by Nadia Johnson
Today, we mourn the loss of our brother the late Harry Belafonte, who left us on April 25,2023, but will never be forgotten. This is why we are going to celebrate his legacy.
Harry Belafonte was born on March 1,1927 in Harlem, New York to a Jamaican father and a Scottish Jamaican mother. From 1932 to 1940s he lived with his grandmother in Jamaica, where he attended Wolmer’s School. Once he returned to America he attended the George Washington High School, after which he joined the US Navy and served in World War II.
It was upon his return from the war that he started a friendship that would change his world and introduce him to his love of the arts. Harry started a friendship with the young Sidney Poitier. The financially struggling pair would regularly purchase a single seat to the local plays that were playing. By the end of the 1940s, Belafonte starting to take classes in acting at the Dramatic Workshop of the New School in New York with the influential actors and actress such as German director Erwin Piscator, Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis, Walter Matthau, Bea Arthur and Poitier. It was while performing with the American Negro Theater, he subsequently received a Tony Award for his participation in the Broadway revue in John Murray Anderson’s Almanac in 1954.
It was said that Harry had married politics with pop culture. His political beliefs were shaped by his mentor Paul Robeson, who himself was a great actor and Civil Rights activist. Belafonte used his new found fame to appear in commercial for the Democratic Presidential candidate John F. Kennedy. When Kennedy won the White House he made him the cultural advisor to the Peace Corps. Like his mentor Robeson, Belafonte was also an activist in the Civil Rights Movement. As an activist he got to brush shoulders with Dr. King, who he would become his confident and great helper in his time of need. One such example of Belafonte helping King in his time of need was during the 1963 Birmingham Campaign, where he not only bailed Dr. King out of jail, but also raised over $50,000 to release the other Civil Rights protectors. However, his role in the Civil Rights Movement does not end there he also contributed to the Freedom Rides, supported voter registration drives, and helped organized the 1963 March on Washington.
The list of his achievements over the decades are many such as he received the Kennedy Centers Honors in 1989. He was awarded the National Medal of the Arts in 1994 and he won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. Our brother Harry Belafonte has done a lot for both our community and country. To name all that he has done in the 96 years God has let him life would be impossible to put it all in this one story, but to be able to sit down in a library and write a story honoring one of my newly created ancestors among people of different colors and religions. Gives testimony to the work that he, Dr. King, and all of the known and unknown Civil Rights activist did but also achieve, I think makes him not only a hero, a role model, but also someone worthy to be honored by both his people and his country.