Why is the Mass GOP attacking Harry Belafonte?

I'd think that the Mass. GOP's modest resources would be better directed to explaining why Scott Brown deserves reelection, rather than why Elizabeth Warren is an America-hating baby-eating radical. But who can argue with the Mass. GOP's incredible record of success in recent years? Oh wait... - promoted by david

On Wednesday, the Massachusetts Republican Party launched an attack on Harry Belafonte, who appeared Thursday night at a fundraiser for Elizabeth Warren. State GOP executive director Nate Little called Belafonte’s views “extreme,” “repugnant,” and “anti-American.” State GOP chairman Bob Maginn echoed that attack Thursday, calling Belafonte’s views “extreme and outrageous.”

That’s strong language to use against a beloved patriot and civil rights legend of Harry Belafonte’s stature.

Harry Belafonte has indeed said things that people might or might not agree with, like in 2006 when he called President Bush “the world’s greatest terrorist.” But, as Steve Hurley of the ACLU of Massachusetts says of the controversy Belafonte sometimes stirs up, “how could one agitate for social change and equal justice for more than half a century without doing so?”

To be perfectly honest, one important reason that the ACLU of Massachusetts cares about this controversy now is that we plan to give Harry Belafonte our Roger Baldwin Award—our highest honor, named for the ACLU’s Massachusetts-born founder—at our annual Bill of Rights Dinner on May 22. And, of course, we would love it if you were there.

But there’s another reason: Harry Belafonte, in addition to his tremendously successful career as a musician, is a hero. Calling out Nate Little, Steve Hurley writes:

Perhaps Mr. Little is unaware of Harry Belafonte’s record of courage and leadership in the struggle for equality in our country? Maybe he doesn’t know that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., called Belafonte’s popularity and commitment “a key ingredient to the global struggle for freedom and a powerful tactical weapon in the civil rights movement here in America.” Quite possibly he’s unaware that Belafonte served our country in the U.S. Navy and as an advisor to the Peace Corps, or that he became only the second American to be appointed as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. He may not know that Belafonte’s activism has reached far past our borders, to include setting in motion the events that led to the “We Are the World” benefit for African famine relief, and serving as a leader of the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa and to free his friend, Nelson Mandela.

And that’s not even all. On March 29, 1960, the New York Times ran a full-page ad called “Heed Their Rising Voices,” an appeal to support the civil rights movement, co-written and signed by Harry Belafonte. Through a series of events and lawsuits, that ad led to a landmark Supreme Court decision in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, which revolutionized libel law and paved the way for expanded news coverage of the civil rights struggle. In the words of Justice William Brennan, the ruling ensured discussion of public issues that is “robust, uninhibited, and wide open.” We are all the beneficiaries.

Anyone who can look at Harry Belafonte’s lifetime of work and sum it up as “extreme,” “repugnant,” or “dangerous” needs to take a look inside themselves. Harry Belafonte is not “anti-American.” Harry Belafonte is a great American.

Christopher Ott is communications director for the ACLU of Massachusetts.


24 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. I think it was the place where he said it that gets people going

    He was bashing our country (via our President at the time) in a country where their President has been hostile to us, and then went on to praise something (the Chavez “revolution”) that I think if most Americans knew the details they would not support. At the very least it’s impolite.

    I’m trying to think of a parallel (where someone went to another country who is not fond of the US and bashed Obama) but can’t think of one. If anyone finds one, please post, and I’ll comment.

    updated 1/8/2006 8:54:58 PM ET 2006-01-09T01:54:58
    +-CARACAS, Venezuela — The American singer and activist Harry Belafonte called President Bush “the greatest terrorist in the world” on Sunday and said millions of Americans support the socialist revolution of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

    Belafonte led a delegation of Americans including the actor Danny Glover and the Princeton University scholar Cornel West that met the Venezuelan president for more than six hours late Saturday. Some in the group attended Chavez’s television and radio broadcast Sunday.

    No matter what the greatest tyrant in the world, the greatest terrorist in the world, George W. Bush says, we’re here to tell you: Not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people … support your revolution,” Belafonte told Chavez during the broadcast.


    • I doubt millions of American people

      even know who Hugo Chavez is.

      That said, Belafonte has a long history of political activism. He was friends with and was mentored by Paul Robeson who was either a Communist or a fellow traveler. Prior to the 1950s, many African Americans found support for civil rights among the hard left.

      Good luck to the GOP playing this hand. They better hope for three 7′s on the flop.

    • Speaking truth is not "bashing"

      Calling George W. Bush a “terrorist” comes closer to telling the truth than to “bashing”. The fact that our government has remained unwilling to prosecute Mr. Bush (and Richard Cheney) for the war crimes his administration committed does not change the reality that Mr. Bush formally and personally endorsed policies of kidnapping, abuse, and torture. Most Americans will never know “the details” of the Chavez revolution because our media will not report them — this is the point Mr. Belafonte was making in 2006. The record of America in South and Central America is not pretty, and the “anti-American” rhetoric you offer is itself a distraction from the ugly facts of our long and dark history in the region.

      Dr. King was not well-loved during his lifetime — he was branded “anti-American” by large segments of the “conservative” (itself a euphemism for “racist”) public during his life. Harassing Dr. King was a personal obsession with former director of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover. Mr. Belafonte, like Dr. King, is a hero who speaks truth to (white) power — that strikes me as the primary “offense” that draws fire from the racist right wing.

      The fact that you resurrect and then distort a six year old “story” reporting one of the many appearances Mr. Belefonte made during his lifetime of activism is striking to me, particularly when you so casually ignore the context and time when the event occurred.

      Mr. Belafonte is a hero, and the ACLU rightly honors him. The attacks on Mr. Belafonte from the Massachusetts GOP only underlines, again, the racism that lies just underneath the surface of Massachusetts politics. Scott Brown has a terrible record and offers a terrible vision of the future. It is no accident, therefore, that he and the Massachusetts GOP attempt to distract the focus from that record and “vision” by raising yet again the specter of an “uppity negro”. It fits right in with their attempted (and failing) attacks on Elizabeth Warren as an “elitist” — their sexism, like their racism, similarly lies just underneath the surface of their campaign.

  2. I just want to point out that I made no strong statements in my post

    I only termed it “impolite.” If you want to put a harsher tone on bashing (note: I have been “bashing” Fenway on occassion of its 100th birthday, because I think the park sucks) than “commenting harshly” I can’t help it.

    That you, Tom, could take that all the way to rascist is a stretch, but I’m pretty familiar now with your world view (and view of me) so whatever.

    I got this story by going to Google News and typing in “Belafonte” and “Bush” and this came up. Complain to Google about their algorythms.

    I’m not sure how old you are but I lived through the 60′s and the Civil Rights era and that history has been re-written a couple of times already.

    • Noted.

      Aside from Belafonte’s word choice, I agree with Tom.

    • I made no attack on you

      The animus against Harry Belafonte is because he dares speak out against the racism so prevalent in America. I did not attack you, beyond suggesting that I found it striking that you chose this episode to highlight and characterized it the way you did.

      But I digress. I did not accuse YOU of being racist. I wrote, instead, that the Scott Brown campaign is pandering to the racism of its intended audience by hoping to distract them from Scott Brown’s horrific record and vision.

      Mr. Belafonte is not running for office. You and the Massachusetts GOP would do well to bear that in mind.

      • Overstatement

        At least some of the animus against Mr. Belafonte seems to be because of his support for authoritarian and repressive regimes in Cuba and, to a degree, in Venezuela.

        I say “to a degree, in Venezuela” because, as far as I know, he made his public support for that regime in early 2006, and it can be reasonably argued that Chavez did not begin his drift into more blatant repressive authoritarianism until later than that.

        • I was optimistic about

          Chavez at first, even at the expense of democracy. But he’s turned out to be an authoritarian clown.

          If Cubans had emigrated to North Dakota, instead of Florida, we would be over Cuba and Castro.

    • Oh, and by the way ...

      I turn 60 this year, and I grew up in a MD suburb of DC. I, too, lived through the 60s and the Civil Rights era. I’m not sure I know what you mean about re-writing that history, but I’m quite sure that Dr. King was reviled by conservatives during that time.

      • Complete disclosure:

        I turn 48. Tom, I thought you were younger. You must be very young at heart.

        • Thanks ...

          I was more conservative when I was younger. Certain patterns in the larger world take a lifetime to recognize. I feel fortunate that I think I’ve retained enough innocence (as opposed to naivete) to recognize those patterns together with enough courage to speak out about them.

          I learned, through decades of experience, to trust my heart and gut as well as my mind. I also learned to focus on truth (sometimes as opposed to “facts”).

          A certain freedom comes with advanced age.

  3. Could this be the reason?

    Belafonte is a known Muppet sympathizer.

  4. He shouldn't have called Bush a terrorist...

    …but no campaign should be expected to so thoroughly vet someone that they have to account for everything that person has ever said.

  5. Now I am just making trouble, but

    Mr. Belafonte has a series of unfortunate quotes, including callig Secs of State Powell and Rice “house slaves.”

    In Wikipedi there is a picture of Belafonte and Sidney Poirtier, and with them is noted civil rights activist Charleton Heston.

    Jackie Chan was also a United Nations Goodwill ambassador, as was Rickey Martin.

  6. I never said you were making an attack on me

    You really need to read my posts before taking issue.

    Let me guess, you grew up here in quiet Boston.

    Try talking to someone from Detroit or Chicago about the 60′s.

    • Reading instead of guessing

      You wrote (emphasis mine):

      That you, Tom, could take that all the way to rascist is a stretch, but I’m pretty familiar now with your world view (and view of me) so whatever.

      I apologize for any misunderstanding, I was responding to the above.

      Funny that you ask me to read your posts before taking issue. In a second response just below the one you responded to, I wrote that I grew up in a Maryland suburb of DC.

      Washington DC was anything but “quiet” during the period we’re discussing. I was there during the civil rights actions, during the anti-war actions, and everything else. I was there for the inaugural parades of several presidents. I witnessed, first-hand, the silent procession that moved JFK’s body from the White House to the Capital. I stood in line and then stood at his casket in the Capital rotunda. I watched his funeral procession pass by.

      I moved to “quiet Boston” in 1974. The insidious racism I witnessed here (Pixie Palladino, school busing, the rest) was as bad or worse than anything I experienced in DC.

  7. Is it just me,

    or has the MA Republican party decided to act like the national party in an effort to energize themselves and gain traction against the dominant Democratic party? Nasty works to an extent, but how much are MA voters going to take to Republican candidates who sounds more and more like those crazies infesting the national party? It’s this nasty public persona that turns me off to them, almost as much as their policy positions (anti, anti, anti).

    • I think the stupidity of the

      Mass GOP’s moves has to do with believing in the national party stuff. It’s in their nature. They believe in this stuff. They follow the national Republicans as models. Some of them surely have some sort of national aspirations.

      As Don John says in Much Ado About Nothing,

      “I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace, in this, though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain. If I had my mouth, I would bite; if I had my liberty, I would do my liking: in the meantime let me be that I am and seek not to alter me.”

      I suppose that there’s an argument to be made that if the Mass GOP was less Sean Bielat and more Dan Winslow, they’d make more inroads in the Commonwealth, but I don’t place much value on cross-party advice, and that goes for me giving it as well as receiving it.

    • No, it is at least you and Governor Romney

      An odd campaign season. Apart from ‘Romneycare’, His Excellency’s Mass. connection is hardly ever mentioned. And yet that governorship is the man’s whole political record.

      On the third hand, it’s not as if Mittens will carry Massachusetts in the fall.

      It feels to me rather as if the Master of Seamus had stayed in Québec and run for POTUS from there.

      Happy days.

  8. Assumption of rationality

    The article assumes that Republicans are rational. The current crop of Republicans have shown that they are not. To treat them as rational and try to reason with them is futile. The best strategy is to mobilize sane people and crush the Republicans. If people voted their economic interests and not out of fear and bigotry, virtually no Republican would be elected to any office. It is the job of the Democrats to put forth decent candidates and point out how the Republicans are screwing this country up (and also to pressure Obama and his minions to NOT act like Republicans).

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