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Harry Belafonte, Singer, b. 1927

“When my mother gave birth to me, the city terrified her.”

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When my mother gave birth to me, the city so terrified her—the intensity of it, the complicated way people pass through people’s lives—she thought the best thing to do was to take her children back to the Caribbean, let them be raised by the village, and then at some point bring them back to America. I stayed in the Caribbean from 1 and a half to 12.

One of the things that made New York particularly complicated was that there were no laws in the state or on the books that segregated its citizens. There was no law on the book that said, “A black person cannot live here. A black person cannot eat here. A black person cannot go to school here.” It was all something we just understood. We didn’t go below 110th Street. We didn’t go north of 150th Street … or 145th Street. We didn’t go farther west than Riverside Drive—well, I guess there’s not much farther to go there! And we didn’t go farther east than the East River. That was our ghetto.


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