• 1930's
  • 1940's
  • 1950's
  • 1960's
  • 1970's
  • 1980's
  • 1990's
  • 2000's

Life in Harlem

Born Harold George Bellanfanti, Jr. to Melvine Love, a beautiful Jamaican immigrant and Harold Bellanfanti, a cook for the United Fruit Company boats. They lived in a building comprised of several small apartments that were shared by four or five families. Although these living conditions seemed difficult, Harry Belafonte remembered this time of his life as being a period of real generosity.

Memories of Home: “Grim as these arrangements were, they fostered a real generosity among the tenants.  Leftovers were passed along; meals were shared. Food went bad fast, even in the iceboxes cooled by big dripping block of ice.  But more than practicality prompted these gestures.  Poor people help one another; they always have.  As I would see growing up, theirs is a world of shared vulnerabilities, of understanding, and of sympathy that the rich can never know.  I never forgot the camaraderie of poverty, and never stopped feeling I was a member of that tribe.  Years later, when I’d talk to the black waiters at the Palmer House in Chicago, or to a proud, poor farmer in Senegal, I wouldn’t just be saying hello.  It always felt more like I was checking in.”

History of Caribbean Harlem
A mass migration occurred in the United States, specifically in New York City, between 1900 and 1930. Several different groups of immigrants, such as the Virgin Islanders and the Afro-Caribbeans, relocated for the purpose of either better schooling and job opportunities, or to escape the political tensions within their foreign communities. However, the life within Harlem and other parts of the United State was not an improvement for these immigrants. Many of them experienced harsher racial discrimination than what they dealt with in their home countries. From this, many foreign-born blacks began to take a more active role in social and political activities. These movements began what was to be known as the ‘Harlem Renaissance’.

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Memories of Millie: “Millie was the newest member of an immigrant group within a larger immigrant group. A white New Yorker in 1926 might see no distinction between Harlem’s American and Caribbean blacks, except for the islanders’ lilting accents. But the differences were profound. American blacks bore the burden of two hundred years of pre-Civil War slavery and postwar segregation… They still fought to escape its pain and indignities, but they’d learned how to accommodate them. They islanders in Harlem in the early twentieth century weren’t like that. Their ancestors had been slaves in conditions often more brutal than those in the American South- worked to death like mules- but precisely because of that, they’d staged more rebellions and escapes… So independence had been doled out, bit by bit, until, by the mid-1920s, blacks on the islands could even aspire to be landowners, lawyers, or doctors.”

Belafonte Recommended Reading (Pt.1)

Below you’ll find a list of recommended reading from Harry Belafonte which will be released in …

Thoughts on Occupy Wall Street

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My Song: A Memoir

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1199SEIU Bread and Roses Cultural Project

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The Gathering for Justice

In 2005, Harry Belafonte organized ‘The Gathering For Justice’ as a way to shine awareness on gang …

Harry Belafonte’s involvement with UNICEF

Over the years, Mr. Belafonte’s dedication and generosity of spirit has helped set a high standard …