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Harry Belafonte, 96, dead; barrier-breaking singer, actor and activist

He funded the release of Dr. King and other civil rights activists on bail. In 1963, he participated in the March on Washington. His spacious apartment on Manhattan’s West Side Avenue became Dr. King’s second home. He quietly took out an insurance policy for Dr. King’s life, with his family as beneficiaries, and donated his own money to ensure that his family was cared for after Dr. King was assassinated in 1968.

(In 2013, though, he sued Dr. King’s three surviving children over documents that Mr. Belafonte said were his property and that the children said belonged to the King estate. The suit was settled the following year, and Belafonte Mr. keeps the property.)

In an interview with The Washington Post months after Dr. King’s death, Mr. Belafonte was ambivalent about his high profile in the civil rights movement. He said he wanted “to be able to stop answering questions as if I was the spokesman for my people,” adding, “I hate parades and being called at 3 a.m. to bail some cats out of jail.” But, He said he accepted his role.

In the same interview, he lamented that although he sang music “rooted in black culture in America, Africa and the West Indies,” the majority of his fans were white. As frustrating as this may be, it was made all the more frustrating by the racism he faced even at the height of his fame.

His role in the 1957 film Sunny Isles prompted outrage in the South when he suggested a romantic relationship between his character and a white woman played by Joan Fontaine; the South Carolina legislature even proposed A bill that would have fined any theater showing the film. While attending a benefit concert for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta in 1962, he was refused service at the same restaurant twice. Television appearances by white female singers — Petula Clark in 1968 and Julie Andrews in 1969 — angered many viewers and, in Ms Clark’s case, threatened To make him lose sponsors.

He sometimes drew criticism from blacks, including suggestions early in his career that he owed his success to being fair-skinned (both his grandfather and grandmother were white). When he divorced his wife in 1957 and married Julie Robinson, who had been the only white member of Katherine Dunham’s dance troupe, the Amsterdam News wrote: “Many blacks wondered why A man who once waved a banner of justice for his race should turn from a black wife to a white wife.”

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