on May 1, 2010
Paul Robeson, Jr. has brought his father's remarkable career back to life. For those of us who were personally inspired by Paul Robeson and are now well past retirement age, this book will refresh our memories and add insight; for those too young to remember it should be both inspirational and cautionary. The title of the book might more accurately have been "The Rediscovered Paul Robeson", because a great deal of the information presented is available in the already published works about the great man's life including his own "Hear I Stand" and the official biography by Martin Duberman. There are, however, intriguing additions where Paul, Jr. reveals information and insights that only he was privy to. I found myself wishing for more of that.
Paul Robeson was an inspiration and a beacon. He used his great artistic and intellectual talent to focus national and international protest on the discriminatory treatment of "his people" at home and on the subjugation of his "brother' colonial people worldwide. He realized that "even with the removal of all barriers we will still have a long way to climb in order to catch up with the general standard of living. But the equal place to which we aspire cannot be reached without the equal rights we demand, and so the winning of those rights is not a maximum fulfillment but a minimum necessity and we cannot settle for less." At a time when segregated concert halls, hotels, dining and travel facilities were the norm nationwide he set and example in challenging these conditions when few others were doing so.
Robeson's steadfast, insistent focusing on this issue was "inconvenient" for our country's leaders. It was never the "right time" to deal with such issues. Before WWII Roosevelt was trying to implement his New Deal by holding together an alliance of Northern liberals and Southern segregationists. During the War national unity took precedence and during the Cold Was it was considered unpatriotic to call attention to racial problems at home and to our allies' colonial transgressions abraod thus giving ammunition to Communist propagandists.
Herbert Hoover and the FBI lead the attack on Robeson joined by other government agencies, leading political and cultural figure, and the press. One of the most popular and successful artists in the country was verbally and physically harassed, barred from concert halls, deprived of his passport and subjected to Congressional investigation.. His career was virtually destroyed. It wasn't until he was safely in his grave that his reputation was revived. His picture was put on a postage stamp and he was presented to the world as an example of a Black man's success in our great democratic society.
Robeson's strength and talent enabled him to endure and overcome challenges of many kinds any one of which would have been more than most people could handle. He was a double threat super star as both an actor and singer. Much of his life was spent on grueling road tours. He had to deal constantly with discrimination and prejudice and worse - the ever present threat of physical violence. He was constantly in the limelight as a "representative of his people" - often in the face of a hostile press. Persecution and harassment by the government in later life was an emotional and financial strain and distraction from his professional career. Saddest of all, although he was known and loved throughout the world and had countless friends in high and low places, he apparently lacked the comfort of a stable and loving home to which he could retreat.
In light of all this Robeson's relationship with the Soviet Union and its leaders is understandable even if difficult to condone. Apparently he was aware early on of Stalin's purges and specifically of his persecution of Jewish intellectuals, but chose to remain silent. One incident is mentioned where he took a risk and reached out to an imprisoned Jewish intellectual friend while he was a guest of the Soviet Union which needed Robeson as much as Robeson needed the Soviet Union. It was a marriage of convenience and must have been a terrible moral dilemma for Robeson adding one more stress to a stressful life. In an increasingly hostile political atmosphere at home compounded by financial and health problems Robeson needed the sanctuary offered by the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc countries where he could feel secure, be taken care of, and recuperate from a stressful career.
No man could have kept going for ever under all those pressures and it is amazing that he lasted as long as he did before succumbing to physical and emotional problems that lead to his retirement from public life. The proximate cause of this breakdown and its exact nature my never be known. . Apparently there was discussion in high places about "solving the Robeson problem" the way that the Lumumba problem was solved and the way that several attempts were made to solve the Castro problem, but Robeson was protected by his towering worldwide reputation and the fear of "creating a martyr". Paul Junior's investigative reporting of the FBI and CIA, among others, has made it possible for him to put a lot of dots in place, but he leaves it to the reader to connect them.
on August 3, 2010
This very close personal history of Paul Robeson covers the real history as seen by his son. This is an easy read of the extraordinary activities of this very talented man who from his earliest days rebelled against the unfairness of "White America" in dealings with black people. This history provides a strong insight into why such a strong talented individual would become associated with people from extreme left communist societies who accepted people of color. The detailing of the sacrifices Paul Robeson made to his life, family and career is so well documented that one comes away from the book with a new understanding of this very talented, strongly determined individual.Paul Robeson was truly a giant of American history