Statement on the death of Harry Belafonte

NEW YORK— Harry Belafonte often described himself as “an artist, not a politician.” Few Americans have done so much to advance the causes of civil rights and social justice in our country as he has. All of us at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights are saddened, and we are inspired by a life well lived. We are especially grateful for his service and guidance as a member of the RFK Board for three decades.

Belafonte was tasked by Martin Luther King, Jr. to get to know Robert F. Kennedy in the early 1960s, noting in a 2002 interview that Kennedy as Attorney General, was viewed “as a man whose hand was on the throttle of justice.”

Belafonte said, after some initial differences of opinion, he and other civil rights leaders came to embrace Kennedy, welcoming his “hands-on” approach. “He became more directly exposed to the environment in which we were all living, and identified himself with much that we were trying to achieve. I think much that we face in the world today would not be the way it is, had Bobby Kennedy lived and had he become the President of the United States of America,” Belafonte said.

Among his many accolades, Belafonte was honored with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ prestigious Ripple of Hope Award in 2017.

As an RFK Board member, he remained engaged, as recently as a few weeks ago, generously extending his invaluable help and advice to the organization.

Outside the boardroom, Harry maintained a strong relationship with Ethel Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy and their family who were awed by his commitment to social justice, loved his company and most of all, cherished his friendship.

“Long after my father’s death, Belafonte continued to advocate for justice and peace, working to eradicate HIV/AIDS in Africa, apartheid in South Africa, serving as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador a celebrity Ambassador for the American Civil Liberties Union, and as an early leading voice in the Black Lives Matter movement,” Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights President Kerry Kennedy said. “He was a testament to the value of moral conviction, joining movements early, acting consistently and always speaking truth to power.”