SEPTEMBER 29, 1961
NEW YORK—Some of the foreign Ambassadors to the United Nations were invited to join the many friends of the Wiltwyck School for Boys at Carnegie Hall last Monday evening. This was the third benefit given by Harry Belafonte for the school, and I hope that some of these Ambassadors took away with them a booklet which was distributed and which told the story both of the evening's entertainment and of the boys profiting by the generosity of the entertainers.
In speaking of Mr. Belafonte the booklet states: "No artist has become great without conviction, and Harry Belafonte has this quality to an almost-unimaginable degree." I would add to this that he has a great sense of the responsibility of a citizen in the United States and a great compassion for all those who have to struggle to become good citizens.
He brought to Carnegie Hall "The World in Song" and a singer I had never heard before, Miriam Makeba. Miss Makeba's country is the Union of South Africa, and I wonder whether she will be allowed to return there. This, of course, would be our gain and their loss, because she is not only a finished actress but her voice has a remarkable range and she has already gained great popularity here.
Both these artists bring not only a monetary gift, which means much to the Board of Directors of the Wiltwyck Schoolbut they bring hope to the boys who come to Wiltwyck to be healed and started again on the path to better citizenship.
Because these boys come into the courts in New York City—and the Puerto Rican areas of the city are perhaps the most crowded—we find the Wiltwyck population includes about two-thirds colored boys with a sprinkling of Puerto Ricans and about one-third of white boys who for some reason or other had not been able to remain in the institutions where they had originally been placed.
This is a small effort to meet some of our obligations not only to disadvantaged white children in our community but at the same time to recognize that certain children have a double handicap. These latter have to face not only poverty and neglect and sometimes even cruelty at home, but also a racial barrier which makes life additionally difficult as they grow older. To try to find ways to help these youngsters to build the kind of character that will help them overcome these difficulties is the main objective of Wiltwyck.
I feel the dedicated people who work for the school deserve our thanks not only for what they do for us at home. They deserve credit also, I think, because they are showing our neighbors from other parts of the world that there are people in this country who are giving of their best to wipe out the shame of segregation and unfair treatment on a racial basis, which is still with us to a fairly large extent.
We must never be content until we have set our own house in order. Then we can go to other areas of the world without having to overcome a reaction of antagonism arising out of our long association with other colonial powers and our own background first of slavery in our early days and then of unwillingness to accept the fact of the equality of all mankind, which is the basic principle on which this country was founded.
It is fitting, I think, that we should find among our entertainment leaders the recognition of talent wherever it is found. And for that reason we often find among our successful entertainers an appreciation of cultural values wherever they are found and a wiping out in their own contacts of the divisions that separate people on either racial or religious levels. So, we can thank many of our great artists for their contribution to drawing the peoples of the world together.
Music, perhaps more than any other art, transcends the barriers of language, and I thought of this the other night as I attended the concert of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra led by Leonard Bernstein at which Eileen Farrell was a special performer.
People of all nations could have been in the audience and appreciated the remarkable musical evening they were enjoying. And gratitude to these artists filled my heart for their aid in our struggle for better contacts with the rest of the world. They can speak through their art to the souls of men when the rest of us have to stand tongue-tied because we lack the means to communicate.