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For his son, see Paul Robeson, Jr.
Paul Robeson
Paul Robeson 1938.jpg
Background information
Birth name Paul Leroy Robeson
Genres Spirituals
International folk
Occupation(s) Actor, singer, athlete, activist
Instruments Vocals
Years active 1922–1965

Paul Leroy Robeson (April 9, 1898 – January 23, 1976) was an American bass-baritone singer and actor, who became noted for his political radicalism and wide-ranging activism.

A university and law school graduate and also an All-American and professional athlete, Robeson discontinued his career as an attorney and drifted into amateur theater work. Within a decade he had become a international star of stage, screen, radio and film. He was the first major concert star to popularize the performance of Negro spirituals.[1][2][3][4]

At the height of his fame, Paul Robeson chose to become a primarily political artist, speaking out against racism (in particular racial segregation and lynching) and colonialism. He supported trade unionism, the civil rights movement and socialism. He also was an advocate on behalf of the Soviet Union, making him a target of Anti-communism. Already put under surveillance by U.S. and British intelligence services, he was largely isolated both within the black community and society in general in the 1950s, blacklisted by U.S. media and barred from travelling abroad.[3][5] Throughout his life, Robeson remained unapologetic about his political views. Soon after he was able to resume travelling in 1958, his already faltering health broke down, forcing him to retire in 1965. He would spend his final years in seclusion living with his family.[6]

Due to his blacklisting and isolation, Paul Robeson's legacy has often gone unnoticed in mainstream accounts of entertainment, sports civil rights and black history. Contemporary advocates and historians have successfully worked towards restoring his name to numerous history books, while honoring his memory globally with posthumous events and recognitions.[7][8]

Family background[edit]

Robeson's father
Robeson's mother

Robeson was born in Princeton, New Jersey the youngest of seven children, of which two had died in infancy. His father, William Drew Robeson I (1844–1918), a descendant of the Igbo people,[9] had been born a slave at a North Carolina plantation and had become a presbyterian minister.[10] In 1901, after twenty years of service, William Robeson was ousted from his Princeton Pastorate, as parts of his congregation objected to his tendency to "speak out against social injustice".[11]

Paul Robeson's mother, Maria Louisa Bustill (1853–1904), was a retired schoolteacher from an abolitionist Quaker family. Nearly blind, she died in a kitchen fire.[12][13] Paul, six years old at the time, possibly was present during the accident, seeing his mother burn. After her death, the William Robeson was supported by his Robeson relatives, whereas the more affluent (and lighter-skinned) Bustills shunned their son-in-law. Later on, Paul Robeson felt deep attachment to his paternal relatives[12], but alienation towards the Bustill family.[14]

In 1907, the family relocated to Westfield, New Jersey, where William Robeson, having left Presbyterianism, had received a small pastorate from the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. In 1910, the father was assigned a larger parish at Somerville, New Jersey, causing the family to move there.[15]


Early education[edit]

William Drew Robeson I was a stern disciplinarian overseeing his son's studies but also impressed upon Paul that he could achieve anything that whites could.[9][16] In Westfield, Robeson attended integrated elementary and high schools.[15] In 1915, Paul graduated with honors from Somerville High School, where he excelled academically and participated in singing, acting, and athletics.[17]

Rutgers University[edit]

Robeson, far left, was Rutgers Class of 1919 and a member of Cap and Skull.

Robeson had planned to attend Lincoln University, the black university his father and brother had graduated from, but then applied for and won an academic scholarship to the exclusive Rutgers University.[18] Beginning his studies in 1915, he was only the third African-American student to be accepted and the only black student during his time on campus.[17] He was active on the Rutgers debating society and participated oratorical contests both on and off campus, winning the statewide prize four years in a row. Robeson also sang with the campus Glee club and was elected to the Philoclean Society, the university's literary society,[19] but racism hampered his full participation in social events and travels.[20]

In 1918, he and two classmates were accepted into Phi Beta Kappa,[21] and in the following year he and three others were selected into Cap and Skull, Rutgers' honor society.[22] The class valedictorian, he exhorted his classmates to "catch a new vision", while the "class prophecy" envisioned that he would become a governor of New Jersey by 1940 and "leader of the colored race in America."[23]

A noted athlete, Robeson earned altogether fifteen varsity letters in American football, baseball, basketball, and track and field. For his accomplishments as an end in football, he was named a first-team All-American in 1917 and 1918. When Robeson initially tried out for the football team, he faced savage physical punishment during scrimmages; at one instance, he had his nose broken, at another a senior team member stomped on and crushed Robeson's hand, tearing off fingernails. Paul silently endured the abuse, considering himself the "representative of a lot of Negro boys who wanted to play football, and wanted to go to college... I had to show I could take whatever was handed out...our father wouldn't like to think that our family has a quitter in it".[22] His football coach, Walter Camp, later described him as "the greatest to ever trot the gridiron."[24]

Columbia Law School and law practice[edit]

After graduating from Rutgers, Robeson moved to Harlem and entered Columbia Law School, where he studied from 1920 to 1923. One of his classmates was William O. Douglas, later a Supreme Court Justice.[25]

In order to pay his way through law school, he made use of his athletic abilities. He played professional football in the American Professional Football Association with the Akron Pros and Milwaukee Badgers. At Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, he served as an assistant football coach and was initiated into the Nu Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, the oldest intercollegiate Greek-letter fraternity for African Americans.[citation needed] He also played basketball for the St. Christopher Club traveling team during their 1918/19 season, alongside future Hall-of-Famers Clarence "Fats" Jenkins and James “Pappy” Ricks, and former Hampton Institute star center Charles Bradford.[26]

During his studies at Columbia, Robeson first delved into the performing arts. In 1922, he starred in Simon the Cyrenian at the Harlem YMCA and as Jim in Mary Hoyt Wiborg's play Taboo at the Sam Harris Theater in Harlem. The play, which covered superstitions and myth among black people.[26] He also took the latter play on a tour of the British Isles, where it was renamed Vodoo.[25] He also began singing professionally in 1922, after Eubie Blake heard Robeson sing casually and encouraged him to appear in Blake's production of Shuffle Along.

Robeson's academic record was not as stellar as it had been at Rutgers, with a mostly C average and he openly showed little enthusiasm for the law after graduation in 1923.[25] His broken course at the school due to his theater work made him ineligible for the Columbia Law Review. Looking for work, he was hired by a New York City law firm and contributed to the litigation trial over Jay Gould's estate. However, he quit the firm after a white secretary refused to take dictation from him because of his race.[27][28]

Marriage and family[edit]

Eslanda Robeson (centre) in East Germany, 1963

In August 1921, Robeson married Eslanda Cardozo Goode ("Essie"), who headed the pathology laboratory at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City and came from a distinguished family of a mixed race background. Her father Cardozo Goode was related to the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo. Eslanda encouraged Robeson in his career and became his business manager. In 1930, Eslanda would also author the first book on Robeson, Paul Robeson: Negro, a partly fictionalised memoir about Robeson's early life and career but the Robeson's marriage.[14]

Early in their marriage, Eslanda realized that her husband was not dedicated to marital fidelity and domesticity. She initially endured his extramarital affairs[29] but her tolerance was at an end in 1929, when Robeson began an affair with British actress Yolande Jackson.[30] After Robeson refused to be reigned in and even started a second (though short-lived) affair with actress Peggy Hart-Davis, in 1930, Eslanda suffered a nervous breakdown and for a while, Eslanda stayed with her mother in Switzerland and Austria. Their relationship was ruptured further by unflattering passages in Eslanda's 1930 book and her getting pregnant and undergoing a botched abortion. Robeson was torn between Yolande as "a lover and a playmate, ... a buffer against Essie's control" and Eslanda as "his vital partner in advancing his career, ... a friend and companion". He also pondered how the black community would react if he divorced his long-standing wife to marry a white woman. Eventually, he decided to marry Yolande, and, after Eslanda's temporarily refused, the Robesons in April 1932 agreed to a file for divorce but to remain friends.[31] Things turned out differently, as by September 1932 Robeson had broken up with Yolande, and the Robesons reunited during a chance encounter in Paris,[32] agreeing upon an open marriage.[33]

The marriage produced one child, Paul Robeson, Jr., born November 2, 1927. Paul Robeson Jr., who later founded The Robeson Family Archives and The Paul Robeson Foundation to continue his father's legacy. He also fathered two children, David Robeson (1951–1998) and Susan Robeson (born in 1953). In 1980, the latter published The Whole World in His Hands, a pictorial biography of her grandfather.

Religious views[edit]

Having been raised in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the young Robeson actively worked in his father's church and occasionally deputized for him. His father wished him to become a minister as well and for a time considered that vocation. However, in college he decided that he "lacked zeal for the ministry".[34] As an adult, Robeson rarely attended church services[35] and cared little about "formal religious ties", but in a 1929 entry in his diary expressed the thought that his career and his marriage to be part of a "higher plan", writing: "God watches over me and guides me. He's with me and let's my fight my own battles and hopes I'll win".[36] According to his son, Robeson would sometimes led his wife and young son in prayer, but rarely discussed his beliefs with his family, which did not share them.[35]

However, he freely talked about this creed in an interview with W. R. Titterton in 1932, in which he stated his belief in "an omnipotent and loving Providence". In reference to the Beatitudes, he continued: "My God is the God that Christ preached. The friend of simple people. A merciful God, and one that loved merciful men." Though he described man as currently "very near the brute", he voiced an optimistic philosophy: "We are striving, more or less, to become Godlike. Again and again we fall. But in the end, with the help of much that has gone before, we shall attain." Robeson linked his beliefs with his African heritage, opining that "all black men are religious. Africa has given religion to the world.", and that "the suffering of the Negro had ennobled his soul in the Spirituals which I am so proud to sing. But in America Negroes are going mad in the race for money and power. Their priceless heritage ... is forgotten."[35]

Though this "deeply felt religious belief" was, according to his son, harder to discern as a principle in his private life, being often overshadowed by a more selfish side, Robeson's faith was "an important source of his artistic strength". In the interview, he stated: "When a simple man faces the majesty of nature, he knows. ... when I sing my spirituals, in which is the whole history of my race, it is then, more than at any other time, that I am liable to be caught away, and feel and know that God exists, and God is love."[35]

Later on, his political associations led to questions about his faith.[37][38] Accusations that he was a "'godless' Communist", did not resonate with his black churchgoing audience, who felt he "personified the spirituals in his music", and were not confirmed by Robeson himself, who never expressed "even the remostest allegiance to 'materialistic atheism'".[38] According to historian Martin Duberman, Robeson was "not a religious man in any formalistic sense ... nonetheless an intensely spirtual one, convinced that some higher force watched over him."[38] AME Bishop J. Clinton Hoggard, a close family friend who eulogized Robeson at his funeral, stated in 1998: "He was a Christian, he believed in God, which is why he is one who could sing the great hymns of the church, they come out of his soul."[39]

Entertainment career[edit]

In the 1920s, Robeson found fame as an actor and singer with his bass-baritone voice and commanding presence. He also acted in or narrated over a dozen films, in the United States and overseas.

Early years (1922–1928)[edit]


Paul Robeson in All God's Chillun Got Wings

Robeson had first entered the stage during his Columbia days and resumed acting after quitting the legal profession. Robeson became part of the Harlem Renaissance and was acclaimed for his 1924 performance in the title role of Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones. In the same year, he gained fame for his performance in All God's Chillun Got Wings, in which he portrayed the black husband of an abusive white woman who, resenting her husband's skin color, destroys his promising career as a lawyer.[40] He next played Crown in the 1927 stage version of DuBose Heyward's novel Porgy, which provided the basis for George and Ira Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess.

In 1924, Robeson made his first forays into cinema, when he appeared in Oscar Micheaux's Body and Soul, an American silent movie made for all-black audiences, in which he starred in the dual of two twin brothers. He also made a cameo appearance in Camille, a 1926 short film.

Concert singing[edit]

Robeson had been singing professionally during his days at Columbia but had given little thought to make it a career. In 1924, when he was unable to whistle for a performance in Taboo, he sang a spiritual instead pleasing both cast and audience.[41]

Robeson also formed a successful musical partnership with pianist and arranger Lawrence Brown. They two briefly met in 1922 in England and reconnected in 1924 in the United States. Brown, who had previously worked with the gospel singer Roland Hayes, had an extensive repertoire of African-American folk songs. Robeson would credit Brown guiding him "... to the beauty of my own folk music and to the music of all other Peoples so like our own." Both he and Robeson helped bring these to much wider attention both inside the U.S. and abroad. With Robeson's wife Eslanda arranging concert venues, Paul Robeson became a hugely popular concert draw in New York City. Carl Sandburg favorably compared Robeson's interpretations of spirituals to those of Hayes: "Hayes imitates white culture... Robeson is the real thing".[42] Interested in folk music from throughout the world and supported by his language studies, his standard repertoire after the 1920s included songs in many languages including languages as diverse as Chinese, Russian, Yiddish and German. Through his rich vocal instrument, which descended as low as C below the bass clef, and his work with Lawrence Brown, Alan Booth and other accompanists, arrangers and producers, Paul Robeson went on to a lucrative concert, radio and recording career.

England years (1928–1940)[edit]

Show Boat and other stage work[edit]

In 1928, Robeson and his wife moved to the United Kingdom, where he was to appear in the London production of the musical Show Boat. With long periods away on singing tours, the Robesons would stay in Britain for eleven years.

Paul Robeson with Uta Hagen in the Theatre Guild production of Othello.

In Show Boat, Robeson played the role of the stevedore Joe, which was expanded especially for him. Robeson's rendition of "Ol' Man River" is widely considered the definitive version of the song. Robeson reprised his performance in the 1932 Broadway revival of the show.

While Show Boat was immensely popular with white audiences, black theater reviewers were less than impressed. J.A Rodgers of The Amsterdam News wrote in 1928 that he had spoken to "fully some thirty Negros of intelligence and self respect" who urged "their disapprobation of the play" and he had "heard many harsh things said against Robeson... if anyone had called him a 'nigger', he'd be the first to get offended and there he is singing 'nigger, nigger' before all these white people."[43]

Possibly in reaction to such criticism, Robeson later altered the lyrics to transform it from a song of black lament to one of defiance and perseverance. He did so only during concert performances - sticking to the original text in productions of Show Boat.[44]

In 1930, Robeson starred as the protagonist in William Shakespeare's Othello, opposite Peggy Hart-Davis, with whom he had a brief affair.[45] Robeson was the first black actor to play Othello opposite a white cast since Ira Aldridge in the early 19th century. The production met with mostly positive reviews with a few lukewarm notices pointing out Robeson's "highly civilized quality" and lack of the "grand style". Robeson's son opined that at the time his father "had not yet jettisoned the 'don't upset white folks' dictum of his boyhood days, thus interfering with his ability to project the regal and commanding posture that Othello should deliver from the outset."[46]

In 1936, he also played the role of Toussaint L'Ouverture, the leader of the Haitian Revolution, in Black Majesty, a play by C.L.R. James, alongside Robert Adams. To play the part had been a long time goal of Robeson's but the production closed after two weeks. Adams would go on to co-star in two of Robeson's films, Song of Freedom and King Solomon's Mines and found the Negro Repertory Arts Theater in Great Britain.[47]

Film career[edit]

In 1930, Robeson also resumed acting in films, when he and his wife stared in the experimental classic Borderline. Shot in Switzerland in 1930 by the Pool Group, a trio of avant garde artists, the film chronicles race relations in a small European village.

In 1933, he briefly returned to the U.S. to star in Dudley Murphy's film version of Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones. In the American version of The Emperor Jones, a scene in which Jones killed a white prison guard, was edited out since a black man killing a white man was deemed too sensitive for American viewers. The 1936 Universal Pictures film Show Boat was a box office hit for Robeson, and the most frequently shown and highly acclaimed of all his films, particularly his performance of "Ol' Man River".

In 1935, Robeson participated in the British film Sanders of the River. Robeson had hoped that an accurate and dignified portrayal of the African leader Bosambo could help audiences understand and respect the roots of Black culture. When Robeson later discovered that the film celebrated the British colonial civil service and espoused the concept of the White Man's Burden[48] and his role changed to a servile lackey of British colonial rule, the actor furiously disowned the film.[49]

At the height of his popularity in the 1930s, Robeson became a major box office attraction in British films such as Song of Freedom (1936), King Solomon's Mines and Jericho/Dark Sands (both 1937), portraying strong Black American leading roles. Dissatisfied with the stereotypical roles he was offered,[50] he refused offers major studios for two years he before appearing in the independent British production The Proud Valley (1940), which Robeson saw as an opportunity to “depict the Negro as he really is – not the caricature he is always represented to be on the screen.”[citation needed] In the film, he played a Black American worker who arrives in Wales and wins the respect of the very musically oriented Welsh people through his singing, ultimately sacrificing his life to save fellow miner.

Political development and activism[edit]

Studies and anti-colonialism[edit]

Robeson, conscious of race relations due to his family background and his own experiences, initially believed racism to be less of a problem in Britain but in 1929 he was rejected by London's Savoy Hotel.[50] In London, Robeson delved into African history and culture, having become aware of a large body of knowledge not available in the United States, stating he had "discovered Africa in London".[50] In 1934, he enrolled at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies, where he took courses in linguistics and African languages, including Swahili. He eventually became conversant in twenty and fluent or near fluent in twelve languages.[50]

In London, Robeson became became acquainted with fellow students from British colonies, such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta, future prime ministers or presidents of India, Ghana and Kenya, respectively, and became interested in Anti-colonialism. Robeson became a patron of the West African Students' Union in London, of which he and his wife were named honorary members.[50] In 1937, Robeson cooperated with Max Yergan to form the International Council on African Affairs, an organisation was focused on providing information about Africa across the U.S. Robeson became chairman of the group.[51]

Labor activism[edit]

During his London years, his political thinking began to transcend racial divisions and encompass social and political issues. Robeson become active in the British labor movement. While he was performing in Show Boat in 1928, he met a group of unemployed miners who had taken part in a "hunger march" from South Wales to protest their poverty and harsh working conditions. During the 1930s, he made numerous visits to Welsh coal mines (such as Cardiff, Neath and Aberdare) to perform for them and to find out about their working and living conditions.[52] In 1934, he performed in Caernarfon to benefit the victims of a major disaster at Gresford Colliery, near Wrexham, where 264 miners had died.[53] His 1940 film The Proud Valley also featured the situation of Welsh miners.

He later explained how these experiences influenced his political development: "I learned my militancy and my politics, from your Labor Movement here in Britain.... That was how I realized that the fight of my Negro people in America and the fight of oppressed workers everywhere was the same struggle."[54]

Socialism and the Soviet Union[edit]

Influenced by his ties to the labor movement, Robeson increasingly adopted Socialist views, believing that the struggles of oppressed people are due to capitalism rather than racism. He also interested himself in the international Communist movement and the Soviet Union.[50] Having been given an official invitation, Robeson first journeyed to the Soviet Union in December 1934, together with his wife and his friend Marie Seton. At a stopover in Berlin, the Robesons were harassed by a SA troop. In Moscow, Robeson was welcomed by playwrights, artists and filmmakers, among them Sergei Eisenstein who became a friend. Robeson also met with African Americans who had immigrated to the USSR, including his two brothers-in-law. Robeson was especially taken in by the apparent absence of racism in the Soviet Union.[55]

Following this visit, he became an advocate of the Soviet Union's socialist system.[55] Robeson also wrote numerous articles arguing that United States should seek peace and understanding with the Soviets. He also interested himself in the Russian people - studying their culture and history and becoming fluent in Russian people - as well as the Soviet Union's many national minorities (e.g. Yakuts, Uzbeks and Tatars). He declared that African-American spiritual music resonated to Russian folk traditions and thought that generally blacks around the world shared many similarities with the peoples of the USSR. In his subsequent writings and speeches, Robeson lauded the Soviet Union's "national minority policy as it operates among the peoples of Central Asia".[55] and urged African Americans as well as African countries to look towards the Soviet Union for inspiration.[56]

Robeson welcomed the Stalinist constitution of 1936 as "an expression of democracy, broader in scope and loftier in principle than ever before expressed", and especially praised its Article 123, which upheld "Equality of rights ... irrespective of their nationality or race".[57][58] He would eventually have his son Paul educated in Moscow, where he attended an elite school. Robeson explained that he did not want his son to face the same discrimination that he had faced growing up in the United States.[59]

Robeson also applauded Stalin's Great Purge and the Moscow show trials against supposed counter-revolutionaries: "From what I have already seen of the workings of the Soviet government, I can only say that anybody who lifts his hand against it ought to be shot!"[57][60] He later explained his attitude to his son: "sometimes ... great injustices may be inflicted on the minority when the majority is in a pursuit of a great and just course”.[61] When the Soviet government signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, Robeson justified the agreement as having been forced on the Soviet Union by French and British unwillingness "to collaborate with the Soviet Union in a real policy of collective security". According to his journal, he believed an Anglo-Russian pact "would have stopped Nazi aggression".[62] He also called the Soviet invasions of Eastern Poland and Finland in 1939 "defensive" and justified as a response to British designs against Russia.[57]

The political artist and the Spanish Civil War[edit]

Though Robeson had been politically aware and active earlier, he strictly separated his artistic from his political views. In an interview with W. R. Titterton in 1930, Robeson had rejected "political activism, political advocacy and commitment to a 'cause' as suitable modes for an artist", believing that the artist must be "ultimately accountable only to himself and his art; the prophet and the warrior are by definition at odds with the artist." This attitude of Robeson directly contradicted that of his later collaborator W. E. B. Du Bois, who considered art primarily a tool for advancing political causes.[63]

Robeson's perception of the relationship between art and politics had changed when he involved himself in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), which he later called "the turning point of my life".[44] In the conflict, Robeson supported the pro-Republican International Brigades in their fight against the nationalist coalition. In April 1937, he gave a concert at Victoria Palace to aid homeless women and children in Spain. In June, he initiated a fund for the relief of the dependents of African Americans fighting in Spain and participated in a "Save Spain" concert at Royal Albert Hall, organized by writers W.H. Auden, Virginia Wolff and H.G. Wells for the benefit of the National Joint Committee for Spanish Refugees in Aid of the Basque Refugee Children's Fund. At the event, attended by 6,000 and broadcast across Europe, Robeson also gave a speech, containing lines that would become his motto[64]:

"The artist must take sides. He must elect to fight for freedom or for slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative."[50]

For the remainder of the year, Robeson addressed further rallies for the Republican cause.[64] He also denounced Fascist Italy's occupation of Abyssinia and spoke out in favor of the Communist movement in China,[65] raising the concern of his British manager about Robeson turning into a political artist.[66] Robeson decided to give political events primacy, stating that "something inside me has turned".[67]

Early in 1938, Robeson toured Spain, visiting air raid sites and hospitals and singing to troops. His repertoire included "Peat Bog Soldiers", which was popular with volunteers and veterans alike.[68] Robeson also met with members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, a racially integrated volunteer force.[68][69] He intended to turn the death of the brigade's black commander, Oliver Law, in the battle of Brunete into a film but failed to obtain financial backing. Robeson's relationship to the brigade lasted beyond the war. In 1940, veterans formally made him an honorary member.[69]

In 1938, Robeson performed in front of an audience of 7,000 at the Welsh International Brigades National Memorial in Mountain Ash, to commemorate 33 men from Wales killed while fighting in the Spanish Civil War. Paul Robeson's image is featured prominently on the monument dedicated to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in San Francisco's Embarcadero in 2008.[70] In 1939, he also for a month adopted a hundred Spanish children and signed a petition urging the U.S. government to ignore the embargo against outside involvement in the Civil War.[71]

World War II[edit]

After World War II broke out in Europe in September 1939, the Robesons permanently returned to the United States, where they first lived in Harlem, New York, and after 1941 in Enfield, Connecticut. It was later revealed that Robeson was listed in the Black Book, a German document listing thousands of people living in Britain who were to be arrested following a successful invasion of Britain.[citation needed]

Robeson in 1942.

After this return, Robeson quickly became the voice of the nation when he performed Ballad for Americans, an American patriotic cantata with lyrics by John La Touche and music by Earl Robinson. Originally titled The Ballad for Uncle Sam, it was written for a Works Progress Administration theatre project called Sing for Your Supper.[72] Robeson performed the song on the CBS radio network in 1943, accompanied by chorus and orchestra.[73] He sang Ballad for Americans at The Hollywood Bowl to the largest sold-out crowd in its history.[73]

Robeson also reprised his most famous roles: in 1940 he appeared in a Los Angeles stage production of Show Boat; in 1943 he starred as Othello at the Shubert Theatre, New York, alongside of Uta Hagen as Desdemona and José Ferrer as Iago. He was the first black actor on Broadway to play that role with a white supporting cast. His Othello ran for 296 performances - as of 2009, the longest of any Shakespeare play. For his portrayal, Robeson received the top acting award at Donaldson Awards in 1944, the Spingarn Medal in 1945 and the Gold Medal for the best diction in the American theater.[1] Despite his popularity, Robeson was denied to to dine at Sardi’s, located just across the street from the theatre. Robeson toured on and off with Othello in both the U.S. and Canada until 1945 and continued to include solo performances from the play in his concerts for the remainder of his career.

Regarding the war, Robeson at first supported the American Peace Mobilization. This pro-Soviet group called for the United States to stay out of the war but reversed its position in June 1941 after Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union.[74][75][76] When Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the war, Robeson was among the first performers to give benefit concerts on behalf of the American war effort, making him one of the top American actors and singers of that era.[77]

After refusing several lucrative film offers out of Hollywood, Robeson in 1942 participated in the anthology film Tales of Manhattan. His segment depicted blacks' living conditions under the sharecropping system but Robeson was so dissatisfied - calling it "very offensive to my people. It makes the Negro childlike and innocent and is in the old plantation hallelujah shouter tradition" - that he attempted to remove the film from distribution by buying up all prints. Robeson held a press conference, announcing that he would no longer act in Hollywood films because of the demeaning roles available to black actors and would gladly join others in picketing the film.[78]

Activism and backlash[edit]

Activism during and after the war[edit]

Paul Robeson with Charlotta Bass, ca. 1949

At the height of his fame during the war, Paul Robeson continued to position himself as a political artist.[50] His activism eventually eclipsed his entertainment career in 1947, when after singing the controversial "Ballad of Joe Hill" in Salt Lake City - the place the labour activist Joe Hill had been executed for murder in 1915 - Robeson announced "I'm retiring here and now from concert work - I shall sing, from now on, only at gatherings where I can sing what I please."[79] Robeson soon returned to the concert stage but due to his activism found it increasingly difficult to obtain venues.[80]

Robeson spoke out against racial discrimination against Black and Asian Americans and against segregation. In December 1943, Robeson's speech to baseball team owners was a decisive factor to end segregation in major league baseball.[81][82] Robeson was particular outspoken against lynching, co-founding the American Crusade Against Lynching in 1946, which was supported by personalities such as Albert Einstein.[83]

Robeson also continued his anti-colonialist activism through the Council on African Affairs (as the group was called since 1941). The group's most successful campaign was probably for South African famine relief in 1946. Following World War II, Robeson and the CAA were hopeful as the major powers adopted resolutions on the issue of colonialism, there would be a move towards Third World independence under the trusteeship of the United Nations. To their dismay, the proposals introduced by the U.S. government to the conference in April/May 1945 set no clear limits on the duration of colonialism and no motions towards allowing territorial possessions to move towards self government.[84]

Robeson was an avid supporter of trade unions, often showing up on the picket lines, since he believed the labour movement to be crucial to the struggle for civil rights. For his devotion, he was given honorary memberships in several unions, e.g. the United Auto Workers Local 453, the Fur and Leather Workers Union, and the Transport Workers Union. However, Robeson was also confronted with racism within many unions. In response, his friend Revels Cayton, a union activist pressed for "black caucuses" within in each union, with Robeson's encouragement and involvement.[85] Robeson also supported "Camp Wo-Chi-Ca" (Workers' Children's Camp) in New Jersey, an interracial summer camp for working class children established by the International Workers Order. Robeson would visit the camp every summer from 1940 to 1949, singing playing baseball with the children and developing an extensive musical program.[79][80][86][87][88] In summer of 1949, Robeson also visited the largely Jewish Camp Kinderland in New York.[80]

Robeson also became co-chairman of the Progressive Party and, in 1948, supported the presidential campaign of former Vice-President Henry A. Wallace, who was friendly towards the Soviet Union and advocated ending segregation and racial discrimination. During the campaign, Robeson went to Georgia, where he sang before "overflow audiences... in Negro churches in Atlanta and Macon."[89]

Robeson opposed anti-communist legislation. In 1948, he opposed a bill calling for registration of Communist Party members and appared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Questioned about his affiliation with the Communist Party, he refused to answer, stating "Some of the most brilliant and distinguished Americans are about to go to jail for the failure to answer that question, and I am going to join them, if necessary."[79] (The bill was ultimately defeated in the Senate.) In 1949, he spoke in favor of the liberty of twelve Communists (including his long-time friend Benjamin Davis, Jr.) convicted under the Smith Act, which criminalized various left- and right-wing activities as seditious.[80] However, at a civil rights conference held in New York City in July 1949 Robeson denounced a motion, which called for the freeing of nineteen members of the Socialist Workers Party convicted in 1941, calling the imprisoned Trotskyists - Socialists at odds with the Stalinist leadership in Moscow - "allies of Fascism who want to destroy the new democracies of the world" and "enemies of the working class", likening them to the Ku Klux Klan.[90] Regarding foreign policy, Robeson opposed the U.S. sponsored European Recovery Program, which he denounced as "American Big Business trying to take over" and "Americans rebuild(ing) Nazi Germany" and the creation of NATO.[91]

Anti-communist suspicions[edit]

However, Robeson's outspoken personality, his activism and his Soviet sympathies and the fact that his Council on African Affairs during World War II included a variety of activists, some of whom were associated with the Communist Party USA, raised suspicions among the U.S. intelligence community. Robeson was put under surveillance by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Office of Strategic Services - and its successor, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA ) - since 1941 and 1943, respectively ,[92][93] as well as by the British MI5 as early as 1935,[94][95] resulting in his FBI file being one of the largest of any entertainer ever investigated, requiring its own internal index and unique status of health file.[96] (FBI surveillance lasted until the Bureau in 1974 - shortly before Robeson's death - decided that "no further investigation was warranted".[92])

Already in April 1942, the FBI had one of Robeson's notebooks containing Chinese characters analysed. The notebook had been stolen from Robeson, who was studying Chinese language at the time, but the investigation yielded nothing suspicious.[97] In September of that year, Robeson was first openly accused of being a communist, when Martin Dies, Jr., congressman from Texas and then chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), cited the singer's participation in Native Land, a pro-union documentary based on the La Follette report.[citation needed]

After the conclusion of World War II in 1945, Soviet expansion aggravated Anti-communist fears and eventually resulted in the Cold War between U.S.-led Western world and the Soviet Union and its allies. In this context, Robeson was called before the Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities in California and, on October 7, 1946, testified that he was not a member of the Communist Party.[73] Robeson later routinely refused to respond to questions about a membership of the Communist Party and was never officially identified as such. According to his son, Robeson never joined "the Communist Party or any party", as he was "an independent artist and would never submit to any kind of organizational discipline."[98] However, Robeson was called a party member both by former former Communist Manning Johnson during a 1949 testimony for HUAC [99][100] and by CPUSA leader Gus Hall in a 1988 pamphlet.[100]

Robeson and Soviet Jews[edit]

In 1949, Robeson embarked on a tour of Europe, which took him to France, Britain, Scandinavia, Czechoslovakia and Poland.[80] In June, he arrived in the Soviet Union, where he participated in celebrating Alexander Pushkin's 150th anniversary, including performances at Bolshoi Theatre and Tchaikovsky Hall. According to his son, Robeson was disturbed as to why he could not find his many Jewish friends, most notably Itzik Feffer, a Yiddish poet, and Solomon Mikhoels, an actor and director. Robeson had met the two in 1943 when Feffer and Mikhoels, then leaders of the Moscow-based Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, had travelled to the United States to organise a large pro-Soviet rally.[101] When Robeson requested to see his friends, Soviet authorities responded that Mikhoels had died in a car accident and that Feffer was travelling.[102] Actually, the group had run foul of an anti-Jewish purge ordered by Stalin in 1948; Mikhoels had been murdered, while Feffer and other Jewish intellectuals were held at Lubyanka prison.[101][103] As Robeson persisted, the KGB groomed Feffer and brought him to Robeson.[104] As neither Robeson nor Feffer ever went public about the meeting, the event remains a matter of controversy, with different sources giving conflicting narratives. The differences, mainly the question of when Robeson found out about Feffer's situation, profoundly affects the interpretation of several events in Robeson's life.

English actor Herbert Marshall, who first publicized the meeting in his obituary on Robeson and derived his information from Sergei Eisenstein's widow Pera Attasheva, stated that during the meeting Feffer did not reveal his situation and that Robeson only found out about it after the Khrushchev Thaw in 1956.[105] Esther Markish, widow of Feffer's fellow inmate Peretz Markish, similarly reports that, following orders from secret police, Feffer carefully said nothing to Robeson about the purges.[106]

Biographers generally follow the recollections of Paul Robeson, Jr. about what his father told him[107]: Robeson had met Feffer in his hotel room, and, communicating through hand gestures and notes, as the hotel room was bugged, Feffer indicated what had befallen Mikhoels and that he also was going to be killed.[57][102][104] (Feffer was indeed executed along with fourteen others three years later.[57]) Solomon Mikhoels' daughter gave a nearly identical account but placed the meeting to 1951, an impossible date as Robeson was confined to the United States at that time.[108][109] According to his son, Robeson did not act to help Feffer out of fear of reprisals. After the meeting, Robeson asked his friend, Pete Blackman, to "stick around" him during the remainder of their stay and also cautioned him to "watch what he said" around party officials.[104]

During his concert in Tchaikovsky Hall on June 14 - which was broadcast across the entire country - Robeson publicly paid tribute to Feffer and the late Mikhoels (but said nothing contradicting the official information) and, to great applause, sang Vilna Partisan song "Zog Nit Keynmol" in both Russian and Yiddish.[104][110][111] Recordings of the concert survived but Robeson's performance is lost.[citation needed]

Back in the United States, Robeson stated that he did not encounter any persecution of Jews and other political prisoners, stating that he "met Jewish people all over the place.... I heard no word about it".[57] Several biographers, who agree that Feffer had informed him of the purge,[107] Robeson's behaviour was due to his view that criticism of the Soviet Union by someone of his international standing would only serve to shore up enemies of the civil rights and anti-lynching movement in America and hurt the Soviet Union, which he considered a bulwark against "Western imperialism" in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.[104][112] Robeson's son also pointed out that upon his return, the singer was preoccupied with the controversy surrounding his Paris speech.[113]

Paul Robeson, Jr. has also stated that his father, together with French physicist Frédéric Joliot-Curie and U.S. novelist Howard Fast - both Communists at the time - "followed up by writing a letter direct to Stalin, through diplomatic channels", pleading for Feffer and other imprisoned Jews, and that because of the letter the executions were postponed, though eventually not cancelled.[113] However, this account is contradicted by Fast himself, who recalled that Robeson, when asked about Feffer, had responded: "Oh, he's fine and sends his regards." and that he himself only found out about Feffer's execution a few years later, restulting in Fast being gravely disappointed at Robeson.[114]

The Paris speech and consequences[edit]

The Paris speech and immediate response[edit]

During his tour of Europe, Robeson in April 1949 spoke and sang at a Communist-sponsored students peace conference in Paris and participated in founding the Soviet-controlled World Peace Council. During the conference, he stated:

"We in America do not forget that it was on the backs of the white workers from Europe and on the backs of millions of blacks that the wealth of America was built. And we are resolved to share it equally. We reject any hysterical raving that urges us to make war on anyone. Our will to fight for peace is strong. We shall not make war upon the Soviet Union. We oppose those who wish to support imperialist Germany and to establish fascism in Greece. We wish peace with Franco's Spain despite her fascism. We shall support peace and friendship among all nations, with Soviet Russia and the People's Republics."[115]

The same day, Robeson's speech reached the American public via a report by AP news agency, which - pasting together earlier Robeson statements into a version little resembling his actual remarks[115][116] - concluded with the statement:

"It is unthinkable that American Negros would go to war on behalf of those who have oppressed us for generations against the Soviet Union, which in one generation has raised our people to the full dignity of mankind."[115][117][118]

This version of the speech was taken up by most of the media and was nearly universally condemned. Some editorials demanded Robeson's deportation to the Soviet Union, called him an "undesirable citizen", while one letter even demanded his execution. The New York Times held a more nuanced view, stating: "Mr. Robeson had advanced the cause of the American Negro by being an outstanding human being. He can do nothing but harm by making himself a propagandist for a party line. We hope, profoundly, that his passion for a good cause will not lead him permanently into support for a bad one. We want him to sing, and to go on being Paul Robeson." The only papers to deviate from the AP report, printed Robeon's actual speech and unreservedly defended him were the Communist Daily Worker and the progressive weekly, National Guardian.[115] Robeson continued his tour undaunted - even after having been informed of the brewing toubles - (including his visit to Moscow), responding only after his return to America,[119] insisting that was quoted out of context and merely advocated peace and legal protection for his people.[120][121]

The controversy and signaled the end of his popularity with mainstream America.[122] Apart from being castigated as a traitor and labelled "an undesirable citizen" by the press, leaders of the civil rights movement swiftly distanced themselves from Robeson, wishing to "make sure America understood that the current black leadership totally disagreed with Robeson". Individual voices criticising Robeson were congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., NAACP chairman Walter Francis White and educator/activist Mary McLeod Bethune.[123] Roy Wilkins, editor of NAACP's official magazine The Crisis, stated that, regardless of the number of lynchings that were occurring or would occur, Black Americans would always serve in the armed forces.[124]

Subsequently, Robeson was investigated by the House Committee on Un-American Activities for his suspected Communist sympathies.[120][121] HUAC called on Jackie Robinson, the first African-American Major League Baseball player, to testify against Robeson. Robinson was reluctant to testify, as Robeson's activism had paved the way for his baseball career.[125] However, as he did not wish to damage not only his career but also the future prospects of other African Americans, agreed to appear before the committee in July 1949. In his testimony, he defended Robeson's "right to his personal views, and if he wants to sound silly when he expresses them in public, that is his business and not mine" and also stated that "the fact that it is a Communist who denounces injustice in the courts, police brutality, and lynching when it happens doesn't change the truth of his charges".[126] While Robeson considered Robinson's testimony a "disservice to the black community", he declined to attack Robinson personally.[127] Robinson appreciated Robeson's restraint, and eventually grew in admiration for Robeson.[126][128]

Peekskill Riots[edit]

Main article: Peekskill Riots

In the wake of the controversy, two Robeson concerts resulted in riots. The concert, organized as a benefit for the Civil Rights Congress, was scheduled for August 27 in Lakeland Acres, just north of Peekskill, New York. Before Robeson arrived, a mob of locals attacked concert-goers with baseball bats and rocks, seriously injuring thirteen people before the police intervened.[129] When Robeson arrived at the concert site, he saw marauding groups of protesters, a burning cross on a nearby hill and a jeering crowd throwing rocks and chanting "Dirty Commie" and "Dirty Kikes". Robeson made several attempts to get out of the car and confront the mob but was restrained by his friends.[129]

Following the event, the media was flooded with reactions and charges, especially against the chapters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.[130] The Joint Veterans Council of Peekskill denied responsibility for the violence, stating it had merely organized a "protest parade... held without disorder and... perfectly disbanded." The American Legion's local commander stated: "Our objective was to prevent the Paul Robeson concert and I think our objective was reached."[131] Questioned about their inaction, Peekskill police officials said the concert grounds had been outside their jurisdiction whereas a state police spokesman said that state troopers had not been requested.[129]

Following a meeting of local citizens, union members and Robeson supporters who formed the "Westchester Committee for Law and Order", it was unanimously determined that Robeson should be invited back to perform at Peekskill.[131] On August 30, three thousand people assembled at the Golden Gate Ballroom in Harlem to listen to a defiant Robeson: "I will be loyal to America of true traditions; to the America of the abolitionists, of Harriet Tubman, of Thaddeus Stevens, of those who fought for my people's freedom, not of those who tried to enslave them. And I will have no loyalty to the Forrestals, to the Harrimans, to the WallStreeters... the surest way to get police protection is to have it very clear that we'll protect ourselves, and good!... I'll be back with my friends in Peekskill...."[131]

The rescheduled event was held on September 4, 1949[129] in Cortlandt Manor, near the originally intended concert site.[130] Security, organized by labor unions, was tight with union men standing in a circle of protection around the entire concert grounds and sitting with Robeson on the stage.[131] Attended by 20,000 people, the concert went off without incident. However, as concertgoers were leaving, they were picketed on by hostile locals and outside agitators, who threw rocks through windshields of the cars and buses, chanting "Go back to Russia, you white Niggers" and "Dirty Kikes".[131] Much of the violence was also caused by anti-Communist members of local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion chapters.[130] Some of the concertgoers and union members, along with writer Howard Fast and others assembled a non-violent line of resistance, locked arms, and sang "We Shall Not Be Moved". Some people were reportedly dragged from their vehicles and beaten. Over 140 people were injured and numerous vehicles were severely damaged as police stood by,[132] the most famous case being Eugene Bullard, a World War I veteran and first Black aviator, who was beaten by a local, two policemen and a state trooper.[133][134]

Following the riots, over 300 Robeson supporters went to Albany to voice their indignation to New York Governor Thomas Dewey, who however refused to meet with them, blaming Communists for "provoking the violence".[135] Within a few days, the events were subject of editorials and letters in newspapers across the U.S. and abroad. Prominent individuals and organizations, trade unions and churches condemned not only the attacks but also the reaction of Governor Dewey and the state police, calling for a full investigation of the violence and prosecution of the perpetrators.[130] A civil suit was filed against Westchester County and two veterans groups by 27 plaintiffs but dismissed three years later. The events were also subject of debates in the U.S. House of Representatives, where Jacob Javits of New York deplored the riots as a violation of constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and free assembly. To that, John E. Rankin of Mississippi responded by condemning Robeson, calling him and concertgoers "that Nigger Communist and that bunch of Reds who went up there".[135][136] Edward E. Cox of Georgia denounced Robeson as a "Communist agent provocateur."[136]

Following the Peekskill riots, other cities become fearful of similar incidents, many cancelling scheduled concerts.[130]

Isolation in media and sports[edit]

The controversy turned Robeson into a "touchstone" of anti-Communism, with denouncing him becoming "a way to prove one's loyalty to the United States".[123] Subsequently, Robeson was blacklisted and isolated in the U.S. media. NBC canceled a scheduled appearance at former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s television program in March 1950 and declared that Robeson would "never appear on NBC". The decision provoked picketing of the NBC offices and protests from numerous public figures and organizations (such as the Civil Rights Congress).[80] NBC'S decision still had repercussions in 1976, when Robeson's son Paul denied the network permission to produce a three hour documentary in memory of his father.[137] In the 1950s, Paul Robeson was denied usage of virtually every concert hall and recording studio in the United States. His recordings and films lost mainstream distribution and it became increasingly difficult in the U.S. to hear Robeson sing on commercial radio, or to see any of his films, including the acclaimed 1936 version of Show Boat.[citation needed] Robeson's isolation resulted in very little footage of Robeson surviving today.[137]

In combination with the revocation of his passport (see below), his blacklisting denied him his livelihood as an entertainer both at home and abroad. According to historian Martin Duberman, "Robeson became an outcast, very nearly a nonperson."[3] At that time, Robeson's artistic achievements were largely be ignored. Theater critic Brooks Atkinson, in his book Broadway, noted Robeson only in a single, pejorative reference to his portrayal of Othello.[citation needed] In the early 1970s, Robeson would go unmentioned when New York Times and New York Daily News ran extensive pieces on black actors who played Othello.[citation needed] In 1950, Robeson's name was also removed from the American edition of Who's Who.[citation needed] Rutgers University even retroactively struck Robeson's name from the roster of the 1918 college All-America football team[77] - a removal followed by College Football Hall of Fame, labeled "the most complete record on college football". Robeson's name was only restored to the records in 1995.[6] In the early 1970s, then Rutgers professor Eugene H. Robinson found Robeson's name omitted in nine different American encyclopedias.[citation needed] Fellow professor Harold Weaver estimated that 75% of black students at Rutgers did no know who Robeson was.[citation needed]

Revocation of passport[edit]

In August 1950, the State Department revoked Robeson's passport and issued a "stop notice" at all ports, thereby confining him to the United States. When Robeson and his lawyers inquired about the reasons, officials told them that Robeson's "his frequent criticism of the treatment of blacks in the United States should not be aired in foreign countries" and described it as a "family affair".[138] Robeson reacted by visiting the State Department, demanding to see Secretary Dean Acheson. The department offered him to return his passport, if he signed a statement guaranteeing not to give any speeches abroad. Robeson refuses.[80][138] At the time, other individuals deemed pro-Soviet had their passports revoked too, such as the writers Howard Fast, Albert E. Kahn and W. E. B. Du Bois, and Richard Morford, head of the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship.[citation needed]

Though the denial of a passport did not legally prevent Robeson from entering Canada, as crossing the U.S.-Canadian border did not require a passport, the State Department directly intervened to block Robeson from traveling to Canada. When he was invited to speak to convention of the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers' Union in Vancouver, he spoke and sang to them by telephone from Seattle. Over the next six years, Canadian unions contribute much to Robeson's struggle to regain his passport. In a symbolic act of defiance, unions on both sides of the border on May 18, 1952 organized a concert at the International Peace Arch situated on the border.[5] Robeson himself performed on the American side to a crowd on the Canadian side, variously estimated at between 20,000 and 40,000 people. Robeson returned to perform a second concert at the Peace Arch in 1953,[139] and over the next two years two further concerts were scheduled. In 1954, a National Paul Robeson Committee was formed in Britain in his support. In May 1957, the group organized a concert St Pancras, London, during which Robeson gave a performance via trans-Atlantic phone circuit.[140]

Some State department officials were worried about the sympathetic backlash against Robeson's passport being revoked and its propagandistic implications in the Cold war. Roger P. Ross, working for the U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Program (USIE) in Western Africa, emphasized the need for "a through-going, sympathetic and regretful but straight talking treatment of the whole Robeson episode. Perhaps the right story is already in print but if not it ought to be specificaly written." He explained that such a story "must explain quite frankly, the State Department's dilemma over the passport question. The story must not sidestep unpleasant episodes like the Peekskill riots, but must explain them - deploring the vicious resort to violence of the anti-Robeson mob, yet making it quite clear that Robeson, or those who control him deliberately set the stage for it ... there's no way the Communists score on us more easily and more effectively out here, than on the US. Negro problem in general, and on the Robeson case in particular. And, answering the latter, we go a long way toward answering the former."[141][142][143]

Partly as a result of the request, the FBI cooperated with the NAACP and Roy Wilkins, to circulate Paul Robeson: Lost Shepherd, a leaflet penned under the pseudonym "Robert Alan", allegedly a "well known New York journalist". The text was published in The Crisis and, given Ross' earlier request, also printed and distributed in Africa. Another article by Wilkins, called "Stalin's Greatest Defeat", denounced Robeson as well as the Communist Party.[142] In 1952, Wilkins also threatened to cancel[clarification needed] the charter of an NAACP youth group in 1952 if they did not cancel their planned Robeson concert.[citation needed]

In 1956, Robeson was allowed to travel to Canada to perform concerts in Sudbury and Toronto, in March of that year, and in June 1958, his passport was finally restored after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Kent vs. Dulles, that the Secretary of State had no right to deny a passport or require any citizen to sign an affidavit because of his political beliefs.[144]

Further activism[edit]

Despite being hampered inside the U.S. and barred from travelling abroad, Robeson continued his activism undeterred. In 1951, Robeson cooperated with the Civil Rights Congress to organise a petition titled "We Charge Genocide" and present it to the United Nations. Argued that the U.S. federal government, by its failure to act against lynching, was guilty of genocide under Article II of the UN Genocide Convention, the petition listed hundreds of wrongful executions and lynchings, referred to at least 10,000 undocumented cases and also charged that U.S. had engaged in a conspiracy against African Americans' ability to vote through poll taxes and literacy tests.[145]

In 1952, Robeson was awarded the International Stalin Prize by the Soviet Union. Being unable to travel to Moscow, Robeson received the award at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C.[146] In April 1953, shortly after Stalin's death, Robeson penned a eulogy entitled To You Beloved Comrade, praising Stalin as being dedicated to peace and a guidance to the world: "Through his deep humanity, by his wise understanding, he leaves us a rich and monumental heritage."[147] After Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalinism at the 1956 Party Congress, Robeson would neither publicly denounce nor praise Stalin personally, though he would continue to praise the Soviet Union.[148] In 1956, Robeson compared the anti-Stalinist revolution in Hungary to the "same sort of people who overthrew the Spanish Republican Government" and welcomed the Soviet invasion and suppression of the revolt.[57]

In 1952, Robeson spoke out against apartheid in South Africa, advocating a "common front of united and resolute resistance" by Blacks, coloured and Indian inhabitants of South Africa against the government of Daniel François Malan.[149] In July 1953, the Council on African Affairs forwarded a memorandum to the UN Commission on Racial Discrimination in South Africa (founded the year before), attacking various Apartheid legislation, such as the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949, the Bantu Authorities Act of 1951 (which formed the basis for the deportation of disenfranchised blacks into designated homeland reserve areas, the Asiatic Laws (which repealed the already limited ability for Indians to own franchises) and other acts that suppressed or eliminated minority rights. Robeson drew a comparison between apartheid in South Africa and Jim Crow laws in the United States.[150] Also in 1953, the CAA was charged with subversion under the McCarran Internal Security Act, with CAA activist William Alphaeus Hunton, Jr. being imprisoned for contempt of court. Abandoned by its liberal supporters and suffering from internal disputes, government repression, and financial hardships, the group disbanded in 1955.[151]

In 1954, Robeson contributed to the East German documentary The Song of the Rivers, providing the English-language narration. This would be his final film work.[152]

In the same year, in a contribution to the progressive journal Freedom, Robeson applauded the result of the Indo-China War, likening France's defeat to its loss of Haiti in the early 19th century and lauding Ho Chi Minh as "the Toussaint Louverture of Indo-China". Robeson also spoke against increasing U.S. involvement in the region, stating: "Vast quantities of U.S. bombers, tanks and guns have been sent against Ho Chi Minh and his freedom-fighters; and now we are told that soon it will be 'advisable' to send America GI's into Indo-China in order that the tin, rubber and tungsten of Southeast Asia be kept by the 'free world' - meaning white Imperialism."[153][154] Later, in one of his last public statements in the mid-1970s he would congratulate the North Vietnamese for their victory in the Vietnam War, which he called "turning back an Imperialist aggressor."[citation needed]

HUAC testimony[edit]

In 1956, Robeson himself was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities after he refused to sign an affidavit affirming that he was not a Communist. In response to questions concerning his alleged party membership, Robeson insisted that the Communist Party was a legal party and invited its members to join him in the voting booth before he invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to respond.[120] Robeson refused to denounce Joseph Stalin, calling it "a question for the Soviet Union", instead lambasting committee members on civil rights issues and the exploitation of blacks in the building of America. Asked why he hadn't remained in the Soviet Union, he replied that "my people died to build this country, and I am going to stay here, and have a part of it just like you." He also stated to be for "peace with the Soviet Union, ... with China, ... not for peace or friendship with the Fascist Franco, and ... not for peace with Fascist Nazi Germans. I am for peace with decent people."[120] He labelled the committee "neo-fascist" and even attacked its members as "nonpatriots" and "un-Americans". He was subsequently cited for contempt of congress but the charges were later dropped.[155]

Comeback and travels[edit]

During the late 1950s, Robeson made a comeback. In April, his 60th birthday was celebrated in several cities in the United States, the the Soviet Union and over twenty countries across Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa, as well as in .[156] Two sold-out comeback performances at Carnegie Hall in May 1958 proved his abiding popularity.[156] Recordings of the concerts were released, his only stereo recordings.[citation needed]

In the same year, Robeson published Here I Stand, a book part manifesto, part autobiography, with the British publishing company.[157] While Robeson wrote many articles and speeches,Here I stand is his only monograph.

Travelling again[edit]

In June 1958, his passport was finally restored by the U.S. Supreme Court.[144] The following month, the sixty-year-old Robeson and his wife resumed travelling, spending five years touring the world. The Robesons visited the Soviet Union and Young Pioneer camp Artek and performed in concert there on September 6, 1958.[158] He then returned to Britain, where he gave several concerts, and also visited the National Eisteddfod in Ebbw Vale. On October 12, 1958, he also participated in an historic evensong service at St.Paul's Cathedral, being the first black performer to sing there, with 4,000 people in attendance.[159]

Having recovered after cardiac problems and dizziness experienced during a trip to Moscow,[160] Robeson played Othello for a final time in 1959 at The Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, directed by Tony Richardson. Playing alongside Mary Ure, Sam Wanamaker and Vanessa Redgrave, the production was adapted to Robeson's increasing health problems but gave him a lucrative seven month run and chance to participate in an updated version of the play, which would prove to his theatrical swan song. Reactions to the "flashy" production which included mid-western accents and rock 'n' roll drumbeats were mixed but Robeson received predominantly good reviews.[161] The Daily Telegraph's reviewer ranked Robeson's Othello as the best he had ever seen,[162] while the Daily Express, which had been published scathing articles but his earlier acting, praised his "strong and stately" performance (though in turn suggested it was a "triumph of presence not acting").[163] Robeson also befriended actor Andrew Faulds and inspired him to take up a career in politics.[164]

Robeson inducted in the East German Academy of Arts, 1960.

In late 1958, Robeson planned a visit to India, where he was to be the guest of Prime Minister Nehru, but the trip was first delayed by bad weather and then cancelled completely due to ill health.[160] For the same reasons, Robeson had to decline President Kwame Nkrumah's invitation to chair the music and drama departments at the University of Accra in 1961.[156] In 1960, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Humboldt University in East Berlin and was inducted into the East German Academy of Arts.[156] The Academy later, in April 1978, published a 65-page booklet to honor Robeson's 80th anniversary.[165]

Tour of Australia and New Zealand[edit]

Despite his cardiac problems and fatigue, Robeson accepted a lucrative tour of Australia and New Zealand. His most notable appearance was his performance at the Sydney Opera House, still under construction at the time, where he sang "Ol' Man River" and "Joe Hill" to construction workers in their lunch break.[166][167] In Wellington, he attended a meeting of striking watersiders (longshoremen) union. He spoke about unionism and then sang several numbers.[164]

Robeson also expressed concern about the treatment and living conditions of Aborigines and Maori, the indigenous peoples of Australia and New Zealand, respectively. He stated: "I want to learn Maori songs and as much as I can of the Maori language."[168] In Australia, Robeson visited rural community centers, where he was presented with aboriginal art (including a painting by Albert Namatjira)[167] and a film about the living conditions of Aborigines, and warmly socialized with local aborigines at Perth, the last leg of his tour. According to aboriginal activist Lloyd L. Davis, Robeson's words and gestures during his tour "gave a tremendous boost to the aboriginal cause".[169] For broadcaster Phillip Adams, Robeson's tour was like "a second coming" to "aspiring young lefties" in Australia.[170]

During the tour, Robeson was not only outspoken about his politics, declaring himself a "rigid Marxist" in Auckland,[171] but also responded to questions at press conferences with "anger and bitterness."[169] His attitude worried not only his tour manager, who was concerned about ticket sales and asked Robeson to tone down his politics, but also his wife Eslana, who wrote in her diary: "it makes me shudder, because he is so often mad at the wrong people, and so often unnecessarily angry", calling him "angry at the drop of a hat" and "full of bile."[169] Robeson responded to the press, "I wish I could be sweet all the time... Sometimes what you read in the paper sounds a little rough. You're right, it was rough. That's right, I said it."[169] Despite the controversies in the press, the tour did very well and sold out many dates.[citation needed]

Back in London, he began to plan his return to the United States. His wife urged him to stay in London, fearing that neither his safety nor his livelihood was assured in America, but Robeson disagreed and continued his arrangements undaunted.[166]

Jewish songs in the Soviet Union[edit]

In 1960 and early 1961, Robeson again toured the Soviet Union. At several major concerts, he included "a mournful song out of the Jewish tradition, that decried their persecution through the centuries", according to Robert Robinson,[172] an African American toolmaker who had lived in the Soviet Union since 1930. The two had met in the 1940s but as Robeson had refused Robinson's multiple appeals to help him leave the country, Robinson thought Robeson oblivious to harsh Soviet realities. However, when he heard Robeson sing in Yiddish, with such a "cry in his voice", Robinson concluded that Robeson had made a decisive choice to protest Soviet Anti-Semitism. Later, Robinson learned that Robeson had been singing the Jewish songs at other appearances including concert venues.[173]

Robinson also recalls rumors during the early 1960s – citing five unrelated party officials - that Robeson had an "unpleasant confrontation" with Nikita Khrushchev about anti-Semitism.[174] Robeson purportedly asked the Soviet leader whether stories in the Western press about the purges of Jews and widespread institutionalized anti-semitism were true, to which Khrushchev flew into rage and accused Robeson of meddling in party affairs.[173] Robinson also recalled to have never heard Robeson's records again played on radio Moscow and that his name dropped from the press.[173]

Health decline[edit]

Prostate operation and other issues[edit]

In later life, Robeson suffered from severe health problems.[175] In 1955, aged 58, Robeson was hospitalized for a prostate operation, followed by a lengthy and troublesome recovery.[155]

Robeson switched from being manic with energy, obsessing daily over the pentatonic scale and the connectedness of universal music theory, into a withdrawn depressive state where he saw virtually no one,[155] leading Duberman to surmise that he suffered from bipolar disorder.[176] Robeson's doctor felt there were deep psychological issues brought on by the combined stress of his prostate surgery and government harassment but also that there may have been the early onset of arteriosclerosis, a disease that would be a contributing factor to his retirement in 1963.

Suicide attempt and treatment[edit]

In spring of 1961, Robeson again travelled the Soviet Union, in what would be his last visit. During a party in his Moscow hotel room, he locked himself in his bedroom and attempted suicide by cutting his wrists.[176] Three days afterwards, he told his son that he felt extreme paranoia, thought that the walls of the room were moving and, overcome by a powerful sense of emptiness and depression, tried to take his own life.[93]

Paul Robeson, Jr. pressed Soviet Officials with questions about the party and his father's state of health.[177] Nearly two weeks later, he himself felt similar hallucinatory symptoms. Having never experienced these before or afterwards, he believed that hallucinogenic drugs had been used on him and his father,[93] later blaming the CIA.[177] Paul Robeson and his son both recovered.

Paul Robeson stayed at the Barvikha Sanatorium until September 1961, when he left Moscow for London. There his depression re-emerged,[177] as he suffered a panic attack while passing the Soviet Embassy,[174] and was admitted to The Priory hospital, where he underwent electroconvulsive therapy. Deeming his condition too acute to risk any delay, the doctors did not consult his previous Soviet physicians nor did they offer any combined psychotherapy or antidepressant drug therapy.[93] Doctors would eventually administer 54 rounds of ECT, a number "criminal by any standards then or now" according to his son.[93] Disturbed over such treatment, friends of Robeson had him transferred to Buch Clinic in East Berlin. The physicians found him "completely without initiative" and they expressed "doubt and anger" about the "high level of barbiturates and ECT" that had been administered in London. They also discovered that he had heart and liver problems consistent with his age and stopped the heavy doses of the sedatives prescribed at the Priory. Robeson given intensive psychotherapy and rapidly improved. However, his doctor stressed that "what little is left of Paul's health must be quietly conserved."[178]

During his treatment at the Priory, Robeson was being monitored by the British MI5.[94][95] Both U.S. and British intelligence services were well aware of Robeson's suicidal state of mind. An FBI memo described Robeson's debilitated condition, remarking that his "death would be much publicized" and would be used for Communist propaganda, making continued surveillance imperative.[179] Numerous memos also adviced that Robeson should be denied a passport renewal which would ostensibly jeopardize his fragile health and the recovery process he was engaged in overseas.[176]

Controversy and theories[edit]

Robeson's health decline has given rise to controversy and speculation. Paul Robeson, Jr. argued for years that his father's health problems stemmed from attempts by CIA and MI5 to "neutralize" his father.[96] He remembered that his father had such fears prior to his prostrate operation,[155] alleged that doctors treating Robeson in London and New York were CIA contractors.[93] and that his father's symptoms were resulting from being "subjected to mind depatterning under MKULTRA", a secret CIA programme.[180] In 2006, a CIA spokeswoman issued statement insisting that the "allegation is completely without foundation".[181] Paul Robeson Jr. also referred to his father being monitored during his illness and has unsuccessfully lobbied the governments in Washington, London and Moscow to release classified documents regarding. He regards the existence of a FBI health report as "sinister in itself. It indicates a degree of prior knowledge that something was about to happen to him."[93][96] Martin Duberman, while stating that the issue must remain unresolved until the release of all material,[96] has commented: "No evidence has come to light suggesting that the agencies of the US government were complicitous — as his son has long maintained — in the breakdown of Robeson's health but once it did deteriorate, they proved perfectly willing to assist in its further decline."[179]

Some writers have emphasized the impact Soviet developments after 1956 must have had on the singer. Communist travel journalist Anna Louise Strong opined in 1965 that "Paul's trouble had a deep psychosomatic cause in the shock and trauma he suffered from the Sino-Soviet split ... Paul had a very deep love and devotion to both the USSR and for China's revolution and ... consequently the split must have been especially hard for him, since his devotions have always been through passionate allegiance rather than through theory." The split occurred after 1956 and was publicized in 1961.[182] After Robeson's death, English actor Herbert Marshall, opined that harassment in the U.S. might have impaired Robeson's health, but that the final and overwhelming cause of his mental breakdown was the incredible revalations of the 20th party congress ... and de-Stalinisation. Paul was like Othello in life; he was a man profoundly trusting in the cause he had given his life to, and particular, his faith in the CPSU. ... When Paul learned all that had happened to so many old Soviet friends ... it was too much for him. Like Othello he collapsed into a state from which, alas, he never recovered.[105] Duberman also posits that Robinson's account involving a confrontation with Khrushchev[173] involves an issue of "crucial if clouded importance" that may shed light on Robeson's suicide attempt in Moscow and his relpase in London.[174]

Historian Martin Duberman posits that given the most available evidence, Paul Robeson's health breakdown was brought on most by a combination of factors including extreme emotional and physical stress, bipolar depression, exhaustion and the beginning of circulatory and heart problems. Duberman added that "even without an organic predisposition and accumulated pressures of government harassment he might have been susceptible to a breakdown[176]


In 1963, Robeson eventually returned to the United States but for the remainder of his life he would be plagued by ill health.[183] He had intended to assume a role in the civil rights movement and planned to visit Cuba on the personal invitation of Fidel Castro,[93] but made only a few scattered public appearances before falling seriously ill during a tour, nearly dying from double pneumonia and a kidney blockage in 1965.[183]

The Robeson House, Philadelphia.

Due to his ailing health, he withdrew from the public to lead a quiet life.[184][185] He first lived in Harlem with his wife. After Eslanda died on December 23, 1965,[33] Robeson in 1966 moved in with his son's family in a large Upper West Side apartment in New York City[186] and in 1968, he finally settled at his sister's home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[184] He saw few visitors aside from very close friends and gave few statements apart from very short messages to support current civil rights and international movements, feeling that his record "spoke for itself".[178]

Robeson's withdrawal led to rumors that he had become a "bitter recluse",[184][185] that the "disillusioned native son", as the New York Times called him, was living in self-imposed exile in the Soviet Union.[187] or that his ailing health was linked to a supposed disillusionment with the Soviet Union. Biographers Martin Duberman and Lloyd Brown contradict such speculations, stating that Paul Robeson remained committed and unapologetic about his beliefs in socialism or the Soviet Union or utter any disappointment in Soviet leaders, including Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin[6][188] - a stance conversial to this day.

Robeson was honored by many accolades and celebrations, both in the U.S. and internationally, including public arenas that had previously shunned him.[178] In April 1965, Robeson was honored by a dinner given by Freedomways Quarterly, a progressive journal for which he recently had written articles.[189] Already suffering from severe health problems, Robeson sang the spiritual "We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder" in what would turn out to be his last major public appearance.

East German celebration of Robeson's 70th birthday

Paul Robeson's 70th birthday was celebrated around the world. An evening of music and poetry in London at the Royal Festival Hall featuring actors Peggy Ashcroft, Michael Redgrave, Peter O'Toole and Mary Ure. In Moscow, speakers included the writer Boris Nikolaevich Polevoy and the poet Mikhail Kotov. A three day celebration was held in East Germany. In the United States, the Communist Party commented that "the white power structure has generated a conspiracy of silence around Paul Robeson. It wants to blot out all knowledge of this pioneering Black American warrior."[182] In honor of his 75th birthday in 1973, over 3,000 people gathered in Carnegie Hall in an event produced by entertainer Harry Belafonte.[190] Robeson was unable to attend due to his health, but a taped message from him was played which said: "Though I have not been able to be active for several years, I want you to know that I am the same Paul, dedicated as ever to the worldwide cause of humanity for freedom, peace and brotherhood."[156]

In 1973, the newly-founded Black Sports Hall of Fame cited him for his athletic record.[191] In 1974, Robeson was the first recipient of the Paul Robeson Award established by the Actors' Equity Association. Robeson was unable to attend and his message accepting the award was his final public statement.[192] In 1975, Rutgers University held a symposium on his life.

Death and funeral[edit]

Paul Robeson died on January 23, 1976, aged 77, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania of a stroke following "complications from a 'severe cerebral vascular disorder.'"[193] He lay in state at Benta's Funeral Home in Harlem for two days. His granddaughter, Susan Robeson, recalled "watching this parade of humanity who came to pay their respects ... from the numbers runner on the corner to Gustaf VI Adolf, King of Sweden."[186] Condolences came from around the world, including Martin Luther King's widow Coretta Scott King, who deplored "America's inexcusable treatment" of a man who had had "the courage to point out her injustices."[194][195] Robeson was celebrated both by mainstream press outlets, which had criticized or even denigrated him years earlier, and the black press, such as the Amsterdam News, which eulogized Robeson as a "Gulliver among the Lilliputians".[193]

On January 27, 2,500 people attended Robeson's funeral service at Mother AME Zion Church in Harlem, where Robeson's brother Ben had been pastor for 27 years,[193] with thousands more, mostly African Americans, following the service outside in the rain. Speakers included Paul Robeson, Jr., who described his father as a "great and gentle warrior",[156] and Harry Belafonte, who paid tribute to Robeson for his integrity and tremendous courage in the face of extreme adversity.[193] Also in attendance were actors Sidney Poitier and Uta Hagen, composer Eubie Blake, Malcom X's widow Betty Shabazz and Henry Winston, chairman of the Communist Party.[156] Robeson was cremated and his ashes were interred in the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York. His grave marker contains his motto, "The artist must take sides. He must elect to fight for freedom or for slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative."[194][195]

Posthumous recognition[edit]

The Robeson holdings at the East German Academy of the Arts, 1981

Starting with a tribute held at the U.S. House of Representatives the day after the funeral, Robeson was honored by several tributes throughout the year, including events at Purdue University, Rutgers University, Shiloh Baptist Church and Actor's Equity, tribute concerts in Athens (organized by the World Peace Council), Toronto, at Columbia University and at Carnegie Hall.[165]

The Philadelphia house he inhabitated during his last years was turned into a museum in 1994 and was declared a historical landmark in 2000.[165][196] Numerous objects have been named in Robeson's honor,[165] including several buildings at Rutgers University and one at Penn State University,[197] a Brooklyn high school, several streets and an heirloom tomato. In 2004, Robeson was also featured on a U.S. postage stamp.[198]

Beginning in 1978, Paul Robeson's films were again shown on American television, with Show Boat making its cable television debut in 1983. In recent years, all of Robeson's films have appeared on Turner Classic Movies and American Movie Classics channels.[citation needed] In 1995, Robeson was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and his name was restored to the Rutger's sports records.[6][165]

Robeson's centenary in 1998 was broadly recognized by celebrations, exhibitions, film showings, musical and educational programs, art exhibitions, a two-hour PBS documentary and a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award.[165][199] In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Paul Robeson on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[200]

Robeson remains a celebrated figure in Wales. In 2001, the Let Paul Robeson Sing! exhibit was unveiled in Cardiff and then toured several Welsh towns.[201] A number of Welsh artists have celebrated Robeson's life, e.g. the Manic Street Preachers, who in 2001 recorded "Let Robeson Sing" and covered several Robeson songs, and Martyn Joseph, who in 2005 recorded "Proud Valley Boy", a song based on Robeson's Welsh connections. The play Paul Robeson Knew My Father by Greg Cullen, set in the Rhondda during the 1950s, features a character with a childhood obsession for Robeson's music and films.[202]




  • Paul Robeson, Here I Stand. Beacon Press (1958).
  • Roberta Yancy Dent et al. (ed.), Paul Robeson: Tributes, Selected Writings, The Archives (1976).
  • Philip S. Foner (ed.), Paul Robeson Speaks: Writings, Speeches, Interviews, 1918-1974. Brunner (1978).



  1. ^ a b Susan Robeson, The Whole World in His Hands, p. 13.
  2. ^ Shelia Tully Boyle & Andrew Bunie, Paul Robeson: The Years of Promise and Achievement, p. 11.
  3. ^ a b c Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, preface.
  4. ^ Marie Seton, Paul Robeson, p. 57.
  5. ^ a b Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 400.
  6. ^ a b c d Lloyd Brown, On My Journey Now, p. 161-162.
  7. ^ Charlotte Turner, Paul Robeson's Last Days in Philadelphia, p. 150.
  8. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 543.
  9. ^ a b Paul Robeson, Jr., The Undiscovered Paul Robeson. An Artist's Journey, p. 3.
  10. ^ Paul Robeson Centennial Celebration, A Brief Biography.
  11. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 6-7.
  12. ^ a b Paul Robeson, Jr., The Undiscovered Paul Robeson. An Artist's Journey, p. 7-9.
  13. ^ Lloyd Brown, On My Journey Now.[clarification needed]
  14. ^ a b Paul Robeson, Jr., The Undiscovered Paul Robeson. An Artist's Journey, p. 169-172.
  15. ^ a b Paul Robeson, Jr., The Undiscovered Paul Robeson. An Artist's Journey, p. 11-13.
  16. ^ Lloyd Brown, On My Journey Now, p. 37.
  17. ^ a b Lloyd Brown, On My Journey Now, p. 57.
  18. ^ Paul Robeson, Jr., The Undiscovered Paul Robeson. An artist's jorney, p. 17-19.
  19. ^ Martin Duberman Paul Robeson, p. 24.
  20. ^ Editors of Freedomways, "Paul Robeson, "The Great Forerunner", Freedomways Quarterly, p. 4.
  21. ^ Who Belongs To Phi Beta Kappa.
  22. ^ a b Amanda Casabianca, Robeson in Depth (Bay Area Paul Robeson Centennial Committee).
  23. ^ Richard Corliss, "Ol' Man Charisma: Paul Robeson: 1898-1976", Time (April 20, 1998).
  24. ^ College Football News - Top 100 Players.
  25. ^ a b c Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 54-55
  26. ^ a b The Black
  27. ^ Carin T. Ford, Paul Robeson: I Want to Make Freedom Ring, p. 22.
  28. ^ Eslanda Robeson, Paul Robeson, Negro, p. 73-74.
  29. ^ Martin Duberman, "Writing Robeson", The Nation (December 28, 1998).
  30. ^ Paul Robeson, Jr., The Undiscovered Paul Robeson. An artist's jorney, p. 163-164.
  31. ^ Paul Robeson, Jr., The Undiscovered Paul Robeson. An artist's jorney, p. 178-190.
  32. ^ Paul Robeson, Jr., The Undiscovered Paul Robeson. An artist's jorney, p. 197-199.
  33. ^ a b Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 162-163.
  34. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 30, 576.
  35. ^ a b c d Paul Robeson, Jr., The Undiscovered Paul Robeson. An artist's jorney, p. 190–192.
  36. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 126-127.
  37. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 226-227.
  38. ^ a b c Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 410.
  39. ^ Paul Robeson: Here I Stand documentary (1999).
  40. ^ "All God's Chillun", Time (March 17, 1924).
  41. ^ Susan Robeson, The Whole World in His Hands, p. 35.
  42. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 78-81.
  43. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 114.
  44. ^ a b Susan Robeson, The Whole World in His Hands, p. 37-38.
  45. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 143.
  46. ^ Scott Allen Nollen, Paul Robeson: Film Pioneer, p. 29.
  47. ^ Susan Robeson, The Whole World in His Hands, p. 67.
  48. ^ Mark Duguid, "Korda and Empire", BFI screenonline.
  49. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 180-182.
  50. ^ a b c d e f g h Hakim Adi, ""Paul Robeson, actor, singer, and political activist.", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Podcast April 29, 2009).
  51. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 284-285.
  52. ^
  53. ^
  54. ^ Charles Wright, Paul Robeson: Labors' Forgotten Champion, p. 50-51.
  55. ^ a b c Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 184-190.
  56. ^ David Levering Lewis, Artist and Citizen: Paul Robeson and the USSR, Rutgers University Press, New Jersey (1999).[clarification needed]
  57. ^ a b c d e f g Barry Finger, "Paul Robeson: A Flawed Martyr", in: New Politics Vol. 7 No. 1 (Summer 1998)
  58. ^ Leonard Schapiro, The Communist Party of the Soviet Union. New York: Random House (1971).
  59. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 1207.[clarification needed]
  60. ^ Vern Smith, "'I Am at Home,' Says Robeson at Reception in Soviet Union", Daily Worker (January 15, 1935).
  61. ^ Paul Robeson, Jr., The Undiscovered Paul Robeson. An Artist's Journey, p. 306-307.
  62. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 232.
  63. ^ Paul Robeson, Jr., The Undiscovered Paul Robeson. An artist's journey, p. 176-177.
  64. ^ a b Bay Area Paul Robeson Centennial Committee, Paul Robeson Chronology (Part 2).
  65. ^ "Phillip S. Foner, Paul Robeson Speaks, p. 104.
  66. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 222.
  67. ^ "Paul Robeson at the Unity Theater", The Daily Express (June 20, 1938).
  68. ^ a b Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 213-216.
  69. ^ a b William Loren Katz, Paul Robeson, Spain and the Anti-fascist Crusade.
  70. ^ Cecilia M. Vega & Carl Nolte, "Monument to Lincoln Brigade unveiled", The San Francisco Chronicle (March 31, 2008).
  71. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 644.
  72. ^ Online notes from 2005 Paul Robeson Conference at Lafayette College.
  73. ^ a b c Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 241.
  74. ^ Paul Robeson, Jr., The Undiscovered Paul Robeson. Quest for Freedom, p. 53.
  75. ^ Jacob Spolansky, The Communist Trail in America (1951), p. 74-75, quoted at
  76. ^ Paul Kengor, "Howard Zinn's Dupes?", in: American Thinker (August 11, 2010).
  77. ^ a b Susan Robeson, "Paul Robeson", The New York Times (September 26, 1982).
  78. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 259-261.
  79. ^ a b c Bay Area Paul Robeson Centennial Committee, Paul Robeson Chronology (Part 5).
  80. ^ a b c d e f g Bay Area Paul Robeson Centennial Committee, Paul Robeson Chronology (Part 6).
  81. ^ Jean West, . Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson, Interview Essay.
  82. ^ Jules Tygiel, Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy. New York: Oxford University Press (1983), p. 30.
  83. ^ Ken Gewertz, "Albert Einstein, Civil Rights", Harvard University Gazette (April 12, 2007).
  84. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 296-297.
  85. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 249-250.
  86. ^
  87. ^ The Introduction to ... "Tales of Wo-Chi-Ca"
  88. ^ Bay Area Paul Robeson Centennial Committee, Paul Robeson Chronology (Part 3).
  89. ^ The Atlanta Journal (June 21, 1948).
  90. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, chapter "The Paris Speech and After".[clarification needed]
  91. ^ Phillip S. Foner, Paul Robeson Speaks, p. 200, 207-208.
  92. ^ a b FBI File on Paul Robeson
  93. ^ a b c d e f g h Amy Goodman, "Did the U.S. Government Drug Paul Robeson? (Part 1)". Democracy Now (July 1, 1999); Amy Goodman, "[ Did the U.S. Government Drug Paul Robeson? (Part 2)". Democracy Now (July 6, 1999).
  94. ^ a b Alan Travis, "Paul Robeson Was Tracked by MI5", The Guardian (March 7, 2003).
  95. ^ a b David Devine, "MI5 tracked Robeson amid communist fears", Wales Online (March 7, 2003).
  96. ^ a b c d Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 563-564.
  97. ^ FBIHQ File 100-12304, p. 8-10.
  98. ^ Arnold H. Lubasch, "In Harlem with: Paul Robeson Jr.; Finding His Own Voice And Learning to Use It", The New York Times (October 21, 1993).
  99. ^ "Hearings Regarding Communist Infiltration of Minority Groups". Hearings Before the Committee on Un-American Activities, House of Representatives, Eighty-First Congress, First Session. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office (1949).
  100. ^ a b Cliff Kincaid, "Glenn Beck Targets Pro-Marxist at FCC", Accuracy in Media (August 31, 2009).
  101. ^ a b Jeffrey C. Stewart (ed.), Paul Robeson: Artist and Citizen, p. 225.
  102. ^ a b Interview with Paul Robeson, Jr. (part 2), National Security Archive, "Episode 6: Reds" (Nov. 1, 1998).
  103. ^ Arno Lustiger, Rotbuch: Stalin und die Juden (1998).
  104. ^ a b c d e Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 352-354.
  105. ^ a b Herbert Marshall, "Obituary: Paul Robeson (1898-1976)", in: Bulletin of the Center for Soviet and East European Studies No. 17 (Spring 1976), p. 4-5.
  106. ^ Esther Markish, The Living Journey (1978).[clarification needed]
  107. ^ a b Such as Martin Duberman, Philip S. Foner, Marie Seton and Lloyd Brown.
  108. ^ Natalya Mikhoels-Vovsi. Vremya i mwi, Tel-Aviv (1976), p. 190.
  109. ^ Another version is given by the book Testimony, ostensibly memoirs of Soviet composer Dimitri Shostakovich, which recalls Robeson meeting Feffer in a restaurant with Feffer accompanied by police agents and denounces the American singer for "staying silent" (Solomon Volkov (ed.), Testimony, Harper Row (1979), p. 188-189.)
  110. ^
  111. ^ Paul Robeson Live Concert in Moscow at Tchaikovsky Hall
  112. ^ Phillip Foner, Paul Robeson Speaks, p. 237.
  113. ^ a b Interview with Paul Robeson, Jr. (part 3), National Security Archive, "Episode 6: Reds" (Nov. 1, 1998).
  114. ^ Howard Fast, Being Red Boston: Houghton Mifflin (1990).[clarification needed]
  115. ^ a b c d Paul Robeson, Jr., The Undiscovered Paul Robeson. Quest for Freedom, p. 142-144.
  116. ^ According to Marie Seton (Paul Robeson, p. 179.) and Robeson's son (, AP had put a prepared dispatch on the wires as Robeson was starting his speech.
  117. ^ U. S. House of Representatives, Committee on Un-American Activities, Report on the Communist Peace Offensive - A Campaign To Disarm and Defeat the United States (April 1, 1951), p. 18.
  118. ^ Phillip Foner, Paul Robeson Speaks, p. 197-199.
  119. ^ "Pages From History: Paul Robeson and the Paris Peace Conference of 1949" (
  120. ^ a b c d Paul Robeson Appears Before HUAC (History Matters).
  121. ^ a b Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 358.
  122. ^ Paul Robeson: Speak of Me As I Am, BBC documentary (1998).
  123. ^ a b Robbie Lieberman, The strangest dream: Communism, anticommunism and the U.S. peace movement Syracuse University Press (2000), p. 73.
  124. ^ Roy Wilkins, Standing Fast: The Autobiography of Roy Wilkins, p. 200-205.
  125. ^ Jackie Robinson, I Never Had It Made It, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons (1972), p. 53.
  126. ^ a b Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 360-362.
  127. ^ Philip S. Foner, Paul Robeson Speaks, p. 219.
  128. ^ Jackie Robinson. I Never Had It Made It New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons (1972), p. 85-86.
  129. ^ a b c d Carin T. Ford, Paul Robeson: I Want to Make Freedom Ring, p. 97-98.
  130. ^ a b c d e Susan Robeson, The Whole World in His Hands, p. 181-183.
  131. ^ a b c d e Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 365-367.
  132. ^ Seeger, Pete. Brave Nation video; Police inaction, at 10:00 minutes in.
  133. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 695.
  134. ^ The assault on Bullard was captured on film and can be seen in the 1970s documentary The Tallest Tree in Our Forest. Graphic photos of Bullard being beaten were later published in Susan Robeson's pictorial biography. (Susan Robeson, The Whole World in His Hands, p. 182-183.).
  135. ^ a b Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 371-373.
  136. ^ a b United States Congressional Record, September 21, 1949, p. 13375.
  137. ^ a b Editors of Freedomways, "Paul Robeson, "The Great Forerunner", Freedomways Quarterly, p. 182-183, 377.
  138. ^ a b Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 389.
  139. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 411.
  140. ^ Bay Area Paul Robeson Centennial Committee, Paul Robeson Chronology (Part 7).
  141. ^ American Consul, Accra. 179. January 9, 1951, USIE: Request for Special Story on Paul Robeson, declassified October 10, 1979.
  142. ^ a b Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 395-396.
  143. ^ Henry Foner, Paul Robeson: A Century of Greatness, p. 112-115.
  144. ^ a b Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 463.
  145. ^
  146. ^ Great Soviet Encyclopedia. (in Russian) (2nd ed. ed.). Moscow: Sovetskaya Enciklopediya. 1953. vol. 24, p. 366. 
  147. ^ Paul Robeson, "To You Beloved Comrade", New World Review (April 1953), reprinted in: Philip Foner, Paul Robeson Speaks, p. 347-349.
  148. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 301, 318, 440.
  149. ^ Phillip Foner, Paul Robeson Speaks, p. 307.
  150. ^ Phillip Foner, Paul Robeson Speaks, p. 353.
  151. ^
  152. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 752.
  153. ^ Phillip Foner, Paul Robeson Speaks, p. 377-379.
  154. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 392.
  155. ^ a b c d Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 438-442.
  156. ^ a b c d e f g Bay Area Paul Robeson Centennial Committee, Paul Robeson Chronology (Part 8).
  157. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 458-459.
  158. ^ The International Children Center Artek Timeline - the 1950s
  159. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 471.
  160. ^ a b Susan Robeson, The Whole World in His Hands, p. 218.
  161. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 475-478.
  162. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 733.
  163. ^ Daily Express (April 10, 1959).
  164. ^ a b Michael White, "Obituary: Andrew Faulds", The Guardian (June 1, 2000).
  165. ^ a b c d e f Bay Area Paul Robeson Centennial Committee, Paul Robeson Chronology (posthumous).
  166. ^ a b Paul Robeson, Jr., The Undiscovered Paul Robeson. Quest for Freedom, p. 307-309.
  167. ^ a b Kit MacFarlane, "Paul Robeson: A Resonant Voice That Will Never Be Fully Silenced",
  168. ^ Phillip S. Foner, Paul Robeson Speaks, p. 467-470.
  169. ^ a b c d Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 488-491.
  170. ^ Mahir Ali, "Big voice of the Left Paul Robeson resounds to this day", The Australian (November 9, 2010).
  171. ^ People's Voice (October 19, November 2, 1960).
  172. ^ Robinson dates the concert he attended to 1961, but photographic evidence given by Duberman (p. 735-736) points to 1960.
  173. ^ a b c d Robert Robinson, Black on Red: My 44 Years Inside the Soviet Union, p. 318-321.
  174. ^ a b c Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 735-736.
  175. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 500-501.
  176. ^ a b c d Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 498-499.
  177. ^ a b c Tom Rhodes. "US Poisoned Paul Robeson with Mind-Bending Drug", The Times, 1998.
  178. ^ a b c Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 516-518.
  179. ^ a b Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 509.
  180. ^ Paul Robeson, Jr., "The Paul Robeson Files", The Nation (1999).
  181. ^ George Rush, Joanna Molloy & Marcus Baram, "Robeson seen as victim of CIA plot”, New York Daily News (March 18, 1999).
  182. ^ a b Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 541-542.
  183. ^ a b Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 537.
  184. ^ a b c Charlotte Turner, Paul Robeson: His Last Days in Philadelphia, p. 100.
  185. ^ a b Phillip S. Foner, Paul Robeson Speaks p. 246
  186. ^ a b Susan Robeson, The Whole World in His Hands, p. 235-237.
  187. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, chapter "Attempted Renewal".[clarification needed]
  188. ^ Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, chapters "Broken Health" and "Attempted Renewal".[clarification needed]
  189. ^ Information about Freedomways Reader: Prophets in Their Own Country at Barnes & Noble.
  190. ^ Atendees included U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, actors Roscoe Lee Browne, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, James Earl Jones, Zero Mostel, Sidney Poitier, singers Pete Seeger and Odetta, musician Dizzy Gillespie, journalist Leon Bibb, activists Angela Davis and Dolores Huerta and Martin Luther King's widow Coretta Scott King. Birthday greetings arrived from President Julius K. Nyerere of Tanzania, Prime Minister Michael Manley of Jamaica, President Cheddi Jagan of Guyana, President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India, tennis player Arthur Ashe, chemist Linus Pauling, judge George W. Crockett, composer Leonard Bernstein and the African National Congress.
  191. ^
  192. ^ Phillip S. Foner, Paul Robeson Speaks, p. 46.
  193. ^ a b c d Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson, p. 548-549.
  194. ^ a b "Paul Robeson Dead at 77; Singer, Actor and Activist; Paul Robeson, the Singer, Actor and Activist, Is Dead", The New York Times (January 24, 1976).
  195. ^ a b "Died", Time (February 2, 1976).
  196. ^ Paul Robeson House (
  197. ^ Paul Robeson Library at the Camden Campus of Rutgers University., Paul Robeson Cultural Center, Rutgers-Newark, Paul Robeson Campus Center, Paul Robeson Galleries, Paul Robeson Cultural Center at Penn State
  198. ^ Paul Robeson Stamp of Approval.
  199. ^ Peter Applebome, "From the Valley of Obscurity, Robeson's Baritone Rings Out; 22 Years After His Death, Actor-Activist Gets a Grammy", The New York Times (February 25, 1998).
  200. ^ Molefi Kete Asante, 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books (2002).
  201. ^ Llyfrgell
  202. ^


  • Murali Balaji, The Professor and the Pupil: The Politics and Friendship of W. E. B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson. Nation Books (2007).
  • Sheila Tully Boyle & Andrew Bunie, Paul Robeson: The Years of Promise and Achievement (2001).
  • Shirley Graham Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Citizen of the World. Julian Messner (1971).
  • Lloyd Brown, On My Journey Now. The Young Paul Robeson Basic Books (1998)
  • Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson. Alfred A. Knopf (1988).
  • Joseph Dorinson & William Pencak (with a foreword by Henry Foner), Paul Robeson: Essays on His Life and Legacy (2004).
  • Philip S. Foner, Paul Robeson Speaks: Writings, Speeches, and Interviews. A Centennial Celebration. Citadel Press (1982).
  • Carin T. Ford, Paul Robeson: I Want to Make Freedom Ring (2008).
  • Burnham Holmes, Paul Robeson: A Voice of Struggle. Heinemann Library (1994).
  • Rebecca Larsen, Paul Robeson: Hero Before His Time. Franklin Watts (1989).
  • Pat McKissack, Fredrick McKissack & Michael David Biegel (illustrator), Paul Robeson: A Voice to Remember. Enslow (2001).
  • Elizabeth Nash, Autobiographical Reminiscences of African-American Classical Singers, 1853-Present. Edwin Mellen Press (2007).
  • Joseph Nazel, Paul Robeson: Biography of a Proud Man. Holloway (1980).
  • Scott Allen Nollen, Paul Robeson: Film Pioneer. McFarland (2010).
  • Carl Reiner, How Paul Robeson Saved My Life and Other Mostly Happy Stories. Cliff Street Books (1999).
  • Eslanda Robeson, Paul Robeson, Negro. V. Gollancz (1930).
  • Paul Robeson, Jr., "How My Father Last Met Itzik Feffer", in: Jewish Currents (November 1981).
  • Paul Robeson, Jr., The Undiscovered Paul Robeson. An Artist's Journey. 1898-1939. John Wiley & Sons (2001).
  • Paul Robeson, Jr., The Undiscovered Paul Robeson. Quest for Freedom. 1939-1976. John Wiley & Sons (2010).
  • Susan Robeson, The Whole World in His Hands. A Pictorial Biography of Paul Robeson. Citadel Press (1981).
  • Marie Seton, Paul Robeson (1958).
  • Jeffrey C. Stewart (ed.), Paul Robeson: Artist and Citizen. Rutgers University Press (1998).
  • Sterling Stuckey, I Want to Be African: Paul Robeson and the Ends of Nationalist Theory and Practice, 1919-1945. University of California Center for Afro (1976).
  • Charles Wright, Paul Robeson: Labor's Forgotten Champion (Balamp Publishing Company (1975).
  • David K. Wright, Paul Robeson: Actor, Singer, Political Activist. Enslow (1998).


External links[edit]

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