The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte hosts the Tonight Show (2020) - full transcript

For one week in February 1968, Johnny Carson gave up his chair to Harry Belafonte, the first time an African-American had hosted a late night TV show for a whole week.


Rolling sound.


From New
York, "The Tonight Show,"

starring Johnny Carson.

And now, here's

the fabulous Harry Belafonte.

Here he comes!

I found out about that
week from Harry Belafonte.

I went over to his home

and all of a sudden,

he started talking about
this week of television

and "The Tonight Show."

And I'm thinking, wait a minute,

Harry Belafonte hosted a
week of "The Tonight Show?"


What, how did I not know this?

- That was probably the
most revolutionary move

that mainstream television
could have done at the time.

- I write about TV, I
write about politics.

I should have known about it.

Why is this history lost to us?

Harry Belafonte takes an
existing white institution

in American culture
and he turns it into

something that
represents his

that it should be multicultural,

that it should be
politically engaged.

What Harry Belafonte did,

he combined politics
and entertainment.

Like a forerunner
to "The Daily Show"

and the Stephen Colbert show.

Is that a fancy way
of saying I told you so?

I mean, this is early 1968.

The nation was really
in crazy upheaval.

There was increasing and
very appropriate Black anger.

And Harry exposed
you as a white person,

speaking as a white person,

to this vibrant world
where Black people

and white people met as equals.

This was a talented,
intelligent, sophisticated,

passionate social
activist of a Black man

in that chair that has,
through the years,

been the seat of white males.

My parents allowed me
to stay up late.

They said, you need to see this.

I guarantee you, my
grandmother had her three kids

sitting in the
living room watching,

even though they
should have been in bed.

It was something that
was really inspiring,

especially to a lot of Black
people who were watching,

who had not seen themselves
necessarily represented

in that way,
in that American institution

that is "The Tonight Show".

Harry Belafonte at
11 o'clock late night

was saying, we're here,
we're Americans.

We're part of this,
we're not going anywhere.

Y'all brought us,
now we're here.

So, get in your bed.

Let me be the last thing you
see before you go to sleep.

Mr. Belafonte,
would you like to look at

your guest list from that week?

I'd love to see it.

Oh, my God.

I had all these people?

When I was there I was a bit
overawed by the whole thing.

It was so seldom in the
'60s that people of color

were invited into
the homes of, you know,

television viewers everywhere.

First time on "The
Tonight Show," I'm scared.

I'm sitting between Harry
Belafonte and Paul Newman.

That was a special night.

I knew I was with
the biggies that night.

Me, too.

As they say, stepping
in high cotton.

You see how pivotal
this week was

because you're watching
this man bring together

all of his brothers and
sisters in the movement

and say we deserve a space
and we deserve to be here

and we deserve to
talk about these things.

From New
York, "The Tonight Show,"

starring Johnny Carson.

"The Tonight Show" was
one of the most powerful

platforms of communication
in the world.

If there's anything you
don't see, just ask for it.

Okay, we have, fine,
a gentleman.

Johnny Carson was the
rage of the evening.

Thank you, love you all.

If anybody was up
after 10 o'clock,

they were watching
"The Tonight Show."

One, two.

Jump in anyway.


Mr. Woody Allen.

Carson would often
mention this on the air.

"Hey, I know you're in bed
when you're watching me."

And it's the most unique of
frames to watch television

was between your feet.

You're taking them
not just in your home,

but actually into your bedroom.

The birth rate
in this country has

dropped appreciably
and I'd like to feel

that my show
is partly responsible.

Carson was this Midwestern very,

sort of easy to
take kind of host.

Hi, folks.

He was as average of an American

as you could possibly get.

We'll be right back.

It was part of his appeal.

He was just the kid next door.

Never seen a human cell.

Johnny Carson helped define
what late night would be.

Early on the 1950s,
'60s, as we really started

to see these interview
programs with Jack Paar

and all these sorts of people...

See, they don't
understand what, uh,

how we do the show.

We just keep talking

with no script. I know.

It's agony.

You would get to see celebrities

as you've never
seen them before.

You get to see them uncensored.

So that started making
late night really special

and hallowed ground.

Why did you go into politics?

I think that as
an interested citizen

in the United States,

I cannot think
of a greater privilege

than serving in
the House or the Senate.


When "The
Tonight Show" first began,

it was a comedy show and Steve
Allen became the first host.

This is uh,
kind of a mild little show.

I don't expect you to say,
"Boy, what a program!"

Carson takes over
in October of 1962

and it really is a whole

different approach to the show.

He managed to weave
in more contemporary news

than anybody had tried before.

Senator, Mrs. Kennedy are
expecting their tenth child.

I understand
Ethel Kennedy is demanding

a civilian review board.

All of that would first be
the subject of a monologue.

And then often guests
would talk about it.

Our bloodshed will be
in our racial situation,

not with Russia or Khrushchev
or any other country.

But you probably, as most
people do in the world today,

have some feelings on
the Vietnam situation.

And the interesting thing about

"The Tonight Show"

was that the guests
stayed on the couch.

They didn't just make
their appearance and leave.

So they sat together.

I wish now I'd have been honest.

So, "The Tonight Show"
now becomes

kind of a national
gathering place at night.

And whatever's going
on in pop culture,

whatever's going on in politics,

obviously what's
going on in the news,

it was a place for all
those things to come together

in an entertaining way.

11:30 at night, Eastern,
was the most segregated hour

in America because white
people were watching

white Johnny Carson
in their white homes.

Black people were
doing it separately.

Little Mister 1968.

Let's welcome him.

Tell me, 1968, what
can we expect from you?

Well, there's riots,
brutality, poverty, sit-ins,

overpopulation, famine.

Hmm, I see.

You want to hear the
bad news now?

Hi, this is Johnny Carson.

As you know this is
the usual starting time

for "The Tonight Show,"

but because of the critical
war situation in Vietnam,

NBC for the next 15 minutes
is going to bring you

a special news
program via satellite.

On the morning of January 31st,

both sides claimed victor
in the Tet Offensive,

but 1100 American
soldiers lie dead.

Seven young and
earnest protestors

burned draft cards
on the steps of...

In 1968,
there were many Americas.

There was Black America
and White America.

For his running mate,

Nixon chose Henry Cabot Lodge.

There was establishment America,

anti-establishment America.

And the culture was chaotic.

The culture was complicated.

The culture was divisive.

The tension in the air of
1968 couldn't be ignored,

no matter how many
blinders that you chose to

put in front of your eyes.

All kinds of changes
were pushed through.

It's the time when women said,

listen, we're not just this.

We want to run these companies.

We're not playing
with you anymore.

It's the year of the afro.


Natural hair.


Things were no longer
going to be the status quo.

It was that time of protests.

The Black community had risen
up with righteous indignation.

We could no longer tolerate
the racial indiscretions

that were being heaped upon us.

As performers, we felt a need

to begin to do more
than just sing.

We had to have a point of
view and we had to speak out.

When you look at the late '60s,

the exposure that
white Americans

were getting on the news

was the covering of the
civil rights marches

and the civil rights
movement that was happening.

But we were still watching
shows like "Bonanza,"

"Beverly Hillbillies,"
"I Dream of Jeannie."

Very, very white
television shows.

We were really seeing these
pretty trivial depictions

of the Old West, depictions
of suburban families.

Television shows had
a always very difficult

relationship with reality

and there were a lot of,
we'll say fantasy sitcoms

that really sort of avoided race

and what was going
on in the country.

My personal experiences
have been that there is

an enormous reluctance
on the part of the media

to expose Black life
as it really is.

Hollywood reflects
the mood of the nation.

It reflects our politics.

It reflects our culture.

It reflects our hopes
and aspirations.

And it lies a lot
about who we are.

None of us thought we were
going to be in the future.

If you were a sci-fi person,
which I am,

You never saw us represented

in the future times of America.

For what we are about to
receive, we give thanks.

We were never there.

We were never at the
beach blanket bingo.


We hear that the girls
are all over at your house.

We were never
where the boys were.

We just weren't there,
we weren't represented.

Television was a
medium that was still

figuring out its relationship
to power in a lot of ways.

TV wasn't crossover medium.

There were a few Black stars
in television at the time

who had been able to
kind of rise to the top.

Harry Belafonte
was one of those.

Harry Belafonte was a
huge celebrity at the time,

who produced record
setting album after album.

First performer to sell
over a million copies

of a single album.

What Mr. Belafonte wound up
doing was taking the art form

of calypso music.

And making it mainstream
for America's taste.

In the West Indies,
there are many languages

that have invaded those islands.

I mean, the French,
the English, the Spanish.

And when it's all put together,

it comes out in a strange
tongue we call Patois.

Just say after me, "I wonder
why nobody don't like me."

I wonder why nobody
don't like me.

By George, I think he's got it.



Harry was also a movie star.

He was a household name.

Black and white.

In your heart, deep down inside,

don't you still think
of us as slaves?

We saw him in iconic
films like "Carmen Jones,"

"Bright Road,"
"Odds Against Tomorrow,"

"Island in the Sun."

There are other countries.

My skin is my country.

Today we take it for granted,

but in the 1950s,
that was a radical idea

to have a Black artist
have a white fan base

at a time in which there
was still legal segregation.

If you look at some
of his early television

musical sort of variety shows,

I mean, there was just a
fascination and an appeal

that you couldn't find it
anywhere else on television.

I know when those women,

whatever nationality they were,

when they saw Harry,

it was all about

'Cause sexy's sexy
no matter what.

He was one of the most
important and trailblazing

cross-media superstars
of the 20th Century.

There are many sides to the
legend of Harry Belafonte.

Singer, actor, activist.

As artists,
we rejoice in the knowledge

that human experience
has no color

and we believe that artists
have a valuable function

in any society since
it is the artist

who reveal the
society to itself.

My father was a political person

before he became an artist.

His mother was
a political person.

His environment that he grew
up in and was exposed to

was political.

He wanted to take every
opportunity that he could

to bring forth the
civil rights movement.

He always used
whatever platform he had

as an opportunity
to educate and motivate

and activate audiences.

Our cause in America
is an honorable cause.

And ofttimes, when we are
in the midst of the struggle

for our liberation,
we sometimes feel that

it is more than we can bear.

Rosa Parks got me into this.

Went down to meet
her and I came back

and then one day
I got a phone call.

"Mr. Belafonte?"

I said, "Yes."

They said, "You may not know me,

"there's no reason for you to,

"except that I need
to talk to you."

And I said, "Fine."

"My name is
Martin Luther King Jr."

He said, "The things
you have said and done,

"I really believe you could
be an important component

"to this adventure
that I'm embarking on."

And listening to
what he had to say,

I knew that forever
I'd be in his service.

Ladies and gentlemen, the
Nobel Peace Prize winner,

the Reverend
Dr. Martin Luther King.

Once I took up with him,

my life never went
anywhere else but there.

Not only is Harry
a great artist,

he is a great humanitarian.

No performing artists in the
United States or in the world

has raised as much money for
the civil rights movement

as Harry Belafonte.

I respond as often
as possible to Dr. King

because I believe the
salvation of America

and our potential

is in our capacity
to deal humanistically

and non-violently
with our difficulties.

People who worked with
Johnny at the time would say

he was conversant with
the civil rights movement.

I can't sit here and say I
understand, because we can't.

He understood many
of the issues,

but he was not
comfortable enough to say

I'm going to do a week of shows

about what's going
on in the country.

So when I was out in Las Vegas,

I did the thing with
the audience, you know,

and the questions,
I get questions,

you know, political, what
do you think of so and so.

And I found out that no
matter which side you go,

you got to end up, if you're
a straight entertainer,

losing half your audience.

He as an entertainer
did not feel like

getting up on the soapbox.

But he certainly supported
the other entertainers

who were doing that.

I also admire Marlon
Brando for his conscience

as an American and
his moral commitment

when he believes in something.

Will you welcome, please,
Mr. Marlon Brando.

So I think he thought,

I'm going to have
a guest host come on

and the guest host can address

what I think are serious issues.

I do think Carson was
trying to make a statement.

How can you not talk about all
the things that are going on

in the craziest year
in American history?

Even my Midwestern, middle
of the country audience,

they need to see this.

This is only six years into
Johnny Carson's tenure,

that he did that.


See you tomorrow.

So it wasn't doing it
from the safe harbor of

I'm the King of Late Night.

He was still fairly
new in the job.

But it was in his head
that Harry Belafonte

was the right guy.

I said no at first.

Because I couldn't do
what Johnny did.

I can't tell jokes and whatnot.

We know Harry Belafonte
had been burned

by television before.

In 1959, he had
this special called

"Tonight with Belafonte."

It was fantastic,
it won an Emmy.

And the sponsor,
which was Revlon,

actually offered him an
ongoing series after that.

He called it "New York, 19."

The first episode ran
in 1960 to rave reviews.

But when he started to
plan the next episode,

the sponsor called him in

and had a problem with
the fact that Harry used

multiracial casts.

And the sponsor told
him pick a Black cast,

but none of this mixing.

And Harry walked away.

Thank you for being with us.

See you around.

My father didn't always trust

what the outcomes of a certain
opportunity might bring.

And so he turned a
lot of things down.

Tonight we take a look
at Negro humor in America.

We call it "A Time
for Laughter."

If it wasn't going to
be in an inclusive way

that he envisioned,

both racially, but I
think most importantly,

artistically, let
alone politically,

he didn't want that to
be part of his legacy.

Being on television,
reaching a lot of people,

and having this
amazing opportunity

that might only come once
in your entire lifetime.

And Harry Belafonte
had to be convinced.

It was Johnny who
put me at ease and said

we just want you
to be who you are.

I said in order to be who I am,

I'd have to have guests on

that share some of my beliefs.

He agreed to that condition,

with the understanding that
the network had the right

to say no to anybody.

But they wanted me
to submit my list.

After a little bit of wrangling,

they gave him control
of the guest list,

which was a huge deal.

So was there trepidation?

I'm sure there was trepidation.

I'm sure there was trepidation.

And who knows
what's gonna happen?

Is he going to have, you
know, a mix of people on?

Is it gonna be Black
people and White people?

Does he have restrictions?

When you see pictures
of the guests,

they didn't just
pass each other.

They knew each other.

So I envisioned Mr. Belafonte

making half those calls himself,

saying, "Hey, I need
you to come on by here

"and do this show."

So he was probably his booker
and the host of the show.

Do you remember how it felt

to be on the show?

I hardly knew what I
was yesterday,

much less 1968.

But, wow.

That's like, some nice company.

Is he here?

Floyd Bouncer is here, friends.

When you were in Selma, Alabama

All of these people, not
only were great artists,

but some of them were
also great thinkers.

It's the biggest feeling

I ever had in my life

to be actively involved in
being part of my own times.

He had all types of
people on that week,

but like the sheer volume
of activists that he had on

is mind-blowing.

Especially in such a
political hotbed at the time.


The fact that he was
able to fill in the space

with people that had
substance was amazing to me.

And to use that platform,

that's unprecedented
for the times.

I wanted to bring a political
dimension to the evening

that was not quite "The
Tonight Show" thing.

I want to make this

So I said, if anybody
wants to hear

what Dr. King has to say

and Bobby Kennedy has to say,

it'll be good for your ratings.

They were considered
the spokespersons

for the mood of the nation.

There's a story of somebody
with the network asking,

"Dr. King isn't going to talk
about that civil rights stuff,

"is he?"

It was a silly question.

We've got him here.

What would you like
him to do, sing a song?

Ladies and gentlemen,
the Reverend Dr. Martin
Luther King.

How old were you
when you started the

Montgomery Alabama Montgomery,
Alabama bus strike?

Well, I was 27 at that
time, that was back in 1956.

Can I ask one other question?

After this uh, word
from your local station.

Harry had an agenda.

And he had the people
to back it up.

The winner is Sidney Poitier.

Harry had Sidney Poitier,

who by '68 was the biggest
movie star in Hollywood.

There's a good angel
looking after me somewhere.

Sidney was pushing back
against the type

that the industry assumed
he was and needed him to be.

I'm so pleased to meet you.

I'm pleased to meet
you, Mrs. Drayton.

I am artist,

a man,


When he makes
"In the Heat of the Night,"

he's playing a cop.

And at some point
he winds up slapping

this old white man in the face.

That was the year of the smack!

Heard all
through the neighborhood.

You saw it.

When that man smacks Sidney...

Oh, I saw it.

And Sidney smacked him back?


Just the way Sidney
Poitier was changing movies

at the time,

another one of Harry's
guests that week, Bill Cosby,

was also changing television.

- He wasn't doing a thing

that you had seen
Black men do before.

He was on "I Spy"
with Robert Culp,

they were both equals.

He was playing an
undercover agent
alongside this white man.

Hello, sir.


And he was a very
important emblem

of integration in this country.

Yes, sir.

Now, that's what I like!

Let the women work, too.

In the late sixties,
television was shifting

in this powerful way.

It was no longer
the terrain of
just white people.

You can get rid of the uniform.

It makes me feel a
little self conscious.

You should know how
it makes me feel.

So now for the first time,

white people who probably
never even came in contact

with Black people were
now in contact with us

in their homes.

Tomorrow night, my
guests are Robert Goulet,

George Kirby, Aretha
Franklin, Buffy Sainte-Marie.

My job was to bring the
best that Black America

had to offer.



I want to thank Mr. Harry
Singer for permitting you

to come up tonight and
to be on this show.

Never mind, Harry
Singer, thank me.

And to put us out
in one concentrated period,

which all of this
magnificence burst out.

The shocking thing
is that through 1971,

NBC simply recorded over
and over, reused its tape.

Night after night.

Oh, this show's over, let's
just record on this same tape

the next night.

That's one thing I
could not believe.

You know, whether it's
to save money or space.

I mean, they were big
two inch tapes back then.

It shocked Johnny Carson
when he found out about it

and it shocked the staff
of the entire show.

- My first month at
"The Tonight Show,"

I kind of came in with
hopeful expectations

of watching all the
old footage of anything

that's ever been shot
in the 30 Rock building.

However, when I looked
on the video database,

there were only two episodes
hosted by Harry Belafonte.

So I guess no one ever
thought of reruns.

So all of this
is lost to history

except these two half hours,

one with Dr. King,
one with Bobby Kennedy.

And five minutes with
folksinger Leon Bibb.

There's a handful of shows
that I, as a curator,

would love to find.

The week that Harry Belafonte
hosted "Tonight Show"

is one of the gems
that we're missing.

- When I discovered this week,
I wrote an article about it

and I became borderline
obsessed with it.

I started searching
for what might exist.

I started interviewing people

and I got introduced to
this man named Phil Gries.

This is News 12 Long Island.

Now, the morning edition.

The time right now is 6:18 and

we're rewinding some
television history.

There is a collection of
early TV audio in Old Westbury

and Christina's there now.


- Phil Gries has collected
thousands of audio tapes

of old TV shows from the '60s.

Phil, tell us, how
did you get started?

How many tapes do you have?

- Well, there are
about 2,000 programs

that I collected over the years.

This is the Harry Belafonte
tape from February 5th and 6th

at 25 minutes.

This would be the
quarter inch tape.

This was only audio.

The first experience with
audio recording television

was when I was 14 years old

and I recorded things
that nobody else has.

I taped a lot of
"Tonight Shows."

I recorded the first two
nights with Harry Belafonte.

Ladies and
gentlemen, Harry Belafonte.

So thanks to these audio tapes,

we have a real sense of
what the show was like.

You get to hear
Harry sing a song.

He apparently opened
every episode with a song

and we hear him sing the
folk song "Rock Island Line."

I'm regretful that I didn't
record that whole week,

because it was the first time

that an Afro American
was asked to host

five consecutive days
of "The Tonight Show."

I am very, very
self conscious about the fact

that I am in this seat of power.

It does give you a
feeling of power.

But I tell you, my
greatest comfort

is to get up and do the
thing that I love most.

We have a film that I
would like to show you.

One of the things
that stands out to me

was that he showed home movies

of him and his
family on vacation.

People have
asked me all the time,

what do I do with my spare time?

This is what I do.

Watch the monitors
in the studio.

That's my wife and
that's my 10 year old son.

And that's my daughter.

This is a young man by
the name of Ken White,

who was the United States
water ski trick
skiing champion.

Look at those muscles!

He would perform for
about a month at a time

in those days at Caesar's
Palace in Las Vegas.

One of the perks of his
service to the hotel

was that they gave us a
yacht every other day.

And we would go out on
Lake Mead and water ski

and he would also bring
a lot of folks.

Celebrities, activists
on the boat.

It wasn't just
seeing us as Black people

who were in show business,

but seeing Black people
living their lives

in ways that were more than
just being a performer.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Miss Lena Horne.

Lena, I never ceased to
be amazed at the fact

that you are a grandmother.

The thing that kept me

from coming apart at the seams

was the fact that I
wanted to stay married

and I wanted to
raise my children.

And in a very tough,
competitive business.

Well, I guess you've
gotten right to the top

in every single phase of
show business there is,

Movies and records, radio,
television, now the stage.

Well, yes, and I'm very
happy now on the stage.

Lena Horne was a pioneering
African American superstar

who had been very, very
outspoken politically.

I don't feel like a
movie star particularly,

but I'm a New Yorker and
what happens in the South

happens to my state
and for my state, too.

It's a communal
effort, I'm sure.

Lena Horne became
very active in politics

in the early civil
rights movement

and she even found
herself blacklisted.

In 1963, Lena was invited to
a secret civil rights meeting

with then Attorney
General Bobby Kennedy.

She was with Harry, the
author James Baldwin,

playwright Lorraine Hansberry,

and some younger Black
civil rights workers.

It did not go well.

Bobby Kennedy was appalled
by some of their suggestions

about the measures that
the US should take

around race, especially
in the South

and the activists and
the artists were appalled

at his lack of deep

of the extent of the problem
of racism in the country

where he was the chief
law enforcement officer.

Will you please welcome
Senator Robert Kennedy?

I ride up and down
in my building

every day in the elevator
and I see a man

that says he's Johnny Carson.

So it's great
to see you finally.

It's not, really?

For the most part, my
father's relationship

to Robert Kennedy
had been adversarial,

given who Robert
Kennedy really was

before he made the
choice to learn more

about the plight of poor people.

Well, when we first
got word that Bobby Kennedy

had been appointed
as Attorney General

for the United
States of America,

many of us saw that as an
unfortunately dark choice.

With his record of

with his class interests
and having had

no real history or background
with peoples of color.

Dr. King, upon listening
to all of us

and how we criticized Bobby said

go out and find
his moral center.

And we reached out to to him,

gave him opportunity to look at

what was happening to
the poor white children

and in the Black community.

And wed him to our cause.

My father's advice was to
actually go to the South.

You see him coming
upon a young boy

leaning against a building
and asks had he had breakfast.

The boy very warmly
told him he didn't.

And I remember Bobby
Kennedy going to him

and putting his hand
against the boy's cheek.

I saw in that moment
that Bobby Kennedy

was now deeply
touched and moved.

He showed a deeper sense
of his own humanity.

He came back with new
eyes and a new perspective.

I think my father
felt an opportunity

to create intimacy there,
in conversation

and to get his feedback.

I think that there
are many areas

in which we have problems
in the United States.

There is this great
wealth that I talked about

and yet there's great poverty.

There are speeches
made about the fact

that we're going to
treat everybody equally,

and yet we don't treat
everybody equally.

He came on and spoke
to issues of race

through the eyes
of Black children.

Well, then I was out in Watts

and I went by to
see some young men

and one of them was
talking about the fact

that he lived at
home with his mother

and nobody ever
cleaned the garbage out.

He said, "They can
draft me and send me off

"to fight for this
country at the age of 18,

"but they won't
let me complain about

"the garbage out front beside
my mother's house at 19."

He spent a good number
of minutes talking about

what he saw America's
future to be.

If we didn't, perhaps, tell
untruths about ourselves,

then I think that er,

and faced up to reality,

then I think our country
would be much better off

and our people would
have much more confidence

in those of us who
are public officials

and in our government
as a whole.

Bobby Kennedy became
sort of this spokesman

for civil rights and the
whole progressive movement

and the antiwar movement.

This war has been handed
down and has been

the delinquent child of a
number of presidents.

Absolutely, including
the administration in which

I was a member and served.

You had the Tet Offensive
in January of 1968,

where people finally see
this is going terribly

for Americans.

It's war is a disaster.

The fact that there are
those who've been killed

who are innocently involved
in this great struggle.

Senator, there are increasing
reports out of Washington

that your advisors
are now telling you

that you should run against
President Johnson this year.

Johnson had become extremely
unpopular with young people.

The war is going so badly
that he's vulnerable.

I have no plans.

I have no plans to
change the statement

that I've already made.

Will you endorse...

There was all
kinds of speculation about

would he move on to
challenge Lyndon Johnson

for the presidency?

It was a massive story.

I had tried to get Bobby
to use "The Tonight Show"

to say that he was
running for the presidency

and that I would have had,
like you journalists say,

I'd had a scoop!

You said only those who
dare to fail greatly

can ever achieve greatly.

Do you believe that in 1968,
in the coming elections,

that we will have a
choice to back a candidate

who will dare greatly?

I think you were nice
to do that, weren't you?

In this campaign
year, political figures are

throwing their hats
into the ring.

Bobby Kennedy definitely will...

Come on, Bobby,
make up your mind.

"The Smothers Brothers
Comedy Hour."

Our government is
asking us as citizens

to refrain from traveling
to foreign lands.

- Okay, all you guys in
Vietnam, come on home.

Over the last couple
of years I've come to know

and come to respect
two young men

who have honored me by being
my guests this evening.

They're quite popular
and quite controversial.

Ladies and gentlemen,
the Smothers Brothers.

The Smothers Brothers
became very political

and they wanted
to deal with issues

that were happening in society.

Look, what can the president do

to make people want to
stay in this country?

Well, he could quit.

The Smothers
Brothers were in the middle

of this massive
controversy with CBS

because of their
opposition to the war.

They would be doing jokes
and mocking the president

that you didn't
see anywhere else.

My fellow citizens.

Because they were directly
criticizing Lyndon Johnson,

he wound up calling the
head of CBS, William Paley,

at three o'clock in
the morning and saying,

"You gotta stop this."

Paley did tell those
guys to knock it off.

The Smothers Brothers said,

"This is the show
we're going to do.

"We're not gonna back off."

Harry Belafonte had them on.

What are some of the jokes

that CBS will not permit
you to tell on the air?

They've been kind enough

to let us come on this show

and do some of our
distasteful material.

I think what was
interesting about the week

and something that
appealed to me personally,

even at that age, was this
mix of art and politics.

Throughout her career
in the 1960s,

Aretha Franklin was not afraid
to make both entertainment

and political music and to
tie those things together

in a way that would be
forever transformative

to popular music.

Just one month before
"The Tonight Show"

with Harry Belafonte, Aretha
Franklin released her album,

"Lady Soul."

"Chain of Fools," "You Make
Me Feel Like a Natural Woman,"

"Since You've Been Gone,"
"Ain't No Way."

This is just one month
before "The Tonight Show,"

so Aretha Franklin was
at the height of her

creative and commercial success.

She is selling more
records than any woman

in music at that time and still,

and she's using that money
to fund the movement,

to fund the activism.

You're so seduced by her voice

that sometimes her activism
is seen as a second tier.

A song like "Respect,"
which we all know

and associate with
Aretha Franklin,

that became a huge political
anthem for so many things,

including the feminist movement,

but also civil rights movement.

Tonight we are
gonna have a great night

in the city of Philadelphia

and I know you've heard
of Harry Belafonte

and Aretha Franklin and
all of these other

great and outstanding artists.

She was very close to
Dr. Martin Luther King.

Detroit is proud of
its native daughter.

He was willing
to work with her a lot

to try to get his message
to a wider group of people.

Do hereby proclaim
Friday, February the 16th

as Aretha Franklin Day.

Martin Luther King understood,

coming from the Black church,

how important music was
to conveying messages.

And so Martin
Luther King cultivated

these deep relationships
with artists

who he saw as being
key and vital

to the spreading of his message.

So many artists are
willing to stand up

on these particular issues

and it represents a real
and genuine courage.

And not only does he have
the right to take a stand,

but a moral responsibility
to do it.

I was a college
girl writing songs

that I thought audiences
really deserved to hear

because who, how are
they going to find out

about the things that
politicians and businessmen

are trying to cover up?

This is called
"Welcome Emigrante,"

which means welcome immigrants.

And it's pretty silly for...

maybe a first or second or
third generation American

to be making fun of and
refusing help to

newly arrived immigrants
when the fact is

they haven't been here
that long themselves.

When Harry invited me to
come on "The Tonight Show,"

of course I was thrilled.

Harry was like the heart and
brains of a lot of things.

He always brought people
from indigenous communities

all over the world onto stage.

And he brought those cultures
to audiences in cities,

in big fancy halls, who
otherwise would never have

been able to hear those groups.

Harry gave me the idea
that you could be

an entertaining entertainer,

even if I'm doing
hard-hitting material.

You're not trying to
scold or hurt people,

you're trying to
give them something

that otherwise they
wouldn't have known.

When it came to discuss what
I was going to play and sing,

I suggested "Now That
the Buffalo's Gone"

"Now That the Buffalo's
Gone," which is a song about

the building of the Kinzua Dam,

which is a government
project that's taken the land

away from the Seneca Indians.

America needed to see

what we were struggling
about as people of color.

Art without content is not art.

The truth of the matter is
that I quit being a pop star.

You can't go there and
sing protest songs

and sell a million, it
ain't going to happen.

I knew that I had
to go find an art

that would tell what
life should be.

And nothing did that better
than to be in the folk world.

In the history of folk music,
it's often seen as a kind of

white music, but that's
not actually true at all.

You have to remember,

folk music represented a
kind of political engagement,

especially for
African Americans,

that a lot of R&B music
didn't at the time.

R&B music, while it was
incredible music

and it's fun and exciting
and danceable,

was not necessarily
explicitly political.

The folk singers had
much more latitude.

Leon Bibb was a
southern folksinger.

He was not a household name,

but he was somebody that
Harry Belafonte felt

could make an impact if he was
in front of a wide audience.

Ha! Ha! Ha!

America was awakened
to a whole new group

of Black artists they
never heard before.

And Leon was one of them.

Ladies and gentlemen, my
dear friend, Mr. Leon Bibb.

There was a song
called "Suzanne."

And I just adored that song.

When Leon Bibb came on,
I suggested to him

that he sing that song

and it blew everybody away.

I remember getting that call.

God, it was a thrill.

The guests that night
were Leon Bibb,

me, Freda Payne,

Paul Newman, Nipsey
Russell, Aaron and Freddie

and Reverend Dr. Martin
Luther King.

Dr. King, how old are you?

- I'm 39 years old.

In fact, I was 39 just
three weeks ago.

What's the date?

Do you know that everybody
sitting on this panel...

The 15th of January.

Do you believe...

You're a young fellow,
what are you talking about?

Everybody on this
panel is older than you are.

Wait a minute!

There's no room here
for black protest.

The idea that you'd
have Harry Belafonte...

talking to Nipsey Russell.

Here's a little news.

If you think that
medicine has to taste bad

in order to be good, just watch.

To have Martin Luther
King talking to Paul Newman

where a white person is
a minority on the stage.

Come on, that's crazy!

Paul Newman, one of the
great actors of the time,

very celebrated internationally,

had never done a
talk show before.

I know that all of the artists

who sit on this panel
tonight feel very strongly

about the war in Vietnam
and we oppose it.

We also have been
through the years

as committed to civil rights
as you could possibly be.

I know I've put this
question to Paul before,

but Paul, how do you handle
some people who say to you

that as a top star, living
the luxury of American life,

that you could turn your
back against the nation?

What do you do?

You give up your
citizenship because
you've become an actor?

I remember the night
with Dr. King.

Unlike the coverage
that was in the papers

and on TV, too,

this was a different
side of Dr. King.

He was relaxed, he was smiling.

Well, I'm delighted
to be here, Harry

and I'll tell you,

one of the reasons I'm
so happy to be here.

I flew out of Washington
this afternoon

and as soon as we started
out, they notified us

that the plane had
mechanical difficulties

and I don't want to
give you an impression

that as a Baptist preacher

I don't have faith
in God in the air,

it's simply that
I've had more experience

with Him on the ground.

I was kind of amused that
he knew how to get laughter.

Which is something that you
don't see in his speeches

because he's so serious.

My thing was like, "Oh,
he can tell a good joke."

What do you have in
store for us this summer?

I feel that we are in the midst

of the most critical
period in our nation

and the economic problem

is probably the most
serious problem confronting

the Negro community and
poor people, generally.

His new project that very week

was the Poor People's Campaign.

He knew that the civil
rights movement itself

would have to give way to
something much more profound,

economic rights.

But bringing the people together

in a much more fundamental way

around issues that
affected everybody,

regardless of race,
class, or color.

The week that Dr. King
was on "The Tonight Show,"

he was traveling all
over the country

to support the
Poor People's Campaign.

It is my hope that
we will really stand up

to gain power for poor people.

Black people, Mexican
Americans, American Indians,

Puerto Ricans, Appalachian
whites, all working together

to solve the problem of poverty.

He got it from all sides.

His own staff said
we haven't finished

a Black lib movement
in the South.

Now you're saying this
campaign is going to have

white coal miners and Mexicans?

You're taking my budget and
giving it to white folks?

I think the time has
come to bring to bear

the nonviolent direct
action movement

on the economic conditions
that we face

all over the country.

He finally
got his staff preparing

to go up to Washington
to start the campaign.

And then the garbage
strike in Memphis happened.

A public official orders
men to get back to work

and treats them as
though they are not men.

That's a racist point of view.

They said we are
treated like garbage.

That's where the slogan
"I am a man" comes from.

I'm a man, not garbage.

And Dr. King said if
this is not what the

Poor People's Campaign
is about, nothing is.

We have to go to Memphis.

You are demanding that
this city will respect

the dignity of labor.

There was a rising
Black Power movement.

There was a perception
that Dr. King

was not moving fast enough
for the younger Black folks

and the Black nationalists.

Certainly Black people
in this country

were deeply frustrated by
existing Black leadership.

There was really no aggressive
voice doing for us

what youth felt should be done.

They were going to
become the provocateurs,

they were going to
become the radical voice.

Do you think you'll
be able to keep it

nonviolent, Dr. King?

Yes, I think so.

I don't have any doubt
in my mind about that.

Mr. Carmichael,
are you as committed

to the nonviolent
approach as Dr. King is?

No, I'm not.

No one in this country is asking

the white community in the
South to be nonviolent.

And that, in a sense, is
giving them a free license

to go ahead and
shoot us at will.

Harry would host
meetings in his apartment

in which Dr. King would
have truce talks.

Harry was somebody
who was trusted

by the radical young
kids and by Dr. King.

He had this ambassador role.

The week that Dr. King
was on "The Tonight Show,"

I don't think anybody in
America knew all the strains

that were colliding.

He extended all of
the movements that
he was involved with

beyond the capacity of any man.

He had denounced
the Vietnam War.

The fact is we spend
approximately $500,000

to kill each Viet Cong soldier.

While we spend only
about $53 a year

for every person categorized
as poverty stricken.

The cruel truth is
that Dr. King had been

denounced in the media.

New York Times and the
Washington Post said

he's trying to be
a peace leader,

he should stick to civil rights.

We'll never respect him again.

He was a very beleaguered person

when he came on
"The Tonight Show"

because he was having trouble
getting people to understand

how all of his messages
fit together.

And there was a sense that the
zeitgeist had moved past him.

Do you fear for your life?

It was well known that Dr.
King was getting death threats

and Dr. King went through a
period of being very fearful,

actually, he was only human.

We have lived with this
a number of years now,

since we started out in
Montgomery, Alabama in 1956.

I had to deal with this problem

because if I moved
around, worrying about it,

it would completely
immobilize me.

And so I've come to the point
that I take this whole matter

very philosophically.

I'm more concerned about
doing something for humanity

and what I consider the will
of God than about longevity.

Ultimately, it isn't so
important how long you live,

the important thing
is how well you live.

"The Tonight Show"
was definitely his last

major national
television appearance.

He didn't have that many
national television

I mean, it's easy to forget

how segregated American
media still was in that era.

Dr. King, thank you so
much for being here tonight.


Thank you for being here.

What can I say about
Harry Belafonte?

He's one of a kind.

Would you welcome
Harry Belafonte?

Just about a month
after Harry's hosting gig,

Johnny Carson had him
back on "The Tonight Show"

to talk about it.

Did you have a ball with it?

I caught you a couple of nights,

looked like you were
having a great time.

I had a marvelous time.

The grooviest time
in the world here

the week that I spent here.

We ended with ratings
that were larger than

the ones we opened with

and we opened with
the largest numbers

in the history of the show.

I must honestly say that

each and every member
of your staff

did everything in the world
to make me comfortable.

He took out a full
page in Variety,

thanking the entire staff

and all the guests
that were on the show

and it did say I enjoyed
my "sit-in" on
"The Tonight Show."

You had a great week.

Once you lay back
and have fun with it,

you can't go too far wrong.

But you never know
that in the beginning.


I also got a number
of letters protesting

they didn't want
to be preached to.

People came there
to be entertained.

We consciously put
before the public

all of the issues that they
saw during the past week...

with the knowledge that
they were hearing

things that they would
never have heard before.

There were mixed reactions.

There were those people
that they've watched
the Vietnam War

during dinnertime and you
know, by the time it came to

11:30 at night they
just wanted to relax.

He willed a world
into being for one week.

He really wanted to create
this integrated world

and show us how good
it could be.

Some people walked
in and loved it

and some people
slammed the door shut.

For those of you who
might not be aware,

there was a, I guess we
can term it an incident

that happened during
the taping with

Harry and Petula Clark on it.

That was in California,
wasn't it?

Yes, out of the NBC studios.

Just about a month after
Petula Clark appeared

with Harry on
"The Tonight Show,"

she invited Harry
onto her own special.

"Path of Glory"
is a protest song.

It's about these young
men going off to war

and in rehearsal,
we were both
very moved by it.

So when we came to tape
it, that emotion showed

and I put my hand
on Harry's arm.

And that's when all
the problems started

with with the sponsor.

Miss Clark reached up and
put her right hand on my arm

like this and it...

I like that.

Not half bad at all, really.

Anyway, uh...

Now wait till you see what
we're accused of tomorrow.

He's touching the white lady.

He's touching, oh,
did he just kiss, oh!

You know, it's Petula Clark.

He touched a white lady.

Not supposed to do that.

She was called
the Plymouth girl.

The Plymouth representative
on the set,

he said "No, no, no,
you're not through.

"We have to take the touch out."

They wanted to sell
cars in the South, so.

That was a no-no.

My star, that is to say, me,

can't be touching a
Black man's arm.

At that point, I turned
to Pet Clark and said,

"Look, this is your show,
what do you want to do?"

She said, "The touch stays."

I said, "Well, that's it."

In a time when a nation
is really struggling
for its soul,

you know, on the heels
of the president's report

on the riots that took
place in the summer,

I believe that all of
us have a responsibility

to do everything
we can to salvage

the best that's in America,

because there's a great
deal that's good about it.

Like anybody, I would
like to live a long life.

Longevity has its place.

But I'm not concerned
about that now.

Dr. King had developed
severe hiccups

and he would kind of sort of...

In the middle of a moment
have a hiccuping fit.

And then somewhere
down the line,

I discovered that that tick
was no longer as evident.

And I asked him, "You seem to
have gotten over the hiccup.

"What happened?"

And he looked and said,
"It's very simple, Harry."

He said, "I made my
peace with death."



Martin had been in my home

a few days before
he was murdered.

At 7:10 this evening,

Martin Luther King
was shot in Tennessee.

Martin Luther King,
20 minutes ago died.

I heard that he'd been shot

when a member of my staff
came into the living room

at my home to tell me to
turn on the television

and to take a look.

And I could not believe.

I cannot talk a lot about
that period, I get upset.

The emotion of the time.

The first time I ever
saw my father cry

was at the announcement of
the assassination of Dr. King.

He sort of, I think he kind
of went numb a little bit.

seemed to be a big part

of the American horror story.

What's the
worst experience you had

in terms of being on the
receiving end of prejudice?

I think the death of Dr. King.

Very personally, it was
a prejudiced act,

a sick act that
snuffed out his life

in a time when a nation
needed him desperately.

We were very, very close.

He dove into the work to
defend against, I think,

feeling that deeper
pain and shock

because how does one
really recover from that?

That's something that
you carry forever.

In the work that we were doing

in the civil rights movement,
with not only Dr. King,

but all of the other
leaders of that period,

we were aware that we were
stirring up a hornet's nest

and that there was going
to be a price to be paid.

Martin Luther King
dedicated his life

to love and to justice
between fellow human beings.

He died in the cause
of that effort.

About a month after he
was on "The Tonight Show"

with Harry, Bobby
Kennedy actually declared

that he was indeed going
to run for president.

For a lot of us young Black
and Mexican American men,

Bobby Kennedy gave
us hope again.

He spoke about an
America that was really

the dream and the wish
that everybody possessed.

Every American, no matter
what his background,

what his creed, what
color of his skin

or where he lives shall
walk with dignity and honor

in the United States.

I had been campaigning
with him quite intensely.

So I had been very much
involved with Bobby,

talking about all of the
issues of a campaign.

And going to California,
none of us were concerned

about his welfare
in that community.

Because of all the places,
California was certainly

one of the most
liberal environments.

Robert Kennedy is dead.

He's gone the same way
his brother did.

When he was taken away
from us, there was a void

that he just left that
has yet to be filled.

The loss of Dr. King
coupled with what happened

with Bobby Kennedy,
set us up as a nation

to become as mismanaged as
we are presenting ourselves

to be at this moment.

The death of those
two men changed

the American climate severely.

Good evening and thank
you for joining us tonight

as we don't plan to do the
usual "Tonight Show" format

this evening.

Within a few months
of their appearance

on "The Tonight Show," both
Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy

had been assassinated.

Johnny Carson held
a round table.

He knew Bobby Kennedy,
but it wasn't just that.

He knew what was happening
to the country.

And he thought it was
important enough

to turn his whole show
over to that topic.

All of the words and
phrases you've heard

the past four days, I think
the immediate thing was

we're a violent nation,
we're a sick society.

What's wrong with us?

We're living like animals.

What is wrong with this country?

What the Harry Belafonte
week did

was open the door
to serious conversation

on these late night shows

about serious things.

But I say that this country
has been going through

a revolution in
the last few years,

just this country's in turmoil.

And I know that there
is a seed of revolution

that's going through, the seed
of change is going through.

The idea that people, just
before they would go to bed,

would be interested, not
only in entertainment,

but politics.

This is something that
Harry Belafonte proved

in February of 1968.

And I, for one, welcome the fact

that artists have taken
a stand for peace

and have taken a
stand for justice.

I think since 1968 it's
been very hard for folks.

And the country's
never been the same.

And it's been terrific,

but I think it may
have angered folks,

which led us to
where we are today.

The violence and hostility
is still in America.

What have we missed in
trying to reach those people

with our message?

I'm now 90 years old

and I've been at this game
since I was a teenager.

The backlash has continued
ever since the 1960s.

Dr. King said there's going
to be a tremendous resentment

against the government for
sponsoring civil rights.

You've had a cynicism and
an antigovernment movement

as a way of dealing with race

without actually
mentioning race.

Television and politics,
late night,

would come to fruition
in the '90s

with Jon Stewart and others
making us more uncomfortable

as we approach sleep,

worrying about the country
and all the issues facing us.

Nine people were shot
in a Black church

by a white guy who hated
them, who wanted to start

some kind of civil war.

If you're with a
group of people that are

chanting things like
"Jews will not replace us"

and you don't immediately
leave that group,

you are not a very fine person.

Isn't it interesting
how every time

Republicans create a
voting restriction,

it just so happens to
disproportionately affect

people of the brown-brown?


Trump isn't the only
one John Bolton implicates

in his book.

He also names angry baby
bird, Mike Pompeo.


Even if Trump is re-elected,
this Ukraine story

will haunt him until
the blessed day

when he's forcibly plunged
out of the White House

like a toilet clog.

Late night has become
increasingly political

in the Trump years,
which is good.

But remains very, very white.

Stephen's the first
late night host
from South Carolina.


And the bajillionth white guy.


This chewing gum tastes funny.

It's a thousand dollars for
the 10th anniversary iPhone.

I didn't spend a
thousand dollars

on my 10th wedding
anniversary, okay?

I think it's been tough
for Black people

to have long running
shows in late night

because of the lack
of investment.

Kamala Harris is
being criticized

for not being Black enough.


Which frankly is
the same criticism

I've had to endure
my entire career.

White male late night
hosts are given

a lot more room to grow.

Believe me, however
shocked you are

that I am doing this job,

you will never be
as shocked as I am.

We've had some late night
hosts, as Arsenio Hall.

I feel great.

There are probably people
in Utah saying, "Who is he?"

From 1968 until Arsenio Hall.

To have that long
without another Black
face in late night

is wild to me.

It took a long time in between.

'Cause I think he did too
good a job, scared everybody.

They said, oh no, we're not
gonna do this for a while.

We're not giving you
the late night

and you know, to this day,

not much dark meat
in late night.

Now, this week marks one
year since Trump's election.

Now, the traditional first
anniversary gift is paper,

so we got him this.

There's been a rotating
door of women in late night.

Most never went
beyond one season.

It's "The Late
Show" starring Joan Rivers.


Welcome back.

I need to hear Black women
and I need to hear Black men

and I need to hear Latinas and
I need to hear Asian people.

Like, I need to hear
everyone's opinions.

Otherwise you're
just getting one.

And that is never the truth.

That's what was so
important about

what Harry Belafonte
did back then in 1968.

And it's why it's so important
that Black representation

in late night is important now.

Black people in
America are like,

oh, we've been saying
this justice system
is crazy as shit.

And now Trump is like,
"So crazy!

"So wild, who
would have thought?"

See, if he had Black friends
they would have told him.

I think we've just
got to keep working

to make that week reality

and to create a space
in entertainment

where Black people will
always have a stake

and will always have a say,

and will always be
able to talk about

the issues that matter.

Whoa, Black identity...

To us and matter to
the world at large.

I think the legacy of that week

was speaking to issues that
had serious content and intent

and how easily we
did it as a people.

I thought that we were
talking about was

engrossing, entertaining.

I thought that all the subtext,

the social issues of the day,

to hear people talk
about the craft

that brought them
to public limelight.

The American public was
not only entertained,

but were glued to what
this was all about.