Paul Robeson: A Watched Man
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In his heyday, Paul Robeson was one of the most famous people in the world; to his enemies he was also one of the most dangerous. From the 1930s to the 1960s, the African-American singer was the voice of the people, both as a performer and as a political activist who refused to be silenced.
Having won fame with hits such as “Ol’ Man River” and thrilling London and New York theatregoers with his legendary performance in Othello, Robeson established himself as a vocal supporter of Civil Rights and an opponent of oppression in all its forms. He traveled the world, performing in front of thousands to deliver a message of peace, equality and justice that was as readily understood on the streets of Manchester, Moscow, Johannesburg and Bombay as it was in Harlem and Washington, DC.
The first new work on the leading African-American singer for over a decade, Paul Robeson: A Watched Man is a story of passionate political struggle and conviction. Using archival material from the FBI, the State Department, MI5 and other secret agencies, Jordan Goodman reveals the true extent of the US government’s fear of this heroic individual. Robeson eventually appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he spiritedly defended his long-held convictions and refused to apologize, despite the potential damage to his career.
opened in New York City, and he had not been there. On July 20, 1948, six FBI agents armed with arrest warrants had raided the national offices of the Communist Party of the United States near Union Square in Manhattan and arrested five top party leaders. Over the next few weeks, others were found and arrested, so that by early August twelve leaders in all had been arraigned. Why? The twelve were indicted on the charge of violating the Smith Act, otherwise known as the Alien Registration Act,
Cambridge, UK, 2006, Table Ec251–253. Edwards, Brent Hayes, The Practice of Diaspora: Literature, Translation, and the Rise of Black Internationalism, Cambridge, MA, 2003. Elias, Robert, The Empire Strikes Out: How Baseball Sold U.S. Foreign Policy and Promoted the American Way Abroad, New York, 2010. Esedebe, P. Olisanwuche, Pan-Africanism: The Idea and Movement, 1776–1991, Washington, D.C., 1994. Everitt, David, A Shadow of Red: Communism and the Blacklist in Radio and Television, Chicago,
political career to a close. Still, despite the difficulty of scheduling Robinson’s appearance, Stokes had maintained contact with him and with senior people in the Brooklyn Dodgers camp, including Branch Rickey and Arthur Mann, Rickey’s assistant, throughout 1948 and the first half of 1949. It must have seemed like a gift from the gods when in April 1949 the garbled quotation of Robeson’s Paris remarks concerning the loyalty of African Americans in a war with the Soviet Union spread like
point Walter, who must have been under some sort of spell during Robeson’s speech, called out, “Now just a minute,” a show of authority that Robeson diffused by repeating, “All of this is nonsense.” The comedy continued and clearly the committee was growing increasingly frustrated with Robeson’s alternating between invoking the Fifth Amendment and attempting to read his own statement, while not quite obstructing the proceedings in a legally culpable way. Before too long, and not surprisingly,
your forebears, for 60 to 100 million black people dying in the slave ships and on the plantations, and don’t you ask me about anybody, please.” Arens and Scherer kept trying to get Robeson on Stalin, but now that he was out of the corner he would have none of it. Did you say this? Did you say that? Once again, “Did you, while you were in Moscow, make this statement?” Arens read the statement. Robeson had had enough. Up until then he had politely called his inquisitors “Gentlemen” and “Mister.”