Julie Robinson
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Julie Robinson Belafonte, Renowned Dancer, Actress, and Activist, Passes Away at 95

Julie Robinson Belafonte was born on September 14, 1928 in Washington Heights, Manhattan to parents with Russian Jewish roots. Growing up in an ethnically diverse neighborhood in the 1940s, Julie Robinson was exposed to different cultures from a young age. She attended the High School of Music and Art but dropped out at age 16 after winning a scholarship to the prestigious Katherine Dunham School of Dance.

Julie Robinson A Rising Star in the Dance World

At the Katherine Dunham School, Julie Robinson quickly proved herself to be a talented dancer. She worked her way up to becoming a student teacher, even teaching such luminaries as Marlon Brando and Alvin Ailey.

When the school’s renowned dance company had an opening in the mid-1940s, Julie Robinson boldly auditioned and was selected as the company’s first white member. As she recalled later in life, “I knew I was a good dancer.”

For the next seven years, Julie toured the world with the Dunham dancers, rooming with future star Eartha Kitt. Despite facing racism, with hotels sometimes refusing to accommodate the interracial dance troupe, Julie stood in solidarity with her Black colleagues.

She insisted on staying wherever the other dancers stayed. It was through this experience that Julie Robinson gained exposure to different cultures and a passion for social justice.

Fateful Hollywood Encounters

In the early 1950s, Julie found herself performing in Hollywood. She helped choreograph dance sequences in films and landed a few minor acting roles. It was on the set of the 1954 musical film “Carmen Jones” that Julie met singer and activist Harry Belafonte, who was introduced to her by actor Marlon Brando. The two began a romance, with Julie Robinson recalling being “in love” with Belafonte.

At the time, Belafonte was still married to his first wife, Marguerite. But he and Julie continued their relationship, resulting in Julie Robinson becoming pregnant in 1957. Belafonte quickly divorced Marguerite and married the 28-year old Julie Robinson just eight days later in Mexico.

Their interracial marriage shocked many at the time, when such unions were still illegal in over half of U.S. states.

Fighting for Civil Rights Through Their Marriage

The Belafontes faced harsh backlash, especially from those in the Black community who saw Belafonte “abandoning” his race by marrying a white woman. To defend their love, Harry wrote an essay in Ebony magazine stating that he married Julie Robinson due to love, not integration. Meanwhile, when their first child David was born, Julie Robinson endured hate mail and racial abuse.

However, the Belafontes remained undeterred. They traveled the world with their growing family as Harry’s music career took off. Simply being seen in public together helped normalize interracial relationships.

Behind the scenes, Julie fully supported Harry’s civil rights work. She helped plan fundraisers and events to support leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Meanwhile, Julie found her own causes like co-founding SNCC’s women’s division.

At the 1965 Selma march, it was Julie Robinson who insisted regular Selma residents be at the front, ahead of celebrities. She was a trusted advisor to King as well as foreign leaders like Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro.

Julie Robinson took the reigns as a leader in her own right, organizing a 1968 women’s march against Vietnam with Coretta Scott King. Through it all, she and Harry presented a united front for 50 years of marriage as one of America’s first openly interracial power couples.

A Life Well Lived

Later in life after divorcing Belafonte in 2007, Julie Robinson retained a lower public profile. However, she remained active with documentaries celebrating African and Caribbean cultures.

Following the death of her step-children’s mother Marguerite Mazique in 1998, Julie assumed the maternal role for Belafonte’s entire family, which she had hosted and supported for decades.

As her son David Belafonte recalled, Julie Robinson “created an atmosphere of diversity” in their home. She welcomed all people and helped weave together their expansive family of backgrounds. 

Even in her 90s,Julie Robinson lived passionately and purposefully, leaving behind a remarkable legacy of activism, artistry, and most of all – love. Her inspiring seven-decade long story showed the world that relationships can transcend societal boundaries given commitment to equality. Julie Robinson truly helped change hearts and minds, paving the way for a more just society.

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