“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.
Jeff Sessions Out as Attorney General
Sessions submitted a letter of resignation "at the request" of the president earlier on Wednesday.
Administrative changes were expected following yesterday's midterm elections, but perhaps none with implications as big as the ousting of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions, who submitted a letter of resignation at the request of the president, has been the target of criticism from his boss for more than a year after recusing himself from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion from the Trump campaign.
Sessions's chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, will assume the role of acting attorney general until a permanent replacement is named. Whitaker will oversee the Mueller investigation, which has so far led to the convictions and guilty pleas of Trump allies including campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. Though the former Alabama senator was one of the president's earliest and loudest supporters, he has been on the receiving end of Trump's consistent and public grievances.
President Trump holds a law enforcement roundtable on sanctuary cities at the White HouseGetty Images North America
"Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else," the president told the New York Times in a July interview.
The president has also lambasted Sessions for his management of the Justice Department, though Sessions has largely worked to make good on Trump's campaign promises by shifting legal focus away from protection of civil rights in favor of measures of "law and order" in the name of immigration reform and national security.
Reaction from Democratic leadership has been swift. Ranking House Judiciary member Jerry Nadler took to Twitter demanding answers about the timing of the announcement, and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters that any resulting interference with the special investigation would be considered a "constitutional crisis."
Americans must have answers immediately as to the reasoning behind @realDonaldTrump removing Jeff Sessions from… https://t.co/3bdwlxu9jB— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@(((Rep. Nadler)))) 1541620492.0
Whitaker, a former US attorney from Iowa who serves as director of the conservative ethics watchdog group Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, published an opinion piece for CNN in 2017, before he had joined the Justice Department, which was titled "Mueller's Investigation into Trump has Gone too Far."
Rebecca Linde is a writer and cultural critic in NYC. She tweets about pop culture and television @rklinde.
- Trump firing Jeff Sessions looks more likely than ever. Here's the ... ›
- What happens to Mueller's investigation if Jeff Sessions is fired or ... ›
- Trump lashes out at Jeff Sessions over alleged surveillance abuses ... ›
- Trump steams at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, reigniting his attacks ›
- Trump steps up attacks on Sessions and hints his days as attorney ... ›
- Is Jeff Sessions Out as Attorney General? ›