Belafonte’s fires undimmed at 80
By Stephen Evans
BBC News, New York
Harry Belafonte at 80 has a real story to tell. He remembers, for example, a barely known political hopeful turning up at his apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
John F Kennedy, who was trying to become the Democratic candidate for the presidency, wanted advice and endorsement from the biggest black star in showbusiness.
Nearly half a century on, Belafonte sits in an easy chair and reflects on the meeting: “I listened to him and I refused to endorse him, telling him that his best bet was that he should begin to seek out more details of our struggle and who our leaders were and begin to talk to them rather than just seeking to talk to celebrities.”
He advised JFK to seek out Martin Luther King, then a young activist preacher in Montgomery, Alabama. “He hardly knew who Dr King was. That pointed out to me that he was really distant from our struggle.”
But Kennedy listened and learned, and made contact with the black leader. In a tight election, the black vote split 70:30 Kennedy’s way, enough to tip the finest balance.
Under JFK and then Lyndon B Johnson , Belafonte was Dr King’s conduit to Washington, and also the financial provider at crucial moments, particularly when the civil rights leader had been jailed and needed to be bailed out.
He also provided support at a cataclysmic moment that Dr King would never live to appreciate. Belafonte took out life insurance on his friend to ensure the family’s financial stability after any assassination.
Listen to the BBC interview with Harry Belafonte:
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