“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.
What Happened to Journalist Jamal Khashoggi?
The writer and critic of the Saudi Crown Prince has been missing for one week.
Prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last Tuesday, but never came back out.
A vocal critic of the regime of Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Khashoggi left his home country to live in the US where he is a legal resident and columnist for the Washington Post. On Saturday, Turkish officials told the press that the writer was murdered at the consulate, however no evidence was given to verify the allegation.
President Trump expressed concern about the missing journalist while not pointing fingers. He said, "There's some pretty bad stories about it. I do not like it."
Khashoggi traveled to the embassy with his fiancee Hatice Cengiz, who was the only witness to his disappearance, to obtain paperwork from the Saudi government to finalize their marriage. Video footage shows the journalist entering through the front entrance of the building, but there is no evidence of his exit. Cengiz began to worry when he did not appear 30 minutes after the consulate's closing time.
"He said at some point, 'Maybe it's better if I don't go,' " she said. "He was worried that something might happen."
Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in January 2017Reuters photo: Faisal Al Nasser
In his first piece written for the Post in September of last year, Khashoggi identifies himself as in "self-exile" and says he could face arrest by authorities if he returned home. He describes the country as hostile to intellectuals and religious leaders, saying the public shaming of such figures is "repressive" and "unbearable."
Since his ascension to Crown Prince last year, King Salman's son and top advisor Mohammed bin Salman has executed controversial campaigns to consolidate his power, including the arrest of billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, as well as numerous other princes and ministers. The arrests came on the heels of forming the government's infamous anti-corruption committee, which the 33-year-old prince oversees in addition to his strong authority over the country's military, foreign, economic, and social policies.
"It was painful for me several years ago when several friends were arrested. I said nothing," Khashoggi writes. "I have made a different choice now. I have left my home, my family and my job, and I am raising my voice… I want you to know that Saudi Arabia has not always been as it is now. We Saudis deserve better."
Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the US, denounced the insinuation of foul play by the government as "absolutely false, and baseless." Saudi officials said Khashoggi left the consulate shortly after visiting. No surveillance footage or other evidence has been provided to support their claim.Joshua Smalley is a New York-based writer, editor, and playwright. Find Josh at his website and on Twitter: @smalleywrites
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