The Leadership Conference Statement on the Passing of Harry Belafonte

Media 04.25.23

Contact: Erica Southerland, [email protected]

WASHINGTONMaya Wiley, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, issued the following statement on the passing of Harry Belafonte, a 2010 recipient of the Hubert H. Humphrey Civil and Human Rights Award — the civil rights community’s highest honor:

“Legendary civil rights activist and entertainer Harry Belafonte lived his passion and his principles for freedom. He once said, ‘You can cage the singer but not the song.’ He meant freedom’s song. And he never stopped fighting for our freedom from racism in all its forms with a selflessness built on a love of humankind rarely matched in one so prized for his talent and his beauty.

“I was fortunate to meet Mr. Belafonte at a time in my life when I needed to hear his words. What he told me, and what I saw in his enduring fight against systemic injustices, reinspired me.

“Beyond his tremendous success and leadership in the arts, Belafonte dedicated his life to the civil rights movement and Black liberation, and he has been a friend to our civil and human rights coalition for decades. He was a confidant to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., helped organize the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, financed numerous voter registration drives, and raised funds to free imprisoned civil rights protesters — including bailing Dr. King out of Birmingham City Jail during the 1963 Birmingham campaign. He also became a cultural advisor to the Peace Corps under President John F. Kennedy and was named a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1987. His commitment to human rights, including his outspoken opposition to apartheid and his longstanding advocacy for the people of Haiti, was unwavering.

“We are not only deeply indebted to Harry Belafonte for his decades of work fighting for the rights of all of us and for a just, multiracial democracy. We are also empowered by his leadership that never faltered and his legacy that lives on. The Leadership Conference mourns our loss of a civil rights giant as we send him home with a profound gratitude for his fire and friendship, his courage, and his lifelong dedication to the movement. Rest in power.”

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 230 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its member organizations, visit