“A tree is best measured when it is down,” the poet Carl Sandburg once observed, “and so it is with people.” The recent death of Harry Belafonte at the age of 96 has prompted many assessments of what this pioneering singer-actor-activist accomplished in a long and fruitful life.
Belafonte’s career as a ground-breaking entertainer brought him substantial wealth and fame; according to Playbill magazine, “By 1959, he was the highest paid Black entertainer in the industry, appearing in raucously successful engagements in Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles.” He scored on Broadway, winning a 1954 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Belafonte was the first Black person to win the prestigious award. A 1960 television special, “Tonight with Belafonte,” brought him an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, making him the first Black person to win that award. He found equal success in the recording studio, bringing Calypso music to the masses via such hits as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)www.youtube.com
Belafonte’s blockbuster stardom is all the more remarkable for happening in a world plagued by virulent systemic racism. Though he never stopped performing, by the early 1960s he’d shifted his energies to the nascent Civil Right movement. He was a friend and adviser to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as the New York Times stated, Belafonte “put up much of the seed money to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the principal fund-raisers for that organization and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “he helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders. His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison, and advocated for famine relief in Africa.” And in 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
Over a career spanning more than seventy years, Belafonte brought joy to millions of people. He also did something that is, perhaps, even greater: he fostered the hope that a better world for all could be created. And, by his example, demonstrated how we might go about bringing that world into existence.
Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford Trade Emotional Testimonies
Brett Kavanaugh lacks restraint before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Brett Kavanaugh's open hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee commenced on Thursday.
Christine Blasey Ford, the first of three women to lodge allegations of sexual assault and/or misconduct against Kavanaugh, began testifying at 10 a.m. Republican Senators called upon prosecutor Rachel Mitchell to lead the questioning, hoping to eschew what would have been an imbalanced dynamic if 11 male Senators were to freely question Ford, a female alleging sexual assault by a man. All senators retained the right to interject their own questioning.
During a testimony that lasted nearly four hours, Ford's answers were consistent with the graphic account she has previously released. Despite being "terrified" to testify, Ford's opening statement contained a detailed description of the assault, for which Mark Judge was allegedly present. "Brett's assault on me drastically altered my life," Ford avowed. In her opening statement, she tearfully recalled the incident at the source of the charges, detailing how Kavanaugh cornered her during a house party that the two attended in their high school years.
"The stairwell, the living room, the bedroom, the bed on the right side of the room — as you walk into the room, there was a bed to the right — the bathroom in close proximity, the laughter, the uproarious laughter, and the multiple attempts to escape and the final ability to do so."
Kavanaugh began testifying late Thursday afternoon. He gave an emotionally charged denial of all allegations, often answering a short, vehement, "No" in response to questioning. Kavanaugh also directed attention to the damaging effects these allegations have had on his life:
He lamented: "I love teaching law, but thanks to what some of you on this side of the committee have unleashed, I may never be able to teach again...I love coaching more than anything I've ever done in my whole life, but thanks to what some of you on this side of the committee have unleashed, I may never be able to coach again."
A resolute answer was given on the issue of how the committee plans to interfere with Judge Kavanaugh's appointment as the next Supreme Court Judge. Chuck Grassley, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, asserted to Kavanaugh that the hearing's purpose is not to suspend the confirmation process, as "This committee is running this hearing, not the White House, not Don McGahn, not even you as a nominee."
Questioning continued late into Thursday evening, with tensions running high as the GOP-appointed prosecutor fell silent as Kavanaugh parried with the GOP and Democratic Senators questioning him.
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