Paul Robeson quotes
Birthdate: 9. April 1898
Date of death: 23. January 1976
Paul Leroy Robeson was an American bass singer and actor who became involved with the Civil Rights Movement. At Rutgers College, he was an American football player, and then had an international career in singing, as well as acting in theater and movies. He became politically involved in response to the Spanish Civil War, fascism, and social injustices. His advocacy of anti-imperialism, affiliation with communism, and criticism of the United States government caused him to be blacklisted during the McCarthy era.
In 1915 Robeson won an academic scholarship to Rutgers College, where he was twice named a consensus All-American and was the class valedictorian. Almost eighty years later, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He received his LL.B. from Columbia Law School, while playing in the National Football League . At Columbia, he sang and acted in off-campus productions. After graduating, he became a figure in the Harlem Renaissance with performances in The Emperor Jones and All God's Chillun Got Wings.
Between 1925 and 1961, Robeson recorded and released some 276 distinct songs, many of which were recorded several times. The first of these were the spirituals "Steal Away" backed with "Were You There" in 1925. Robeson's recorded repertoire spanned many styles, including Americana, popular standards, classical music, European folk songs, political songs, poetry and spoken excerpts from plays. Robeson's politics did not prevent him from singing some songs which would subsequently be considered to have racist language or sentiment, such as "The Little Pickaninny's Gone to Sleep" and "Old Folks at Home" .
Robeson first appeared outside the United States in 1928 in the London premiere of Show Boat, settling in London for several years with his wife Essie. Robeson next appeared as Othello in London before gaining international renown as an actor in Show Boat and Sanders of the River. He became increasingly attuned to the sufferings of people of other cultures. He advocated for Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War. He then became active in the Council on African Affairs .
During World War II, he supported America's war efforts. However, his history of supporting pro-Soviet policies brought scrutiny from the FBI. After the war ended, the CAA was placed on the Attorney General's List of Subversive Organizations and Robeson was investigated during the age of McCarthyism. Due to his decision not to recant his public advocacy of pro-Soviet policies, he was denied a passport by the U.S. State Department, and his income, consequently, plummeted. He moved to Harlem and published a periodical critical of United States policies. His right to travel was eventually restored by the 1958 United States Supreme Court decision, Kent v. Dulles. In the early 1960s he retired and lived the remaining years of his life privately in Philadelphia.
Quotes Paul Robeson
„The artist must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative. The history of the capitalist era is characterized by the degradation of my people: despoiled of their lands, their true culture destroyed… denied equal protection of the law, and deprived their rightful place in the respect of their fellows.“
As quoted in Paul Robeson, The Whole World in His Hands (1981) by Susan Robeson, p. 60
"’I Love Above All, Russia,’ Robeson Says," Afro-American, (25 June 1949), p. 7
„Whatever has happened to Stalin, gentlemen, is a question for the Soviet Union.… You are responsible, and your forebears, for 60 million to 100 million black people dying in the slave ships and on the plantations, and don’t ask me about anybody, please.“
„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! It is the government's duty to put down any opposition to this really free society with a firm hand, and I hope they will always do it, for I already regard myself at home here. This is home to me. I feel more kinship to the Russian people under their new society than I ever felt anywhere else. It is obvious that there is no terror here, that all the masses of every race are contented and support their government.“
" 'I Am at Home' Says Robeson at Reception in Soviet Union http://www.mltranslations.org/Miscellaneous/RobesonSU.htm", Daily Worker (15 January 1935)
To his son Paul Jr regarding the execution of his friend Ignaty Kazahov, as quoted in "The Undiscovered Paul Robeson" (2001) by Paul Robeson Jr, p. 306
„If the United States and the United Nations truly want peace and security let them fulfill the hopes of the common people everywhere – let them work together to accomplish on a worldwide scale, precisely the kind of democratic association of free people which characterizes the Soviet Union today.“
Daily Worker (15 November 1945)
„But beyond the personal tragedy, the terrible agony of Othello, the irretrievability of his world, the complete destruction of all his trusted and sacred values — all these suggest the shattering of a universe.“
"Some Reflections on Othello and the Nature of Our Time." in The American Scholar (Autumn 1945); also quoted in Paul Robeson : The Whole World in His Hands (1981) by Susan Robeson, p. 150
Context: It was deeply fascinating to watch how strikingly contemporary American audiences from coast to coast found Shakespeare's Othello — painfully immediate in its unfolding of evil, innocence, passion, dignity and nobility, and contemporary in its overtones of a clash of cultures, of the partial acceptance of and consequent effect upon one of a minority group. Against this background, the jealousy of the protagonist becomes more credible, the blows to his pride more understandable, the final collapse of his personal, individual world more inevitable. But beyond the personal tragedy, the terrible agony of Othello, the irretrievability of his world, the complete destruction of all his trusted and sacred values — all these suggest the shattering of a universe.
Regarding the his work with the playwright Eugene O'Neill, as quoted in Paul Robeson: Artist and Citizen (1989) by Charles Musser, "The Troubled relations: Robeson, O'Neil and Micheaux", p. 94
Context: One does not need a very long racial memory to loose on oneself in such a part … As I act, civilization falls away from me. My plight becomes real, the horrors terrible facts. I feel the terror of the slave mart, the degradation of man bought and sold into slavery. Well, I am the son of an emancipated slave and the stories of old father are vivid on the tablets of my memory.
„I found a special eagerness among the younger, and I am sorry to say, the more intelligent Negroes, to dismiss the spiritual as something beneath their new pride in their race. It is as if they wanted to put it behind them as something to be ashamed of…“
As quoted in "Paul Robeson and Negro Music" in The New York Times (5 April 1931)
As quoted in "Paul Robeson and Negro Music" in The New York Times (5 April 1931)
As quoted in Paul Robeson : The Whole World in His Hands (1981) by Susan Robeson, p. 92
„In the early days of my carer as an actor, I shared what was then the prevailing attitude of Negro performers — that the content and form of a play or a film scenario was of little importance to us. What mattered was was the opportunity, which came so seldom to our folks … Later I came to understand that the Negro artist could not view the matter simply in terms of of his individual interests, and that he had a responsibility to his people who rightfully resented the traditional stereotyped portrayals of Negros on stage and screen.“
Paul Robeson : Here I Stand (1958), p. 124
„Yes, all Africa remembers that it was Litvinov who stood alone beside Haile Selassie in Geneva, when Mussolini's sons flew with the blessings of the Pope to drop bombs on Ethiopian women and children. Africa remembers that it was the Soviet Union which fought the attempts of the Smuts to annex Southwest Africa to the slave reservation of the Union of South Africa… if the peoples of the Congo refuse to mine the uranium for the atom bombs made in Jim Crow factories in the United States; if all these peoples demand an end to floggings, an end to the farce of 'trusteeship' in the former Italian colonies…. The Soviet Union is the friend of the African and the West Indian peoples.“
Source: Paul Robeson Speaks (1978), p. 238
„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.“
Source: Paul Robeson Speaks (1978), p. 378
„Could I say that the reason that I am here today, you know, from the mouth of the State Department itself, is: I should not be allowed to travel because I have struggled for years for the independence of the colonial peoples of Africa.“
As quoted in Paul Robeson : I Want to Make Freedom Ring (2008) by Carin T. Ford, p. 97, Ch. 9