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"It's Me or The Guest": How Pat Boone Stood Up For Henry Belafonte and Challenged Apartheid

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
May 14, 2024 3:04 am

"It's Me or The Guest": How Pat Boone Stood Up For Henry Belafonte and Challenged Apartheid

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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May 14, 2024 3:04 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, hear major occasions to which Pat Boone rose, to do something more important than his television show, and perhaps even his life. The music legend insisted, come what may, to not perpetuate bigotry.

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All you can stream with Zoomo Play. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories, the show where America is the star and the American people. Up next, a story from Pat Boone on two moments in his life where he took a stand at risk of career and bodily harm. Let's get into the story.

Take it away, Pat. I would like people to know that back during my days when I was doing the TV show, I was thrilled to be singing these rhythm and blues songs by people that were becoming friends of mine, Little Richard, Fats Domino, the Flamingos and the Eldorados, and on and on. They were friends and I was doing their songs. Then one day, Harry Belafonte, who was the biggest entertainer in the world at that time, called me on the phone and said, I've been watching your TV show and I like the way you treat your guests. Would you like me to come on?

We can do some songs together. Well, he's the biggest entertainer in the world. I said, of course, I'd love that. I had a meeting soon after that with the producers of the show, ABC Television and Chevrolet ad agency. Harry Belafonte wants to come on the show and they looked at me with these sober expressions. We can't do that.

Why? Well, we didn't tell you, but we have to tell you that Chevrolet is having problems in the South with their dealerships because people are coming in saying that they like you and your music and they like Chevrolet, but you're having all these and they'll use the N-word on your show and we're going to have to cut back. Harry Belafonte is already involved in civil rights activities and we might lose Chevrolet as a sponsor if you have him on, so we're going to have to tell him no. Well, I was stunned and so I brought it up again in the conversation, look, it's called the Pat Boone Chevy show, but if Pat Boone has to say no to Harry Belafonte, I grew up in the South, I know the problem, I'm not going to be part of it, I'm not going to perpetuate it, so I'm going to have to ask you to take my show from here on and they're looking stunned at me. You're going to quit your show for that? I said, look, it's more than that, it's more important than me and my show.

There's something that's got to be changed in this country, I'm just not going to help further it, this racial prejudice. So then they acquiesced and they said, look, if we have him come on, will you guarantee there'll be no subtle civil rights things? I said, look, the fact we're singing together on my show will be all the statement needed to be made and I can explain that to Harry. Well, it didn't happen because it was toward the end of my third season and I just decided not to do the show anymore because I knew it was going to come up again and again and so I just quit the half hour show and went to specials.

I did some TV specials after that and it was a long time until I did any other kind of a regular show in which I could have any guests on that I wanted with no problem. But after that I was asked to come to South Africa to perform and they offered me a lot of this in 1960. Nelson Mandela still in prison and apartheid fully in force and they asked me to come and I wouldn't do it because of their policy and I said, look, I'm not telling you how to run your country, we've still got problems in our country we're trying to work out. But I cannot come if people who want to buy tickets to see me sing are refused because of their color.

So I have to turn you down and I did twice but the third time we had a closed door meeting and they said if you'll give us your word and honor as a gentleman you won't publicize it. The government is willing to lift apartheid for you for your tour. And I said anybody who wants to buy a ticket, color, race, whatever can come they said yes and it'll be publicly known. So I went and I did my tour in 1960, they lifted apartheid first and only time at that point and I had death threats but we had people, folks in the audience and watching and I laugh but it's true, I was sort of a stationary performer then I didn't move around the stage like Elvis, I stood at the mic and sang my songs. But in those shows in South Africa in Durban, Port Elizabeth, Pretoria, Johannesburg I moved around the stage quite a bit and bobbed and weaved a little in case because I had death threats. The threats were if you go before a non-segregated audience then you're not going to leave the stage alive.

So I went there facing death threats but nothing happened and I did come home safe and then the curtain of apartheid fell back for another decade and I've never talked about it, I can talk about it now because it was in 1960 but back then you know I was making a stand not for publicity at all just because of what I thought was right and since then all this time I've been as active as I can be along the way without putting anybody down but just crying for equality and friendship and relationship and let us all know each other and respect each other for who we are and what we can be. And a terrific job on the production, editing and storytelling by our own Monty Montgomery and a special thanks to Pat Boone for sharing those stories with us. And it in part is a story about personal courage but in the end as you're listening to Pat it's not so much courage, it's just who he was and he just wasn't going to do certain things and that was that and if he had to lose his show he lost his show, it wasn't a large confrontation, it wasn't a public martyring of himself, he just wanted to do the right thing especially having been born from the south and wanting Harry Belafonte to be able to come on and sing like anybody else on his show and my goodness the story of him in apartheid and getting apartheid drawn back or at least the curtain pulled back for a day is just a beautiful story, he ended beautifully, equality, friendship and relationship are the things he was looking for. No politics, no ideology, those three things, the hallmark of Pat Boone's life. And by the way we have more Pat Boone stories, go to Our American Stories and search for them, it's a remarkable life, not only as an entertainer but as a man and also as a Christian man, just a beautiful soul. Story of Pat Boone here on Our American Stories. This is Lee Habib, host of Our American Stories, the show where America is the star in the American people and we do it all from the heart of the south, Oxford, Mississippi, but we truly can't do this show without you. Our shows will always be free to listen to but they're not free to make. If you love what you hear, consider making a tax-deductible donation to Our American Stories, go to OurAmericanStories.com, give a little, give a lot, that's OurAmericanStories.com.

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