Interview with Harry Belafonte

Did you ever have an incident or memory or something where you, you tried to tell people the urgency with which you felt, when you had access to power because of who you were for a minute? Do you remember any event?


Most of my visits to the White House and certainly my visits to the Justice Department under Bobby Kennedy more often in that vein, were more often to the objectives of trying to get them to focus on where we were going and what we were doing and what we were aspiring to and to try to find the, the commonality. What was good for the government and for the politics of what they had to do and how they had to do it mixed in with what the movement was demanding and had to do and where it had to go and how do you make, how do you make it fit? How do you make everybody come off successfully in it? And obviously that meant compromise in, in a lot of, of ways. The government had to compromise. The Kennedys certainly had to find moments of compromise. And so did the movement. One time in particular was because of the FBI and because of the great distrust, justifiable, that we all had of government and what they were doing, was the concern about the draft and was particularly sensitive for SNCC. Because throughout the South, where many of the people in SNCC held residence, they were concerned about the fact that they would become draft-able very, very immediately. And that even if they qualified or didn't qualify they would be drafted as an instrument of removing leadership from the field and that this was at best, ah, ah, hurtful to our cause and at worst it was a misuse of government power. Ah, and sensing that this was taking place and was a great consideration on the part of certain States and certain Governors and certain, the draft boards in certain areas that were run by, by racists. Ah, I had to take to Bobby Kennedy this information to ask that there be an intervention so that the very thing which was important to the White House, which was voter registration, because how sensitive they had become to the fact that Black votes were very key to the future of this country and certainly to the future of the Democratic Party from that moment on. Because the White oligarchy had been seriously broken by the Kennedy victory. The way to yield and to get rid of all those people who bottled up our committees by seniority was by getting the Black vote. It was very, very crucial and terribly important to the Democratic Party and excruciatingly important to the Kennedys. So that in the name of this, these leaders, these young heroes that were in there doing their job, if they were co-opted by the draft and taken out and what not, ah, who would do this work? And, ah, it was very sensitive position for Bobby Kennedy to be in. First of all, he couldn't intervene because how could you meddle in the draft and give a sense of pref--preferential treatment. It was clearly illegal. And, ah, certainly from a political point of view it was a terribly sensitive, ah, place to be in.