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Back in the Day-O

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When you were close with the Kennedys, in those years when JFK asked you to help lead the Peace Corps, you persuaded him to sponsor African students to come to America, one of whom was our current president’s father.
We had the airlift, right. Myself, Jackie Robinson, Eleanor Roosevelt, and a woman called Cora Weiss. And we brought Kenyan students, before independence. To the chagrin of England. There was a huge foreign-policy glitch—England protested bitterly that the government permitted us to do this, without Kenyan visas. That we got them visas to enter American universities. And one of our lifts—and we didn’t have many—on one of those planes, we had Barack Obama’s father.

You praised Obama mightily when he was elected; you’ve now become highly critical of him. What do you think has happened to the president?
I don’t know that anything’s happened to Obama. I don’t know Obama. One can make assumptions, and you can glean things from what he says in his book, but it’s all pretty pat. I don’t know what Obama was intending to be, I don’t know what his game was. Being a community leader, being at Harvard … it’s all so squeaky clean. And I don’t know if he’s got a rabbit in the hat, that he’ll pull out at some point, startle all of us. But there has been no indication whatsoever that there is a rabbit in the hat. There’s been no indication that he even has a hat. So I treat him like I would treat anybody who sits in the seat of power. You push them as much as you can, awaken social consciousness, and try and go out there and make him do things. 

My Song
By Harry Belafonte.
Knopf, $30.50.

Sing Your Song HBO.
October 17.


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