Amid Race Flap, Lott Urged to Pull Out of Belafonte Award Dinner

July 7, 2008 - 8:20 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) is being urged to "pull out" of an Oct. 24 award dinner honoring entertainer/activist Harry Belafonte, following the singer's comparison of Secretary of State Colin Powell to a house "slave."

Lott is listed as a "National Honorary Patron" along with Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) for the Washington event sponsored by the non-profit relief group Africare.

Condoleezza Rice, the assistant to the president for national security affairs, was initially scheduled to be the keynote speaker for the Africare Bishop John T. Walker Memorial Dinner honoring Belafonte, but is no longer listed because of "scheduling conflicts." Rice and Powell are African Americans, as is Belafonte.

Lott's participation in the Belafonte event is drawing criticism because of Belafonte's reference to Powell during a Tuesday interview with KFMB San Diego radio host Ted Leitner.

"Colin Powell's committed to come into the house of the master," Belafonte told Leitner. "When Colin Powell dares to suggest something other than what the master wants to hear, he will be turned back out to pasture.

"In the days of slavery, there were those slaves who lived on the plantation and were those slaves that lived in the house. You got the privilege of living in the house if you served the master ... exactly the way the master intended you to serve him," Belafonte added.

Niger Innis of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a conservative African American civil rights group, told CNSNews.com that Lott must make sure everyone knows he is withdrawing from the dinner.

"I mean publicly, not privately, not quietly, not through an e-mail. [Lott] needs to be outraged," Innis said.

Innis is angry that Belafonte would denigrate the life and career of Powell, saying the singer represents "selfish ideological interests ... that do a disservice to the people they pretend to speak for."

"For years, Belafonte and the civil rights movement have been pushing for Black Americans to get the opportunity to serve their country in a variety of ways and now you have a distinguished general and now secretary of state that is blazing his own path. It's a disgrace what Belafonte is saying," Innis said.

Lott's office did not return repeated requests for comment on Wednesday.

Innis said he would not be surprised if Lott refused to take a stand.

"We are tired of [Lott] being in the wrong place at the wrong time and this is the wrong place at the wrong time. He needs to pull out [as National Honorary Patron]," Innis said.

Rice No Longer the Keynoter?

Condoleezza Rice was originally scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the Africare Belafonte dinner, but she is no longer listed, according to the group's website. Africare's spokeswoman Libba Conger told CNSNews.com, "[Rice] hasn't been the keynoter for quite some time."

Conger cited "scheduling problems" as the reason for Rice not giving the keynote address. Conger emphatically denied that Belafonte or his political views contributed to Rice not appearing at the award dinner and said the new keynoter was scheduled to be former Atlanta Democratic Mayor Andrew Young.

But a spokeswoman for Young at his office at Good Works International said she was unaware of Young being the keynote speaker for the event and only had him scheduled to attend the dinner. Africare's website does not currently list a keynote speaker for the awards dinner. But another website, promoting Belefonte's life and career, still lists Rice as the keynoter.
Further confusing matters, a spokesperson for Rice told CNSNews.com that Rice was never scheduled to be the keynoter at the Belafonte dinner, but had received an invitation.

Powell served as the keynote speaker for last year's Africare Awards dinner honoring Louis W. Sullivan, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the previous Bush administration.

Asked if Belafonte's comments regarding Powell would impact Lott's serving as the National Honorary Patron, Conger replied, "I imagine there will be no impact whatsoever."

Innis thinks it's a shame that Powell was compared to a slave and Rice is no longer scheduled to speak at the Africare dinner. "This administration has put forward two Black Americans that have had more influence in American policy than any others in the history of our country," Innis said.

E-mail a news tip to Marc Morano.

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