Paul Robeson

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My father was a slave, and my people died to build this country, and I am going to stay here and have a part of it just like you.

Paul LeRoy Bustill Robeson (9 April 189823 January 1976) was an American actor of film and stage, All-American and professional athlete, writer, multi-lingual orator, lawyer, and basso profondo concert singer who was also noted for his wide-ranging social justice activism.

Quotes[edit]

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.
American audiences from coast to coast found Shakespeare's Othello — painfully immediate in its unfolding of evil, innocence, passion, dignity and nobility
The artist must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative.
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.
    • As quoted in "Paul Robeson and Negro Music" in The New York Times (5 April 1931)
  • 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)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • I am truly happy that I am able to travel from time to time to the USSR — the country I love above all. I always have been, I am now and will always be a loyal friend of the Soviet Union.
    • "’I Love Above All, Russia,’ Robeson Says," Afro-American, (25 June 1949), p. 7
  • 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.
    • "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
  • 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
  • For the first time since I began acting, I feel that I've found my place in the world, that there's something out of my own culture which i can express and perhaps help others preserve..i have found out now that the African natives had a definite culture a long way beyond the culture of the Stone age...an integrated thing, which is still unspoiled by western influences...I think the Americans will be amazed to find how many of the modern dance steps are relics of African heritage.
    • As quoted in Paul Robeson : The Whole World in His Hands (1981) by Susan Robeson, p. 72
  • 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
  • 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.
    • As quoted in Paul Robeson : The Whole World in His Hands (1981) by Susan Robeson, p. 92
  • 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.
    • 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
  • I found it very offensive to my people. It makes the Negro childlike and innocent and is in the old plantation hallelujah shouter tradition... the same old story, the negro singing his way to glory.
    • Regarding the film Tales of Manhattan, as quoted in Paul Robeson (1989) by Martin Duberman, " The Discovery of Africa", p. 259
  • Sometimes great injustices may be inflicted on the minority when the majority is in the pursuit of a great and just cause.
    • 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
  • 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

HUAC Testimony[edit]

Testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (12 June 1956), quoted in Paul Robeson Speaks
  • In Russia I felt for the first time like a full human being. No color prejudice like in Mississippi, no color prejudice like in Washington.
  • My father was a slave, and my people died to build this country, and I am going to stay here, and have a part of it just like you. And no Fascist-minded people will drive me from it. Is that clear?
  • 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.
  • You are the non-patriots, and you are the un-Americans, and you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

Paul Robeson Speaks (1978)[edit]

You want to shut up every Negro who has the courage to stand up and fight for the rights of his people, for the rights of workers, and I have been on many a picket line for the steelworkers too.
Quotes from Paul Robeson Speaks : The Negro and The Soviet Union (1978) by Phillip S. Foner
  • You want to shut up every Negro who has the courage to stand up and fight for the rights of his people, for the rights of workers, and I have been on many a picket line for the steelworkers too.
    • p. 46
  • 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.
    • 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.
    • p. 378

External links[edit]

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