The Harry Belafonte-Coretta Scott King funeral mystery

Harry Belafonte’s talk at Case has been rescheduled for Tuesday, February 28 at 7:00pm at Strosacker. The event is free and open to the public but tickets are required. The tickets issued for the earlier date will be honored at this event.

The original talk was postponed because Belafonte said he had to give a eulogy at Coretta Scott King’s funeral. It is common knowledge that Belafonte’s relationship with Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King was strong and his involvement with them and the civil rights movement has been for more than half a century. (See here for my previous postings on Harry Belafonte.)

But he was not seen during the funeral ceremonies. So what happened?

What is clear is that there is a split in the King family with one daughter Rev. Bernice King, along with some other influential black pastors who are on Bush’s “faith-based initiatives” gravy train, trying to take the movement along a direction quite different from that envisioned by her parents. And since she seems to have wrested control of the funeral arrangements, and President Bush had expressed interest in attending the funeral, Belafonte became an embarrassment since he has been outspoken in his criticisms of Bush, calling him a terrorist. Did the Bush administration demand that Belafonte be bumped from the roster of speakers as a condition for attending? No one is saying but suspicions abound that there was a quid pro quo.

This article in The Tennessean provides some background:

Could Belafonte have been asked not to show up at Mrs. King’s funeral after supposedly being on the program? Could he have been excluded to ensure the presence of President George W. Bush at the “first lady” of civil rights’ funeral?

Earlier this year, Belafonte called Bush “the greatest terrorist in the world” while in Caracas, Venezuela, as he met with Venezuelan President (and Bush critic) Hugo Chavez, according to the Associated Press.

“I called Belafonte to find out for myself if it was true, and he said it was,” the Rev. C.T. Vivian, a veteran civil rights activist, told me Friday after calling to see if I could find out why Belafonte was not at the funeral. “I asked were you disinvited, and he said, yes.

“The reason is that the president was not coming if Belafonte was going to be there. …”

That’s just not true, according to a public relations spokesman who worked with the King family on services for Mrs. King.

“The rumor Harry Belafonte was disinvited to the King funeral is 100% inaccurate,” Dan Rene, vice president of Impact Strategies, a Washington-based public relations firm, told me Friday over the telephone, and later in an e-mail. “The only individuals with the authority to take such action were the King family.

“The White House did not have that authority, nor did anyone else – again, only the family. It is ridiculous and insulting to suggest that they would treat someone so close to them and their mother in such a manner.

“It is up to Mr. Belafonte to answer the question of why he was not in attendance. The King children would have welcomed his presence. In fact, he was listed in the program as an honorary pallbearer.

“Additionally, the rumor is very suspect because no one, including Mr. Belafonte, can explain exactly who it was that supposedly disinvited him. The reason for this is, of course, the fact that he was always welcome.”

So, who and what do you believe?

I haven’t been able to reach Harry Belafonte directly for comment, but Rev. Vivian told me it is unlikely he will respond publicly because he wants to maintain some relationship with the King children.

The issue was also raised Tuesday in a newsletter distributed by former Emerge magazine editor George Curry. “Evidently, the funeral organizers were more interested in not offending Bush than recognizing the person who had actually supported Dr. King and his work,” Curry wrote.

And, in The Weekly Holla from the Web site,, a reader asked Tuesday, “Are y’all going to run anything about the King children dis-inviting Harry Belafonte …?”

Vivian, meanwhile, told me that Belafonte is saddened and hurt by this turn of events. If this is true, who could blame him? And it makes you wonder about that freedom we call speech.

The excellent website The Black Commentator had this article by Dr. Donald H. Smith, Associate Provost and Professor (Emeritus), Bernard M. Baruch College, the City University of New York, that provides some important background into what happened, as well as the class divisions that exist in the black church community.

Importantly, we also cannot be fooled by the Black Faith-based, self-anointed “Bishops” of mega churches who seduce and beguile depressed, often defeated African Americans, whose largess allows them to fly their private jets, drive Rolls Royces and live baronial existences. Instead of advocating to their congregations that they should organize and take direct political action, even civil disobedience as Dr. King consistently urged to secure the “blessings of liberty” to which they are entitled, these “Bishops,” whose already sizeable incomes are supplemented by the Republican government’s Faith-based Initiative grants, use powerful propaganda oratory to convince their congregations that God will take care of their needs, and, not incidentally, to support President Bush and vote Republican.

“Bishop” Eddie Long, in whose New Birth Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia where Mrs. King’s funeral was held is typical of the increasing number of money driven Black preachers. It is a cruel irony that the funeral was held in Long’s church rather than Ebenezer where Coretta Scott King was a member, where Dr. King was pastor and where his funeral was held. Preacher Eddie Long is the very antithesis of what Dr. King and his wife, Coretta, stood for. In 2004, Bishop Long led a demonstration in Atlanta to the tomb of Dr. King to protest a woman’s right to choose and to denounce the right of individuals to marry persons of the same sex. Among the thousands of supporters who marched with preacher Long was Dr. King’s daughter, Bernice, a minister at New Birth. Instead of the social justice and freedom advocated by the Kings, preacher Long endorses the conservative mandates of the Republican government. Coretta Scott King opposed the march, and reaffirmed her stance for human rights and social justice.

“Bishop” T.D. Jakes, whose mega church in Dallas has a reputed congregation of 30,000 members, and who sells “blessings” for $50, $500 or whatever larger sum he can persuade, was also a speaker at Mrs. King’s funeral, though his brief words were hollow, unlike the bombastic oratory for which he is well known. Like Bishop Long, Bishop Jakes is a friend and supporter of President Bush and the Republican government’s Project for a New American Century.
. . .
Bernice King and the Republican Party sought to control the funeral discourse, denying the likes of civil rights veterans Jesse Jackson, John Lewis and Reverend C.T. Vivian the opportunity to speak, as well as preventing Reverend Al Sharpton and Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, in whose district the funeral was held, from speaking and – the unkindest cut of all – disinviting Harry Belafonte who marched with Dr. King, who gave large amounts of money and who consoled Coretta Scott King when her husband was assassinated, nevertheless the truth was heard. As Dr. King said many times, “Truth crushed to earth shall rise again.” And truth did emerge from the mouth of President Jimmy Carter who underscored the present controversy of wiretapping American citizens by reminding the mourners of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s wiretapping of Dr. King, whom he had threatened with disclosure of intimate information. President Carter was the only one of the four presidents who spoke of the government’s mishandling of the Katrina tragedy, and he stated that the nation has not yet “achieved equal opportunity for all Americans.” And truth emerged from Reverend Joseph Lowery, co-founder with Dr. King of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who said there were no weapons of mass destruction and that Coretta Scott King had criticized that money spent for the war should have been spent to fight poverty in America. And truth came from the poetry of Maya Angelou who made a point of saluting Harry Belafonte. The truth was told.

The most that can be said about the tortured, illogical eulogy/sermon delivered by Mrs. King’s daughter, Bernice, is that those four King children deserve our pity and love for the tragic circumstances of their childhood. When Bernice King, possessor of three degrees, including degrees in divinity and law, said “God is not looking for another Martin Luther King or Coretta Scott, the old has passed away, there is a new order that is emerging,” I hardly knew what to think, as many of the mourners must have been puzzled. Did Bernice King imply that she is the new emergent order, along with her “mentor” Eddie Long? Heaven help us.

Unless Harry Belafonte chooses to tell us, we probably will not know what silenced him at the funeral. But it is clear that he should have spoken and would have spoken and that his omission could not have been his own choice.

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