“Sad to say I’m on my way
Won’t be back for many a day
My heart is down
My head is turning around
I had to leave a little girl in Kingston town” (“Jamaica Farewell” by Harry Belafonte)
As Harry bid his farewell on Tuesday, April 25, 2023 at the age of 96. He did not just “leave a little girl in Kingston town,” but rather, he left behind many faces with smiles turned upside down.
Harry Belafonte’s legacy extends far beyond his contributions to the arts. A tireless advocate for civil rights, human rights, and social justice, he used his fame to bring attention to these issues throughout his life. He joined the fight against racial inequality by participating in anti-apartheid demonstrations and dedicating an entire album, “Paradise in Gazankulu,” in 1988 to the struggles of Africans living in South Africa during apartheid. As a staunch supporter of the Civil Rights Movement and ally of Martin Luther King Jr., he also raised funds to free MLK and other freedom fighters who got arrested for their activism in 1963.
Belafonte’s contribution to the advancement of social justice in the Caribbean must not be forgotten. Through songs like “Banana Boat (Day-O),” which became an anthem for Caribbean dockworkers and highlighted the exploitation of workers in the banana industry, Belafonte advocated for social justice and brought awareness to under-reported issues in society.
In acknowledgement of his priceless contributions to arts and culture, as well as his fight against the socio-political issues affecting members of the African community, The University of the West Indies, Mona, awarded Belafonte an honorary LLD degree in 1996. This award was particularly meaningful to him because of his strong ties to the country and his humble beginnings. Despite a limited formal education, Belafonte rose to become one of the most celebrated performers of his time, using his platform to advocate for equality and the upliftment of members and descendants of the African community and other groups.
Harry Belafonte has left an indelible mark on our society, serving as an exemplary figure for artists and activists across generations. His legacy and spirit will never be forgotten.