Robeson in Battle for Peace
Crusader against Lynchings and Segregation
Paul Robeson at an Anti-Lynch rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. 1946 by George Skadding.
Robeson's deep conviction and commitment to the ideals of human dignity, freedom and peace is exemplified by the life he lived. He believed that the fight against racism in the West could not be separated from the fight against colonialism and the Empire.
As a great artist, he decided to choose the side of freedom and speak for the oppressed millions worldwide. In America, he led the delegation of the "American Crusade to End Lynchings" which demanded an anti-lynch legislation. He refused to perform for segregated audiences and joined NAACP's picket line against segregation in Baltimore.
“...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”.
Freedom Fighter for Dark Humanity
Alphaeus Hunton with his wife, Dorothy, Paul Robeson, and W.E.B. Du Bois.
Paul Robeson founded the Council of African Affairs ( CAA) in 1937. Prominent members of the CAA include Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois and William Alphaeus Hunton (seen in the picture above with Robeson). Under their leadership, the Council of African Affairs advocated for Pan-Africanism and against US imperialism. The Council exposed US control of Ethiopia, the presence of American military bases in Morocco, the jailing of Kenyan Nationalists, and most prominently, the anti-apartheid struggle. It developed the first anti-imperialist and anti-apartheid movement in the United States in support of the movement against apartheid by the African National Congress in South Africa. It also allied with the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War period.
Alphaeus Hunton, as the Educational Director of CAA, organized mass rallies and information campaigns to educate Americans and the World about the exploitative conditions caused by American and European corporations and the resistance of the African people to colonial rule.
Through its forums and receptions, the Council provided a platform for the African freedom fighters to meet international leaders and garner support for their national liberation struggles and for the broader fight against colonialism. It also advocated for India's independence at an international level. It sought to influence the United Nations to develop a comprehensive programme for the emancipation and advancement of coloured peoples worldwide.
Eslanda Goode Robeson speaking at Africa Women's Day gathering. Claudia Jones is seated to the far left.(Source: The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1939 - 1998. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library)
Martin Luther King, Jr. (left) and Eslanda Goode Robeson (right) attending a gathering at the African Unity House, sponsored by the Afro-Asian West Indian Community, in London, England, on October 30, 1961.
Eslanda Robeson, Paul Robeson's wife, too had a deep connection with Africa. She was a co-founder of the Council of African Affairs. Trained as an anthropologist, she travelled extensively through Central Africa in the late 1930s and 1940s. She published a travelogue describing her experience in Africa called African Journey. She believed that looking back at her African roots helped her assert her American identity- it helped her see her people's contribution to the world as an African Americans. She advocated for decolonization of Africa and Asia and for solidarity among oppressed people worldwide.
During her time in London, she met Gandhi and interviewed him about the Civil Disobedience movement started by Gandhi, where the Indian masses demonstrated against the white supremacist British colonial government through non-violent means. This interaction with Gandhi deepened her interest in understanding colonialism and her interest in India. She went on to become close friends with other leaders of the Indian freedom struggle like Nehru and his sister, Vijaylaxmi Pandit.
Paul Robeson, his wife Eslanda Goode Robeson, and their son Paul Robeson Jr., at their house in Enfield, Connecticut, c. 1940's.
A Messenger of Peace
Paul Robeson (Linocut) by Leopoldo Mendez from Mexico.
Paul Robeson was one of the founding members of the World Peace Council that supported national liberation struggles worldwide and spoke in favour of universal disarmament, anti-imperialism and peaceful co-existence among nations. He participated in the World Peace Congress, held in Paris (also known as Paris Peace Congress) in 1949 along with Dr. W. E. B. DuBois and Pablo Picasso.
Robeson's advocacy for peace led the American government to persecute him by cancelling his domestic concerts, revoking his passport preventing him from traveling abroad, and eventually summoning to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee. In his testimony, Robeson said "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....The other reason that I am here today, again from the State Department and from the court record of the court of appeals, is that when I am abroad I speak out against the injustices against the Negro people of this land. I sent a message to the Bandung Conference and so forth. That is why I am here. This is the basis, and I am not being tried for whether I am a Communist, I am being tried for fighting for the rights of my people, who are still second-class citizens in this United States of America."
He was awarded the Stalin Prize for Strengthening Peace in 1952. Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, while presenting him with the award, said:"He (Robeson) is thus placed among the great men of the world and is recognized as a prime mover in the greatest cause of today, PEACE. He is without doubt today, as a person, the best known American on earth, to the largest number of human beings. "
Paul Robeson introduces Peter Blackman of the West Indies to W.E.B. Du Bois at the World Peace Conference in Paris on April 20, 1949.
Robeson speaking at the anti-war "Hands Off Korea" rally from a sound truck at Harlem, New York, on July 3, 1950.
A report of Robeson's conferral of the 1952 International Stalin Prize for Strengthening Peace, presented by "great Negro scholar and leader" W. E. B. Du Bois that appeared in New World Review.
The booklet "Dimensions of the Struggle Against Apartheid" published as a tribute to Paul Robeson by the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid for his immense contribution to the Struggle against Apartheid and for the national liberation struggles in Africa.
(Source: Personal collection of E. S. Reddy)