National Civil Rights Museum Statement Regarding the Passing of Harry Belafonte

Memphis, TN, April 25, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The National Civil Rights Museum joins the world in grieving the loss of a civil rights activist, cultural icon, and its 1999 Freedom Award honoree, Mr. Harry Belafonte.

Belafonte was a charismatic, candid, and compassionate activist who used his platform to advance civil and human rights in America and abroad.  From his early years of meteoric rise to celebrity in the 1950s, he was connected to the American Civil Rights Movement and put his money where his mouth was by funding the efforts of organizations like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.  He was part of the power-packed slate of Hollywood celebrities present during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom 60 years ago. 

On stage, screen, and in real life, Belafonte created pathways, being the first Black American to reach the top of the Billboard charts for his iconic Calypso musical hits sharing his Caribbean roots with the mainstream industry. He became a television industry idol in variety shows and nightclub venues. He did not take this attention lightly and was very vocal about segregation and racial injustice in America. In the 1960s, he challenged the norms by adding a diverse set of performers on his show “Tonight with Harry Belafonte” for which he won an Emmy.

In February 1968, he hosted a takeover of the “Tonight Show” in place of Johnny Carson for an entire week with guests that included Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, before the two were assassinated months later, and entertainment icons Aretha Franklin and Sidney Poitier. He was not only a close confidante of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but was closely tied to his family as he ensured their safety and well-being were secured financially and emotionally after King was killed in Memphis on April 4, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum.

Belafonte continued using his voice toward political activism to support the end of South African apartheid and humanitarian aid to Africa in the 1980s. More recently, Belafonte urged Americans to exercise their right to vote.  His legacy is inscribed in the hearts of all who regard equality and freedom as a birthright to global citizenship and to those who cherish living a life of “no regrets,” as he stated in his autobiography.

Our sincere condolences to his family, friends, and all the lives he impacted. Rest in powerful peace, Mr. Belafonte.


Harry Belafonte received Freedom Award