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Paul Robeson: A Watched Man [Kindle Edition]

Jordan Goodman
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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 on stage and as a political activist who refused to be silenced as he fought for the rights of the oppressed. His message of peace, equality and justice was understood as much on the streets of Manchester, Moscow, Johannesburg and Bombay as it was in Harlem and Washington, DC.

Jordan Goodman tells the story of Robeson during the tumultuous Cold War when the United States government became so worried by his impact abroad that it tried to silence him. Drawing on extensive new archival material from Robeson's FBI, State Department, MI6 and KGB files, he shows the major international scope of this effort.

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Jordan Goodman previously taught at the University of Manchester and is an Honorary Research Associate in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at University College London. He is the author The Rattlesnake: A Voyage of Discovery to the Coral Sea and The Devil and Mr Casement. He lives in London.

Product Details

  • File Size: 3435 KB
  • Print Length: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Verso (October 8, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #148,090 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Look at a Fascinating Man October 8, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
Paul Robeson, son of a minister and ex-slave, was bigger than life in every way; he was, in fact, the very definition of a Renaissance Man: although probably best known for his huge and hugely beautiful basso voice, he was also an athlete, actor, graduated from university with a law degree while playing for the NFL, and became one of the leading Civil Rights Activists in the United States.

In this biography by author Jordan Goodman, it is mainly his activism which is examined. With all Robeson's talent and accomplishments, it seems like he should have been able to do anything. Movie roles and plays were written for him, he sang at all the biggest music venues in the US including Carnegie Hall. He numbered, among his close friends, people like Einstein and WEB DuBois. Yet, despite this popularity, he was still refused a room in most hotels across the country.

Despite his popularity and his growing wealth, his concern was always, above all, for the rights of other African Americans as well as for the struggles of black people everywhere and for worker struggles both in the US and England. His activism started early in his career and would continue for the rest of his life.

This activism and his pro-Soviet stand led to clashes with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and his refusal to sign an affidavit saying that he was not a Communist led to the refusal by the government to allow him a passport which, in turn, effected his ability to earn a living as a singer and actor. But he refused to back down even under attack and censure from other African American leaders. He had said, in 1946, that he wasn't a Communist, and felt he should not have to say it again.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book about US government overstep. May 9, 2014
By cem
For people who know a lot about Paul Robeson this book might be a disappointment. However, I did not so I found the book interesting and it made me want to know more about Paul Robeson. He seems to have been a truly brilliant person. He was a performer (both actor and singer), lawyer, civil rights activist and a professional football player. In addition, he was not afraid to stand up for his beliefs.
While the book focused on his politics, I think more mention should have been made about his status as an artist because gave his politics more stature.

I saw Paul Robeson as being a shade-of-grey character in terms of his treatment by the US. I am sure the US government/FBI has persecuted individuals for being Communists where there was none or very minimal justification for this treatment. However this was not true of Paul Robeson. He had a lot of sympathy for the Soviet Union and many Communist friends. He traveled to the Soviet Union and said it was the country where he felt most like himself.

One of my disappointments of the book was that the author does not appear to have interviewed people who knew Robeson. The author appears to have relayed exclusively on written sources. Also with the end of the Cold War many sources probably are available from the former the Soviet Union on Paul Robeson and his role in the Communist party.

This being said it does seem like the US was wrong in denying him a passport on political grounds and the State Department abused its authority in denying individuals passports because of suspicions of Communism.

Robeson was a product of his times.
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PAUL ROBESON - A WATCHED MAN isn't so much a biography of the celebrated singer as an account of his struggles with various authorities in the US between the late Forties and the early Sixties. It begins with a reconstruction of his highly successful British tour in 1949; and then gives a comprehensive account of his visit to Paris in the same year, during which time he gave a speech that praised the Soviet Union for the way in which it promoted social equality and justice. That speech proved the start of Robeson's troubles with the US authorities, who interpreted the speech as a clear indication of his affiliations to the Communist Party. Such convictions were given further weight by the statements made by Manning Johnson, a paid FBI informer who attested in court to Robeson's membership of the Party. As a result Robeson had his passport removed; it was to be seven long years, and innumerable court cases later, that the State Department were forced to relent and restore it to him. Jordan Goodman's book emphasizes the strength of Robeson's desire to work towards a better world in which everyone could be treated equally; to remind white people worldwide of the sufferings they had inflicted on black races (not only African Americans, but black people worldwide); and to try and change public opinion as a result. The book also shows the level of hatred expressed against him; not just by white supremacists in government, but by ordinary people - especially some veterans, who objected to Robeson's claim that African Americans would not necessarily fight for their country if called upon to do so by their government. Read more ›
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