Ronald Radosh Mr. Radosh, an adjunct senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, is co-author with Allis Radosh, most recently, of “Red Star Over Hollywood: The Film Colony’s Long Romance with the Left,” which is appearing in paper in June from Encounter Books.
Harry Belafonte is rightfully remembered as the first black American pop star, a man who not only broke the color line in the 1950s entertainment world, and succeeded in becoming a major celebrity, but who used his marketability, good looks, and singing voice on behalf of the emerging movement for civil rights in the 1960s.
The first star in the music industry to sell more than 1 million LPs of a single album (“Calypso,” 1956), he was the first black American to win an Emmy for a television special (“Tonight with Belafonte”). In recent years, he was awarded a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement. Mr. Belafonte emerged not only as a singing star, but as a film actor, starring in such movies as “Carmen Jones” (1954), “Island in the Sun” (1957), and “Kansas City” (1996), among others.
He created a stir by his television appearance with white pop star Petula Clark in 1968, where in the midst of a song, she briefly touched his arm — the first male-female white and black contact shown on network television — a no-no in the days of segregation, and until then, something that could only be hinted at.
Recently, Mr. Belafonte’s public activism has taken him in a new and strident direction as a critic of American foreign policy and a purveyor of a noxious form of anti-Americanism.
Earlier this month, in a New York City speech to the Arts Presenters Members Conference, on the topic of the arts in a politically changing world, Mr. Belafonte stated: “We’ve come to this dark time in which the new Gestapo of Homeland Security lurks here where citizens are having their rights suspended.”
On Martin Luther King Day, Mr. Belafonte gave the keynote address at DukeUniversity, where 1,600 people filled every seat in the Duke chapel, and hundreds more stood. The provost of Duke, Peter Lange, said that Mr. Belafonte “continues to respond to the themes that are Dr. King’s legacy.”
Mr. Belafonte was introduced by James Joseph, now a Duke professor, and formerly the Clinton administration’s ambassador to South Africa. Mr. Joseph praised Mr. Belafonte as a man who followed “the tradition of the framers” as well as the “Old Testament prophets.”As Mr. Belafonte rose to a thunderous ovation, he commented that many Americans in our nation’s churches thought of themselves as missionaries of God, but were actually “missionaries of the devil.”
Presenting a history of American oppression, he noted that it had begun with the “Indian genocide.” In our own day, the singer asked, “how many wars have we waged for our power … for riches?”Answering his own question,Mr. Belafonte declared that America’s foreign policy was always “built on the demise of the poor.”
America built prisons, he charged, because the government was saying that there would always be people of color “to fill them.”
The president, he continued, had led America into a “dishonorable war” that led to the “deaths of tens of thousands of people.” What is the difference, he asked, “between those who would fly planes into buildings and those who would lie to bring us into a war that’s killed thousands?” There was, then, no difference between the “terrorist Bush” and other would-be terrorists. Under Mr. Bush and the Patriot Act, the government could knock on your door and take you, “no questions asked,” and keep you in prison forever, which was no different than any “totalitarian oppressors.” Mr. Belafonte took the podium in Venezuela, speaking in front of President Chavez on January 8. Mr. Belafonte condemned Mr. Bush as “the greatest terrorist in the world.” Purporting to speak for all Americans, he told the Venezuelan tyrant, “No matter what the greatest tyrant in the world, the greatest terrorist in the world, George W. Bush says, we’re here to tell you: Not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people … support your revolution.” Mr. Belafonte appeared under the auspices of UNICEF as a “goodwill ambassador.”
In 2002, appearing on “Larry King Live,” Mr. Belafonte called then Secretary of State Colin Powell the equivalent of a slave “who lived in the house … [and] served the master,” and said that Condoleezza Rice, a National Security Council member, was like a “Jew … doing things that were anti-Semitic and against the best interests of her people.”
In 2004, speaking at a Human Rights Award Ceremony in San Francisco, Mr. Belafonte spoke of “how vast America’s villainy extends itself.” Millions languish in poverty and suffer from AIDS, Mr. Belafonte claimed, because of “our military industrial complex, led by the United States.”
Mr. Belafonte’s recent hosanna to Hugo Chavez and his attacks on the Bush administration and the president personally are a natural extension of his past. Mr. Belafonte’s public performances as a singer began when he appeared before communist-front youth groups on behalf of Henry Wallace and his 1948 presidential candidacy of the communist-created and dominated “Progressive Party.” Wallace, himself a pawn of the communists, used his campaign to oppose Harry Truman’s tough policy against the Soviets, and to gather support for the USSR’s foreign policy as one of “peace.” Considering the great communist bass-baritone Paul Robeson to be his “mentor,” Mr. Belafonte sought from the start to follow Robeson’s path as an opponent of America and a supporter of its communist enemies. Mr. Belafonte’s left-wing activism was largely ignored, but he was consistent throughout the past decades.
In October 1983, Mr. Belafonte performed and spoke at a “World Peace Concert” run by East Germany’s official communist youth organization.There he gave his support to the Soviet bloc’s “peace” campaign, which sought unilateral Western disarmament and supported the Eastern bloc’s arms buildup as defensive. Mr. Belafonte spoke when the Soviets were putting SS-20 missiles into East Germany, and both the Carter and Reagan administrations sought a just response. As the New York Times reported, Mr. Belafonte “attacked the American invasion of Grenada and also criticized the scheduled NATO weapons deployment” of Pershing 2 missiles in West Germany, which were to be deployed to offset the Soviet missile buildup.
By appearing at the official East German rally,Mr. Belafonte made clear his support of the Soviet bloc’s policies in the Cold War.Moreover, he appeared under the auspices of the repressive East German state, whose secret police — the dreaded STASI — waged a witch-hunt against the entire population.
In 1997, Mr. Belafonte appeared as the featured speaker at the 60th anniversary of the “Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade,” during which he honored the self-proclaimed “premature anti-fascists” who served as the American branch of the Comintern army put together by Josef Stalin, and that served as enforcers of Soviet policy in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, including the hunt for “Trotskyites” and support of Soviet attempts to Stalinize the Republican government. To Mr. Belafonte, their effort in the 1930s was proven correct by history; the veterans of the Lincoln Brigade were still “representatives of a truth that engulfed the universe … that fascism anywhere is a threat to people everywhere.” Somehow, Mr. Belafonte failed to inform the aging brigade vets how their anti-fascism disappeared overnight after their return home, and the announcement of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in August 1939. Lincoln Brigade leaders at the time, as Mr. Belafonte and his audience undoubtedly knew, argued that the only enemies of the people were Franklin D. Roosevelt and the warmongering Great Britain.
In June 2000, Mr. Belafonte was the featured speaker at a rally held in the land of another one of his favorite communist tyrants, Fidel Castro.There he honored the American traitors to their country, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, whom Castro has named schools after and cheered as heroes. Tears, one observer wrote, “streaked down Belafonte’s face,” as he “recalled the pain and humiliation his friend Robeson had been forced to endure” in 1950s America. No wonder the singer praised Cuba as an “example of keeping the principles the Rosenbergs fought and died for alive.” Since the only principles the Rosenbergs believed in were loyalty to the Soviet state and that they were on the right side of history as Soviet patriots and enemies of America’s democracy, Mr. Belafonte’s remarks were quite telling.
More recently, Mr. Belafonte has joined other gullible Western artists as keen supporters of Castro’s Stalinist regime.This at a time when Castro arrests and tortures nonviolent democratic opponents of his tyranny, like the black Cuban dissident Oscar Elias Biscet, who was imprisoned from 1999 until 2002. Mr. Biscet was arrested scores of times for “public disorder” because he waged nonviolent direct action against the Castro government, saying publicly that his countrymen could not live in “liberty and democracy” if the “dictatorship of Communist Castro exists.”Where was Mr. Belafonte’s solidarity with this proponent of democracy?
When Mr. Belafonte appeared in Cuba that same year, he spoke at the Havana Film Festival, where he said “censorship” in America was at its peak. In scores of visits, Mr. Belafonte has never denounced Castro’s government for violating the U.N. Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Instead, he appears as he did in 2001 at LincolnCenter, where he gave a benefit concert for the major American pro-Castro organization, Sandra Levinson’s Center for Cuban Studies.
Often described as a “human rights activist,” a supporter of “civil rights,” and a “humanitarian,” Mr. Belafonte is in reality a neo-Stalinist supporter of left-wing dictatorships, as he always was. It is time today that others understand the trouble with Harry.