Paul Robeson quotes

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Paul Robeson

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.

Works

Here I Stand
Here I Stand
Paul Robeson

„Sometimes great injustices may be inflicted on the minority when the majority is in the pursuit of a great and just cause.“

—  Paul Robeson

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

„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.“

—  Paul Robeson

"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.

„I am the son of an emancipated slave and the stories of old father are vivid on the tablets of my memory.“

—  Paul Robeson

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.

„If the American Negro is to have a culture of his own he will have to leave America to get it.“

—  Paul Robeson

As quoted in "Paul Robeson and Negro Music" in The New York Times (5 April 1931)

„Films make me into some cheap turn…You bet they'll never let me play a part in a film where a Negro is on top.“

—  Paul Robeson

As quoted in Paul Robeson : The Whole World in His Hands (1981) by Susan Robeson, p. 92

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