“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.
Trump Declares May 1 "Law Day," Coinciding With Nationwide Workers' Strikes
Workers at Amazon, Target, Instacart, and other companies were planning to strike May 1.
In just the most recent example of his utter uselessness and misdirected energy, President Trump has declared May 1, 2020, as Law Day in the United States.
"We know that our Republic can continue to shine as a beacon of liberty only if Americans diligently defend our Constitution and ensure that its limits are strongly enforced," reads a statement signed by Trump on the official White House website. "On this Law Day, I urge all Americans to honor our shared inheritance of respect for the principles of the rule of law, limited government, and individual liberty. Let us rededicate ourselves to remaining ever vigilant in defending our rights secured by the Constitution so that our experiment in self‑government continues in perpetuity."
This coincides with the massive strike scheduled to occur May 1 by essential employees at Amazon, Whole Foods, Target, Walmart, Instacart, and other companies in demand of better protections and benefits in the wake of the health crisis. Over the past few weeks, organizers have called for shoppers to boycott such companies and participate in the strike in support of essential workers.
Trump's unanticipated declaration of Law Day, then, scans as a deliberate effort to suppress workplace strikes. Many of his supporters have been protesting stay at home orders and mask mandates, despite evidence suggesting that reopening the country this early could pose greater risk. Those who dismiss these preventative measures often claim to do so on the basis of protecting the country's economy, seemingly without taking into account the health care workers who have been serving on the front lines of the virus.
Trump's statement continues: "I urge all Americans, including government officials, to observe this day by reflecting upon the importance of the rule of law in our Nation and displaying the flag of the United States in support of this national observance; and I especially urge the legal profession, the press, and the radio, television, and media industries to promote and to participate in the observance of this day."
Instead of sanctifying a 200-year-old document, Trump must focus his energy on undoing the damage he's done as the crisis takes over. The Americans who have died of the virus have him to blame.