“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.
5 Powerful People Inspired by Martin Luther King
50 years after M.L.K. was assassinated, his legacy continues to inspire. Who are the strongest voices fighting for his vision?
In the 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s death, his legacy has only gained momentum as activists and everyday citizens fight against prejudicial policies that would scale back his vision of equality, rather than realize it. The March on Washington may be most commemorated for Dr. King's speech on August 28, 1963, but the determination of the Civil Rights Movement inspired even more than the 250,000 people who demonstrated in the nation's capital that summer. Dr. King declared, "Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed."
True to his legacy of equality, Dr. King's passion touched people from all walks of life, from famous actors and politicians to scholars and everyday citizens. Here are 5 people whose aspirations were inspired by MLK:
1. Ineva May-Pittman, activist and NAACP member who marched with Dr. King:
"I just felt–free. With all these people from all across the country and the world, of all ethnicities, together–no incidents or anything, and everybody was friendly toward each other...Why can't this be, you know, all the time? So we had to come back and double our determination to try to make it be. And we still workin' on it."
2. Frankye Adams-Johnson, activist and teacher who marched with Dr. King:
"I felt that somehow we had achieved whatever this freedom meant, that it had been achieved there in Washington. We had marched, we had listened to speeches, and we had been moved by the great Martin Luther King, Jr." Reflecting on the summer of 1963, she says, "I envisioned that our quality of life as an African-American people … would be better for more of us than the handful that it is. I don't want to put a damper on celebrating and commemorating. But I will just say there's still so much more we need to be fighting for."
3. Forest Whitaker, actor:
"We followed him because he was holding your hope. The hope that your life would be full and complete with equality. There are few people in history who take that position that allows people to follow and change, who represent something powerful...He did it in this country and made people walk with him towards a better life. I think it's difficult for the next generation to see the things that happened before...So you have to continually, historically remind them and try to make them aware of what Martin Luther King was doing that we are all in this together. And that hope is alive today."
4. Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States:
"Dr. King was 26 when the Montgomery bus boycott began. He started small, rallying others who believed their efforts mattered, pressing on through challenges and doubts to change our world for the better A permanent inspiration for the rest of us to keep pushing towards justice."
5. Stevie Wonder, along with 80 other iconic figures, and the youth of today:
In commemoration of Dr. King's assassination in Memphis in 1968, musician Stevie Wonder created a powerful tribute to Martin Luther King that called upon figures from Apple CEO Tim Cook and London Mayor Sadiq Khan to Serena Williams and Paul McCartney. Most powerfully, he called for all Twitter users to post their own dedication to Dr. King and how he continued to inspire today's generation. He posted, "On April 4, 1968 at 7:05 p.m. central time, Dr. King's life was cut tragically short. 50 years later a need for his dream to be fulfilled is far greater than ever. Share your dream & post your own #DreamStillLives video. Spread love...spread hope"
On April 4th, 1968 at 7:05 p.m. central time, Dr. King’s life was cut tragically short. 50 years later a need for h… https://t.co/XVJ9Gis9zp— Stevie Wonder (@Stevie Wonder) 1522886700.0
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