Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families

23Jan/140

Remembering the Example and Legacy of Paul Robeson

paul_robeson

Today marks 38 years since the great Paul Robeson's death (January 23, 1976).

Paul Robeson remains one of the great and widely under-acknowledged figures in American history. Indeed Robeson stands tall as one of the great figures in the history of African / African American resistance against racism, exploitation and oppression. Paul Robeson was a remarkably gifted scholar, athlete, actor, singer, orator, author and activist. Known and celebrated by audiences worldwide, Robeson made a deliberate decision to use his celebrity, influence and all of his talents and skills to advocate for freedom and justice for African people around the world, including the continuing injustices experienced daily by African American people.

For his outspokenness, and his scathing critique of racism in the United States and abroad, Robeson came under intense pressure by the United States government, including being called upon to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, during which Robeson takes the committee to task for their, and this country's hypocrisy and racism.

More resources about the life and legacy of Paul Robeson are available at the PBS American Masters page.

Additionally, here's another great piece about Paul Robeson, written by Professor John Henrik Clarke.

Just below are a few brief excerpts from Robeson's powerful testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (June 12, 1956; Courtesy of History Matters), followed by a February 1958 KPFA interview with Paul Robeson. Both of these resources provide a really good sense of Robeson's great intellect, courage, clarity of analysis and conviction.

Could I say that the reason that I am here today, you know, from the mouth of the State Department itself, is: I should not be allowed to travel because I have struggled for years for the independence of the colonial peoples of Africa. For many years I have so labored and I can say modestly that my name is very much honored all over Africa, in my struggles for their independence. That is the kind of independence like Sukarno got in Indonesia. Unless we are double-talking, then these efforts in the interest of Africa would be in the same context. The other reason that I am here today, again from the State Department and from the court record of the court of appeals, is that when I am abroad I speak out against the injustices against the Negro people of this land. I sent a message to the Bandung Conference and so forth. That is why I am here. This is the basis, and I am not being tried for whether I am a Communist, I am being tried for fighting for the rights of my people, who are still second-class citizens in this United States of America. My mother was born in your state, Mr. Walter, and my mother was a Quaker, and my ancestors in the time of Washington
baked bread for George Washington’s troops when they crossed the Delaware, and my own father was a slave. I stand here struggling for the rights of my people to be full citizens in this country. And they are not. They are not in Mississippi. And they are not in Montgomery, Alabama. And they are not in Washington. They are nowhere, and that is why I am here today. You want to shut up every Negro who has the courage to stand up and fight for the rights of his people, for the rights of workers, and I have been on many a picket line for the steelworkers too. And that is why I am here today. . . .

 

Because my father was a slave, and my people died to build this country, and I am going to stay here, and have a part of it just like you. And no Fascist-minded people will drive me from it. Is that clear?

 

Just a moment. This is something that I challenge very deeply, and very sincerely: that the success of a few Negroes, including myself or Jackie Robinson can make up—and here is a study from Columbia University—for seven hundred dollars a year for thousands of Negro families in the South. My father was a slave, and I have cousins who are sharecroppers, and I do not see my success in terms of myself. That is the reason my own success has not meant what it should mean: I have sacrificed literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars for what I believe in.

 

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