There may be no “Day-O”-ing or dishing when Harry Belafonte comes to town.
The legendary performer, who has evolved into a tireless activist, will appear at the Moore Theatre Saturday. The 85-year-old is taking every moment he can to talk about the State of Things — the leaders he sees as cowards, the wasted chances to make this a fair and just country, with equal rights for everyone. Saturday’s event is just such an occasion.
It makes sense that Belafonte is appearing just before Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The late civil-rights icon was a friend, and their private talks and public acts stay with Belafonte to this day.
“None of it, not one iota of it has ever left me,” Belafonte said the other day from his home in New York City. “I call on memories of conversations that we had, I call on that reservoir quite frequently. It has given me a sense of purpose.”
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Belafonte remains steadfast in his fight for civil and human rights, from racial profiling in the American justice system to equal rights for women and help for the poor.
“Once you have been anointed that way, you stay that way,” Belafonte said of his civl-rights work. “It’s a constant, it’s a way of life.”
Belafonte has opinions about just about everyone, and, emboldened by both his age and his experience, has no qualms about taking on the highest offices.
He called former Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Gen. Colin Powell “house slaves” for not standing up to former President George W. Bush on his decision to send American troops to Iraq.
“I stand by what I said,” Belafonte said. “Any time a citizen looks upon the miscarriage of justice, that person has a moral obligation to speak against it.”
President Obama “didn’t have the moral courage” to deal with the poor, Belafonte said, nor did he act on the racial profiling that has contributed to the growth of the American prison population.
“I don’t think he took the helm in terms of civil justice,” Belafonte added of Obama. “But maybe this young man has a better plan, maybe how you old cockers did it is antiquated. Maybe his way of dealing with the hounds of corruption, to get to these guys, is the way he’s doing it.
“My task is to help him achieve it, not to bury him.”
Belafonte sounds like he could take on anything, despite the rasp in his voice and the occasional, ragged cough.
“My health is being seriously challenged by the ravages of age,” he said. “I just look at it as a passing fancy, as inevitable, and just get on with living.”
At home in New York with his third wife, Belafonte stays busy doing cultural seminars for the health-care-workers union (1199SIEU) and regularly attends the theater. “Grace,” with Ed Asner. Tony Shalhoub in Clifford Odets’ “Golden Boy.”
There is just no resting for Belafonte.
“I look for new mischief every day,” he cracked, adding that his mother made him that way. “She constantly kept us in trouble, over women’s issues and race issues and labor issues and her coming-from-the-islands issues. She was tenacious in her pursuit of social justice and she was not an educated woman, so she lived with a great sense of instinct.
“She was always engaged, and that rubbed off on her children,” he added. “As much as I disliked her, she was very much in my life. She was a pain in the ass.”
Nicole Brodeur: 206-464-2334 or firstname.lastname@example.org