“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.
The Las Vegas Massacre: One Year Later
Is America finally headed towards real gun reform?
Tonight, the iconic Las Vegas strip will go dark to mark the first anniversary of the mass shooting that killed 58 people.
Fans were gathered on the Strip for the Route 91 Harvest Festival, listening to Jason Aldean close out the night's performances. Meanwhile, Stephen Paddock, equipped with semi-automatic firearms, was in a room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel. At 10:05 p.m., Paddock opened fire on the crowd. For the following ten minutes, pandemonium ruled as victims fell and survivors scrambled to avoid the spray of bullets. More than 400 people were injured by Paddock's bullets, and hundreds more were hurt trying to flee the scene.
In the wake of the shooting, many legislators pledged to make strides to reform gun laws. Now, a year later, little has changed. An Associated Press review of all the firearms-related legislation that passed this year shows mixed results. In some states, gun control bills did pass, but the "year was not the national game-changer that gun-control advocates had hoped it could be," AP reports.
Many Americans are using the anniversary of the Vegas massacre to remind the public of the need for meaningful gun reform. Zach Elmore, brother of Alicia Elmore, who was a victim of the Vegas shooting, marks the anniversary by asking people to vote in November. In a letter published in the Seattle Times, Elmore says that voters can help to end gun violence "in just a few weeks by electing gun-sense candidates up and down the ballot. It's critical that we elect candidates who will stand up and take action rather than just accepting shootings on our streets, at concerts, at playgrounds and in our homes."
Elmore is not alone in his sentiment. Students and activists gathered in D.C. Sunday to remember the 58 victims of the massacre and demand national gun reform. Robert Disney, the organizing director of the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence, attended the protest and said, "I'm here because I'm sick of the way the NRA has a chokehold on Congress, I think for the first time in my lifetime, we have a chance to break the chokehold, and I am doing everything I can to help that to happen."
Law enforcement officials said that at least a dozen of the 23 firearms found in Las Vegas were semi-automatic rifles legally modified to fire like automatic weapons, using an alteration known as a bump fire stock. Nevada law allows the purchase of machine guns and silencers in compliance with federal law and regulations, so Paddock's possession of the guns used in the attack was lawful, but perhaps not for much longer.
This morning President Donald Trump said in a speech addressing the anniversary that rapid-fire devices like those used in the Las Vegas massacre will soon be "ruled out." He stated, "We are knocking out bump stocks. I've told the NRA. Bump stocks are gone."
NBC News reports the Justice Department's confirmation that a proposal to ban bump stocks was sent late last week to the Office of Management and Budget for review. After a review of up to 90 days, the proposal will be published in the Federal Register and made available for public comment. The proposal would ban the manufacture, importation, and possession of bump stocks.
While reforms of this kind have been proposed and shot down multiple times since the Las Vegas massacre, this is the first that's been backed by President Trump.
- MGM Resorts sues victims of Las Vegas massacre, denies liability ›
- Las Vegas massacre: New documents detail chaos, pleas for help ... ›
- Las Vegas police end investigation into massacre without ... ›
- Las Vegas Police Release Final Report on Massacre, With Still No ... ›
- Las Vegas shooting survivors grieve one year later: 'You're missing ... ›
- The Las Vegas Massacre Report and the Rise of Second ... ›