Civil rights icon Belafonte a tough critic of JFK, and now Obama

By Wayne Dawkins
 
During a town hall-style interview with Charlie Rose last week in New York, Harry Belafonte was on point in his criticisms of President Barack Obama.
 
Why don’t you [and Cornel West] cut me some slack? the president allegedly said to Belafonte.
The iconic entertainer/social activist answered, what made you think we didn’t?
 
Belafonte is a staunch, old soldier of the political left. He recalled when Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed days before the 1960 presidential election. Republican candidate Richard Nixon was a known commodity to the black community and then, about a third of black America identified as Republican. Jackie Robinson, our great hero then, was a Republican elder.
 
Democrat John F. Kennedy meanwhile was a wild card, but he offered to get King out of jail.
Belafonte told Rose that the Kennedy’s assumed there would be a quid pro quo, a King endorsement for the Kennedy family relief. MLK stayed neutral however and did not endose JFK. The Kennedy’s were peeved said Belafonte, but he praised King for sacrificing, staying principled and not cheapening a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement.
 
Belafonte’s King anecdote connects to West’s and his critiques of Obama. Yes, the president has tough rows to hoe — a fragile but recovering economy, suffering citizens and hostile GOP opposition — but he cannot assume free rides from subdivided Black America, which has suffered disproportionately.
 
Yet Obama should get credit for this: When he ‘s hammered on the left, he does not lash out at progressive and leftist critics. So far he has sucked up the hits and stayed silent.
Time will tell if the president can stay that patient through 2012.
 
By the way, Happy New Year. I wish readers much success and happiness.
 
The writer is an assistant professor at the Scripps Howard School of JAC and a contributor to politicsincolor.com
 
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