Entertainer and Social Activist Harry Belafonte to Speak at Wellesley in Honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day
WELLESLEY, Mass. — Harry Belafonte has been called “the consummate entertainer.” He’s met success as a concert singer, a recording artist, a movie, Broadway and television star and producer. While he has won a Tony, an Emmy, produced the first album, “Calypso,” ever to sell more than a million copies, and played to sold-out audiences for decades, he’s always been just as committed to social justice activism.
“My social and political interests are part of my career. I can’t separate them,” Belafonte said. “My songs reflect the human condition. The role of art isn’t just to show life as it is, but to show life as it should be.”
Belafonte will present the lecture “Social Justice: Within and Beyond Our Borders” at 7 pm Tuesday, March 11, in Tishman Commons in the Lulu Chow Wang Campus Center at Wellesley College. The event is free and open to the public. It is presented by the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Committee and the American Studies program.
“With his talents as a performer and his keen intellect, he’s used his gifts to entertain, to educate and to bring about greater economic and social justice,” said Judith Rollins, professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley. “Harry Belafonte’s life exemplifies what Dr. King stood for.”
A close friend of King and a member of the executive board of King’s organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Belafonte raised money with benefit concerts for civil right groups, voter registration projects and to support individual activists. He was key in involving the arts community in civil rights events, like the March on Washington, the protests in Birmingham and the Selma to Montgomery march.
King once said of him, “Belafonte’s global popularity and his commitment to our cause is a key ingredient to the global struggle for freedom and a powerful tactical weapon in the civil rights movement here in America.”
In 1960, President Kennedy appointed Belafonte cultural advisor to the Peace Corps, a position that began his life-long bond to Africa. He established the still-active Belafonte Foundation, which supports African students studying in the United States. In the 1980s, Belafonte initiated the idea of recording “We Are the World,” which raised millions for Africa and received an Emmy in 1984.
In 1990, he served as host of the United Nations’ World Summit for Children, attended by 71 heads of state. This summit produced one of the most significant documents of the 20th century, “The World Declaration of the Survival, Protection and Development of Children.”
For his humanitarian contributions, Belafonte has been honored by the NAACP, the ACLU, the Boy Scouts of America and the American Jewish Congress, among many other organizations. He’s also received the Albert Einstein Award of Yeshiva University, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Prize and was the first recipient of the Nelson Mandela Courage Award.
Since 1875, Wellesley College has been a leader in providing an excellent liberal arts education for women who will make a difference in the world. Its 500-acre campus near Boston is home to 2,300 undergraduate students from all 50 states and 68 countries.