To describe Harry Belafonte as just an entertainer would be an incomplete characterization of the human he was.

Influenced By Paul Robeson 

Belafonte was a civil rights activist and humanitarian who was one of the most prominent pop culture figures at the time of the Civil Rights Movement.

He was influenced by fellow actor Paul Robeson, his friend and mentor who inspired many of Belafonte’s beliefs pertaining to the advancement of Black Americans during the 1950’s and 60’s.


Belafonte was a friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, financially assisting King’s various organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He would go on to help King and other activists organize the momentous March on Washington in 1963.


The influence of these men were highlighted in his memoir, My Song: A Memoir of Art, Race, and Defiance


 “Paul Robeson had been my first great formative influence; you might say he gave me my backbone. Martin King was the second; he nourished my soul.”


Even though he was immensely popular in the United States, Belafonte’s close involvement with the Civil Rights Movement had consequences on his entertainment career.


The first singer to have an album sell over a million records was effectively blacklisted from Hollywood during the Second Red Scare in America.


Nonetheless, he stayed true to his convictions.

“I’ve always accepted the fact that there’s a price to be paid for those who choose to step into the waters of social development, civil rights, and fighting against racism,” Belafonte said during an interview.

“I would rather have not been blacklisted, and perhaps made enough money to get me a private plane – but if in order to achieve that end I have to sell my soul, the answer is no.”


Harry Belafonte & Jackie Robinson 

Undeterred, Belafonte continued his humanitarian efforts. In 1959 he formed an alliance with baseball legend Jackie Robinson and actor Sidney Poitier to assist with the funding of hundreds of Kenyans to attend colleges in America. Notable Kenyans such as Barack Obama Sr. were inspired by the program and Obama Sr. would later attend the University of Hawaii.

Belafonte, Willie Mays And Billy Jean King 

After nearly seven decades of civil rights and humanitarian work, Belafonte received Beacon Awards with Willie Mays and Billie Jean King at the 2010 MLB Civil Rights Game. The Beacon Awards are intended for individuals whose lives are emblematic of the Civil Rights Movement


“I grew up on baseball,” said Belafonte upon receiving the award. “Jackie Robinson was a close friend.”


Belafonte set a standard for many pop culture and sports to speak on issues concerning the Black community. He used his fame and resources to help his people fight for their rights and individual freedoms during a time period that was dangerous and others to do so.

His humanitarianism was detrimental to his own career, but he recognized the stakes for his people at the time were bigger than him entertaining the same people who were oppressing his community.

That realization made Belafonte’s life become bigger than music and he continued to serve others well into his 90’s.


Belafonte’s lifelong work ended when he passed away on April 25, 2023 at the age of 96. Daylight came and it was his time to go home.

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