Two leading black liberals distanced themselves from entertainer Harry Belafonte's description of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell as a "house slave" of President Bush.
In interviews with The Washington Times, Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, and the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York City expressed their support of Mr. Powell.
"Ninety percent of the black community wish that Harry Belafonte would have felt it and not said it," said Mr. Rangel, New York Democrat. "Blacks love anybody who is achieving. The fact is that Mr. Belafonte's [comments] are not the consensus — and you don't get any more partisan than me. People are fond of Colin Powell."
Mr. Belafonte last month called Mr. Powell a "house slave" for working in the Bush administration and later said that National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was the same, "but more so."
Mr. Sharpton declined to criticize Mr. Belafonte explicitly, but said he thought Mr. Belafonte "could have chosen different language" in the assessment of Mr. Powell. "I respect Colin Powell's achievements," Mr. Sharpton said.
The statements were the first from the liberal black leadership to support Mr. Powell. "I am friends with them both," Mr. Rangel said. "And this was something that, if Harry would have said that to Colin at a party, Colin would have just laughed. But it was made into a national story.
"Colin Powell is a military guy, and he doesn't care who he works for, he just salutes," Mr. Rangel continued. "And he does it so well that he is respected by the commander in chief."
In an Oct. 8 radio interview in San Diego, Mr. Belafonte said: "There's an old saying, in the days of slavery, there were those slaves who lived on the plantation and were those slaves that lived in the house. You got the privilege of living in the house if you served the master exactly the way the master intended to have you serve him.
"Colin Powell's committed to come into the house of the master. When Colin Powell dares to suggest something other than what the master wants to hear, he will be turned back out to pasture."
Rep. John Conyers Jr., a black Michigan Democrat, told cnsnews.com that he agrees with Mr. Belafonte. "I have been reading and rereading what [Mr. Belafonte] said and I am trying to find where there is something inaccurate about what he said, and I can't find it. Do I agree with the [slavery] analogy? Yes, completely."
Following Mr. Belafonte's remarks, Miss Rice was disinvited as keynote speaker at an Oct. 24 Africare dinner at which Mr. Belafonte was the guest of honor. She was replaced by former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young.
Africare representatives cited a scheduling conflict. Miss Rice's office did not return calls.
Africare is a tax-exempt agency that listed $59 million in assets and $23 million in government grants for tax year 2001. The organization's corporate sponsors include Coca-Cola, ChevronTexaco, DaimlerChrysler and Exxon Mobil.
Some blacks protested the Africare dinner, and there is lingering resentment about the Belafonte comments. That animosity is predicted to extend to some black Democrats.
"Some will not even bother to vote on Tuesday in protest of these comments," said Armstrong Williams, a columnist and a commentator on Black Entertainment Television's "Lead Story" news program. "Many blacks — Democrats and Republicans — are embarrassed by those attacks on Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell," Mr. Williams said. "President Bush has appointed two of the most powerful blacks in history. This is what is getting the attention of these younger black voters."