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SPLC mourns death of Harry Belafonte

Harry Belafonte, the award-winning singer, actor and civil rights activist who died today at 96, made enormous contributions to society that continue to inspire our fight for the freedom and liberation of Black and Brown people.

Belafonte broke down racial barriers as the first Black man to win a Tony Award on Broadway and the first Black person to receive an Emmy Award.

He used the fortune he amassed from his international stardom to quietly underwrite the civil rights movement and was a strong supporter of Martin Luther King Jr.

When necessary, he solicited famous friends and even financed the movement himself – paying bail money and hospital bills and organizing a committee that raised $50,000 to continue the Birmingham campaign against segregation in 1963 following King’s arrest.

He helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders.

His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison and advocated for famine relief in Africa.

The SPLC mourns the passing of Harry Belafonte, the epitome of a servant leader with an unwavering commitment to social justice worldwide.

Our hearts are with Belafonte’s family and loved ones.

In his honor, we will continue the march toward equity, justice and liberation for all.

Photo at top: A strong supporter of Martin Luther King Jr., Harry Belafonte made contributions to the civil rights movement that included helping to launch one of Mississippi's first voter registration drives and providing funds for the Freedom Riders. Pictured, Belafonte talks about his life and films at the First Amendment Center in Nashville on Aug. 26, 2000, after receiving the 2000 Freedom in Film award. (Credit: John Partipilo/The Tennessean/USA Today Network)