Actor, singer and activist Harry Belafonte accepted the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal on Friday night in New York City for outstanding achievement by an African American in 2012. Reprising a powerful speech he delivered at the NAACP Image Awards on February 1 in Los Angeles, he urged Black America, especially its artists, to get involved in the ongoing fight for social and economic justice, particularly in the areas of gun and prison reform, and eradicating poverty.
Asking for leadership while calling out the names of his mentors, his inspirers, those he cited as his moral compass, “W.E.B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, Bobby Kennedy, Ms. Constance Rice and perhaps for me, most of all, Paul Robeson,” he honored their names and others like them as “The men and women who spoke up to remedy the ills of the nation.”
He elaborated on the role the accomplished singer, actor, athlete, and activist Robeson played in inspiring his own work as an artist/activist.
“For me, Mr. Robeson, was the sparrow. He was an artist who made those of us in the arts understand the depth of that calling when he said, ‘Artists are the gatekeepers of truth. We are civilization’s radical voice.'”
Belafonte continued with his own inspiring message to America’s next freedom singers. “Never in the history of black America has there be such a harvest of truly gifted and powerfully celebrated artists. Yet, our nation hungers for their radical song. In the field of sports, our presence dominates. In the landscape of corporate power we have more of a presence of captains and leaders of industry than we have ever known. Yet, we suffer still from abject poverty and moral malnutrition.”
He suggested as a solution, that what’s missing in the struggle for justice today is radical thought. “America keeps that part of the discourse mute,” he claimed.
“I would make an appeal to the NAACP as the oldest institution in our quest for dignity and human rights that they stimulate more fully the concept and the need for radical thinking…Unless Black America raises its voice loud and clear…America will never become whole, and America will never become what it dreams to be, until we are truly free.”
Here is the speech in its entirety from today’s broadcast of Democracy Now.
Read more on Harry Belafonte, Paul Robeson and singing for justice in Keep on Pushing