NAACPLDF remembers the late, Harry Belafonte, followed by Texas Metro News 'Peace & Harmony' tribute
By NAACPLDF & Texas Metro News
Harry Belafonte was a renowned social activist, artist, and actor whose exemplary work as a humanitarian and civil rights activist made an indelible mark on the world.
By NAACPLDF and Texas Metro News
Belafonte died at his home in Manhattan, New York on April 25, 2023. He was 96 years old.
“We mourn the death of the civil and human rights icon and renowned artist, Harry Belafonte, and extend our deepest condolences to his loved ones … Mr. Belafonte utilized his trans-continental experience and the severe discrimination he faced as a child to fuel a passion for inspiring change around the world — most notably through working to advance racial equality in the United States and protect human rights around the globe,” said LDF President and Director-Counsel Janai S. Nelson in a statement following Mr. Belafonte’s passing. “For Mr. Belafonte, who emphasized that he ‘was an activist that became an artist, not an artist that became an activist,’ the inspiration for his work came with ease. The magnitude of his life, and this loss, cannot be overstated. Mr. Belafonte demonstrated how, without fear and compromise, people can use their platforms for good. He will be missed, and his ineffaceable legacy will leave a resounding impact on the minds, hearts, and lives of generations to come.”
Known as Harry Belafonte, Harry Bellanfanti Jr. was born on March 1, 1927, in Harlem, New York to Harold and Melvine Bellanfanti, both West-Indian immigrants. Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood alongside his brother, Dennis, Belafonte faced severe discrimination and hate. He cited these experiences and his mother’s nurturement and care, as well as her own commitment to challenging injustices, as a source of inspiration for becoming a lifelong activist and champion of human rights.
“In my earliest of years, I was counseled on that path by my mother and I went to many Marcus Garvey rallies with her, and I saw her passion about justice and all of that rubbed off on me,” Belafonte recalled during an interview with LDF in 2019. “And here I am.”
In 1936, Belafonte and his brother moved to Kingston, Jamaica with their mother. As Belafonte recalled in his 2011 memoir “My Song,” though he struggled to adapt to the new environment, the young Belafonte would become immersed in the capital’s culture and lifestyle. Most saliently, his time in Kingston would spark his interest in calypso music. The warm, distinct melodies of the singers throughout the city that resonated with him would later account for his launch into the genre. Belafonte moved back to Harlem at 13 years old.
In 1944, as a student at George Washington High School in the Bronx, Belafonte enlisted in the Navy. He was sent to the Naval Station Great Lakes to join a segregated training camp, where he was struck by the sheer diversity of his all-Black crew, men who hailed from around the nation and who brought with them varying perspectives. Introduced to political pamphlets and the works of W.E.B. DuBois and other Black authors by his crewmates, Belafonte also took part in stimulating conversations about civil rights. These discussions would expand his perspective and reaffirm his passion for fighting for justice.
Following Belafonte’s honorable discharge from the service, he returned to New York. Belafonte’s interest in acting was sparked at the American Negro Theater, a segregated theater in Manhattan, where he received two free tickets to a play. Belafonte soon began to gain acting experience, going from being an extra stagehand to landing a role in his first play. Soon after, he enrolled in a drama workshop at the New School for Social Research on 12th Street. There, he began reading and studying literature that complemented his newly-found passion for the arts. In 1949, he landed his first singing contract.
Throughout his life, Belafonte tied his passion for music and social activism together. In the 1950s, he participated in the civil rights movement, becoming an integral figure in the cause. With an unwavering commitment to advancing racial justice, Mr. Belafonte became deeply involved with the NAACP. Traveling around the South and the nation, he supported grassroots organizers and activists, providing them with supplies and resources.
“The bulk of his work is unheralded,” actor and activist Jesse Williams said during his reflection on Belafonte in LDF’s 2019 video honoring him. “He’s undergirding the civil rights movement as we know it — driving himself down South, him actually dropping off bags, him spending time with Eleanor Roosevelt, to Fannie Lou Hamer, to in prison — wherever he needs to be.”
Always vocal, Belafonte found inspiration for his advocacy efforts through figures such as Paul Robeson and W.E.B. DuBois. In forming a friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Belafonte became an instrumental figure in supporting him and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Belafonte attended numerous protests and rallies, and was present with Dr. King when he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” in Washington, D.C.
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PEACE AND HARMONY
Harry Belafonte, 96, joins ancestors
By Ayesha Hana Shaji - Texas Metro News Staff
With the blend of traditional Caribbean rhythms and American jazz and folk, Harry Belafonte left a beautiful harmony that touched the hearts of people all around the world. Like his commitment to social justice, he left a strong sense of peace. At the age of 96, the legendary musician and civil rights activist, who paved the way for many in Black America, passed away, leaving a legacy that will continue to inspire future generations.
Belafonte was a man of many talents, a singer, an actor and an activist. But above all, he was a storyteller, using his powerful voice and magnetic presence to captivate audiences and champion causes close to his heart. Belafonte's music was a unique fusion of different cultures, and his voice had a quality that was instantly recognizable and had the ability to evoke powerful emotions in listeners. His songs were not just a form of entertainment but a tool to promote social change.
His commitment to social justice was unwavering throughout his life. He used his platform to highlight the issues of the day, from the fight against apartheid in South Africa to the struggle for civil rights in the United States. He worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders, using his fame to amplify their message and bring attention to their cause. In his passing, the world mourns the loss of a true legend while also celebrating the life and legacy of Harry Belafonte, a man who used his talent and his voice to make a difference in the world.
Barack Obama via Twitter: “Harry Belafonte was a barrier-breaking legend who used his platform to lift others up. He lived a good life – transforming the arts while also standing up for civil rights. And he did it all with his signature smile and style. Michelle and I send our love to his wife, kids, and fans.” Colin Kaepernick via Twitter: “Thank you, Mr. B, for all of your years of mentorship, guidance, & lifetime of activism fighting for a better future for all of us.
You will be missed by many, but your memory & impact live on. Rest in Power. “Movements don't die, because struggle doesn't die.” -Harry Belafonte” “We thank him for his dedicated activism and forging a path to a better world. He is remembered by his loving wife, children, grandchildren, and all of the many lives around the world who were touched by his work. Our thoughts and prayers are with all in mourning during this time. May he rest in peace.”
Whoopi Goldberg via The View: "He fought so hard to make sure people had the chances they deserved as Americans." Stephanie Mills via Facebook: “We have lost a true hero, legend, brilliant leader who wasn’t afraid to sacrifice it all for his people. Yes he was more than a actor (sic) and singer. He was a trailblazer and fighter for justice. Mr. #harrybelafonte I will always love you for how you loved us.
Rest Well! Job well done “Day-o, day-o Daylight come, and we want go home Day, is a day, is a day, is a day, is a day, is a day-o Daylight come and we want go home” Dr. Bernice King (daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King) via Twitter: “When I was a child, #HarryBelafonte showed up for my family in very compassionate ways. In fact, he paid for the babysitter for me and my siblings.
I won’t forget…Rest well, sir.” Dr. Ben Chavis, NNPA: The lifelong commitment, courage, global leadership, and legacy of The Honorable Harry Belafonte will always be cherished and remembered by billions of people throughout the world. Belafonte was a gifted, talented and transformative freedom fighter for all of humanity.
The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) salutes the memory of Harry Belafonte and recommits to the struggle for freedom, justice and equality that Belafonte so boldly epitomized and embodied.