Harry Belafonte's impact, civil rights activism extended to Long Island

Chanteé Lans Image
Tuesday, April 25, 2023
Belafonte's impact, activism extended to Long Island
Eyewitness News reporter Chantee Lans shares how people on Long Island are remembering the life and legacy of Harry Belafonte.

LONG ISLAND (WABC) -- From center stage to civil rights, Harry Belafonte left his mark, impacting communities across the globe, including on Long Island.

"He encouraged us to be ourselves and to love our communities," civil rights activist Hazel Dukes said.

The 91-year-old Roslyn native knows a picture taken of Dukes and Belafonte in her NAACP office a few years ago shows their longtime unbreakable bond.

"It was always the hugs and the kisses," she said.

They traveled together throughout Long Island in the 1960s, alongside Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Belafonte, Dr. King and Dukes traveled to a Jewish temple in Great Neck. They also spoke in Rockville Centre.

"In Rockville Centre, we were talking about homes, building homes for the African American community," Dukes said.

She said it was tough for African Americans to live in many of the communities, and says it still is.

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"Nassau County is still very segregated," she said.

Belafonte raised millions of dollars, backing Dr. King, bailing out activists and even inspiring politicians like Hempstead's first Black mayor, James Garner. He was elected in 1989 and held office until 2005.

"I said, 'oh my goodness,' I had a chance to at least meet him in person," former Hempstead Mayor James Garner said. "I was on a plane coming from Los Angeles and I saw both him and Sidney Poitier together."

Garner walked over to Belafonte to say hello.

"His demeanor was great, great demeanor," he said. "I was so happy to have a chance in my lifetime to see him."

Belafonte's legacy also inspired Hempstead's current mayor, Mayor Waylyn Hobbs.

"Knowing that he put his professional career aside to fight for the right of the people and that encouraged me not only as mayor of the Village of Hempstead but as a pastor," Hobbs said.

"It is a legacy for all of us to want to strive to be committed and have the courage and the conviction to stand for right," Dukes said.

Now, they have to have the courage to say goodbye.

"This nation, this world has just lost a great icon," Hobbs said.

"May your soul rest in peace. You did a great job," Garner said.

"Thank you for all that you have done," Dukes said. "It's a sad moment for me. I will miss his encouragement and his love for all of us."


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