Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Paul Robeson on Liberty.

Given it is Black History Month, I thought it timely to pay a quick tribute to one of the most inspiring figures from the 20th century - singer and actor Paul Robeson (1898-1976). Well, it makes a very welcome break from Kings of England. There are many great stories one could tell about the life of this heroic tribune of the oppressed, but I recently came across this, recalled by Trinidadian cricketer Learie Constantine in his 1954 book, Colour Bar:

It is well known that when coloured people rise to fame, they are obsessed with the desire to do something to help the less fortunate of their race, and to improve conditions for coloured people and try to give them more equality in an unequal world. Thus undesirable attention is drawn to the star, and such attention, will-he nill-he, often carries him and his affairs into the bitter and savage world of politics.
I am sure you have read in some newspaper or other than Paul Robeson has associated himself with the Communists. Perhaps this tale began because Paul, whom I am proud to number among my friends, sent his son to Soviet Russia to be educated. That was done not because of any political creed but because the boy was educated there in a freedom from discrimination that simply could not have been the case in England or the U.S.A. But Paul Robeson has suffered endless worries and professional drawbacks, not because he is or is not a Communist, but because the Red stick is so convenient at the moment to beat a black back.
So grave has his position become, because of political smears, that when he was over here [in London] in 1949 and he came home with me to dinner, I said: "A Paul Robeson with a bullet in his head or 'accidently' run over won't help the Negro cause; why don't you keep out of the political limelight for a time?" I remember him looking at me seriously and answering in his glorious voice: "Someone has got to make the sacrifice, Connie. I will. To hell with all Americans, and all English people, and all Negroes, who mean to break Liberty."

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