Roland Martin talks with Harry Belafonte in an exclusive Washington Watch interview from Mr. Belafonte’s office in New York.
In this segment Mr. Belafonte expresses his profound disappointment with the what has become of the King Center and being uninvited to speak at Coretta Scott King’s funeral.
Mr. Belafonte also discusses his views about Fidel Castro and Communism.
MR. MARTIN: It’s very interesting. When I tweeted this issue – I said, “I’m going to be interviewing Harry Belafonte” – it was amazing how many people responded by saying, “Ask him how he really felt and how he feels today about being disinvited to speak at Coretta Scott King’s funeral” – somebody who he supported. He supported her husband and his family. It’s very interesting how many African-Americans across this country were offended by that invitation being pulled.
MR. BELAFONTE: The first thing I felt, beyond being stunned by the act itself – but I soon got off that – the first thing I looked at is, “Where did we fail?” It’s almost the same, exact question that I asked Nelson Mandela. “Where did we fail to pass off the baton?” “Where did the King family, where did Martin, Coretta, and the rest of us as the extended family, fail in being able to protect and to care and to help guide those kids towards another level of social” – “social embrace, social activism that would’ve made them behave differently?”
MR. BELAFONTE: And my great question was, “How did the Movement fail Dr. King and his family by not being there for those kids when they were molding and making up their ideas and what they wanted to do when their” – “when” – “when their time of maturity revealed itself?”
And I still wonder what we could’ve done differently to have them behave different – tha- —
MR. MARTIN: Are y- —
MR. BELAFONTE: — them behave dif- —
MR. MARTIN: — are you –
MR. BELAFONTE: — -ferently.
MR. MARTIN: — saddened to see the siblings fighting each other and being in court?
MR. BELAFONTE: It’s more than sad. I feel a d- — a deep sense of loss, and I feel somewhat responsible. 00:09:06
MR. MARTIN: Just recently, MLK, III, in essence, was removed as CEO of the M- — of the King Center. They put his sister Bernice in as CEO. He then stepped down the following week as president, and he s- — gave conflicting views.
While[?] reading your book, you talked about being on the board of the King Center when it was first established, and you basically said not only – it didn’t lose its way; it started off that way. And I’m a f- — I’m – I always like to go back to – when something goes wrong, can you go back to the beginning? Do you believe that that constant drama today is a result of it not having its firm roots established when it was started?
MR. BELAFONTE: Absolutely no question about it. For me, what was clear with the way in which the board was being instructed and the way in which those who controlled the environment were headed was to not only idolize Dr. King – turn him into a f- — a deity – but was to create a temple of worship where they would constantly be at the center o- — of the homage being paid. And I said, “I don’t think that’s what Martin would have wanted.”
What I saw was clearly an institution of activism rooted in the community, rooted in poverty. If you want to have a crypt, have a crypt where the poor access it very easily. Have instructions coming from the halls of – of reflection and analysis and study wi- — with scholars and what not that helps you continue the rebel cause, helps you continue the t- — the change that was meant to be by what Dr. King had done. 00:11:07
MR. BELAFONTE: I think it’s all right to give dinner parties and black-tie affairs, or give awards for the – the – the lifetime achievement and all these times[?] that we put on things. But for this moment to have not been clearly a – a place of study that prepared young minds to continue the cause of the need of the struggle was, for me, a great loss. And once I saw that there was an entire board of people – handpicked by the King family to just further their image and to further the cause of their power base, I just said, “There’s something wrong with this.” 00:11:47
. Fidel Castro. First of all, that was a very politically diplomatic answer. Fidel Castro.
MR. BELAFONTE: This whole interview is politically diplomatic.
MR. MARTIN: [Laughs.]
MR. BELAFONTE: Not just that.
MR. BELAFONTE: Fidel Castro – I thought he was a whiz. I saw in him a lotta heroics in the very beginning that was very, very attractive; because he was not the first great leader of a movement that had been called a terrorist, or that was unacceptable to the status quo. Dr. King was a “terrorist” and a “communist.” So was Nelson Mandela – was a “terrorist” and a “communist.” And as a matter of fact, it wasn’t ’til just about three years ago or so that America finally took Nelson Mandela off the – off the terrorist list for the State Department as undesirables.
MR. BELAFONTE: So, when I was a young man growing up and looking at all the rebellions that were taking place – Ho Chi Minh for the Asian people, Tom Mboya and Julius Nyerere and other people in Africa, and Mandela and – in – in – in Africa, and then you take a look at Michael Manley and people of[?] the Caribbean – he was part of a time and of a global upheaval that I found very, very – very attractive. 00:27:50
MR. BELAFONTE: I’d gone to Cuba for a long time before Fidel Castro became involved. I had a lotta Cuban musicians, a lotta friends. Hung out there with – many a weekend with Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr., to have a weekend fling in Havana when we were workin’ in Miami. So, I had a long history with Cuba and Cuba’s people. And when Fidel Castro stepped in, I was happy for us – and for the Cubans.
MR. BELAFONTE: When it began to go adrift like so much else went adrift within the communist or- —
MR. MARTIN: Right.
MR. BELAFONTE: — -der, we began to have a new set of concerns. I don’t think communism in and of itself was what went wrong. What went wrong was another flaw in – which the human race suffers from, ’cause the best that’s even in America and in our constitution was rooted in the certain kind of evil in its day, ’cause when I look at a constitution that says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal,” and you look at the minds that could create that phraseology that – that – that pushed an idea; and at the same time, these very same men were holders of slaves and cruelly subjected people to a second-class li- — life of second-class citizenry, that was an evil – something villainous.
MR. BELAFONTE: And I think that what happened with communism, what happened with the leaders – power corrupted and corrupted them to the point where they became totalitarian. They became so oppressive, that they had to eventually implode, which was what happened. And I think Fidel Castro made a lotta mistakes – but I think in the beginning, he was very heroic. 00:29:32