“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.
Key Republicans on Senate Judiciary Committee Condemn Trump's Remarks as Investigation Closes
"To discuss something this sensitive at a political rally is just not right," said Arizona senator Jeff Flake.
Lisa Murkowski (AK), called the president's remarks "wholly inappropriate, and, in my view, unacceptable."
The three Senate Republicans holding key swing votes on Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination
spoke out on Wednesday against comments the president made at a political rally in Mississippi the night before. "The president's comments are just plain wrong," said Susan Collins (ME).
"To discuss something this sensitive at a political rally is just not right,"
said Jeff Flake (AZ).
At the rally, Trump questioned the credibility of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who testified in front of the Committee last week that Kavanaugh forced himself on her, groped her, and attempted to silence her cries for help when they were teenagers. Mockingly reenacting the questioning, he said, "How did you get home? 'I don't remember.' How did you get there? 'I don't remember.' Where was the place? 'I don't remember.'"
The president's comments are a far cry from the days immediately after Ford's testimony, during which he called her "a very credible witness," and her testimony "very compelling." When asked by the Committee how sure she was that her assailant was Kavanaugh, Ford answered, "100%." Kavanaugh has denied all allegations.
The president then turned his attention to Kavanaugh, echoing the judge's own testimony that the accusations have "destroyed [his] family and good name," claiming, "A man's life is in tatters" and calling the Democratic party's attempts to investigate Ford's claims a smear campaign. President Trump has been vocal about the need for due process, lamenting that the criminal justice system has become one in which someone is "guilty until proven innocent." Rally attendees were enthusiastic about the president's remarks, despite having repeated their 2016 campaign battle cry, "Lock her up," hours earlier.
Ford isn't the only woman who's accused Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. Julie Swetnick alleged that Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge, who Ford claims to have been present during her assault, were among a group of friends who would target and drug girls at parties and take turns having sex with them. While Swetnick does not accuse Kavanaugh of participating in her own gang rape, she claims that he was at the party where it happened. Deborah Ramirez, in an interview with The New Yorker, said that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party when they both attended Yale.
In her opening statement, Ford noted that she was " terrified" to testify before the committee, despite having passed a polygraph test administered by the FBI. Still, both the president, Judge Kavanaugh, and many members of the GOP have dismissed Ford's accusations as false, despite the fact that false rape allegations are very rare.
Collins, Murkowski, and Flake have remained publicly undecided on whether they will vote to confirm Kavanaugh, though Flake called for an expanded background investigation of the nominee and the allegations against him. Controlled closely by the White House, the investigation was closed on Wednesday evening. A single copy of the investigation report was made available to Senate Judiciary Committee members on Thursday morning, and Collins and Flake have said that they were satisfied with the result. However, the FBI never contacted a number of potential sources and character witnesses who may have been able to corroborate such claims. While the agency did speak with Ramirez, they did not follow up with the roughly 20 people whom she said could provide more information. Over 40 people have contacted the agency to offer testimony, including Swetnick and Kerry Bercham, a former roommate of Ramirez's, but federal investigators never responded.
After the investigation was closed, majority leader Mitch McConnell filed a motion to cloture Kavanaugh's nomination, restricting the amount of time to debate before a floor vote to 30 hours and ensuring that a vote will take place this week.
Rebecca Linde is a writer and cultural critic in NYC. She tweets about pop culture and television @rklinde.
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