The Jamaican government has announced plans to honor Jamaican-American Singer and Civil Rights Activist Harry Belafonte for his work as a humanitarian and activist across the diaspora.
In a message to mark Belafonte’s 95th birthday on March 1, Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced that one of the country’s highways would be renamed in his honor.
“As we celebrate with Harry Belafonte his 95 years, the Government and people of Jamaica…. in this our 60th year of Independence… will name one of our highways after our Titan, in his honor and in recognition of the long road to freedom Harry Belafonte has traversed on behalf of our people,” the Prime Minister said.
He pointed out that Belafonte “is an icon whose pristine voice, soaring melodies, and music on the global stage, magically matched the rhythm and power of his stride in the march for equal rights, justice, and empowerment.
In saluting his 95 years, the Prime Minister said, “Harry Belafonte’s fierce defense of the dignity and integrity of our people has inspired us to make our own commitment to the struggle towards the fuller, mental freedom asserted by Garvey.”
Referring to Belafonte as a humanitarian and an activist, he said his unflinching stance for the upliftment of the Black race must be celebrated.
“His has been a constant voice against racial prejudice not only in the United States of America but in South Africa and anywhere in the world that injustice reared its ugly head,” he declared.
Prime Minister Holness also said that over the years, Belafonte “decried colonial oppression and has given a life of service to the campaign for the elimination of chronic poverty and disease, under-education, and economic hardships.”
He said the name “Harry Belafonte” is forever affectionately associated with uniting artists, philanthropists, and businessmen in the cause for African redemption. The very well-known USA for Africa was one of his initiatives.
“Harry Belafonte has walked with kings and presidents yet has never lost the common touch. From Jamaica to Rwanda to Kenya to Senegal, he has given voice to the voiceless and hope to the downtrodden,” Holness added.
Harry Belafonte was born in Harlem, New York, to Jamaican parents. From 1932 to 1940, he lived with one of his grandmothers in Jamaica, where he attended Wolmer’s Schools.
He launched his musical career in the late 1940s. His breakthrough album Calypso (1956) became the first LP in the world “to sell over 1 million copies within a year. It also earned him the title of “Calypso King.” Some of his well-known songs included the “Banana Boat Song” (listed as “Day-O” on the Calypso LP) and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Belafonte eventually began recording in different genres of music and ultimately branched out into acting. He was also involved in the fight for civil rights throughout his career.
As one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s confidants, he provided financially for King’s family. During the 1963 Birmingham Campaign, he bailed King out of Birmingham City Jail and raised $50,000 to release other civil rights protesters. He also financed the 1961 Freedom Rides, supported voter registration drives, and helped to organize the 1963 March on Washington.