Paul Robeson, the Artist as Activist and Social Thinker
Source ListMeister
Date 04/01/04/21:17

Paul Robeson, the Artist as Activist and Social Thinker
By John Henrik Clarke

Paul Robeson was indeed more than an artist, activist
and freedom fighter. The dimensions of his talent made
him our Renaissance man. He was the first American
artist, Black or White, to realize that the role of
the artist extends far beyond the stage and the
concert hall. Early in his life he became conscious of
the plight of his people, stubbornly surviving in a
racist society. This was his window on the world. From
this vantage point he saw how the plight of his people
related to the rest of humanity. He realized that the
artist had the power, and the responsibility, to
change the society in which he lived. He learned that
art and culture are weapons in a people's struggle to
exist with dignity, and in peace. Life offered him
many options and he never chose the easiest one. For
most of his life he was a man walking against the
wind. An understanding of his beginning and how he
developed artistically and politically, will reveal
the nature of his mission and the importance of the
legacy of participation in struggle that we have
inherited from him.

He was born, April 9, 1898, at a time of great crisis
for his people. When he died, January 23, 1976, his
people were still in a crisis, partly of a different
nature, and partly the same crisis that they faced in
the closing years of the nineteenth century, when Paul
Robeson was born. He was born three years after Booker
T. Washington made his famous Atlanta Exposition
address, 1895, and two years after the Supreme Court
announced a decision in the Plessy versus Ferguson
Case, in which the concept of "Separate but Equal"
facilities for Black Americans became law. Of course
the separateness never produced any equalness. The
time and the decision did produce some of the problems
that Paul Robeson would address himself to in later

His early years were strengthened by binding family
ties. They were not easy years. He recalled those
years and reflected on their meaning in the
introductory issue of the newspaper Freedom, November

"My father was of slave origin," he said. "He reached
as honorable a position as a Negro could under these
circumstances, but soon after I was born he lost his
church and poverty was my beginning. Relatives from my
father's North Carolina family took me in, a
motherless orphan, while my father went to new fields
to begin again in a corner grocery store. I slept four
in a bed, ate the nourishing greens and cornbread.

Many times I stood on the very soil on which my father
was a slave, where some of my cousins were
sharecroppers and unemployed tobacco workers. I
reflected upon the wealth bled from my near relatives
alone, and of the very basic wealth of all this
America beaten out of millions of Negro people,
enslaved, freed, newly enslaved until this very day."

He grew to early manhood during the Booker T.
Washington era. He made his professional debut at the
Harlem YMCA in 1920, in a play, "Simon, the Cyrenian,"
by Redgely Torrence. The play was about an Ethiopian
who steps out of a crowd to help a tired and haggard
Jesus Christ carry his cross up Calvary Hill to be
crucified. His role in this play was symbolic of his
commitment to just causes and to oppressed people, the
world over, the rest of his life. This dimension of
his life is the main focus of this paper. He was not
persecuted, denied a passport and attacked at
Peekskill because he was a world famous concert singer
and activist.

Many of his persecutors admired him in these
capacities. He was persecuted, denied a passport and
attacked at Peekskill because he was an artist and
activist who used his art and his personality to call
for change in the society in which he lived. This was
not a late development in his life. He grew to manhood
observing the need for change.

Paul Robeson attended elementary and high school in
Westfield and Somerville, New Jersey. He won a
four-year scholarship to Rutgers College and entered
in the fall of 1915. Only two other Black students had
attended the school since its founding in 1776.
Robeson's achievements in both scholarship and
athletics at Rutgers were extraordinary. He won Phi
Beta Kappa honors in his junior year, was
valedictorian of his graduation class, and was the
debating champion in all of his four years.

Although he was initially brutalized by his own
team-mates when he tried out for the football team, he
survived to become one of the greatest football
players of all time. Walter Camp selected Robeson as
his first-team All-America end for two years-1977 and
1918, and he was named on all important "consensus"
All-America teams for both those years. Robeson was
also a great all-round athlete, winning a total of 15
varsity letters in football, basketball, baseball and

In May of 1918 Reverend Robeson died, Paul's relatives
and his football coach, Foster Sanford, were
especially helpful to him during the trying time
immediately after his father's death. Following his
graduation in 1919, Paul went to live in Harlem and
entered Columbia Law School, from which he graduated
in 1923. To pay his way through law school, Paul
played professional football on weekends, first with
Fritz Pollard on the Akron, Ohio team in 1920 and
1921, and then with Milwaukee in 1922. In 1921, he met
and married Eslanda Cardozo Goode, a brilliant young
woman who was the first Black analytical chemist at
Columbia Medical Center. Their marriage lasted
forty-four years until Eslanda's death in 1965.

In the early 1920's Paul Robeson joined the
Provincetown Players in Greenwich Village. This
brought him to the attention of the American
Playwright, Eugene O'Neil who selected him for the
lead in his play, "All God's Children Got Wings." His
performance in this play established his importance in
the American Theatre. In 1924, he was in another
Eugene O'Neil play, "The Emperor Jones." By 1925, he
was known both in England and in the United States as
an actor and as a concert singer. Lawrence Brown, who
accompanied him during his first concert in 1925,
remained with him for twenty-five years.

In these years following the First World War, Black
Americans were discovering themselves, their culture
and their history. Thousands of Black soldiers had
returned from the war in Europe to face unemployment,
bad housing and lynchings. The Universal Negro
Improvement Association led by Marcus Garvey, and the
intellectual movement called The Harlem Literary
Renaissance reached their respective highs during this
period. The years of the nineteen-twenties were
proving grounds for Paul Robeson's development as an
artist and a responsible person.

Many of the roles that Paul Robeson played in America
were repeated in the theatres of London. It has been
reported his political ideas took shape after George
Bernard Shaw introduced him to the concept of
socialism in 1928. This may be partly true about his
political ideas in a formal sense, though his social
awareness started before this time. His first visit to
the Soviet Union in 1934 had a more profound influence
on the shaping of his political ideas and
understanding. Later, he publicly expressed his belief
in the principles of scientific socialism. It was his
convictions that a socialist society represents an
advance to a higher stage of life for all mankind. The
rest of his life was a commitment to this conviction.

He spoke out against oppression where ever he saw it,
and not just the oppression of his own people. He went
to Spain during the Civil War in that country and sang
for the Republican troops and for the members of the
International Brigades. This was part of a gathering
of anti-Fascist forces who were in battle with the
army of General Franco who was backed by Hitler and
Mussolini. When Paul Robeson returned to the United
States be expressed the belief that the war in Spain
represented dangers for the world far beyond that
country's borders.

"I saw the connection between the problems of all
oppressed people and the necessity of the artist to
participate fully," he said.

He opposed every form of racism in his own country; he
was the first American artist to refuse to sing before
a segregated audience. He spoke out against lynching,
segregated theatres and eating places a generation
before the beginning of what is referred to as the
Black Revolution. He supported all organizations that
he thought were working genuinely to improve the lot
of his people and mankind.

In his book, Robeson: Labor's Forgotten Champion,
(Balamp Publishing Co., Detroit, Mich., 1975), Dr.
Charles H. Wright states that:

"Robeson saw the struggle of the working classes of
Spain in the same terms that he saw the struggles of
the black man in the United States. He made this clear
after he left Spain and embarked on a series of public
appearances on behalf of the Republicans, both on the
continent and in England. It was from the continent,
probably the Spanish Embassy in Paris that he issued
what became known as his Manifesto against Fascism."

The Manifesto reads, as follows:

"Every artist, every scientist must decide, now, where
he stands. He has no alternative. There are no
impartial observers.

Through the destruction, in certain countries, of
man's literary heritage, through the propagation of
false ideas of national and racial superiority, the
artist, the scientist, the writer is challenged. This
struggle invades the former cloistered halls of our
universities and all her seats of learning.

The battlefront is everywhere. There is no sheltered
rear. The artist elects to fight for freedom or

I have made my choice! I had no alternative!

The history of the era is characterized by the
degradation of my people. Despoiled of their lands,
their culture destroyed, they are denied equal
opportunity of the law and deprived of their rightful
place in the respect of their fellows.

Not through blind faith or through coercion, but
conscious of my course, I take my place with you. I
stand with you in unalterable support of the lawful
government of Spain, duly and regularly chosen by its
sons and daughters."

In January 1938 he visited Spain with his wife,
Eslanda. Plans had already been made for him to sing
to the troops in the International Abraham Lincoln

This was not his introduction to the international
aspects of the fight against Fascism. The Spanish
Civil War started in June 1936, the Italian-Ethiopian
War had started the year before. On December 20, 1937,
Robeson had participated in a meeting on the Spanish
Civil War at Albert Hall in London. This and other
anti-fascist activity disenchanted the United States
Department of State. This was probably the formal
beginning of his harassment by that agency. This
harassment would continue for another twenty years. In
his writings and speeches, for most of the years of
his active career, Paul Robeson was very explicit in
explaining the motive and antecedents of his fight
against every form of racism and oppression. At a
Welcome Home Rally in Harlem, June19, 1949, he
restated his position and the nature of his

"I have traveled many lands and I have sung and talked
to many peoples. Wherever I appeared, whether in
professional concert, at peace meetings, in the
factories, at trade union gatherings, at the mining
pits, at assemblies of representative colonial
students from all over the world, always the greeting
came: "Take back our affection, our love, our strength
to the Negro people and to the members of the
progressive movement of America."

I was then, through my athletics and my university
record, trying to hold up the prestige of my people;
trying in the only way I knew to ease the path for
future Negro boys and girls. And I am still in there
slugging, yes, at another level, and you can bet your
life that I shall battle every step of the way until
conditions around these corners change and conditions
change for the Negro people all up and down this land.

The road has been long. The road has been hard. It
began about as tough as I ever had it in Princeton,
New Jersey, a college town of Southern aristocrats,
who from Revolutionary time transferred Georgia to New
Jersey. My brothers couldn't go to high school in
Princeton. They had to go to Trenton, ten miles away.
That's right-Trenton, of the "Trenton Six." My brother
or I could have been one of the "Trenton Six."

Almost every Negro in Princeton lived off the college
and accepted the social status that went with it. We
lived for all intents and purposes on a Southern
plantation. And with no more dignity than that
suggests all the bowing and scraping to the drunken
rich, all the vile names, all the Uncle Tomming to
earn enough to lead miserable lives."

He could not see himself accepting any form of
Jim-Crow Americanism. He said in many ways he hated
what American was, but he lived what it promised to
be. He defended the stated higher ideals and potential
of the United States while calling attention to the
fact that the nation's promise to all people had not
been kept.

"And I defied," he said, "and I defy any part of this
insolent, dominating America, however powerful; to
challenge my Americanism; because by word and deed I
challenge this vicious system to the death."

Paul Robeson would not let his public acceptance as an
actor and singer, make him relax in comfort and forget
the struggle for basic dignity still being waged by
the rest of his people. On this point he said:

"I refuse to let my personal success, as part of a
fraction of one percent of the Negro people, to
explain away the injustices to fourteen million of my
people; because with all the energy at my command, I
fight for the right of the Negro people and other
oppressed labor-driven Americans to have decent homes,
decent jobs, and the dignity that belongs to every
human being!

Somewhere in my childhood these feelings were planted.
Perhaps when I resented being pushed off the sidewalk,
when I saw my women being insulted, and especially
when I saw my elder brother answer each insult with
blows that sent would-be slave masters crashing to the
stone sidewalks, even though jail was his constant
reward. He never said it, but he told me day after
day: "Listen to me, kid." (He loved me dearly.) "Don't
you ever take it, as long as you live."

In my opinion, the artistic and political growth of
Paul Robeson has its greatest stimulant during the
nineteen-thirties. Paul was always discovering
something new in the human situation, and new
dimensions in old things he already knew. He was,
concurrently, both a student and a scholar, in pursuit
of knowledge about the world's people and the
conditions of their lives. Africa, its people and
cultures were of special interest to him. In a note,
dated 1936, included in his "Selected Writings,"
published by the Paul Robeson Archives, 1976, he makes
this comment:

"I am a singer and an actor. I am primarily an artist.
Had I been born in Africa, I would have belonged, I
hope, to that family which sings and chants the
glories and legends of the tribe. I would have liked
in my mature years to have been a wise elder, for I
worship wisdom and knowledge of the ways of men."

His artistic strength was in his love for the history,
songs, and for culture of his people. In this way he
learned to respect the cultures of all people.

I an article published in the Royal Screen Pictorial,
London, April 1935 he said:

I am a Negro. The origin of the Negro is African. It
would, therefore, seem an easy matter for me to assume
African nationality. At present the younger generation
of Negroes in America looks towards Africa and asks,
"What is there to interest me? What of value has
Africa to offer that the Western world cannot give me?
. Their acknowledgement of their common origin,
species, interest and attitudes binds Jew to Jew; a
similar acknowledgement will bind Negro to Negro. I
realize that this will not be accomplished by viewing
from afar the dark rites of the witch doctor. It may
be accomplished, or at least furthered, by patient
inquiry. To this end I am learning Swahili, Twi, and
other African dialects which come easily to me because
their rhythm is the same as that employed by the
American Negro in speaking English; and when the time
is ripe, I propose to investigate on the spot the
possibilities of such a regeneration as I have
outlined. Meanwhile, in my music, my plays, my films.
I want to carry always this central idea-to be
African. Multitudes of men have died for less worthy
ideals; it is more eminently worth living for.

This interest in Africa, started during his "London
years" continued throughout the rest of his life; and
very logically led to his participation in the
development and leadership of organizations like the
Council on African Affairs (1937-1955) and the
National Negro Congress. In an article in his
"Selected Writings," that was first published in
Fighting Talk, April 1955, Paul Robeson speaks of his
discovery of Africa in this way:

I "discovered" Africa in London. That discovery-back
in the twenties-profoundly influenced my life. Like
most of Africa's children in America, I had known
little about the land of our fathers. Both in England,
where my career as an actor and singer took me, I came
to know many Africans. Some of their names are now
known to the world-Azikiwe, and Nkruma, and Kenyatta,
who has just been jailed for his leadership of the
liberation struggles in Kenya.

Many of these Africans were students, and I spent many
hours talking with them and taking part in their
activities at the West African Students Union
building. Somehow they came to think of me as one of
them; they took pride in my successes; and they made
Mrs. Robeson and me honorary members of the Union.

Besides these students, who were mostly of princely
origin, I also came to know another class of
African-the seamen in the ports of London, Liverpool
and Cardiff. They too had their organizations, and
much to teach me of their lives and their various

As an artist it was most natural that my first
interest in Africa was cultural. Culture? The foreign
rulers of that continent insisted there was no culture
worthy of the name in Africa. But already musicians
and sculptors in Europe were astir with their
discovery of African art. And as I plunged, with
excited interest, into my studies of Africa at the
London University and elsewhere, I came to see that
African culture was indeed a treasure-store for the

Those who scorned the African languages as so many
"barbarous dialects" could never know, of course, of
the richness of those languages, and of the great
philosophy and epics of poetry that have come down
through the ages in these ancient tongues. I studied
these languages-as I do this day: Yoruba, Efik, Benin,
Ashanti and the others.

I now felt as one with my African friends and became
filled with a great, glowing pride in these riches,
new found for me. I learned that along with the
towering achievements of the cultures in ancient
Greece and China there stood the culture of Africa,
unseen and denied by the imperialist looters of
Africa's material wealth.

I came to see the root sources of my own people's
culture, especially in our music which is still the
richest and most healthy in America. Scholars had
traced the influence of African music to Europe-to
Spain with the Moors, to Persia and India and China,
and westward to the Americas. And I came to learn of
the remarkable kinship between African and Chinese
culture (of which I intend to write at length some

My pride in Africa, that grew with the learning,
impelled me to speak out against the scorners. I wrote
articles for the New Statesman and Nation and
elsewhere championing the real but unknown glories of
African culture.

I argued and discussed the subject with men like H. G.
Wells, and Laski, and Nehru; with students and

He now saw the logic in this culture struggle and
realized, as never before, that culture was an
instrument in a people's liberation, and the
suppression of it was an instrument that was used in
their enslavement. This point was brought forcefully
home to him when the British Intelligence cautioned
him about the political meaning of his activities. He
knew now that the British claim that it would take one
thousand years to prepare Africans for self-rule was a
lie. The experience led him to conclude that:

Yes, culture and politics were actually inseparable
here as always. And it was an African who directed my
interest in Africa to something he had noted in the
Soviet Union. On a visit to that country he had
traveled east and had seen the Yakuts, a people who
had been classed as a "backward Race" by the Czars. He
had been struck by the resemblance between the tribal
life of the Yakuts and his own people of East Africa.

What would happen to a people like the Yakuts now that
they were freed from colonial oppression and were a
part of the construction of the new socialist society?

I saw for myself when I visited the Soviet Union how
the Yakuts and the Uzbeks and all the other formerly
oppressed nations were leaping ahead from tribalism to
modern industrial economy, from illiteracy to the
heights of knowledge. Their ancient culture blossoming
in new and greater splendor. Their young men and women
mastering the sciences and arts. A thousand years? No,
less than 30!

During his London years, Paul Robeson was also
involved with a number of Caribbean people and
organizations. These were the years of the
Italian-Ethiopian War, the self-imposed exile of Haile
Selassie and Marcus Garvey, and the proliferation of
African and Caribbean organizations, with London
headquarters, demanding the improvements in their
colonial status that eventually led to the
independence explosion. In an article in the National
Guardian, Paul Robeson spoke of his impressions of the
Caribbean people, after returning from a concert tour
in Jamaica and Trinidad. He said:

I feel now as if I had drawn my first great of fresh
air in many years. Once before I felt like that. When
I first entered the Soviet Union I said to myself, "I
am a human being. I don't have to worry about my

In the West Indies I felt all that and something new
besides. I felt that for the first time I could see
what it will be like when Negroes are free in their
own land. I felt something like what a Jew must feel
when first he goes to Israel, what a Chinese must feel
on entering areas of his country that now are free.

Certainly my people in the islands are poor. They are
desperately poor. In Kingston, Jamaica, I saw many
families living in shells of old automobiles, hollowed
out and turned upside down. Many are unemployed. They
are economically subjected to landholders, British,
American and native.

But the people are on the road to freedom. I saw Negro
professionals: artists, writers, scientists, scholars.
And above all I saw Negro workers walking erect and

Once I was driving in Jamaica. My road passed a school
and as we came abreast of the building a great crowd
of school children came running out to wave at me. I
stopped, got out of my car to talk with them and sing
to them. Those kids were wonderful. I have stopped at
similar farms in our own deep South and I have talked
to Negro children everywhere in our country. Here for
the first time I could talk to children who did not
have to look over their shoulders to see if a white
man was watching them talk to me.

They crowded around my car. For hours they waited to
see me. Some might be embarrassed or afraid of such
crowds of people pressing all around. I am not
embarrassed or afraid in the presence of people.

I was not received as an opera singer is received by
his people in Italy. I was not received as Joe Louis
is received by our own people. These people saw in me
not a singer, or not just a singer. They called to me:
"Hello, Paul. We know you've been fighting for us."

In many ways his concert tours were educational tours.
He had a similar experience, in New Orleans, on
October 19, 1942 when he sang before a capacity
audience of black and white men and women, seated
without segregation, in the Booker T. Washington
School auditorium. On this occasion he said:

I had never put a correct evaluation on the dignity
and courage of my people of the deep South until I
began to come south myself. I had read, of course, and
folks had told me of strides made.but always I had
discounted much if it, charged much of it to what some
people would have us believe. Deep down, I think, I
had imagined Negroes of the South beaten, subservient,

But I see them now courageous and possessors of a
profound and instinctive dignity, a race that has come
through its trials unbroken, a race of such
magnificence of spirit that there exists no power on
earth that could crush them. They will bend, but they
will never break.

I find that I must come south again and again, again
and yet again. It is only here that I achieve absolute
and utter identity with my people. There is no
question here of where I stand, no need to make a
decision. The redcap in the station, the president of
your college, the man in the street-they are all one
with me, part of me. And I am proud of it, utterly
proud of my people.

He reaffirmed his commitment to the Black struggle in
the South by adding:

We must come south to understand in their starkest
presentation the common problems that beset us
everywhere. We must breathe the smoke of battle. We
must taste the bitterness, see the ugliness.we must
expose ourselves unremittingly to the source of
strength that makes the black South strong!

In spite of the years he and his family spent abroad,
he was never estranged from his own people. In his
book, Here I Stand, he explained this in essence when
he said:

"I am a Negro. The house I live in is in Harlem-this
city within a city, Negro Metropolis of America. And
now as I write of things that are urgent in my mind
and heart, I feel the press of all that is around me
here where I live, at home among my people."

The 1940's the war years, was a turning point in his
career. His rendition of "Ballad For Americans," made
a lot of Americans, Black and white, rethink the
nature of their commitment, or lack of it, in the
making of genuine democracy in this country. The song
stated a certainty that "Our Marching Song to a land
of freedom and equality will come again." Mr. Robeson
sang: "For I have always believed it and I believe it
now." In this song, and his life he was asking that
America keep its promise to all of its people.

On October 19, 1943, he became the first Black actor
to play the role of Othello with a White supporting
cast, on an American stage. He had played this role
years before in London.

In 1944, Paul Robeson was awarded the Spingarn Medal
by the National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People. Soon afterwards he took the lead in a
course of actions more direct and radical than the
NAACP. He led a delegation that demanded the end to
racial bars in professional baseball. He called on
President Truman to extend the civil rights of Blacks
in the South. He became a founder and chairman of the
Progressive Party which nominated former Vice
President Henry A. Wallace in the 1948 presidential

In the years immediately following the Second World
War, Paul Robeson called attention to the unfinished
fight for the basic dignity of all people. The
following excerpt was extracted from a speech he made
in Detroit, Michigan on the Tenth Anniversary of the
National Negro Congress:

"These are times of peril in the history of the Negro
people and of the American nation.

Fresh from victorious battles, in which we soundly
defeated the military forces of German, Italian and
Japanese fascism, driving to oppress and enslave the
peoples of the world, we are now faced with an even
more sinister threat to the peace and security and
freedom of all our peoples. This time the danger lies
in the resurgent imperialist and pro-fascist forces of
our own country, powerfully organized gentlemen of
great wealth, who are determined now, to attempt what
Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo tried to do and failed. AND

I understand full well the meaning of these times for
my country and my people. The triumph of imperialist
reaction in America now, would bring death and mass
destruction to our own and all other countries of the
world. It would engulf our hard won democratic
liberties in the onrush of native fascism. And it
would push the Negro people backward into a modern and
highly scientific form of oppression, far worse than
our slave forefathers ever knew.

I also understand full well the important role which
my people can and must play in helping to save America
and the peoples of all the world, from annihilation
and enslavement. Precisely as Negro patriots helped
turn back the red-coats at Bunker Hill, just as the
struggles of over 200,000 Negro soldiers and four
million slaves turned the tide of victory for the
Union forces in the Civil War, just as the Negro
people have thrown their power on the side of progress
in every other great crisis in the history of our
country-so now, we must mobilize our full strength, in
firm unity with all the other progressive forces of
our country and the world, to set American imperialist
reaction back on its heels.

On this occasion he further stated:

"I have been a member of the National Negro Congress
since its inception. I have taken great pride in its
struggles to unite the progressive forces of the Negro
people and of organized labor in common struggle. And
I know that I now talk to an assemble of approximately
one thousand delegates, the overwhelming majority of
whom are the elected representatives of millions of
trade unionists throughout our country.

Here is the concrete expression of one of the most
salutary developments in the political history of
America-the unity of the Negro people and the
progressive forces of labor of which they are an
increasingly active part."

The trouble of the post war years, mainly the lack of
civil rights for his people, made him step up his
political activity. At the World Peace Congress in
Paris in 1940, he stated that:

"It is unthinkable that American Negroes will go to
war on behalf of those who have oppressed us for
generations against a country (the Soviet Union) which
in one generation has raised our people to the full
dignity of mankind."

His words, often exaggerated out of context, turned
every right wing extremist organization in America
against him. Their anger reached a sad and destructive
climax during two of his concerts in Peekskill, New
York in the summer of 1949.

His interest in Africa, that had started early in his
life continued through his affiliations with "The
Council on African Affairs" and the column that he
wrote regularly for the newspaper Freedom.

His association with organized labor was almost as
long and consistent as his association with the
concert stage. In a speech, "Forge Negro-Labor Unity
for Peace and Jobs," delivered in Chicago, before nine
hundred delegates to the National Labor Conference for
Negro Rights, June 1950, his association and
commitment to the laboring class was restated in the
following manner:

"No meeting held in America at the mid-century turning
point in world history holds more significant promise
for the bright future toward which humanity strives
than this National Labor Conference for Negro Rights.
For here are gathered together the basic forces-the
Negro sons and daughters of labor and their white
brothers and sisters-whose increasingly active
intervention in national and world affairs is an
essential requirement if we are to have a peaceful and
democratic solution of the burning issues of our

Again we must recall the state of the world in which
we live, and especially the America in which we live.
Our history as Americans, Black and white, has been a
long battle, so often unsuccessful. For the most basic
rights of citizenship, for the most basic rights of
citizenship, for the most simple standards of living,
the avoidance of starvation-for survival.

I have been up and down the land time and again,
thanks in the main to you trade unionists gathered
here tonight. You helped to arouse American
communities to give answer to Peekskill, to protect
the right of freedom of speech and assembly. And I
have seen and daily see the unemployment, the poverty,
the plight of our children, our youth, the
backbreaking labor of our women-and too long, too long
have my people wept and mourned. We're tired of this
denial of a decent existence. We demand some
approximation of the American democracy we have helped
to build."

He ended his speech with this reminder:

"As the Black worker takes his place upon the stage of
history-not for a bit part, but to play his full role
with dignity in the very center of the action-a new
day dawns in human affairs. The determination of the
Negro workers, supported by the whole Negro people,
and joined with the mass of progressive white working
men and women, can save the labor movement. . This
alliance can beat back the attacks against the living
standards and the very lives of the Negro people. It
can stop the drive toward fascism. It can halt the
chariot of war in its tracks.

And it can help to bring to pass in America and in the
world the dream our father dreamed-of a land that's
free, of a people growing in friendship, in love, in
cooperation and peace.

This is history's challenge to you. I know you will
not fail."

In 1950 Paul Robeson's passport was revoked by the
State Department, though he was not charged with any
crime. President Truman had signed an executive order
forbidding Paul Robeson to set foot outside the
continental limits of the United States. "Committees
To Restore Paul Robeson's Passport" were organized in
the United States and in other countries around the
world. The fight to restore his passport lasted eight

For Paul Robeson these were not lost or inactive
years; and they were not years when he was forgotten
or without appreciation, though, in some circles, his
supporters "dwindled down to a precious few." He was
fully involved, during these years, with the Council
on African Affairs, Freedom Magazine, The American
Labor Movement, The Peace Movement, and The National
Council of American-Soviet Friendship.

 From its inception in November 1950 to the last issue,
July-August 1955, Paul Robeson wrote a regular column
for the newspaper Freedom. After his passport was
restored in 1958, he went to Europe for an extended
concert tour. In 1963 he returned to the United
States, with his wife Eslanda, who died two years
later. After her death he gave up his home in Harlem
and moved to Philadelphia to spend his last years with
his sister Mrs. Marion Forsythe.

Next to W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson was the best
example of an intellect who was active in his peoples
freedom struggle. Through this struggle both men
committed themselves to the struggle to improve the
lot of all mankind. Paul Robeson's thoughts in this
matter is summed up in the following quote from his
book, Here I Stand.

"I learned that the essential character of a nation is
determined not by the upper classes, but by the common
people, and that the common people of all nations are
truly brothers in the great family of mankind . And
even as I grew to feel more Negro in spirit, or
African as I put it then, I also came to feel a sense
of oneness with the white working people whom I came
to know and love.

This belief in the oneness of humankind, about which I
have often spoken in concerts and elsewhere, has
existed within me side by side with my deep attachment
to the cause of my own race. Some people have seen a
contradiction in this duality.I do not think however,
that my sentiments are contradictory . I learned that
there truly is a kinship among us all, a basis for
mutual respect and brotherly love."

At the time of his death, January 23, 1976, a new
generation was discovering Paul Robeson for the first
time. An older generation was regretting that it had
not made the best use of the strengths and hope that
he had given to them. The writer, L. Clayton Jones,
made this comment in the Amsterdam News, after his

"One watches with restrained anger as a nation of
hypocrites grudgingly acknowledges the passing of a
twentieth century phenomenon, Paul Robeson, All
American Athlete, Shakespearean Actor, Basso Profundo,
Linguist, Scholar, Lawyer, Activist. He was all these
things and more."

In December 1977, an Ad Hoc Committee to End the
Crimes Against Paul Robeson was formed to protest the
inaccurate portrayal of Paul Robeson in a new play by
Philip Hayes Dean. Their statement read, in part:

"The essence of Paul Robeson is inseparable from his
ideas-those most profoundly held artistic,
philosophical and political principles which evolved
from his early youth into the lifelong commitments for
which he paid so dear and from which he never wavered
down to his final public statement in 1975.

In life, Paul Robeson sustained the greatest effort in
the history of this nation to silence a single artist.
He defied physical and psychological harassment and
abuse without once retreating from his principles and
the positions to which he dedicated his life. We
believe that it is no less a continuation of the same
crime to restore him, that he is safely dead, to the
pantheon of respectability on the terms of those who
sought to destroy him.

Robeson is the archetype of the Black American who
uncompromisingly insists on total liberation. His
example and his fate strike to the very heart of
American racism.

For the nation to confront him honestly would mean
that it confronts itself-to begin at last the process
of reclamation of the national soul."

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