“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.
Turkish President Says Khashoggi Killing was “Premeditated Murder”
"It is clear that this savage murder... was planned," Erdogan said.
In the developing situation regarding the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan demanded Tuesday that Saudi Arabia give the international community more information.
Erdogan asked the rival government to hand over the Saudi suspects in the case, and said that he would reveal "the naked truth" about Khashoggi's death. This is the latest in a string of Turkish reports alleging foul play on the part of the Saudi government, indicating that the government is not inclined to let the case fall by the wayside amidst international furor.
According to Erdogan, a 15-member team of top Saudi officials arrived in stages in Istanbul to carry out the murder earlier this month, including generals, senior intelligence officers and forensic officials. Reconnaissance operations were allegedly planned in the surrounding rural areas of Belgrad Forest and Yalova, where investigators have been searching for the journalist's remains.
"It is clear that this savage murder did not happen instantly but was planned," Erdogan said, challenging the official Saudi account.
Government representatives in Saudi Arabia have said the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was committed by rogue killers and a "tremendous mistake." They have sworn they would capture those responsible and bring them to justice. Currently 18 officials are under investigation.
The Turkish president has called on King Salman bin Abdulaziz directly to address the situation, pointedly leaving out the Crown Prince, whom some think is suspect. He also asked that the case be adjudicated in Istanbul, not in Riyadh or elsewhere in Saudi Arabia.
Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images
"This murder might have been committed at a consulate building which may be considered Saudi Arabian land, but it rests within the borders of Turkey," he said. He later added that international agreements on the status of consular property "cannot allow the investigation of this murder to be concealed behind the armor of immunity."
Erdogan's widely-anticipated speech is timed to coincide with this week's showy Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh. The 'Davos in the Desert' conference had U.S. government officials and western chief executives deciding not to attend, such as JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon and Goldman Sachs partner Dina Powell, due to pressure over Khashoggi's death. Still others are in attendance, like PepsiCo Vice Chairman Mehmood Khan.
While careful not to insult King Salman, Erdogan made the argument that the investigation should be conducted by those with more distance from the crime. "I do not doubt the sincerity of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz," he said. "Still, such a critical investigation should be conducted by a fair committee which has no tiniest doubt of connection to the murder."
Outstanding questions still remain, including why the Saudi consulate building had not been opened until days after the killing, why the Saudis have made many inconsistent statements involving the case, and ultimately—why is the body still missing?
President Trump commented on the Saudi Arabian account of events on Tuesday, calling it "the worst cover-up ever." He told reporters his final judgement on the case would be reserved until C.I.A. director Gina Haspel returned from Turkey by the end of the week.
Joshua Smalley is a New York-based writer, editor, and playwright. Find Josh at his website and on Twitter: @smalleywrites.