Number 14 - October 17, 2002
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believes Harry Belafonte's remarks to Larry King of CNN were eloquent
and inspirational. We also think he is right. We present a transcript
of the entire interview, courtesy of CNN as a service to you if did
not see it. If you did see the broadcast we feel you may want to read
the text again.
LARRY KING LIVE
Interview with Harry
Aired October 15,
2002 - 21:00 ET
LARRY KING, CNN
HOST: Tonight, exclusive: what's Harry Belafonte's problem with
Colin Powell? He's here to explain his controversial remarks about the
secretary of state. First, for openers, we thank Harry Belafonte for
giving us this time exclusively. Second, to also inform you that I've
known Harry Belafonte for over 40 years. I've also known Colin Powell
for well over 12 years, consider both friends. Harry Belafonte needs
no defender. His work in activism in well noted, but I will tell you
that I was with him in Miami Beach when he became the first black to
stay at a Miami Beach hotel.
He was a close friend of Martin Luther King, worked as a humanitarian,
won numerous prizes, including a Nelson Mandela Courage Award. He has
-- he brought together performers like Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen,
was responsible for "We are the World." His work with troubled youth,
President Kennedy named him a cultural adviser to the Peace Corps. The
list could go on and on.
Harry Belafonte doesn't need anybody talking about his credit, but he
did surprise many of his friends and followers with a statement on a
San Diego radio station. Let's listen to that statement.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
HARRY BELAFONTE, ACTIVIST: There's an old saying in the days
of slavery. There are those slaves who lived on the plantation, and
there were those slaves who lived in the house. You got the privilege
of living in the house if you served the master. Colin Powell was permitted
to come into the house of the master.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
KING: All right, Harry, what did you mean?
BELAFONTE: First of all, let me hasten to say, Larry, that this
was never meant to be a personal attack on Colin Powell's character.
What it was meant, however, to be was an attack on policy, and the reference
and the metaphor used about slavery -- it is my personal feeling that
plantations exist all over America. If you walk into South Central Los
Angeles, into Watts, or you walk into Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati,
you'll find people who live lives that are as degrading as anything
that slavery had ever produced. They live in economic oppression, they
live in a disenfranchised way. In the hearts and minds of those people,
and millions of others, you're always looking for hope, and whenever
somebody within our tribe, within our group, emerges that has the position
of authority and power to make a difference in the way business is done,
our expectations run high. Many times, those expectations are not fulfilled.
But when such an individual is in the service of those who not only
perpetuate the oppression, but sometimes design the way in which it
is applied, it then becomes very, very, very, very critical that we
raise our voices and be heard. And...
KING: I'm sorry, I don't mean -- isn't it possible, Harry, one,
that Colin Powell, who has stood up for his country, fought for his
country, may have disagreed in counsel, but supports his president in
a tough time of need -- why compare that to being -- as a slave?
BELAFONTE: Because, I think, to a great degree, that which governs
us is really the extent to which we are permitted by the forces of power
in this country to do what it is we can do to make a difference.
The civil rights movement was a huge struggle against an enormous opposition.
You know, many people who lived under that tenet and what we had to
do to try to position people in high places to make a difference so
we could change the way in which our democracy functioned was part of
And Colin Powell is in that position. And I do believe that the policies
that have been expressed by the administration he serves are less than
honorable. It is not just about what I say.
Last year, in South Africa, the United Nations under Kofi Annan gave
us an excellent opportunity in convening the International Conference
on Racism directed by a woman of remarkable credentials, the former
president of Ireland, Mary Robinson. There was a place where the United
States should have been in attendance, and given us the benefit of thought
on a very grievous set of conditions that affect the human family --
the issue of race.
And in that instance, the United States government sought to turn its
back on the thousands of people who were gathered there to make a difference.
And Colin Powell was the point person on that distancing of our country.
KING: What did you want him to do? What do you want him to do?
BELAFONTE: I would like him to live up to a higher moral standard.
You know, Jeffords doesn't have to be the only one who sits in disagreement
with the policies of this country and this government and acts upon
it out of conscience.
Where is Colin Powell's conscience? In a time when the world is getting
ready to go up in flames in a war that's hugely ill-advised, you know.
Today we are going to go after Iraq. You know, where do we go next?
After Iran? And then, when our present friends fall out of favor with
us, do we go after Pakistan?
KING: But can't Colin Powell have a belief that the Iraqi situation
is the administration's point of view, is correct and agree with its
principles without giving up his own -- you're assuming that he's going
against his principles. Maybe they are his principles.
BELAFONTE: Well, if they are his principles, then I sit opposed
to them. I have to make the assumption that it's not his principles
because of what he said (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at the Republican National
Convention when he gave that remarkable speech. Or when he said going
through the United Nations as the vehicle through which this problem
should be settled. To do anything less than that and to stick to that
mandate I think is a sellout.
KING: So you think he is selling -- has he disappointed you,
BELAFONTE: Yes. You know, unfortunately. He has.
As I said before earlier, we have high expectations. Necessarily for
those who come from color, who come from a history of oppression, or
at least an understanding of it. And what we would hope is that people
who come from that experience would use it effectively to change the
way in which others do business in the world of oppression.
KING: Do you have the same views about Condoleezza Rice?
BELAFONTE: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. Even more so. Because
I've never heard from Condoleezza Rice even the suggestion towards some
of the more lenient thoughts or some of the more appropriate thoughts
that Colin Powell has expressed.
KING: Let's say they share your beliefs and are trying to do
the best from within. Do you want them to make a moral statement and
quit the administration? Do you want them to speak out and say, I was
opposed but -- what do you want Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice --
let's concentrate on Colin -- what do you want him to do?
BELAFONTE: Colin Powell is not a victim here. Let's get that
straight. Colin Powell is a individual, he's a man of enormous resources,
he has an enormous intelligence, he has that agenda. What is that agenda,
Colin? I mean, you know, you speak about the disenfranchised, you speak
about the fairness of race. You speak about democracy. Everything that
is in your administration's policy runs contrary to that fact.
KING: And Condoleezza -- you feel the same way. So if you were
them, you would quit.
BELAFONTE: If I was them, I would use the platform to speak out
against the ill-advised policies of the administration. I would go as
far as inviting to be fired, if that's what happens.
You know, Colin Powell's on the brink of being nominated for presidency
of this country. Obviously, he's held in high esteem. He doesn't have
to grovel to anyone.
You know, nor do I suggest that that's necessarily what he's doing.
Maybe his agenda is that of the president's. He often says that he serves
them with great pride and with great passion. That's unfortunate.
KING: In retrospect, were your remarks a bit harsh by going into
a comparison to slavery? To making him appear like, well, put it frankly,
BELAFONTE: Well, I think those who have the capacity and the
courage to make a difference by doing bold things, who refuse to apply
that condition, are more often suspect of selling out than they are
of standing brave and courageous as others have done.
You know, I didn't refer to him as an Uncle Tom. I said, those who sit
in the service of the house and those who sit in the service of those
who languish on the plantation. America has many plantations, even today.
Not only in America, those plantations sit in many places around the
world, where I've seen people suffer.
I work for the United Nations. I go to places where enormous upheaval
and pain and anguish exist. And a lot of it exists based upon American
policy. Whom we support, whom we support as heads of state, what countries
we've helped to overthrow, what leaders we've helped to diminish because
they did not fit the mold we think they should fit, no matter how ill
advised that thought may be. It is not without reason that I make my
KING: Harry, I want you to just spend a moment watching Colin
Powell's response when I asked him about your remarks on our show about
ten days ago. Here's Colin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: If Harry had wanted to attack
my politics, that was fine. If he wanted to attack a particular position
I hold, that was fine. But to use a slave reference I think is unfortunate
and is a throwback to another time and another place that I wish Harry
had thought twice about using.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Want to comment?
BELAFONTE: Yes. Let me first of all tell you, Larry, slavery
is a noble part of black history. It's an anguished part of this country's
history. Most of who and what we are was shaped during the period of
slavery. Our forefathers, those who were courageous and noble enough
to resist tyranny, shaped their thoughts during slavery.
And the plantations were a difficult place on which to live and to work.
There's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong to talk about
the plantation and to throw back to the time of slavery. Why not? It's
part of our history. As a matter of fact, we've forgotten it much too
quickly and much too easily.
KING: But it was obviously you hurt him, Harry. There was pain
in him because he obviously admires you a great deal. You're one of
the greater entertainers of all time. You both have a Jamaican heritage.
He must have felt a closeness to you. he had to be -- I mean don't you
feel bad that you hurt him?
BELAFONTE: I still feel closely to Colin Powell. I'd still like
to reach for him. He's not the first person in office who has eluded
us or presented an opportunity to do some good that we thought we could
Bobby Kennedy, was when he first came into office, somebody that we
looked at with enormous anguish and suspicion because we didn't feel
that he understood the struggles of black people in this country. And
our task was to reach to him and to provoke him and to push him until
he became a human being who was awakened to the cause of the peoples
of this country who sit disenfranchised and who were living in oppression
in a very violent time in our nation, when racism was legal. And look
at what happened to him by the end of his life because those of us who
spoke out awakened him to understand that what he's doing is not acceptable.
KING: We'll be right back with more of Harry Belafonte. We'll
include some phone calls. Mr. Belafonte, thankfully enough also still
entertains. Appears in concert frequently and is welcomed wherever he
goes. This is a very fascinating discussion which I hope you find as
interesting as I do.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today he
continues to bring art and activism together to inspire all of us to
live our lives with passion and with concern for others.
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in congratulating Harry Belafonte.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Was that -- what was that medal, Harry?
BELAFONTE: It was the National Medal for the Arts. It was given
to me by President Clinton. And I was very honored to receive it.
KING: You've also been critical of President Clinton at times.
BELAFONTE: Yes, I have.
What's wrong with criticism? What's wrong with the voice of dissent?
What's wrong with another point of view? That's what America is built
And I want to tell you something -- the minute we lose that right and
that capacity to do that, we've lost our soul as a nation.
KING: You would not change the statement?
BELAFONTE: No. I would perhaps put it in a context that would
be a little bit more -- like the opportunity you're giving me now to
put it in a context, but in essence, I wouldn't change the statement.
KING: But Colin Powell has been a voice in the Republican party
for moderation. Many didn't like his views on abortion, he's pro- choice.
He certainly has stood up for affirmative action. He had a lot to do
with integration in the military service. He has been a bulwark to black
people in America, who look for -- as you looked for -- you looked for
the Martin Luther Kings and others -- who look for people who are example
And this administration, while it's being wrapped, has a secretary of
state who is black and a National Security Adviser who is black. That's
never happened before.
BELAFONTE: You're still dealing with the personality of the man.
What I'm dealing with are the issues about the policies that he serves.
That's what this is about.
We're getting ready to go to war. American boys and girls are going
to be dead on some foreign battlefield again. In a place that all advice
doesn't suggest that it's the best move we could make. That's a serious,
serious concern for the citizens of this country.
It is about the policy, Larry. It's not about the man. I like Colin
Powell. I like his West Indian background. I like his intellect. I like
a lot of things that he does and his style. What is at fault here is
a policy that's taking this country to hell.
You know, to quote Shakespeare these days is not the most popular thing,
that not a lot of artists can do, but I would say to you, that in the
closing act of "King Lear," the character says, "'Tis the time's plague
when the -- when mad men lead the blind.'"
And I tell you, there's madness that's in the world today and what even
exacerbates the problem is that nowhere do you hear voices of reason
coming to the table with ideas and thoughts that could change the scenario
because they're not given the opportunity to be here.
Amelia Robinson whom I just mentioned, she was one of the leading voices
in the United Nations. We worked tenaciously to getting her dismissed
and now she's gone. Why?
KING: Isn't one of the classic examples of madness in the world
BELAFONTE: Absolutely. No question.
KING: So what do you do about him?
BELAFONTE: Go through the United Nations and follow the Council
and the principles of the international family. That's what we do about
it. Stop bullying the world. Stop saying, That you do it our way or
no way counts. That is not civil.
KING: And if the United Nations says we will take military action,
you then support it?
BELAFONTE: Yes. If the United Nations decides to take action,
then I would stand by the United Nations.
KING: On -- by the way, where were you on 9/11?
BELAFONTE: On another channel, getting ready to launch a work
that I had just done. I was on NBC and just about to go down to the
World Trade Center for breakfast. Had the incident happened just an
hour later, I might very well have been one of its victims.
KING: All right. Now, the world changed that day, Harry, you
had to admit that. We can't sit around -- I mean, it may be fine to
say that this is what we're based on, but we're a nervous nation. And
when you're nervous and when there's a threat of -- look what's going
on in Washington, Maryland and Virginia now, you have to act in ways
that may not be standard with the morality and the history of this country.
But we've never faced this before. Isn't that just being realistic?
BELAFONTE: I challenge that our only option to conduct that is
new to us, that is villainous, is to do something that's immoral. I
don't buy that. I don't buy that at all. I think there are a lot of
ways in which these situations can be dealt with and should be dealt
KING: So you don't think we have to change anything? We could
just go on as we have?
BELAFONTE: Oh no. I think we have to change a lot. Mostly, how
we helped breed the playing ground in which a lot of thinking tyranny
comes out of. Our hands are not clean, Larry.
There are nations all over this globe that suffer from policies that
we have implemented. People go away bitter with a great sense of loss
and families are destroyed.
Terror isn't only our experience. Terror is experienced by people all
over the place and we have helped instigate some of it.
KING: How about those who say, let's say, Condoleezza Rice is
a classic example of how we've come a long way. Here's a woman who 30
years ago wouldn't have made a dent. She goes to professor at Stanford,
she's a National Security Adviser in the administration.
You may disagree with her policies, but wouldn't you say, you've come
a long way?
BELAFONTE: Absolutely. There's no question we've come a long
way. Nobody dismisses that. That does not, however, diminish how far
it is we still have to go.
And just evoking the person's gender, because Condoleezza Rice is a
woman, and her color, because she's black, does not justify abdication
of moral responsibility. That does not make it all right or better.
If she were a Jew and were doing things that were anti-semitic and against
the best interests of people, that would also stand the same way. This
is not about color. It's not about gender. It's about policy. It's about
what choices we make as a people, about the human family and where we're
going and what we're doing. That's what this is about. KING: And that's
what General Powell said in his statement on this show. Criticize me
on my policy, but don't go back to making me a slave in the house of
a master and because I'm a good slave, I get to serve in the house.
That was taking it too far to hit him personally.
BELAFONTE: Well, I'm glad it woke him up. I'm glad it made him
pay attention. I'm not too sure that I'd have gotten on your show discussing
this in this way if these things are not happened. That was not my intention,
incidentally. I was caught in a very passionate moment in that radio
interview. And I spoke my piece. But now that it is on the table, fine,
I will continue to speak my thoughts on the subject and I will stand
corrected if I have made error, but I do believe that what I am talking
about is what is not being discussed. It is who stands responsible for
the mistakes this nation makes because it doesn't want to listen to
KING: Would you like to sit down with the Secretary?
BELAFONTE: Love to.
Let's take some calls for one of the great entertainers of modern times,
Marietta, Georgia -- hello.
CALLER: First of all, I want to say that I have a lot of respect
for both of you, and Harry, I just want to say that while I respectfully
disagree with what you said about Colin Powell, I am curious as to what
your friends, your family, and especially your counterparts in the show
business arena had to say about your comments.
KING: Good question.
BELAFONTE: Well, most of my friends with whom I've talked about
have been somewhat caught up in this fracas, and I think, by and large,
everybody understands what I meant, understands where I'm coming from,
and they see no villainy in it, and I think they are -- they stand by
KING: Were any critical of you, Harry?
BELAFONTE: Well, some thought that the public was going to have
a big problem, because the public does not come from the same kind of
a sophisticated sense of history and all the different things that I've
been exposed to, so I think people are going to have difficulty. But
then, people have always had a difficulty around the issue of race,
slavery, and plantations...
KING: Well, because many of the public would say, as you said,
slavery is a great -- as a part of American history, many would say,
the farther we get away from it the better, and referral was only taking
it back to bad times.
BELAFONTE: That would be true if the playing field were equal,
if it were level. If all things were honorable. But the truth of the
matter is that this country knows so little about what truly went on
in slavery, black and white, that we're still living out its mistakes.
We're still living out its principles, we're still living out its culture
in -- in very hard ways.
KING: Indianapolis, Indiana -- hello.
CALLER: Hello. I'm calling to tell Mr. Harry how much I admire
him for taking a stand, and I'm also an African-American, and I would
wonder if he had an opportunity, would he serve politics, that he would
make a difference to us because we need somebody to take a stand.
KING: Would you ever run yourself, Harry?
BELAFONTE: Well, I was put upon once to run for the Senate in
the United States of America against D'Amato, as a matter of fact, and
a lot of people thought that I stood a good chance to make a race out
I stepped away from that because I genuinely believed that the platform
that I have as an artist, the work that I do with the United Nations,
sits above suspicion because I have no agenda, so to speak. I don't
serve a political party. And I thought that my service to the things
that I believe in and to this nation that I deeply believe in, was best
served by staying where I was.
KING: Did the Academy Awards this year impress you, two black
Americans winning the top two awards?
BELAFONTE: Well, I'm always pleased when black Americans are
rewarded for some achievement. I'm always very suspicious, however,
and I look very carefully at what does the award dismiss? What does
it suggest is correct when, in fact, so much is incorrect? And I think
that, you know, there are a lot of people who just said, for instance,
Hollywood is not above the issue of discussing what goes on with racism.
And one day, we should get into that debate about how blacks really
think about what's going on in the culture of this country.
KING: You mean blacks are not telling us what -- many blacks
you know are not telling us what they really think?
BELAFONTE: I'll tell you this, Larry, many black people still
live out the -- the facade of the minstrel. We wear a mask. Much of
what we say and what we do is done in metaphor, and done with subtext
and other meaning, because we have not had the best of experiences when
you go straight to the heart of the problems in this country, because
this nation becomes so punitive when it hears the truth about us.
KING: You discussed this with your old friend Sidney Poitier?
BELAFONTE: Yes, Sidney and I have talked about it from time to
time. We've not talked...
KING: He's not the activist you are.
BELAFONTE: No, he's not. Nor does he have to be. Nor does he
have to be.
KING: You don't criticize him for not being as active as you.
BELAFONTE: No, no, no, no. No, no, no. I don't criticize him
for not being -- people make choices they want to make. That's the point
here in a way. We must be held responsible for the choices that we make.
I'm not holding Colin Powell responsible for something about Colin Powell
as -- as a man. It's about the things that he embraces, and the policies
that he serves. That's the problem.
KING: I remember the first time I saw Harry Belafonte on stage
-- "New Faces of '52," Leonard Sillman, "Hold 'Em Joe." Right? You were
holding a rope.
BELAFONTE: No, wrong. (singing) Wrong show, Larry.
KING: What was it?
BELAFONTE: It was, as a matter of fact, a lot of people confuse
it, it was "John Murray Anderson's Almanac With..."
KING: "Almanac." Right.
KING: Morristown, New Jersey, for Harry Belafonte -- hello.
CALLER: Hello. Mr. Belafonte, I heard you just the last segment
talking about the fact that you are against the future killing of innocent
American boys under the new -- this administration's new policy.
I'm the mother of a 23-year-old boy that was killed on -- Tower One
because he was an American citizen. I really don't see where you think
that you are -- this has happened already. Our boys have been killed.
I feel that you're talking first as a black man, as an American secondly,
and that's saddens me and I think it would be sadden all of us -- the
3,000 families whose people were mowed down because we were Americans
trying to live the American dream. My boy was killed because he went
to work. And I just wish you would address that.
BELAFONTE: I served in the United States Armed Forces and the
United States Navy during the second World War as a munitions loader.
I've also served some of the most remarkable Americans of our century.
I was embraced with and worked for Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kennedy,
Bobby Kennedy, Paul Robeson. When you take a look at men like Martin
Luther King, with whom I marched and served, and the more recent history,
people of the moral stature, of people like Nelson Mandela.
I sit and I grieve with each and every American who lost some loved
one on 9/11. And I also sit and grieve with every American mother who
lost some son to the Ku Klux Klan. Tyranny is not exclusive in the experience
of Americans just to 9/11. A lot of people have known terror and terrorism.
It's a sad thing.
And I'm not first black and then American. I've always been and will
be first American and then whatever I happen to be, like the mosaic
that makes up this country.
And I'm sorry if what I have said and the way in which I interpret our
policy offends you to the degree you think I am ignorant of and willing
to dismiss the death and the pain that our nation feels. As a matter
of fact, quite the contrary. It is precisely the pain that I know that
this nation feels that I dread seeing us go through more of it, to lose
more sons, more daughters, because we are being ill advised on how to
deal with the ills of the nation.
Deal with hunger. Deal with poverty. Deal with disenfranchisement which
is rampant among the 6 billion people who make up this planet. I see
most of them. I spent time in Rwanda where 800,000 people were murdered
in a matter of months. Violence is not mutiny, it's not new to the world.
We've got to stop it and I make a plea for it.
And I hope we can find policies and thinkers and people who will come
to their senses and lead us out of this abyss.
KING: I only got a minute left but I want to ask you a question
about rap music and it uses the "N" word a lot. There's a lot of denigration
of women in music. You have any thoughts on it as a proponent of free
BELAFONTE: Yes, I think it's somewhat shoddy that we're constantly
evoking free speech in the face of immoral, unethical conduct. If I
had the choice of what to do about free speech, I'd fight to the death
to maintain it. Even in the face of these transgressions.
But because there are a lot of people spinning off profit from denouncing
their mothers, their daughters, putting themselves in their most degraded
level of our social experience, and having it rewarded by the larger
society is certainly not a way of working ourselves into a greater and
more noble fabric of culture and human relationships.
KING: So, Harry, in essence, you are glad you have restructured
BELAFONTE: I'm very glad to have been given the opportunity to
at least explain my point of view more fully.
You know, there are a lot of "N" words and there are ways in which to
deify someone or to vilify someone like Colin Powell. That was never
the intention. The idea that you work in the house of the master is
almost in itself its own opportunity to do some mischief and to make
But when you are in that place and you help perpetuate the master's
policy that perpetuates oppression and pain for many others, then something
has to be said about it.
KING: Thank you, Harry, as always.
BELAFONTE: The master in this instance is, of course, the president
of the United States.
Good seeing you, as always, and thanks for doing this.
BELAFONTE: Thank you very much, Larry, for having me.
KING: Harry Belafonte, the famed entertainer, humanitarian and
activist, and his point of view.
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