Interview with Harry Belafonte
QUESTION 32
INTERVIEWER:

More personal if you could, the night before--


HARRY BELAFONTE:

Dr. King had no problem with any of that. He, he clearly saw, not only that the war was immoral, unethical, unconstitutional, illegal. He also saw that since Blacks were paying the price that they were paying, the first to be drafted, the most to be drafted, the most on the front line, numerically speaking, comparatively, per capita. We were paying the biggest price for the war and all these resources were being drained away. He, his mission was very clear to him, what he had to do and should do. Ah, for the rest of us, ah, I had no problems with it. I really, I didn't have any problem from the beginning, ah, I was already a peace activist. I had already come through certain periods of history in this country from the Second World War and then into the immediate period after the war, ah, Isaac Woodard and the Blacks who were being murdered and, and maimed, coming back as returning heroes from the Second World War and then going through the McCarthy period and having the FBI on my case then and Blacklisting me and all that kind of stuff. By the time I got to Dr. King I had, I was somewhat seasoned to much of this already so in a way because of this background, because of this history, a, along with others, Dr. King was able to find, ah, important areas to, to air his, his, his feelings, ah, where he found people who were sensitive to what he had to say and supportive of it. Ah, after the speech at Riverside, ah, there was, there was a lot of haggling before that by many who didn't want him to do it. Ah, obviously those who wanted him to do it on the moral persuasive, some factors were far more--





HARRY BELAFONTE:

Clearly that group was, was, was more persuasive, that position was more. I think the first that I heard after the Riverside speech, of anything that really and truly disturbed Dr. King were two articles that came out in the Editorial of the New York Times and the Washington Post, both newspapers were scathing in their denunciation of Dr. King, the Washington Post in particular was really quite aggressive in its language and, ah, it, it, it, it sought to discredit Dr. King on every level. It didn't take issue with him just on the war. It called him I, I, I'm trying to recall the article but it, but it said as much, this incompetent leader has now gone further in his incompetence, that kind of language. And, ah, the New York Times was not too far behind in the way it framed its denunciation of Dr. King on this issue. Ah, so much so, that later on, ah, when other publications came out, ah, ah, also taking Dr. King to the, to the mat, Dr. King was not so much concerned about what those articles said about him personally as it was what they would do to the mood of the movement, that this was not just a criticism as to a point of view on the war, it now sought to discredit him in very profound ways, leaving nothing intact that suggested the movement was, was the correct thing to, to be happening. In other words, if you don't agree with me on the issue of Vietnam, why kill the Civil Rights Movement and, and, and all of those issues that had been raised, so there is a dimension that you don't agree with. But when he saw it connected to the movement itself and all that was coming and, and appeared to be somewhat prophetic from the point of view of Roy Wilkins and others, he--was quite vulnerable to that and I, and I'll never forget at a meeting, Stan [Levenson] was there and everyone, I said to him, I said, what fascinates me is your, you're, you are deeply rooted in, in the bible, you're deeply rooted in the Christian, in the Christian, ah, theology, ah, it is the essence of much that you use to define where you go. How do you see yourself out of step with Jesus if you expect your utterances to be approved of by those who are the directors of vested interests in all that goes on in the world. There's a whole misappropriation here. I don't mind your being upset and I don't mind your ready to take on all the, the adversaries but you can't be wilted by this kind of language because you, why do you have expectations of the Washington Post or the New York Times, ah, who clearly have a role in all of this, that is, when exercised in many ways, is not to the best interest of poor people anywhere. I mean they are the moneyed class. They are the people who, who stand to gain much from our failure or our successes. They will play the game according to those interests. And, that kind of approach to him in resolving his pain with this stuff, worked. Ah, he began to call upon his own resources to define what was going on and not see himself isolated or a person who saw himself connected to a host of people who have ever taken that kind of position in history, leading movements who pay that price.