Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics

By Steven J. Ross | Go to book overview

5
POLITICS IN BLACK AND WHITE:
HARRY BELAFONTE

When Harry Belafonte walked into the basement of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church in March 1956, little did he suspect that his life was about to change. Politicized several years earlier by Paul Robeson and W. E. B. Du Bois, Hollywood’s hottest black star was suspicious of pompous black leaders who had failed to support his outspoken radical mentors. Yet, the young minister he met that day asked him to risk everything on behalf of his political beliefs. After recounting the progress of the Montgomery Bus Boycott launched on December 1, 1955, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quietly told the twenty-nine-year-old actor, “We are caught up in a struggle that will not leave us. … I have no idea where it’s going, and I don’t quite know why I’ve been anointed to play the role I’m playing, but I accept it … and I’d like to ask you if you will serve in this mission as an ally to my needs.”1

Meeting King was like being hit by a bolt of lightning. Impressed by the Reverend’s humility and steely determination, the young radical agreed to help. Over the next twelve years, Belafonte often put his career on hold to serve as the civil rights movement’s leading fundraiser and one of King’s closest confidants. Together, the two men fought to change race relations in America.

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