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Seeing Harry Belafonte in Portland, Oregon

From Jim Akre: (dated March 15, 2015)

Yesterday I saw the film Selma http://www.selmamovie.com/, which is the chronicle of Martin Luther King's three-month campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. It was excellent by any standard, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it, particularly to people of our generation. But that is not the only reason I am sending this post today.

Turkey X (rural community development, 1966-1968) was a group of what turned out to be a minority of Peace Corps Volunteer trainees to participate in a relatively short-lived special training program http://www.nytimes.com/1964/01/12/peace-corps-to-recruit-college-juniors-in-a-special-training-program.html?_r=0 (my recollection is that it didn't last long, primarily in view of the high attrition rate between junior year of college and graduation).

So, there we were, 40 or so of us in the summer of 1965, enduring the daily rigors of six a.m. gym workouts and intensive training in the Turkish language at Portland State (then) College (now University). Given the countless entertainment opportunities in a city the size of Portland, Oregon, I don't recall ever being at a loss for enjoyable things to do, especially on weekends.

No doubt most Turkey Ten-ers recall the evening in early August 1965 when we managed to secure a bloc of tickets to attend the Harry Belafonte show - he was touring with Nana Mouskouri - at the Paramount Theater http://www.nanamouskouri.qc.ca/concerts/concerts_1965.html. Perhaps you also remember that Harry Belafonte was a member of the first National Advisory Council to the Peace Corps http://peacecorpsworldwide.org/babbles/2009/10/23/first-natio nal-advisory/. Clearly, someone had alerted him to our presence in the audience. Not only did he generously greet us from the stage, way up in the "nose-bleed section" as he described the top-row cheap seats where we were sitting; after the show, we were also ushered back stage to meet him in person (Nana was nowhere in sight).

Back, briefly, to the film Selma. Even if you have not already seen it, you won't be surprised to know that some of the original black & white film footage from 1965 was interspersed with today's dramatization. This included during the last few minutes of the film when Glory, the 2015 Oscar winner for Best Song http://variety.com/2015/film/news/oscars-common-john-legend-glory-selma-win-1201439346/, was featured. And there, among the familiar celebrities of the period who had gone to Selma to support MLK and the Selma marchers was the solemn-faced man we had had the pleasure of meeting back stage that summer evening in Portland nearly 50 years ago.

From Todd Boressoff (dated March 16, 2015)

I have the answer to the mystery about how Harry Belafonte knew we Turkey 10 volunteers were in the audience.  

The afternoon before the show Bob Pearlstein and I, believing ourselves to be budding organizers, talked our way into the theater where Mr. Belafonte was to perform.  We said we were Peace Corps volunteers in training and that since he was on the national advisory committee we were certain he would be pleased to meet us.    

After getting passed perhaps three levels of protectors we entered the small room that he was rehearsing in.  He was absolutely furious to see us and told us to get the hell out.

Fortunately, some of his staff wrote down that a group of us would be attending that evening, which led to our being generously invited backstage.



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