In 1963, entertainer Harry Belafonte helped raise money for the Birmingham Campaign with Martin Luther King Jr. He organized a committee to fundraise to continue the civil rights movement while MLK was held in Birmingham jail, according to Stanford University.
As part of a week celebrating MLK, Belafonte will speak Tuesday at the Marshall Student Center Ballroom as this semester’s first speaker for the University Lecture Series.
He currently travels the world fighting for social righteousness, talking about the Black Lives Matter movement, U.S. foreign policy and humanitarianism in Africa. However, Belafonte has far more than just activism on his resume.
Belafonte was the first black performer to win to win a Tony Award in 1959, as well as the first to win an Emmy award in 1960.
Aside from his many achievements in both fields, Belafonte’s known for his open opinions on social justice and politics. In 1960, he appeared in a campaign commercial for John F. Kennedy, a presidential Democratic candidate, who then named Belafonte as a cultural adviser for the Peace Corps.
In an interview by the PBS NewsHour, Belafonte talked about the advent of his activism.
“I was an activist who became an artist and my activism really started the day of my birth, born from immigrant parents in New York City on March 1, 1927,” Belafonte said. “My mother was overwhelmed by America.”
He said his mother had come to America with hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled and that sentiment fueled his motivation to become involved with social activism.
After attending George Washington High School, he joined the Navy, fighting in World War II.
By the end of the 1940, he fell in love with acting and he started taking acting classes at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York.
“What attracted me to the arts was the fact that I saw theater as a social force, as a political force,” Belafonte said. “I kind of felt that art was a powerful tool and that’s what I should be doing with mine.”
As for his acting career, “Bright Road” was his first film role in 1953. He was also given the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in “Kansas City” in 1996.
He launched his first record label in 1949. As time passed, he began exploring new genres. He recorded blues, protest songs, Caribbean calypso, gospel, folk and show tunes. Belafonte has won many music awards throughout his life, including six gold records.
Belafonte often used his success in both fields to give his social activism more power. He was awarded the American National Medal of the Arts by the National Endowment of the Arts in Washington, D.C. in 1994. At the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California’s annual Bill of Rights Day Celebration in December 2007, Belafonte gave the keynote address and was awarded the Chief Justice Earl Warren Civil Liberties Award.
Active USF students may pre-register for tickets at usf.edu/ulsreg while supplies last. Non-USF students who wish to attend will be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis the day of the event until capacity is reached.
Check-in will begin at 5:30 p.m and doors open at 7:30 p.m.