“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.
Our Times Square Building Was Cited in April. Now A Woman Is Dead.
Himmel + Meringoff Properties knew the facade was dangerous for months and failed to act.
Our entire office building at 729 7th Ave has been locked down today after a woman was killed by falling debris right outside our windows. Our building's owner, Himmel + Meringoff Properties, is at fault.
According to city building records uncovered by the New York Times 729 7th Ave was cited in April 2019 for "failure to maintain exterior building facade and appurtenances." The inspectors pointed to "damaged terra cotta at areas above 15th floor in several locations which poses a falling hazard for pedestrians."
Our office is located right near Time Square. 49th Street, directly below, is one of the busiest streets in New York, with easy access to Rockefeller Center and tons of train lines including the N,R,W, B, D, F, and M trains. The M&M Store is steps away. All of this is to say, if a chunk of terra cotta facade fell at almost any point in time, there's a high likelihood that someone would be on the ground below to potentially get hit.
The facade of 729 7th Ave. Matthew McDermott
Tragically, that's exactly what happened. After eight months of building management's failure to address the citation, a piece of the facade fell and killed a 60-year-old woman.
This is not a random tragedy. This poor woman's death was entirely preventable. It's unclear why Himmel + Meringoff Properties failed to address the citation after eight months. It's likely that their failure was based entirely around a desire to save money, but eight months is an incredibly long time to let such a clear threat to people's lives go unaddressed. A tragic outcome like this should have been expected, and the building's owners must be held responsible.
New York infrastructure is failing, and capitalist interests incentivize greedy building owners' failure to act. Capitalism kills.