DECEMBER 18, 1959
NEW YORK—On Tuesday night I went to the opening of Harry Belafonte's show at the RKO Palace Theatre, here in New York. It was a delightful evening, ending with "Matilda" in which Mr. Belafonte always gets the audience to join. Everyone who is not familiar with this gentleman should certainly take the opportunity to enjoy an evening with him during the next few weeks.
I am very fond of Harry Belafonte and his wife and am struck by the amount of benefit performances that he manages to sandwich in, though he has a heavy working schedule. It is good to see someone who has made a success not forget to help those who are not yet as fortunate as he has been.
He has given the boys at Wiltwyck School a chance to learn to make and to use steel drums, and they have made some fine recordings and developed considerable talent, even appearing on a show in Carnegie Hall. This is a great outlet for boys like this who need sometimes to express themselves with violence and who can do it safely on the drums! The records they have made can now be bought through the school, and I am giving them to a number of people for Christmas.
On the way to Philadelphia the other day I read a little book by Pearl Buck, called "Tell the People." This is a little story told her by James Yen of the Mass Education Movement about the project which he and his friends started in China before the Communists came in. It is a remarkable story and not the least of its interest lies in the personality of the selfless man who tells it. Pearl Buck says that long ago Mr. Yen forgot to think about himself, and that comes out in every part of the tale.
The experiment in the Philippines, which Mr. Yen has undertaken, is now working out very successfully, I am told, and as one reads this book one wishes it could be tried in many, many countries because it sounds like the most sensible way to help people to help themselves.
I have not always had the warmest feelings toward Mr. John L. Lewis but when one reads that, at 80, he is about to resign, having led the miners for 40 years, one goes back over the past and realizes that as their leader he did a magnificent job.
When Mr. Lewis started out, no one knew what conditions were for mine workers, protective legislation was rare in many states, and it was not till he really began functioning that the situation for miners began to improve.
I have thought of him at times as a demagogue, but I often recall Frances Perkins' admonition to me when she was Secretary of Labor. She invited me once to meet some of the labor leaders, and I made a critical remark about Mr. Lewis. With more knowledge and deeper insight, she said: "He is a very good labor leader. He just happens to be the type who would always say `Mama knows best.' In his case it would be `Papa knows best."'
Perhaps for those he led it was essential to have this type of labor leader, so we must be grateful for his accomplishments, congratulate him warmly, and hope for him happy and contented years of retirement.