Project 21 Press Release: Harry Belafonte Should Apologize to Colin Powell for Racist Insults; Conservative Black Group Urges Charity to Deny Singer Honor – October 2002

Singer Harry Belafonte owes Secretary of State Colin Powell an apology for the racial insults Belafonte made about Powell during an October 9 interview. Furthermore, members of the African-American leadership network Project 21 urge the group Africare to rethink honoring Belafonte at a dinner being held later this month unless Belafonte makes a formal apology to Powell.
In a radio interview with KFMB-San Diego talk show host Ted Leitner, Belafonte likened Powell to a slave who curried the favor of his master. Belafonte added: “Colin Powell’s committed to come into the house of the master. When Colin Powell dares to suggest something other than what the master wants to hear, he will be turned back out to pasture.” He also claimed that Powell “serves to give the illusion that the Bush Cabinet is a diverse Cabinet.”

Reacting to Belafonte’s comments, Powell later said on CNN’s “Larry King Live”: “I think it is unfortunate that Harry used that characterization. I’m very proud to be serving my nation once again. I’m very proud to be serving this President… If Harry had wanted to attack my politics, that was fine… But to use a slave reference, I think, is unfortunate and is a throwback to another time and place that I wish Harry had thought twice about using.”

“Mr. Belafonte’s comments are indeed ‘unfortunate,’ as General Powell suggests, but the characterizations from this liberal activist-singer follow a long tradition of other liberals who name-call, belittle and assassinate the character of conservatives,” said Project 21 member Murdock “Doc” Gibbs. “I’ve heard it from comedian Whoopi Goldberg, activist Jesse Jackson and former Emerge editor George E. Curry. Regardless of one’s contributions to America, regardless of the sterling example one offers to other black Americans – if you’re a Republican, if you’re conservative, if you serve under this President, you are persona non grata. That is truly unfortunate.”

“It is disappointing to see Mr. Belafonte attack a man like Colin Powell.” said Project 21 member Ak’bar Shabazz. “Secretary Powell has dedicated years of his life to the service of this country. He also serves as a much-needed role model for the community in an age where men of his integrity have become rare.”

Project 21 members also reject Belafonte’s claim that President George W. Bush’s Cabinet is not diverse. Of the 14 members of the current Cabinet, there are three women, two African-Americans, two Asian-Americans, one Hispanic and one Arab-American. In addition, African-American Condoleezza Rice also serves in a high-ranking role as the President’s National Security Advisor.

On October 24, Belafonte is the scheduled guest of honor at Africare’s Bishop John T. Walker Memorial Dinner in Washington, DC. The event is described by Africare literature as “the largest event for Africa in the United States.” Members of Project 21 hope the group will withhold its tribute to Belafonte until he apologizes to Powell. Besides protesting the inappropriateness of Belafonte’s remarks, Project 21 members cite Bush Administration actions such as the doubling of the African Education Initiative budget, work to repeal trade barriers and assistance in fighting terrorism and AIDS as proof that Powell and the entire Bush Administration are committed to African issues and undeserving of Belafonte’s harsh criticism.

Project 21 has been a leading voice in the African-American community since 1992. For more information, contact Chris Burger or David Almasi at (202) 507-6398 or [email protected], or visit Project 21’s web site at


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