, 2009, 1.8
million people crowded the grounds of the Capitol to
witness the inauguration of Barack Obama. Among the
masses was Charlayne Hunter-Gault. She had flown from
South Africa for the occasion, to witness what was for
many the culmination of the long struggle for civil
rights in the United States. In this compelling personal
history, she uses the event to look back on her own
involvement in the civil rights movement, as one of two
black students who forced the University of Georgia to
integrate, and to relate the pivotal events that swept
the South as the movement gathered momentum through the
early 1960s. With poignant black-and-white photos,
original articles from the New York Times, and a unique
personal viewpoint, this is a moving tribute to the men
and women on whose shoulders Obama stood.
* * *
My Song: A Memoir
By Harry Belafonte with Michael Shnayerson
Here is a gorgeous account of the large life of a Harlem boy, son of a Jamaican cleaning lady, Melvine Love, and a ship’s cook, Harold Bellanfanti, who endured the grind of poverty under the watchful eye of his proud mother and waited for his chances, prepared to be lucky, and made himself into the international calypso star and popular folk singer, huge in Las Vegas, also Europe, and a mainstay of the civil rights movement of the ’60s . . .
His mother found refuge in the Catholic Church. The Holy Roller preachers of her native Jamaica were “too niggerish” for her. She loved the marble majesty of Catholicism and sent the boy off to parochial school to suffer at the hands of the nuns and took him to Mass every Sunday, dressed in a blue suit, and afterward to the Apollo Theater to hear Cab Calloway or Count Basie or Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald. . . .
Dr. King is one strong strand in My Song; another is Belafonte’s family saga through three marriages with four children; another is his inner life, psychoanalysis, the wounds of childhood, his gambling addiction; another, the oddity of show business, the casual flings, the personal manager who turned out to be an F.B.I. informer. Indelible characters pass by: Sidney Poitier, Eleanor Roosevelt, James Baldwin, Bob Dylan, Fidel Castro, Miriam Makeba.—NYTimes
Tavis Smiley Interview of Harry Belafonte Part 1
Tavis Smiley Interview of Harry Belafonte Part 2
Harry Belafonte for JFK Campaign Spot
* * * * *
Salvage the Bones
A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake.
She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—
Exporting American Dreams
Thurgood Marshall's African Journey
By Mary L. Dudziak
Thurgood Marshall became a living icon of civil rights when
he argued Brown v. Board of Education before the Supreme
Court in 1954. Six years later, he was at a crossroads. A
rising generation of activists were making sit-ins and
demonstrations rather than lawsuits the hallmark of the
civil rights movement. What role, he wondered, could he now
play? When in 1960 Kenyan independence leaders asked him to
help write their constitution, Marshall threw himself into
their cause. Here was a new arena in which law might serve
as the tool with which to forge a just society. In
Exporting American Dreams: Thurgood Marshall's African Journey
Dudziak recounts with poignancy and power the untold story
of Marshall's journey to Africa
* * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
* * * * *
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(Books, DVDs, Music)
update 18 February 2012