Harry Belafonte, who died of congestive heart failure on April 26 at the age of 96, remained true to his Jamaican heritage, and those in the country and Diaspora are honoring a son of Jamaica.
Mr. Belafonte is remembered by Nation of Islam Student Minister Abdul Waliuallah Muhammad of Mosque Number 8 in San Diego, who was born in Jamaica, as one of the first Blacks from the Caribbean to have made it on the national scene. But he is remembered also as a fighter for freedom, justice, and equality, he told The Final Call.
“Of course, Harry Belafonte has won not only the love in our hearts because of the movies and being a singer and the things that he has done, but really, because of our leader, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, and how he has endeared us to Harry Belafonte, and his struggle not only to help the oppressed in Jamaica and throughout the world, and America, but also his work in the civil rights movement,” said Student Minister Muhammad.
“And that statement that was made where Dr. (Martin Luther) King said to Brother Belafonte, ‘ … I have come to believe that we are integrating into a burning house,’ I think of him not just as a singer or one that is an entertainer. But I think of him as a freedom fighter and one who fought and was a pioneer in many areas and was not afraid to stand up and represent the principles of justice that we now stand up with as an example that we have in the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan. His closeness with Brother Harry was also a great thing that got me looking more into his greatness,” continued Student Minister Muhammad.
Jamaicans and other citizens of Caribbean nations expressed their sentiments and reflections on one of their greats.
“Today, our nation mourns the loss of a treasured icon, Harry Belafonte. Harry Belafonte was a barrier-breaking singer, actor, and activist who used his talent and platform to promote social justice and equality for all,” tweeted Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
“He was a true ambassador for Jamaica and Jamaican culture, using his fame to highlight our beautiful island. Representing the best of our culture and values, his music and activism touched the hearts and minds of people globally,” said Prime Minister Holness.
He added that Mr. Belafonte was not only a talented artist but also a fearless activist who dedicated his life to the struggle for civil rights and social justice. He was a trailblazer who paved the way for generations of artists and activists to come, and his legacy will live on, the prime minister added.
“On behalf of the people of Jamaica, I extend our deepest condolences to Harry Belafonte’s family and loved ones. We will never forget his contributions to our country and the world, & we will continue to honour his memory,” concluded Prime Minister Holness.
Mark Golding, MP Leader of the Opposition and president of the Peoples National Party (PNP) in Jamaica, expressed how deeply Mr. Belafonte will be missed, in an April 25 press release.
Harry Belafonte was born Harold George Bellanfanti Jr. on March 1, 1927, at Lying-in Hospital in Harlem, New York City, the son of Jamaican-born parents Harold George Bellanfanti Sr. and Melvine Love.
Mr. Belafonte wore his heritage born of his Jamaican mother proudly, and this was a great source of inspiration to him throughout his life, according to a statement issued by the PNP. It joined with all Jamaicans and the world in mourning the passing of “this extraordinary son of the soil and celebrating his remarkable life and legacy,” stated Mr. Golding.
The PNP highlighted that the beloved singer, songwriter and actor brought the music and culture of the Caribbean to the world, with songs, such as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song),” “Jamaica Farewell,” “Island in the Sun,” and, film performances such as “Carmen Jones,” that continue to be enjoyed by people around the world today.
“Harry Belafonte was a tireless advocate for civil rights and a staunch opponent of racism, inequality, and oppression. His contributions to the fight against Apartheid in South Africa and his advocacy for the rights of the marginalized will forever be remembered. Rest in Peace to a true son of Jamaica,” stated Mr. Golding.
Members of the Jamaican diaspora in the United States and abroad joined the chorus that paid tribute to the late Mr. Belafonte.
Award-winning actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, who is of Jamaican descent, expressed her sentiments on Twitter and Instagram. “We lost a true Jamaican American hero today,” she posted on Instagram. “Harry Belafonte was so many things and a supportive mentor and role model to me.
I thank him for the love and support he gave to me and my children over the years. My love and prayers to the Belafonte family. He will be deeply missed.” On Twitter, she wrote, “Mr. Belafonte was always very supportive of my voice as an entertainer and activist saying ‘When used properly, you will help many.’”
Olivia “Babsy” Grange is former Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture in Jamaica. “He was a voice, face and inspiration for black people everywhere. I feel this loss,” she stated in part on Twitter.
Jamaican artist Nadine Sutherland expressed via Twitter, “For many young black girls in my age group, across the world, we crushed hard on Harry Belafonte. He was a gorgeous man. He lit up any screen with elegance and dignity. Didn’t even realize that some of the movies were ‘old’ when we saw them in Jamaica. Soar mighty ancestor!”
She added, “A gate opener for the introduction of Caribbean Culture in the mainstream. Thankful how u used your platform for the upliftment of the African descendants during the civil rights movements. We honor you, your shoulders we stand on. Soar into the ancestral realms Harry Belafonte.”
He has been described as a true son of Jamaica who never lost his commitment to the country and the broader Caribbean region, according to The Gleaner, the English language morning daily founded in Kingston, Jamaica.
“All Jamaicans will mourn his passing. He did so much not only on the international scene but also for Jamaica,” stated former New York City Councilwoman Una Clarke, to The Gleaner.
According to the publication,Ms. Clarke said she worked very closely with the music and civil rights icon and that he supported Jamaica and Jamaica’s causes in many ways. “Harry Belafonte never strayed from his roots and took on causes that sought to uplift black people around the world,” she said.
According to Lester Hinds, Gleanerwriter, Rev. Dr. Karen Green, vice chair of the Florida Democratic Party, said that Mr. Belafonte never forgot his roots and gave back to Jamaica. She recalled his performing at a concert in Brown’s Town in aid of the Jamaica Movement for the Advancement of Literacy (JAMAL).
Karl Rodney, who worked with Mr. Belafonte on the American Foundation for the University of the West Indies (AFUWI), Jamaica and the wider Caribbean were always in his thoughts, wrote Mr. Hinds. “He had a real commitment to his roots,” he quoted Mr. Rodney as stating. Mr. Rodney also spoke of Mr. Belafonte’s involvement in the Caribbean Multi Business Conference, traveling to various Caribbean countries to promote business between the countries.
“He was committed to Caribbean integration and worked to achieve this however he could,” Mr. Rodney said, reported Mr. Hinds.
Dr. Robert Clarke, immediate past president of the National Association of Jamaican and Supportive Organizations, feels that the government of Jamaica should honor Mr. Belafonte’s memory with a Jamaica Day event in recognition of all that he has done for Jamaica locally as well as on the international scene, continued The Gleaner.
“Harry Belafonte put Jamaica on the map long before the coming of others and he was not shy about proclaiming his Jamaican heritage,” said Dr. Clarke.
—Charlene Muhammad, National Correspondent
Final Call staff contributed to this report