Belafonte: Civil rights is a way of life

Harry Belafonte

OXFORD – (AP) Entertainer Harry Belafonte says civil rights is a way of life, not just a moment in history.

The 85-year-old singer spoke Monday night at a convocation marking the 50th anniversary of James Meredith’s enrollment as the first black student at the University of Mississippi.

Meredith, who is 79 and lives in Jackson, did not attend the event on the Oxford campus, but some of his relatives did.

Harry Belafonte

Belafonte recalled his own first trip to Mississippi during the Freedom Summer of 1964. He recruited longtime friend and fellow actor Sidney Poitier to help him deliver $100,000 to support the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee for voter registration and other activities in Greenwood.

U.S. marshals escorted them, and Belafonte says they were followed by members of the Ku Klux Klan.

“There was nothing attractive about it,” Belafonte said, noting that three civil rights workers had disappeared in June 1964 in Philadelphia, Miss. “We were caught in a very critical crossroads of wanting to come and help others with voter registration while fearing for our personal safety.”

Belafonte shared memories of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, what the civil rights movement in the South meant to South Africa and around the world, and why the movement never stops.

“People say civil rights is past or today is a different day, and I am saddened by that definition or conclusion,” Belafonte said. “Nothing can be further from the truth. Civil rights is not just a moment. Civil rights is a way of life.”

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