The HistoryMakers

FULL EPISODE

An Evening With Harry Belafonte

An Evening With Harry Belafonte is a one-on-one interview lead by Danny Glover, providing a rare look into the life and times of the legendary singer and humanitarian. Danny Glover leads Belafonte in a reflective discussion of his adult life and career, including his humanitarian causes, marching with Martin Luther King and more.

AIRED: January 01, 2000 | 0:56:46
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

- [Narrator] The following program

was funded in part by Toyota,

AT&T,

Baldwin Richardson Foods,

Lincoln Financial Group,

American Airlines,

a complete list is available thehistorymakers.org.

(upbeat music)

- [Narrator] He is a humanitarian,

activist,

and performer.

His life a model for others to see.

His name,

Harry Belafonte.

And The HistoryMakers is proud to present

"An Evening With Harry Belafonte."

And now to our host, star of stage and screen,

Danny Glover.

- [Danny] The HistoryMakers

an archive of 5,000 African-Americans who made a difference.

There is something everyone can appreciate in these stories.

It's about education.

It's about our legacy.

It's also about telling our story and about correcting

American history before it's too late.

Now a person that I hold dear,

that I love very much

who made history when times were different.

- [Narrator] Harry Belafonte.

♪ Do you know who I am

♪ Do who I know who you are

♪ See we one another clearly

♪ Do we know who we are

♪ Do you know who I am

♪ Do I know who you are

- [Danny] Here he is.

Harry Belafonte.

(applause)

Well. - Well.

(laughing)

- You look great, man.

- Well, I tell you,

if you run hard enough and you run long enough.

The wrinkles won't catch up with you.

(laughter)

- I'm hoping for the same kind of look.

- I think you're going to be eternal.

- [Danny] Oh god, yeah.

Well, you know, we're speaking about history,

now we know that you were born 1927,

March 1st, 1927 as Harold George Belafonte.

But your parents were immigrants to this country.

They came here from a small island in the Caribbean.

So their story is a different and more profound story.

Talk to us about that.

- Like most immigrants,

my parents came here looking for a place

that would afford them, dignity and opportunity.

Everybody was constantly living on the edge of danger.

They were here illegally.

They had to constantly elude federal agents

who are rounding up illegal immigrants.

We changed our names so constantly,

that after a while,

I didn't really know who I was.

My mother, who was an extremely clever woman,

was able to outwit both the landlord and the FBI.

(laughter)

All of which served me very well.

I grew up with these magnificent survival instincts.

My mother was a domestic worker.

Uneducated.

My father was a seaman.

He was a wonderful cook,

but he was very absent from home.

He declared more often than not that he was at sea.

That was not always the truth.

(laughter)

My mother was hugely offended by his betrayal,

but she did not let life dismantle her.

In that context, when she found Harlem in America

overwhelming in all of its characteristics,

she decided to send her children back to the Caribbean.

Where life was a little less frenetic.

- Talk to me a little bit about growing up in, in Jamaica.

That's those formative 12 years.

And what were your grandparents like?

- I didn't know my grandfather on my mother's side.

I knew my grandmother.

As a matter of fact, she became central to my values.

She central to my sense of comfort.

And she had a way of reaching out

to not only her own children,

but to her grandchildren and others in the community

that made her a pillar of strength.

And she,

with her counsel, with her care guided me through

the most mischievous of my years,

- Now you came back to New York in 1940.

- I came back to New York in 1939.

That's when the British and Germany went to war.

- Yeah.

Your mother wanted you back there, as you said,

because she felt-

- She wanted his back because she said, well,

my children are here with, they'll be safer.

I'll know where they are.

- How were you different then

when you came back to New York?

- Oh, I had changed considerably.

I had this heavy West Indian accent.

I was the odd kid on the block.

I had a great distinction while I was in the Caribbean.

On the Island of Jamaica,

I attended almost all of the best schools

that education could afford.

I went to many schools

and the only problem with it was I did them all in one year.

(laughter)

I was an absolute horror

to everyone's disdain and displeasure and unhappiness.

My mother, however, in her frustration

decided that she would try to direct me towards

institutional experiences that would help discipline

and guide me in life.

- [Danny] You joined the Navy, when?

- [Harry] I joined the Navy when I was 17.

This was in 1944.

- [Danny] Yeah.

- I had volunteered for the service because two reasons,

one was,

it was a place that held the kind of discipline

my mother sought for us.

It's also a place where she thought that,

and I believed it as well,

that I was in the service of a campaign

that America was on

that was to the best interests of the human family.

- I mean, here you are in the Navy.

What was it, what was it like for you?

How was that a turning point in your life in the Navy?

- It, it was very critical in my life.

First of all,

the armed forces were segregated.

Where I did my basic training

was at the Great Lakes in Illinois.

The camps were very divided.

(applause)

But in my particular, Camp Moffett, was where I trained.

The men that made up our unit were remarkable.

Many of them are very culturally fulfilling.

- [Danny] Race men, race men.

- Exactly.

And a lot of them were musicians.

A lot of them were teachers.

A lot of them were members of our community who aspire to,

to other occupations like lawyers and stuff.

And I gravitated towards them.

And they articulated for me a point of view

about black commitment to the second world war

and the defeat of fascism,

which was very enlightening.

And it was an extension of the very same thoughts

and ideas that Du Bois had taught,

that Robeson had preached.

And they were quite annoyed with me

because I brought a rather simplistic sophomoric

point of view to the table

asking these juvenile questions,

while they were busy talking lofty terms,

quoting Socrates and Plato and quoting Dr. Du Bois.

And I'm just sitting there with my mouth open,

wondering where does all this stuff come from?

And one day to get rid of me,

they threw me a book written by Du Bois,

hoping I would slither away and get lost.

And I took the book and began to inch through its contents.

And I discovered as I went along that each time I

saw a number at the end of a statement or a sentence,

I would compare that number to the foot of the page italic,

which then told me that it was a work being referenced.

And I decided never to have to go through the embarrassment

of the attitudes of these men again.

That I would just, since I was reading Du Bois,

who by their account was the supreme intellect,

I would just have to see

where Du Bois got all of his information.

(applause)

And go get me a taste.

So, much to my fascination,

as I went through the book

and looked at all the different references,

the name that appeared with the greatest consistency

and most often was the name ibid.

(laughter)

So I made my notes,

carefully listing all that I want.

And on the first liberty I had,

first time coming into Chicago to have my weekend fling.

I went to the Chicago public library.

I went to a little old lady, white hair.

I'll never forget her.

And I gave her my list of what I wanted.

And she told me that the list was far too big,

that I could never take that many books at once

and that I would have to pare it down.

And even with my privileges as a serviceman,

there was just too many books.

I said, "well,

I'll make your task really easy.

Just give me everything you've got on ibid."

(laughter)

She told me that there was no such an author.

Well, that's all I needed to hear.

I leaped on that woman.

I called her every kind of racist.

I told her that she had got to stop this mission

that all of her kind had,

which was to keep us in darkness,

that I had read Du Bois,

and that he had said there was an ibid,

(laughter)

and I would not be turned around.

And in short order, she was reduced to tears.

I was reduced to embarrassment and I left.

And at the end of the weekend, when I got back to the base,

I told them my colleagues, my fellow serviceman,

of my experience,

and they did what the audience has just done.

(laughter)

They howled.

And at the end of their laughter,

they explained to me what ibid meant,

in reference to self.

- [Danny] Yeah.

- And when I understood the, the size of my error,

I instantly felt an enormous sense of guilt

for what I'd done to that little white lady.

- Here you are 1946, 1947.

You back on the streets of Harlem, what is life like?

- [Harry] I became a janitor's assistant.

I had no real skills.

And although I,

and since I was handy with my ability to mop a hall

and haul the garbage and do minor repairs

in the apartments of the tenants,

I was instantly employable.

And while doing such work, I was given a gratuity,

a tip for repairing some,

some broken something in an apartment.

And it was two tickets to a theater

called the American Negro Theater.

It was located in Harlem in the basement of a library

on 135th Sreet called the Schomburg.

And I went there, having never seen a play

or been in a theater.

What else was there to do?

I didn't have any money to take a date.

And so I went and I got into this tiny theater.

I think the capacity was about 60 seats or less.

And that I was quite taken with how

reverential environment was.

It was kind of very quiet, like, like being in church.

And I didn't quite understand the reverence

'cause they were all black people sitting there

and outside of church

and sometimes not even outside of church,

when you get that many black people in a room,

there's a lot of noise.

(laughter)

There's a lot to say.

There's a lot that people have to impart to one another.

It's a great social moment,

but there was this reverence and I partook in it.

'Cause I didn't know anyone.

And then when the lights went down,

the curtain opened, and these players walked on stage,

I was absolutely overwhelmed with what I saw.

I saw playacting,

but I saw people who had purpose

and the play was called "Home is the Hunter"

written by a Black man.

And what he had to say about life and our condition

sparked in me an enormous appetite.

And I was called upon to do a play.

And the very earliest days of my involvement

with the group

and it was called "All in the Family",

the woman who played my mother was Etta Moten.

(applause)

In the play and the success that we got,

one evening, we were visited

by one of the greatest human beings in the world,

Paul Robeson.

Came and saw the play.

And at the end of it stayed behind to talk to us.

And as he spoke to us,

I realized that not only was I in the world

that I wanted very much to be,

but I had seen in him,

the way in which to carry forth the mission.

Paul Robeson, in his earliest of counsel said,

"you know, the purpose of art is not just to show life

as it is, but to show life as it should be."

That is our power.

(applause)

- We're going to see a clip of your early career.

And I want you to talk a little bit about that

after you see this clip, okay.

- Harry, I want to present to you,

with this RCA Victor long playing gold record

for being the first performer

to sell over a million copies of a single album,

ladies and gentlemen.

- [Narrator] The album was Calypso

and Belafonte's music touched the hearts of audiences

around the world.

♪ I took a trip on a sailing ship ♪

♪ And when I reach Jamaica

♪ I made a stop

For Belafonte sang passionately,

convincingly about the human condition.

He sang to inform, delight, and amuse as well.

And in 1953,

he starred opposite the beautiful Dorothy Dandridge

in "Bright Road."

His next big break came in 1954,

when he won a Tony award for his role in the

Broadway production of John Murray Anderson's "Almanac"

and starred again opposite Dorothy Dandridge

in Oscar Hammerstein's "Carmen Jones."

- Suppose I never come back.

- You'd never get away from me.

I'd follow you down the rivers across the sea,

to hell or up to heaven.

Why'd you ask?

- Just to hear you say it.

- [Narrator] Directed by the renowned Otto Preminger,

the success of "Carmen Jones" put Belafonte

alongside his lifelong friend, Sidney Poitier

as two of the most celebrated black performers of their day.

(applause)

- You met Sidney Poitier at the American Negro theater.

- The first day I walked into the theater

at the A and T to register,

for its curriculum,

Sidney walked in as well.

And that's the first time we met.

It was quite a coincidence because here he was,

it turned out that I'm eight days younger than he is.

(laughter)

And he was born in America, also of Caribbean parents.

His birth in Florida was a birth of accident,

that it was there,

not too unlike my own being born in New York.

And here we were, both of us walking to the same place,

never having met,

he'd served in the second world war as a soldier,

I, as a sailor.

And we kind of sized one another up.

And I remember when I first heard him speak

and audition a part.

I did not understand why he thought he could be an actor.

(laughter)

And little did I know that he was across the room,

looking at me wondering exactly the same thing.

(laughter)

And through our earliest of years,

we kind of have this little gentle sibling rivalry going on.

I was in a play and in the American Eagle theater,

we weren't paid and we had to hold down a day job.

Theater was at night,

but at night was when I had to do most of my chores

as a janitor's assistant.

And I paid someone to take over

my janitorial responsibilities

while I was in the play, performing.

On this particular night,

the young man could not takeover.

And I had to concern myself with becoming unemployed

if people's garbage, wasn't hauled.

So I had to excuse myself from the play to go do that work.

That night, Sidney Poitier, who was my understudy,

took over the part.

That was the very night when some scouts from,

(laughter)

the Broadway area was doing a play,

an all black version of a Greek tragedy,

a Greek play called,

"Lysistrata" and they wanted Black actors and actresses.

And they came to the American Negro Theater

to see who was performing.

They saw Sidney Poitier and he was hired.

And went to do this play called "Lysistrata."

It was a terrible play and it lasted,

I think, only one or two performances,

but in one of those two performances,

Hollywood had come to New York, looking for a young actor.

(laughter)

To play opposite a young star

who was becoming quite popular

in America at 20th Century Fox.

And it was Richard Widmark

and the film was called "No Way Out."

And they went scouting in New York.

They saw,

they went to see "Lysistrata" to see the Black actors

in the play

and they saw Sidney

and they flew him immediately to California,

gave him a screen test with Richard Widmark

and he got the part.

And that's how Sidney Poitier became a star.

(laughter)

I've always reminded him that his greatest moment

was based on garbage.

- [Danny] On garbage.

- Don't play garbage, cheap, ever.

- But one of the reasons you had to work at night

was that you had a family as well.

- Just married. - You were married.

- Had a family.

Two little girls coming into the world.

I continued to pursue my studies

and I had wonderful classmates at the New School.

I had, of Social Research,

I left the A and T to go study and in the New School,

in New York,

my first group of classmates were Marlon Brando,

Walter Matthau, Bea Arthur, Tony Curtis, just to name a few.

And in the richness of this social theater

and these experiences, I visited the jazz clubs

not too far from our school

and going down there every night, I became a familiar face.

And on the nights when the club wasn't filled,

the manager would let me go and sit at a table.

And I would get to talk to the musicians and befriended them

and told them what I did and where I studied.

And they took up an interest in what was going on

in the theater, in this friendly exchange and environment.

On one occasion,

we did a play by Steinbeck called "Of Mice and Men,"

and the guy who ran the club,

who was very friendly to all of us said,

"look, we heard you sing in the play,

why don't you learn a few songs,

come on down and be an intermission singer.

And while we see people,

you can sing and entertain them until the main acts go on."

And I said, "well, that's better than robbing a bank.

I'll tell you."

So I learned, they gave me a piano player,

Al Haig was the name of the piano player,

a powerful, very respected and revered player.

When I walked on stage to sing

and he was, it was just to be he and I,

two of us, before I could open my mouth,

up walked Charlie Parker, and then up walked Max Roach.

And then up came Tommy Potter

and then a reluctant Miles Davis.

(laughter)

Came right behind that.

And the first time I ever sang publicly before an audience,

an American audience, for pay,

was my backup band was the Charlie Parker Band.

And their generosity and their support launched me

in ways that became critically acceptable

on the music scene.

But in those days,

if you became known as a pop singer

and you were so anointed,

it was very hard to make a shift of image.

At night I would go to the Village Vanguard

and to the Cafe Society downtown.

And I saw Woody Guthrie for the first time.

I saw Lead Belly.

And then I saw Josh White.

And then I saw a Big Bill Broonzy.

And I began to hear the Black voice in song

in a way that I'd never heard it before.

I'd heard it in gospel.

I'd heard it in spiritual music.

I had heard it certainly singing the refined music

of the cultured world,

Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson sang,

but never quite the way I heard them sing

about the plight, the conditions of working people.

And it immediately struck a chord in me.

And I saw in it, my place of expression.

(gentle guitar music)

- [Narrator] From the beginning,

Harry Belafonte showed the versatility

of his range and style.

From classical.

♪ And when the saints

♪ Falalalala

♪ Go marching in

♪ Falalalalala

To jazz.

♪ Yes

♪ When the saints go marching in, oh lord ♪

He sang to the young.

♪ Hush little baby don't you cry ♪

And to the downtrodden.

♪ I don't want no bald headed woman ♪

♪ She too mean, lord, lordy

♪ Well she too mean.

He was playful.

♪ Woo

And just plain silly.

♪ There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza ♪

♪ There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza ♪

Harry Belafonte sang of love and betrayal.

♪ Sylvie says she loves me

♪ But I believe she lies

He sang of hope and despair.

♪ What a morning

♪ When the stars begin to fall

He used his platform to educate.

- Many of the songs which our children sing

at least one's I'm familiar with,

was written by a man who spent most of his life

on the chain gang.

His name was Huddie Ledbetter,

commonly known among those who loved him

and cared for him, as Lead Belly.

- [Narrator] His genius lie in his ability

to reach all people

and yet expose mainstream America

to African influenced music.

- Well I felt that my music, my folklore,

my culture had a great deal to offer.

And I liked to be a catalyst for the purpose

of bringing to our audiences, artists from other countries.

And I like to be the artist that is able to go to present

to the world community,

the best that we have to offer in America.

(applause)

- And here you are, Harry, 27 years old,

and you become one of the most recognizable

African-American faces in America at that time.

And you'd won a Tony award, but you were also blacklisted.

The FBI was hounding you.

You know, here you are,

and you have your second daughter,

Shari was born at that year.

Where were you with all the celebrity?

And what, how were you going to use this celebrity,

remember, this is 1954.

We have the Brown versus Board of Education.

The groundbreaking desegregation act

upheld by the Supreme Court.

We're a year from the Montgomery bus boycott.

Here you are right now with all your social activism,

when everything you are right now you become,

how are you going to position your celebrity?

- I still went back to Harlem where I lived

and I still performed for the,

for the sleeping car porters

and for the mine workers and for the unions,

down at the maritime workers

and international garment workers,

women, and people, wherever there was struggle,

I made sure the voice of my art was there.

Now, when I won the Tony,

there was a ritual in the,

in American television that every Sunday after the awards

were given earlier that week,

the winners of the award would be displayed

on the Ed Sullivan show,

which was the largest

and the most powerful television program we had.

Now you have to understand that Ed Sullivan,

like Dorothy Kilgallen and Walter Winchell,

and a host of journalists,

white journalists working for the most powerful publications

in America were supporters of the blacklist.

They were campaigners of red baiting

and reactionary politics.

And I sat with him

and he pulled a piece of paper out

and began to read a list of

all the things I had been accused of doing,

or saying, or belonging,

places or institutions I belong to.

And when he got through,

he says, "ah, that's the list."

And then I said to him, "well, let me, first of all,

hasten, to inform you that your list is incomplete"

(laughter)

"and that I would gladly afford you the rest of the names,

because maybe one day you will find it necessary to send us

a contribution for the work we're doing."

(applause)

But

if I'm accused of being unpatriotic,

the insult and the shame of it defies me,

how can you call those of us who committed ourselves

to the war to end fascism

and to defend this country and democracy,

how can you just a few short years later call us traitors?

That in itself is unacceptable.

And if you're saying that my struggle

and my commitment to the struggle

against legal segregation and racial definition

and drawing these lines that you've drawn is my offense,

then wait till you see what's to come.

There is no deal.

I don't know how to dismiss my relationship to this cause.

And the things that I do.

What you offer is not the Bible.

I will not, cannot and will not, change

or sign as they required that you do,

you sign a declaration.

I didn't do it.

And I said,

"I'd love the opportunity to appear on your show

and have my work put before America.

But that's the price.

That's the price, I'm outta here."

And I left.

And that was in the morning,

like around 11 o'clock.

Four o'clock that afternoon,

the very same agent who picked up the phone,

he called me to tell me

that I was on the "Ed Sullivan Show."

(applause)

- You became involved with the civil rights movement

and what few people realized, and just as I mentioned

that you were one of the principle funders

that began the student nonviolent coordinating committee,

SNCC.

We talked about the evolution of the civil rights movement.

We moved from 1954 through that period,

the Montgomery bus boycott,

that SNCC turned into radicalized movement

with young students who became involved,

begin organizing in 1959,

became involved people like Bob Moses,

people like Stokely Carmichael, and Fannie Lou Hamer.

All those were part of this new group

of civil rights workers who were,

who were demands were much strong

and much more strong in another way,

and had to add another voice,

which Martin Luther King supported.

Talk to me about your relationship with Martin Luther King.

When you met, when did you meet Martin Luther King?

And what was that relationship like?

- [Harry] When he called I was quite taken with it.

He was coming to New York.

He was going to be speaking

at the Abyssinian Baptist Church at Harlem.

From that moment on,

the more I became involved with him,

the more I found myself,

not just being a spokesperson and funding,

many of the things in which he was doing,

but I found myself becoming part of the planning group.

And I became deeply personally involved

with his welfare and his destiny.

The first thing was to put his life in order

and to take care of his economic affairs

and because he was extremely sensitive

to how he would be critiqued,

if he showed any affluence or any access to affluence,

we had to be very careful

because he would accept no money at all from the movement.

He made a thousand dollars a year as a preacher,

just hardly enough to get a mousetrap.

And here he was having all these responsibilities

heaped upon him.

So I told him that from that day forward,

I will be responsible for his family economically,

that he should never worry that they would want anything,

including guaranteeing the college education

of all his children and that,

(applause)

and that he would only have to worry

about languishing in jail,

as long as he elected to stay there,

but that there would always be bail bond money available

to release him instantly,

if that was part of the strategy.

- [Narrator] Belafonte's involvement with Martin Luther King

was not the first instance of his social activism.

Previously,

he had used his emerging success

to bring controversial subject matter to American audiences,

as with the racially charged "Island in the Sun."

- In your heart,

deep down inside, don't you still think of us as slaves,

as a stupid ignorant people?

- That's a lie!

- No, Mr. Fleury, that is the truth!

- [Narrator] And "Odds Against Tomorrow."

- Watch yourself Ingram,

you're just another black spot on main street.

- Shut that ugly mouth of yours or I'll get the car.

- Someday I'm gonna snap off your poisoned head.

- [Narrator] For Belafonte,

the social consciousness of the movies he produced

in the fifties actually led to an even deeper role

in the civil rights movement of the sixties.

- Whenever I'm in your office,

I see one picture of you joking,

laughing with Martin Luther King.

It is such a very gentle and such a beautiful picture of,

of just two extraordinary men.

And I want to talk a little bit more about that, you know,

that relationship,

because it's,

in playing the role that you played.

I mean, people do not understand

fully the role that you played at that particular point

in time in the civil rights movement,

but not only civil rights movement.

You told me a story.

I remember when we first met in 1982,

when I was performing "Master Harold and the Boys"

at Yale Rep,

you told me a story about meeting

Father Huddleston in London in 1960.

Now this is long before anyone on the national scene

had talked about the apartheid.

This is long before Nelson Mandela's

long imprisonment as well.

And yet you were there at that moment, in front,

at putting yourself on the line,

putting your career on the line

to make a statement about justice.

- I got home,

must've been about two or three o'clock in the morning,

with my bride and the concierge told me

that there was a man waiting for me in the lobby.

He had come with these three young men from South Africa

and he was seeking to have asylum,

political asylum for them because their lives were at stake.

They rebelled against the condition in their country,

the apartheid system, they dare to make a film,

be in a film, called "Come Back Africa."

Which had shown in Italy.

His name was Father Huddleston,

who eventually became well known to the world

as Nelson Mandela's very close colleague and ally,

and was one of the leading advocates

in behalf of the freedom of Black South Africans.

But through Father Huddleston,

I then felt compelled to get more into what was going on

and began a clandestine,

letter writing relationship with many of the people

in South Africa, including Nelson Mandela,

who was in prison.

So I embarked upon this rather active political campaign,

much to the displeasure of the Hollywood studios.

And they created their own blacklists,

their own special filter,

through which much of my life had to pass.

And it constantly tried to pit me against Sidney

and neither of us would have it.

Sidney was not quite as upfront on these issues,

or out front as I was.

And we discussed it often.

And we felt that as long as I had the capacity to do

what I was doing,

that he should hold the Hollywood front

and try to continue to develop his power base there.

- So you continue to perform and make movies.

But there were different kinds of movies that like you said,

than movies in the fifties.

We're gonna go to another clip here.

- [Narrator] Harry Belafonte's movie career

recommenced in the 1970s with the movie,

"The Angel Levine,"

where he played an out of character angel.

- Aight, now I'm gonna tell you something.

He can't do anything for your old lady.

There ain't a bag of medicine he's got, can do a thing,

not a pill, not a needle, nothing.

- [Narrator] In "Buck and the Preacher,"

a movie about three recently freed slaves,

Harry teamed up with his old friend Sidney Poitier

who directed the film.

- How'd you find me?

- I asked your horse.

- [Narrator] Two years later in 1974,

Harry joined forces with Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby

in the hilarious movie "Uptown Saturday Night."

Unfortunately it would take another 18 years

before Harry Belafonte would appear on the screen again.

This time it was in "The Player"

where he met director Robert Altman.

- Harry's main purpose is to accomplish things,

to make things occur.

I don't think his ego is in any way set in his own persona.

- [Narrator] "The Player" led to a role in the movie,

"White Man's Burden," starring John Travolta.

And then Robert Altman casted Harry Belafonte,

as the character Seldom Seen in his movie, "Kansas City."

This role gave Harry the platform to showcase

his acting talents.

- No-Eyed-Blue's gone and you're still here,

'cause I want you here.

I'm not sure I got everything out of your ass

I'm gonna get.

- [Robert] Harry is more than an actor.

He knew exactly the kind of character he wanted to portray.

Ruthless, dictatorial.

He brought a truth into it that gave him power.

He should have had Academy Award nomination.

- [Harry] He must be in some sad shit, to have to be

holding a gun at people.

What am I gonna do with you.

I'll think of something.

(applause)

- Certainly, Harry, you know,

it's difficult to place, capsulize,

all that you mean, all that you've done

within this short period of time.

We know that you're working on "Parting the Waters,"

right now.

We know that, and its sequel, "Pillar of Fire."

We also know that you're

involved in the project that I'm involved with

in East St. Louis, in the revitalization of East St. Louis.

So those are the kinds of things

that are happening all the time with you, you know,

you're always thinking,

you're always moving to the next stage.

And always try to bring others along.

It's easy for me to sit here and talk for you forever

because I've been so influenced

by not the way in which you've taken your art

and made that accessible to all,

to the fight for freedom and justice in the world.

That's the one thing that's the kernel

of my relationship with you

and the one has been from the day,

the first day that I met you,

or from the first day today I heard about you,

the first day that I saw you.

I saw that,

and I hope that other artists are influenced by that.

Whether you're my age right now or the young artists,

because by 27 years old,

when you had all the choices available to you,

in the world that they place us in,

in that suit that they put us on as artists,

you chose to fight for justice and freedom,

you made a conscious choice to help those people.

(applause)

What are some of the things that you see happening

in the world right now?

- In the height of what is considered

to be the greatest economic boom in the world's history,

we are sitting also with some

of the greatest human suffering ever known to mankind,

the 37 million people in the world affected with HIV/AIDS,

of that 37 million,

24 million on the continent of Africa.

Were this to be Europe,

or that there'd be 27 million people afflicted

on that continent

or there to be 10 million orphans running about

the mountains of the Alps and through the streets of France,

what would we say?

(applause)

While there will be many who will pursue lofty intellectual

thoughts on the subject,

I would put it squarely on the table at first and foremost,

and the critique is race.

It is racist, racist, racist.

Our pharmaceutical companies,

this country has not understood its mission,

nor the reason for such success

is meant to be an application

or the uplifting of other human beings.

What makes all of that even more critical

is that Black people have not found themselves

in this equation.

When I look at all the young Black artists today

and the young Black athletes,

and even those of the Black middle class

and upper middle class who've attained enormous wealth

and positions of power,

you find that they are only a tokenly committed

to lending their resources.

(applause)

- You just returned from Jamaica,

where you were responsible for funding

the US for Africa movement.

We're going to go to a clip.

- [Narrator] Throughout his career,

Harry Belafonte has been an outspoken activist,

championing humanitarian causes worldwide.

In 1985, Belafonte united an impressive list

of fellow artists for the historic recording,

"We Are the World,"

raising millions to aid African countries

experiencing cruel drought and famine.

Today, Belafonte remains at the forefront

of human rights activism

in his current role as UNICEF Goodwill ambassador,

only the second American to hold this prestigious title,

Belafonte travels internationally to influence policies

that benefit children all over the globe.

Belafonte's integrity and dedication in support

of global human rights has earned him the respect

of world leaders,

his numerous awards and honorary degrees

are validation of Belafonte's commitment

to the betterment of humankind,

a consummate entertainer who has used the stage

to celebrate the human spirit.

Belafonte has been recognized for inspiring

our nation's cultural landscape.

He received the prestigious Kennedy Center honors award

for excellence in the performing arts in 1989.

And in 1994,

Belafonte was awarded the national medal of arts,

one of the highest honors in the entertainment industry.

Harry Belafonte's most valuable honor comes from his family,

his wife of over 40 years, Julie,

children, Gina, David, Shari, and Adrienne,

and three grandchildren ensure Belafonte's family life

is as rich and fulfilling as his public life.

With unwavering, determination, and energy,

Julie and Harry often travel the globe together,

lending their service to the cause of millions

in developing countries.

One of the world's foremost entertainers and activists,

Harry Belafonte personifies the meaning of legend.

In recognition of his grace, artistry,

and lifelong commitment to service,

The HistoryMakers salutes artists, activist, humanitarian,

Mr. Harry Belafonte.

(applause)

- And let me ask you something

because we're about to close now

and certainly it is, it is too soon, too early to close,

but I

(applause)

I'm going to ask you almost rhetorical question

about how do you want to be remembered

because everything that we've seen,

everything we've talked about,

has suggested how you want to be remembered.

- A thousand years from now, I won't even equate.

Nobody will even know I was here, but that's all right.

What is important is who knew me while I was here

and what did I do to touch their lives

in the way that brought them to a better place?

It is true that I have paid a price

for the kind of commitment that I've made.

I've been in jail.

I've been denied opportunity.

I have been denied access to certain places of power

and certain money and all that,

that seems to be everyone else's goal.

I say that there has in fact been no sacrifice.

As a matter of fact,

from where I was born in poverty in Harlem

to an undereducated mother,

to an absentee father,

shifted and shunted back and forth to the Caribbean

among plantation workers

under the most grueling of conditions.

It is a miracle that I find myself in the place

where the world even knows I exist.

Let alone wanting to hear what I have to say.

(applause)

But the rewards that I've had,

in the face of all that has been denied me,

or whatever abuse there may have been,

is the fact that Dr. King was one of my closest friends

and he was also called a communist and he was also denied.

And now we sit in a world that celebrates him

for having walked through it.

And his presence is a national holiday.

When Mandela was in prison,

everyone said my relationship to him

was supporting of communists

and that it was anti-American.

And that I was involved with terrorists

while there was no force going into the 21st century,

that commands as much respect globally

from every level of human existence as does Nelson Mandela.

And he calls me friend.

(applause)

When I look upon all the artists

whom I would have loved to have shared moments with,

who denied me and dismissed me

because I was too much of a burden for them,

it meant that they would perhaps taint

their acceptability by those whom they sought

to be anointed by.

I do not feel that loss at all

because I have a great and profound relationship

with a man named Danny Glover,

who's one of the finest human beings I know.

(applause)

And knowing you,

you would never have embraced me

if I had been anything less than what I really am.

(laughter)

When I look at all the,

looking at these film clips with all these awards

and the presidents and the popes and the queens

and the celebrities of the world

and the institutions,

one would see that as a personal tribute.

I see them tally another way.

I see it as having stayed the course

and everything I've done since I was a child,

everything my mother put before me,

as the objectives of life that had to be met,

I have been anointed by all these people,

by saying that my choices were correct.

They give me validity in terms of the things I believe in

and the things that I represent,

which makes those things honorable.

And I'm very glad I did them.

And I'll continue to do them until I die.

That's what I want to be known for.

(applause)

- Ladies and gentlemen, Harry Belafonte.

(applause)

♪ Do you know who I am

♪ Do I know who you are

♪ See we one another clearly

- [Narrator] The preceding program was produced

by The HistoryMakers,

which is solely responsible for its content.

♪ See we one another clearly

♪ Do we know who we are

♪ Do you know who I am

♪ Do I know who you are

♪ See one another clearly

♪ Do we know who we are

♪ Oh, so is life

♪ Ah, so is life

♪ Whoa, oh, so is life

♪ A ba tee wah ha so is life

♪ Oh, oh so is life

♪ Aha, so is life

♪ Whoa, oh, so is life

♪ Aha, so is life

♪ Whoa

For more information, or to order your own copy

of an "Evening with Harry Belafonte,"

please visit thehistorymakers.org

or call (866) 914-1900

that's (866) 914-1900.

- [Narrator] The preceding program was funded in part by

Toyota,

AT&T,

Baldwin Richardson Foods,

Lincoln Financial Group,

American Airlines,

a complete list is available thehistorymakers.org.

STREAM THE HISTORYMAKERS ON

  • ios
  • apple_tv
  • android
  • roku
  • firetv

FEATURED PROGRAMS