AUBURN GRESHAM — Singer, actor and social activist Harry Belafonte will headline Friday's opening of the annual African-American speakers series at St. Sabina Church.
The free event begins at 7:30 p.m. and ends at 9 p.m. at St. Sabina, 1210 W. 78th Place.
The other two speakers in the series are civil rights activists the Rev. Bernard Lafayette on Feb. 21 and the Rev. Joseph Lowery on March 21. Seating is available for up to 1,000 people, according to Vince Clark, a St. Sabina spokesman.
"The purpose of our speakers series is to give people in the neighborhood a chance to see people in person they have only seen on TV," Clark said. "Harry Belafonte is a great civil rights icon for people to see, and they won't have to go Downtown to see him either."
Clark said more than 4,000 people attended events last year's series. Past speakers included singer Patti LaBelle, actress Angela Bassett, author Maya Angelou and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, Clark said.
Belafonte, 86, made his debut on Broadway in 1953 and won a Tony Award for his performance in "John Murray Anderson's Almanac." Also in 1953, he launched his acting career by playing a school principal opposite Dorothy Dandridge in "Bright Road."
The pair reunited the following year in the movie "Carmen Jones," a film adaptation of the Broadway musical. This movie earned Belafonte an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Joe, a soldier who falls for the title character, played by Dandridge.
Belafonte also is known for the social activism he first developed after meeting the Rev. Martin L. King Jr. in the 1950s. According to Belafonte, the two became good friends and that friendship led to Belafonte participating in numerous rallies and protests.
Belafonte was with King when the civil rights leader gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech in Washington, D.C.
Lafayette, 73, co-founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960. He currently is a senior scholar at Emory University's Candler School of Theology.
LaFayette also directed the Alabama Voter Registration Project in 1962, andwas appointed by King as the national program administrator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Lowery, 92, is best known for fighting against prejudice and discrimination against African-Americans for more than 50 years. In 1957, Lowery worked with King, civil rights activist Ralph Abernathy and others to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
In 2009 President Barack Obama awarded Lowery a Medal of Freedom, the same year the president chose Lowery to also deliver the benediction at his first inauguration.
In his speech, Lowery urged the president and the rest of the nation "to work for that day when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream."