In the 24-hour, cascading-waterfall news cycle, news that would otherwise get our attention sometimes becomes obscured by the sheer magnitude of other news. Such is the case this week. Vying for our attention are the runoff election in Louisiana for the U.S. Senate; President Obama's trip to China; the nomination of Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, to replace Eric Holder as U.S. Attorney General; North Korea's release of two American captives after a secret trip there by Obama's intelligence chief; the announcement of the deployment of 1,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq; the Kaci Hickox story in Maine; the news that New York City doctor Craig Spencer is Ebola-free; the public objections of congressional Republicans to Obama's announced intention to take executive action on immigration; etc.
But along with all of the above, we were pleased to learn that, last Saturday in Los Angeles, my friend of 50 years, Harry Belafonte, was awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, an honorary Oscar, by the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Most of the readers of this blog post probably only know Harry Belafonte as a celebrity, one of America's great folk singers and performing artists. But I know him best for, and he is most proud of, his close personal friendship with and work in support of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the most important years of our civil-rights movement during the 1960s. Harry was decisive in, among many other things, raising the bail money needed to enable the release of hundreds of Negro young people who'd been incarcerated for their peaceful demonstrations against racial segregation in the face of fire hoses and polices dogs in Birmingham, Alabama. Four months later, on Aug. 28, 1963, Harry was the person who organized and coordinated the attendance of Hollywood celebrities at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. King delivered his historic "I Have a Dream" speech.
Yesterday, while we were savoring this good news, the White House announced the latest recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Along with TV news icon Tom Brokaw, actress Meryl Streep, singer/songwriter Stevie Wonder, legendary dancer/choreographer Alvin Ailey (awarded posthumously) and others, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schewerner were posthumously designated as recipients. They were the three civil-rights workers murdered by Klu Klux Klan police officers in the summer of 1964 near Philadelphia, Mississippi.
Earlier this year I wrote here on The Huffington Post:
In 1964, one thousand out-of-state volunteers participated in a voter registration campaign called "Freedom Summer." Alongside thousands of black people, they participated in a campaign to register eligible black people to vote in Mississippi. Most of the volunteers were young students, from the North; 90 percent of whom were white. ...
The exemplars of the moral commitment to social justice among such students were Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney. Goodman and Schwerner were young white Jewish boys from New York.
And back in August, to mark the 50th anniversary of their deaths, I said at an event sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League in San Jose, California:
We must make it clear that we will not stand by idly and silently and have the memory of the summer of 1964 desecrated and defiled by 2014 efforts to limit our right to vote. Not now, not this time or ever!
It's for these reasons that the decision to posthumously award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schewerner is especially gratifying. It is also serendipitous that yesterday's announcement came exactly one week before next Monday's commemoration of the 50th anniversary of their deaths by the Andrew Goodman Foundation in New York. Dave Dennis, Bob Moses, Andrew Young and Myrlie Evers, whose husband Medgar Evers, the head of the NAACP in Jackson, Mississippi, was also assassinated by a leader of the Klan, are scheduled to participate. Harry Belafonte will present the Media Hero Award to Steve McQueen, director of the Oscar-winning motion picture 12 Years a Slave.
As Sam Cooke's 1964 hit song reminds us:
It's been a long, a long time coming,
But I know a change gon' come.
Oh, yes, it will.