“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.
Five Upcoming Supreme Court Decisions to Watch
In the 2017-2018 term, the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court will hear several major cases with national implications
Topics in this term's major cases include technological privacy, religious freedom, anti-discrimination laws, immigration and the President, sports gambling and political gerrymandering, among many others. The Court's deliberation on these cases will begin in the coming months but the discussions surrounding them have been going on for years, and will continue long after the decisions are made. Before the end of this term, the Court will have heard something close to 70 cases, chosen from an average of 7,000 petitions. Here are five of the most important cases to follow.
Carpenter v. United States
Based on these decisions, it follows that Carpenter's case will also fall under the Fourth Amendment. It is an important decision to watch, nonetheless. Though it specifically concerns the 127 days of location data used in the case, it has implications for the future of data privacy and government surveillance.
Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission
Already one of the most-covered upcoming cases, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission pits religious freedom laws against anti-discrimination laws. Colorado's civil rights law protects citizens from discrimination based on sexual orientation. The baker at Masterpiece Cakeshop argues that the Colorado government cannot force him to say something on his cakes that disagrees with his personal beliefs. He calls his cakes forms of artistic expression and, therefore, extensions of the free speech protected by that always-tricky First Amendment. The opposing lawyers think the anti-discrimination laws outweigh the First Amendment in this case and prohibit the business from refusing its customers based on their sexual orientation. Duke University law professor Walter Dellinger writes, "Petitioners have a First Amendment right to pick their message but not to choose their customers based on sexual orientation." The Court faces a difficult task in merging the jurisdictions of separate laws.
Gill v. Whitford
The Court looks to answer several questions in this case about the possibility and legality of political gerrymandering in Wisconsin following a redistricting plan introduced in 2011. A federal court rejected the plan on the grounds that it allows Republicans to unfairly benefit their party in future elections. Often, federal courts had to draw the state's maps after the legislature could not agree on one. The challengers to the plan, led by Whitford, argue that, when Republicans won control of the state under a Republican governor in 2010, they deliberately boosted their own party's chances in future elections by hampering Democratic voter districts. Lower courts admitted that politics inevitably play into the redistricting process but that, in this case, the plan was unquestionably and intentionally biased. The Supreme Court must decide whether to allow political gerrymandering as a precedent for other states or to side with the challengers in opposing a state legislature.