“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.
This is a major step towards fairer treatment of the LGBTQ+ community.
Virginia just made history in the name of equality.
The state just passed the Virginia Values Act, effectively becoming the first Southern state to pass a bill that protects the lives and rights of people in the LGBTQ+ community. The bill outlines anti-discrimination protections for queer folks on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Though it must still go through more procedural votes before going to the governor, a victory on this bill is feasible based on the results of the 2019 midterm elections. If passed, the Virginia Values Act will make the commonwealth the first state in the South to have non-discrimination policies related to sexual orientation.
"Today, history was made in Virginia, and LGBTQ Virginians are one step closer to being protected from discrimination. No one should be discriminated against simply because of who they are or whom they love," said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "This day would not have been possible without the years and years of tireless work from advocates across the commonwealth, or the voters in Virginia that filled the halls of the General Assembly with pro-equality champions who fulfilled their promises. HRC is proud to have worked to elect pro-equality lawmakers across Virginia in 2019, and we are thrilled to see that effort culminate in this important victory today."
Based on previous presidential campaigns, Virginia has been considered a "swing state," and more left-leaning bills like the Virginia Values Act could indicate how the state votes in this year's presidential election. So far, fifteen states and Washington, D.C. have passed laws that include protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. For the rest, it's time to catch up.