- Harry Belafontelegendary singer, actor and civil rights activist who died April 25, 2023, at age 96.
Harry Belafonte last appeared on Democracy Now! in 2016 at a special event at the historic Riverside Church in New York to celebrate our 20th anniversary. He co-headlined the event with Noam Chomsky in their first public appearance together. Belafonte spoke about Donald Trump, who had just been elected president, and ongoing struggles for freedom and justice in the United States. “We just have to get out our old coats, dust them off, stop screwing around and just chasing the good times, and get down to business,” he said. “There’s some ass-kicking out here to be done. And we should do it.”
More from this Interview
- Part 1: “Sing Your Song”: Remembering Harry Belafonte, Who Used His Stardom to Help MLK & Civil Rights Movement
- Part 2: Harry Belafonte in His Own Words on Opposing Iraq War & Calling George W. Bush a “Terrorist”
- Part 3: “Get Down to Business”: Harry Belafonte in 2016 on Trump, Socialism & Fighting for Justice
AMY GOODMAN: Harry Belafonte last appeared on Democracy Now! in 2016 at a special event at the historic Riverside Church in New York to celebrate Democracy Now!’s 20th anniversary. He co-headlined the event with Noam Chomsky. It was the first time they had done a public event together. Harry Belafonte spoke about Donald Trump, who had just been elected president.
HARRY BELAFONTE: I believe that Trump, in bringing a new energy to the realization of the vastness of the reach of the Ku Klux Klan, is not something that has been out of our basic purview of thought. The Ku Klux Klan, for some of us, is a constant — has a constant existence. It isn’t until it touches certain aspects of white America that white America all of the sudden wakes up to the fact that there is something called the Klan and that it does its mischief.
What causes me to have great thought is something that’s most unique to my experience. And as I said earlier tonight, at the doorstep of being 90 years of age, I had thought I had seen it all and done it all, only to find out that, at 89, I knew nothing. But the most peculiar thing to me has been the absence of a Black presence in the middle of this resistance, not just the skirmishes that we’ve seen in Ferguson and Black Lives Matter — and I think those protests and those voices being raised are extremely important. But we blew this thing a long time ago. When they started the purge against communism in this country and against the voice of those who saw hope in a design for socialist theory and for the sharing of wealth and for the equality of humankind, when we abandoned our vigil — our vision and vigils on that topic, I think we sold out ourselves.
A group of young Black students in Harlem, just a few days ago, asked me what, at this point in my life, was I looking for. And I said, “What I’ve always been looking for: Where resides the rebel heart?” Without the rebellious heart, without people who understand that there’s no sacrifice we can make that is too great to retrieve that which we’ve lost, we will forever be distracted with possessions and trinkets and title. And I think one of the big things that happened was that when Black people began to be anointed by the trinkets of this capitalist society and began to become big-time players and began to become heads of corporations, they became players in the game of our own demise. …
I think people have to be more adventurous. The heart has to find greater space for rebellion. So, we pay a penalty for such thought, because I was just recently reminded of Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney. They sit particularly close to my own feelings and thoughts, because I was one of the voices that was raised in recruiting those young students to participate in our rebellion.
AMY GOODMAN: David Goodman, Andrew’s brother, is here today.
HARRY BELAFONTE: I’m sure of it. He’s always at the right places.
But I think that there are those kinds of extremes that will be experienced in the struggle, but the real nobility of our existence is: Are we prepared to pay that price? And I think once the opposition understands that we are quite prepared to die for what we believe in, that death for a cause does not just sit with ISIS, but sits with people, workers, people who are genuinely prepared to push against the theft of our nation and the distortion of our Constitution, and that, for many of us, no price is too great for that charge. …
I’ve been through much in this country. I came back from the Second World War. And while the world rejoiced in the fact that Hitler had been met and defeated, there were some of us who were touched by the fact that instead of sitting at the table of feast at that great victory, we were worried about our lives, because the response from many in America was the murder of many Black servicemen that came back. And we were considered to be dangerous, because we had learned the capacity to handle weaponry, we had faced death on the battlefield. And when we came back, we had an expectation, as the victors. We came back knowing that, yes, we might have fought to end Hitler, but we also fought for our right to vote in America, that in the pursuit of such rights came the civil rights movement. Well, that can happen again. We just have to get out our old coats, dust them off, stop screwing around and just chasing the good times, and get down to business. There’s some ass-kicking out here to be done. And we should do it.
AMY GOODMAN: Harry Belafonte, speaking in 2016 at the historic Riverside Church in New York to celebrate Democracy Now!’s 20th anniversary. He co-headlined the event with Noam Chomsky. Harry died on Tuesday at the age of 96 of congestive heart failure at his home here in New York City. You can visit democracynow.org to see the full event, as well as all of our interviews with Harry Belafonte, Harry giving his speech in 2003 against the War in Iraq, Harry in Venezuela, Harry at the Sundance Film Festival, when the documentary about him premiered, talking fully about his life and so much more.
That does it for our show. On Saturday, Juan González will deliver the opening plenary address at a daylong policy forum at American University titled “In Search of a New U.S. Policy for a New Latin America: Burying 200 Years of the Monroe Doctrine.” Visit democracynow.org for more information.
Oh, and special thanks to our archivist Brendan Allen and Charina Nadura for today’s show. Democracy Now! produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Sonyi Lopez. Our executive director is Julie Crosby. I’m Amy Goodman. This is Democracy Now!