Harry Belafonte wasn’t just a legendary singer. He’s been long committed to supporting Black protest movements and speaking out against injustice.
In a 2011 interview, Belafonte told PBS, “I was an activist who became an artist. What attracted me to the arts was the fact that I saw theater as a social force, as a political force. I kind of felt that art was a powerful tool and that’s what I should be doing with mine.”
Here are just a few ways the late artist, who passed away on April 25, 2023, spoke truth to power and delivered for the movement.
In a New York Times interview, when discussing his support of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, the singer and father said “I threw my lot in with him completely, put a fortune behind the movement. Whatever money I had saved went for bonds and bail and rent, money for guys to get in their car and go wherever. I was Daddy Warbucks.”
Dr. King enlisted Belafonte to bring artists into the movement, including Joan Baez, Paul Newman, Tony Bennett, and Marlon Brando, he told CNN.
Belafonte didn’t stop his activism in the 1960s. He continued to speak out in the 2000s against the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina and civil rights violations and imperialism post 9/11.
“When Katrina took place, there was a great sense of tragic loss for many Americans who saw that terrible tragedy. What we had not anticipated was that our government would have been so negligent and so unresponsive to the plight of hundreds of thousands of people in the region,” he said about the devastating storm.
He also had firm words for American imperialism under Bush.
“Bush has led us into a dishonorable war that has caused the deaths of tens of thousands of people…What is the difference between that terrorist and other terrorists?” he once asked rhetorically.
“I call President Bush a terrorist,” he said in a Democracy Now appearance, standing firm in his statement. “I call those around him terrorists, as well: Condoleezza Rice, Rumsfeld, Gonzales in the Justice Department, and certainly Cheney. I think all of these men sit — and women — sit in the midst of an enormous conspiracy that has been unraveling America for the last eight years — six years. It is tragic that the dubious way in which this president acquired power should have begun to unravel the Constitution and the peoples of this country.”
“No matter what the greatest tyrant in the world, the greatest terrorist in the world, George W. Bush says, we’re here to tell you: Not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people … support your revolution,” Belafonte told Chavez.
The Harlem native, who passed at 96, supported the legendary neighborhood’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, which has acquired his archives to “preserve his legacy.”