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Harry Belafonte Calls Civil Rights Movement a Success

By Sandra Knispel | Published 02 Oct 2012 09:01am | comments
Entertainer and Civil Rights activist Harry Belafonte speaks at the Gertrude Ford Center in Oxford as the keynote speaker for Ole Miss's commemoration of 50 years of integration. Photo Kevin Bain, UM Communications

Civil rights activist and entertainer Harry Belafonte is reflecting on the success of the Civil Rights movement, of which he has been an integral part. Last night, Belafonte was the University of Mississippi’s keynote speaker as Ole Miss commemorates 50 years of integration. MPB’s Sandra Knispel has more.

Nearly 86, tall and gaunt, his voice raspy, Belafonte still knows how to entertain. Speaking at the Gertrude Ford Center in Oxford he told the story of carrying $100,000 dollars – an ungodly sum back then – to Greenwood in the Delta. As a prominent civil rights activist he was trying to get cash into the hands of those who had decided to stay in Mississippi and continue the voter registration drive despite the recent murders of the three civil rights activists Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney. Aware of the risks to his own life, Belafonte called his best friend, actor Sidney Poitier, and asked him to fly along, trying to make it sound like a fun trip.

“Ok, where are we going? [laughter] And I said, ‘Greenwood, Mississippi!’ And there was this pause [more laughter from audience]."

Belafonte had told the Department of Justice about his risky travel plans that involved touching down in small private airplane at night in Greenwood. When they left the plane and slipped into a waiting car, all in near total darkness, the tiny airstrip was suddenly illuminated by bright lights:

“And we looked off into the distance and I heaved a sigh of relief and I said to Sidney: ‘There they are.’ ‘There they WHO are?’ I said, ‘Well look at all those headlights! About four, five cars out there… that’s obviously..' The man who was driving the car was a young man, his name was Willie Blue, and Willie says: ‘That’s not the FBI. That’s the Clan!’ “

Ultimately, the KKK drove off and he and Poitier delivered the cash safely.

Last night Belafonte also spoke of his pain when Martin Luther King was murdered in Memphis in 1968. At their last face-to-face meeting, the Civil Rights leader had told Belafonte that he felt a sense of failure, of not succeeding in their mission. But standing on the stage at Ole Miss last night, a black gospel choir at his back, Belafonte knew better:

“To see what I have seen here. In this institution, this choir, with you the audience… that so many on this campus have greeted me with civility and a friendliness is to forever ensure my understanding and belief that our movement was not for naught, our movement did not fail.”

Promptly, UM Chancellor Dan Jones pledged in return that today’s students here would move forward and keep alive the dream of the Civil Rights movement.

Sandra Knispel, MPB News Oxford.

 

 

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Entertainer and Civil Rights activist Harry Belafonte speaks at the Gertrude Ford Center in Oxford as the keynote speaker for Ole Miss's commemoration of 50 years of integration. Photo Kevin Bain, UM Communications


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