It was painful to sit through and disturbing to see the incredible affection that was showered on Belafonte--not only from the adoring audience, but from university officials and even the Mayor of Durham, who lovingly furnished Belafonte with a key to the city.
The event was held in the Duke Chapel, which seats about 1600 people. Every seat was filled plus about 200 more people sitting or standing. Many in attendance where adults from the Durham community, but there were certainly a fair number of students there as well.
The event began and ended with prayer, both denominational and non-denominational, and several other speakers preceded Belafonte. first up was the Dean of the Chapel, Reverend Samuel Wells, who said how "Particularly proud I am to welcome Harry Belafonte," described the occasion as "celebratory," and praised Belafonte's "willingness to call people's attention to important issues."
President Brodhead was the second to speak, said that it was a "great honor to welcome you to our Martin Luther King Commemoration" and made remarks about King's legacy and the continuing need for social justice, referencing unequal healthcare and unequal education.
Brodhead was followed by Pamela-Sutton Wallace, the Chief of Staff for the Chancellor for Health Affairs. She talked about how we've responded to injustice "selectively" and "with bias" or for "political advantage." It quickly became clear whom she was referring to when the example she gave to
prove her point was Katrina.
Next was the Provost of the University, Peter Lange. He expressed his privilege to be on the same podium as Belafonte and went on to first praise Belafonte's music and then his activism, saying that Belafonte "continues to respond to the themes that are Dr. King's Legacy." I wasn't sure whether he
was referring to Belafonte's lifelong support for Communist causes and dictatorships Belafonte's belief that black people like Secretary of States Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice are "house slaves," or his deranged hatred of George Bush. Or all three.
Following Provost Lange was the Mayor of Durham, who was the most effusive in his praise. Addressing the MLK Committee, he said that he was "especially pleased you've invited Harry Belafonte to give the Keynote Speech." As though that weren't enough, he astonishingly added, "I can't think of a more appropriate person to be they keynote speaker," and continued "especially with what's going on in the world." He thanked the Committee for having the "fortitude" and "foresight" to invite Belafonte.
Having him, he remarked, was "truly an honor." It was at this point that he gave a beaming Belafonte a key to the city, which was followed by thunderous applause from the audience. He concluded by thanking Belafonte for this "frank and honest words."
After Mayor Bell the President of Duke Student Government Spoke (DSG is one of the many campus apparatuses to help fund the MLK Committee). He didn't say anything of consequence.
Then the president of the Black Student Alliance spoke. She gave a list of victims of hate crimes, which included Mathew Shepard, and followed that by remarking that much needed to be done. Her comments were vague and brief.
Nichole Hines was the next to speak. She is the President of the Duke Black Graduate and Professional Student Alliance. She told everyone that we "cannot ignore that racial discrimination still exists," and like the Chancellor's Chief of Staff the example she gave was Katrina.
William LeFew, President of the Duke Graduate and Professional Student Council spoke next, and also didn't say anything of consequence.
The final speaker before Belafonte was Ambassador James A. Joseph, former Ambassador to South Africa under Clinton and Professor of the Practice of Public Policy studies. Joseph made the bizarre and absurd statement that Belafonte was following in the "tradition of the old testament prophets" and
the "tradition of the framers." He said then said it was his "great honor" to "present a servant who is also a critic" and in addition, a "patriot." As Belafonte took the stage there was an immediate standing ovation and tremendous applause. As best I could tell from my vantage point, the SAF member next to me and I were the only ones in the chapel who did not get to their feet.
After saying his thank you's Belafonte took his speech in a peculiar direction early on, saying that there were thousands of churches all over America, but that many of the people in these churches, though they thought of themselves as missionaries of God, were actually "missionaries of the devil." I can only presume he was speaking of the many evangelical Christians who support traditional American values and/or the current administration. This comment was met with applause.
He continued to explain how "nothing terrifies me as much as people who claim to know God...some of them sitting in our highest offices...some claim to have spoken to God" Significant applause followed these remarks as well.
From there Belafonte recounted the oppression and struggles of black people throughout the history of America and eventually segued into his own life, explaining how his music "captured the imagination of the world" and he discussed the many significant people he knew, including the Kennedy's and the Reverend King.
He talked about how Europeans came to this continent, were welcomed with open arms, and then undertook the "Indian genocide" As soon as he said "genocide", people started vigorously applauding.
Eventually he made his way to more recent times and explained how "McCarthy ripped the nation apart," which was met with significant applause. He also described the House Un-American Activities Committee as a "witch-hunt."
Having condemned Bush for claiming to know God, referencing the civil rights movement he said "God had a great hand in what we did."
Soon thereafter he asked the audience something to the effect of "how many wars have we waged for our power...for riches?" He then added the appalling declaration that "our legislature [and] foreign policy [is] always built on the demise of the poor."
As became a theme throughout his speech, Belafonte discussed what he felt were the profound depths of his activism and his deep commitment to the downtrodden (everywhere except in the Marxist dictatorships he worshps and among the domestic inner city criminals he comforts.. At one point he said that "all my time is spent among the wretched," that "I move among the Bloods and the Crips," and "when the browns and blacks went to war I went among them and told them to know each other," and at one point he also said, "I sit and talk to everyone, the worst of them and the best of them."
Belafonte also went on a rant about the prison system. Explaining how the US has the "largest prison population in the world" and that blacks disproportionately filled them. He lamented the privatization of prisons, as he reasoned this gave people financial incentive to keep the prisons full, and he gave the old line about why do we build more prisons than schools or universities.
He explained to the audience how the US has passed laws saying that allow us to "arrest you anytime we want" and "without charge" holding anyone "indefinitely." Belafonte added "They [the government] are saying, as long as we build prisons, you [people of color] will fill them"
Belafonte reported to the audience with pleasure that 300 million people in Latin America have moved to the political left "after centuries of oppression" and "living under American policy."
He went on to discuss Katrina and explained how the government did not respond to people's cries, a comment which was met with strong applause. He told the audience that the Venezuelan government had offered to help where the US government would not and that this was part of the reason for his
visit. He then made these astonishing remarks, "Is Hugo Chavez a tyrant? Could be. Does he have a game plan? Maybe. But I do know this...for the first time indigenous people in Venezuela have positions of power...why communism and not us?"
Perhaps his most vainglorious comment of his speech was when he offered up the following analogy about his position in relation to Dr. King: "the peter of his disciples"
He then mocked the FBI, talked about the FBI file on him, said that much of the file was wrong but that also, there is much they have missed, a statement which the audience responded to with enthusiastic applause. On this topic of the FBI and other's judging him he said "God is the only one I have to answer to" Which met with wild applause, and a number of the people in the audience got to their feet.
Belafonte told us that the Bush led us into a "dishonorable war," (much applause) which lead to the "deaths of tens of thousands of people." Taking it to the next level he asked, "what is the difference between those who would fly planes into buildings and those who would lie to bring us into a war that's killed thousands." At this the audience eagerly erupted.
Return to his Katrina accusations, Belafonte asked "what the difference between that terrorist ::Bush:: and other terrorists?" (More applause). Used the word "villainy" to describe Bush.
Explaining once again to the audience how under Bush "anytime we can knock at your door," and "take you, no questions asked...stay in prison as long as we require it...can't see family...no counsel," he proposed "How's that different than totalitarian oppressors?" (more robust applause).
Referencing his bout with cancer, and once more demonstrating his profound hypocrisy given his earlier statements concerning Bush's relationship with God, he said that he knew his life was "spared because there's something for me to do."
He also briefly condemned the handcuffing of the 5 year-old girl in the Florida classroom, strongly emphasizing the race of the officers.Belafonte also briefly offered his praised to Charles Rangel, Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson.
Said the justice system currently resulted in the "oppression of the people," and also said the we've violated Geneva and the we now have the right to "maim and torture."
Accused Bush of undermining the constitution and the laws, which met with fervent applause, and he said that Bush should be charged with "patriotic treason."
In closing, Belafonte conveyed the depths of his delusions by informing the audience that when he dies he wants his epitaph to read "Harry Belafonte: Patriot" His speech concluded, he received another prolonged standing ovation.
After the speech Willie J. Jennings, the Senior Associate Dean for Academic Programs, described Belafonte's words as "profound" In truth, the only dimensions in which Belafonte's words were profound was in their depravity.
It's a sad and troubling thing to see a packed house celebrating this man and his hate, believing and reveling in his every word. And it speaks horrendously of the university, especially in light of the four previous left-wing radicals to give the MLK address, that Belafonte would be unanimously selected, and that he would received such lavish praised from university officials, not to mention the mayor of Durham.
I don't know what's more alarming--the impassioned supporters, heralding Belafonte as hero, eager to heed his every word, or the many who do not aupport Belafonte or share his agenda, but who didn't care that he was coming to Duke or that he'd said the things he had. These are the students
who repeat the refrain "everyone's entitled to their opinion" as though no one could be condemned so long as they speak their mind openly; as though the legal right to state one's position equated with the morality of one's position; as though America's struggle against her enemies is so secure that
we can afford to be indifferent to those undermining our fight for survival.
What they fail to realize is that when Belafonte calls Bush the world's greatest tyrant and the world's greatest terrorist he's not just attacking Bush. He's attacking this county and every patriotic citizen living in its borders. He's saying that everyone who supports our present war is supporting tyranny and murder. The ideal speaker for MLK Day? More like an American shill for our enemies -- both communists and terrorists --with thousands of Duke dollars, Duke students and Durham residents in his pocket.
Steve Miller is a junior at Duke.