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Powell: Belafonte's remarks 'unfortunate'

Singer compared Powell to a slave out to please the master

Colin Powell talks about Belafonte's remarks on Wednesday night's edition of
Colin Powell talks about Belafonte's remarks on Wednesday night's edition of "Larry King Live" on CNN.

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Singer Harry Belafonte equates U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell with a 'house slave' (October 9)
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U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said that comments made by singer Harry Belafonte comparing Powell to a slave were 'unfortunate' (October 10)
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Did Harry Belafonte cross the line in his comments about Colin Powell?


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday that comments made by singer Harry Belafonte comparing Powell to a slave out to please his master were "unfortunate."

In a scathing radio interview Tuesday in San Diego, Belafonte blasted Powell in racially charged comments that compared the secretary of state to a plantation slave who moves into the slave owner's house and says only things that will please his master. Belafonte is a longtime political activist.

Both the singer and the secretary of state are black men of Jamaican descent.

"There's an old saying," Belafonte said. "In the days of slavery, there were those slaves who lived on the plantation and [there] were those slaves that lived in the house. You got the privilege of living in the house if you served the master ... exactly the way the master intended to have you serve him.

"Colin Powell's committed to come into the house of the master. When Colin Powell dares to suggest something other than what the master wants to hear, he will be turned back out to pasture."

In an interview taped for Wednesday night's edition of "Larry King Live" on CNN, Powell responded: "I think it's unfortunate that Harry used that characterization. I'm very proud to be serving my nation once again. I'm very proud to be serving this president.

"If Harry had wanted to attack my politics, that was fine. If he wanted to attack a particular position I hold, that was fine," Powell said. "But to use a slave reference, I think, is unfortunate and is a throwback to another time and another place that I wish Harry had thought twice about using."

Earlier in the day, a senior State Department official had a piece of advice for Belafonte, similar to a suggestion made to Powell after he sang in a musical skit with fellow foreign ministers during the annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Brunei this past July.

"As people said when the secretary sang at ASEAN [that] he should keep his day job, you could say the same about singers who get into politics," the official said.


Belafonte's comments about Powell were part of a nearly 20-minute tirade against the Bush administration, in which he also likened Attorney General John Ashcroft's tactics to those employed during the McCarthy era in the 1950s.

The reference was to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who accused without evidence many prominent Americans of being communists, ruining their careers. McCarthy was later censured by the Senate.

"Families were destroyed, neighbors spied on neighbors," Belafonte said of the era. "Now we find Ashcroft cutting in under the guise of catching terrorists, suspending liberties and rights.

"To deny those rights, to any citizen, to any people, is to cast a great shame on us and lead us back to another dark period."

Belafonte, best known for his hit "The Banana Boat Song," also criticized President Bush for not attending the U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, earlier this year, calling it "sticking it to the government of Nelson Mandela ... a dark page on our foreign policy."

-- CNN Producer Elise Labott contributed to this report.

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