Harry Belafonte Reflects on Working Toward Peace

Midway through the Civil Rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. realized that the struggle for integration would ultimately become a struggle for economic rights. I remember the last time we were together, at my home, shortly before he was murdered. He seemed quite agitated and preoccupied, and I asked him what the problem was. "I've come upon something that disturbs me deeply," he said. "We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know that we will win. But I've come to believe we're integrating into a burning house."

That statement took me aback. It was the last thing I would have expected to hear, considering the nature of our struggle, and I asked him what he meant. "I'm afraid that America may be losing what moral vision she may have had," he answered. "And I'm afraid that even as we integrate, we are walking into a place that does not understand that this nation needs to be deeply concerned with the plight of the poor and disenfranchised. Until we commit ourselves to ensuring that the underclass is given justice and opportunity, we will continue to perpetuate the anger and violence that tears at the soul of this nation."

I would like to see black America honestly examine where we are at this point in history. We must stop relying on Democrats or Republicans or institutions that oppress us, and take responsibility for ourselves. Whenever we've stepped out to assume responsibility for our future, we've succeeded in our mission. White America didn't give us the gains we've made. Through various movements we went out and fought for our liberation and made ourselves a better people, and the world a better place. I am far from disillusioned. Deep in my soul, I know there are more Rosa Parks, more Dr. Kings, and more Ella Bakers ready to emerge. Perhaps we are the firefighters who can save the burning house. Martin would have embraced such a thought.



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