Harry Belafonte, the first African-American to win an Emmy, is a living library of the civil-rights movement and liberation struggles worldwide. He enters his ninth decade as fearless as ever.
President Bill Clinton crashed Belafonte’s birthday party, which was taking place as the Democratic presidential contenders battled for the African-American vote. Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were in Selma, Ala., for the 42nd anniversary of the famous voting-rights march from Selma to Montgomery.
In his remarks, Clinton toasted Harry: “I was inspired by your politics more than you can ever know. Every time I ever saw you after I became president, I thought that my conscience was being graded, and I was getting less than an A. And every president should feel that way about somebody as good as you.”
I asked Harry how he felt about Clinton showing up: “I’m very flattered, OK, but I’m mindful of all the things that need to be done.” In his succinct reply, a lifetime of struggle remembered, a keen-edged skepticism. “He knows what I think. He said I didn’t give him an A.” I then asked him about both the Clintons and Obama going to Selma.
“We are hearing platitudes, not platforms. What do they plan to do for people of color, Mexicans, for people who are imprisoned, black youth? What are their plans for the Katrinas of America?”
Like the two stone lions that guard the New York Public Library, Harry Belafonte — fierce, fearless and focused — protects the soul of struggle. Even as he enters his ninth decade, this lion does not sleep tonight.
Read Harry Belafonte, The Lion At 80
by Amy Goodman, King Features Syndicate. Posted March 7, 2007.