Harry Belafonte was recently awarded the Springam Medal by the NAACP. He had this to say during his acceptance speech:
Yet we suffer still from abject poverty and moral malnutrition. Our only hope lies in the recall of a moment which has been to referred to earlier here, and was my last meeting with Dr. King. It was just before he left to go off to Memphis to join the strike with sanitation workers. We held a strategy meeting and Dr. King ? the meeting was in my home, and Dr. King, during that meeting, appeared to be distracted and in a dark mood. When we asked him what was the matter he said, we have come far in the struggle for integration, and although we may be winning some battles, we have not won the war. And I’ve come to the conclusion that in our struggle to integrate, we may be integrating into a burning house.
That thought we found it deeply disturbing. And when we asked him if such was his belief, what would he have us do? His reply was, we will have to become firemen. Numerous strategies in the quest of our freedom have been played out at all levels of the social spectrum. Youth groups, women’s groups, labor groups, religious groups, the list goes on and on. And yet the opposition persists in its resistance to our quest. What is missing, I think, from the equation in our struggle today is that we must unleash radical thought. America keeps that part of the discourse mute. I would make an appeal for the NAACP as the oldest institution in our quest for human dignity and human rights, that we stimulate more fully the concept and the need for radical thinking. America has never been moved to perfect our desire for greater democracy without radical thinking and radical voices being at the helm of any such quest.
The pursuit of justice is all I have ever known. And I have often said that what defines a true patriot and reading a book, “The Life of Theodore Roosevelt,” I came upon a quote where he said that when the state finds itself moving away from its commitment to the rights of the citizen, when those rights are being trampled and misguided, when there are those who would wrest from the Constitution the quality that it attempted to give all of us then citizens of the nation have not only the obligation, but, the right to challenge the state and those who run it. And he said, if we fail to do that, if we fail to meet that moral criteria, then we the citizens should be charged with patriotic treason. And that struck me because what we’re really on is a journey to end the treasonous behavior of the contemporary political scene. And what it is trying to do to steal our votes, to steal our votes. To what it is doing to our women, to what it’s doing to our children, to what it’s doing to wherever black people have moments of need and want. I would ask that unless Black America or I would say that unless Black America raises its voice loud and clear, America and it is specifically our responsibility of all cultural diversity that makes up this nation and its promise to be great, the most powerful force is the voice of African-Americans, and America will never become whole and America will never become what it dreams to be until we are truly free, and truly a bigger part of this.