Harry Belafonte’s Love for Racial Justice–and Radical Muppets

Today's love is for a meeting between icons of the human and puppet worlds.

By Jorge Rivas, Kai Wright Nov 30, 2010

This morning, we posted a gripping conversation between ColorLines’ publisher Rinku Sen and music legend and civil rights icon Harry Belafonte. He offers his insight on race and politics today, and articulates a perspective that feels terribly relevant as we prepare for what will no doubt be a bruising political year of racially loaded scapegoating on Capitol Hill. You can’t just wish race away, he says; black president or not, we’ve gotta deal with this head on. So this evening, we’re closing with some Belafonte love from days’ past. 

He was among the first, loudest celebrity voices to join civil rights activists on the front lines as the movement erupted in mid-century. In the images here, the young, handsome star joins the throngs on the National Mall for the 1963 March on Washington; the shot of him with Sidney Poitier and Charlton Heston at the Lincoln Memorial is priceless. What a trio! But after spending the day digging around the Web for Belafonte gems, we settled on something more touching for the daily love: Belafonte kicking it with Muppets and talking about the power of love to change the world.  

Among Belafonte’s many accomplishments was being the first black man to win an Emmy, in 1959. In the following decades he showed up on several TV shows, including a famous appearance on "The Muppet Show" in 1978. On the show, he sang his smash hit "Day O" (which had helped "Calypso" become the first album to sell a million copies) for the first time on television. But he also performed a number called "Turn the World Around." He said he discovered the song while talking to a story teller in Guinea, who told him a fable about the Earth, Sun and Moon working together to keep the world spinning. All of us are part of that movement, he explained, and are bound by it. "The question is," he said, "do we care about each other? Because if we do, together we can turn the world around." He sang it again at Jim Henson’s funeral, with a more explicit (and deeply moving) introduction about its relevance to racial justice and how Henson’s Muppets had helped propel the movement for a more just world. 

And that’s today’s love–spinning planets toward justice by embracing others. Well, that and the Muppets. Check out the performance in the video above and have a smile. Then watch Belafonte’s conversation with ColorLines, either at the link or below.

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