“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.
Protesters Take to the Streets on the Anniversary of Eric Garner's Murder
Activists continue to fight for justice for Eric Garner.
Today marks the five-year anniversary of NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo murdering Eric Garner for selling single cigarettes outside of a store.
While being arrested for––again––selling single cigarettes, Pantaleo and other officers knocked Garner to the ground as Pantaleo choked him. Garner gasped, "I can't breathe." Pantaleo continued choking Garner. Garner died.
For Eric Garner, selling single cigarettes as a 43-year-old black man was a death sentence. NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo was his state-sanctioned executioner.
Yesterday, after years of contentious debate over what charges should be levied against Pantaleo, the U.S. Department of Justice decided not to file any charges at all.
Luckily for Daniel Pantaleo, when a police officer murders someone, they're held to a far lower standard than the general populace.
"We prosecute people for what they do on purpose. We would have to prove that in that struggle, a dynamic situation, that the officer decided he was then going to apply that hold, that it was wasn't just a mistake," said a DOJ official.
Despite the government's decision that Pantaleo's murder of Eric Garner was A-OK, tens of thousands of activists, along with Garner's family, continue to fight for justice.
Protesters plan to hold multiple protests across New York today, including a rally and march in Foley Square and a demonstration outside the Staten Island Ferry. Further protests are planned for the following 11 days.
Daniel Pantaleo is still employed by the NYPD, receiving full pay and pension benefits.
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