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
with Harry Belafonte
October 15, 2002 - 21:00 ET
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 the game.
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. You know...
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, then?
BELAFONTE: Yes. You know, unfortunately.
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
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, Uncle Tom?
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
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 observation.
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 never have.
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
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Was that -- what was that
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 on.
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
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 of leadership.
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
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 Saddam Hussein?
BELAFONTE: Absolutely. No question.
KING: So what do you do about
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
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 with.
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,
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
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 dissent.
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, Harry Belafonte.
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
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 me.
KING: Were any critical of you,
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
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,
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 of it.
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
KING: You mean blacks are not
telling us what -- many blacks you know are not telling us what they
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
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
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
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
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 speech?
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 the dialogue.
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 a difference.
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.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS
OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com.
complete CNN report on their exclusive story is also available at www.cnn.com/2002/US/10/15/belafonte.powell/index.html.
Your comments are welcome. Visit the Contact
page for E-mail or Feedback.