POV: Singer Robeson’s granddaughter recalls fight against racism | Neo-Griot

Neo-GriotNeo-GriotKalamu ya Salaam’s information blog About Support Subscribe Breath of Life E-DrumPOV: Singer Robeson’s granddaughter recalls fight against racism BBC6 May 2014 Singer Robeson’s granddaughterrecalls fight against racism By Vincent DowdWitness programme, BBC World ServicePaul Robeson, pictured in 1958, had his passport revoked by the US Government from 1950 – 1958Paul Robeson, pictured in 1958, had his passport revoked by the US Government from 1950 – 1958Fifty six years ago, on 9 May 1958, the singer Paul Robeson gave a famous comeback concert at Carnegie Hall in New York.One of the most popular singers of his era, Robeson had been placed on a list of Americans suspected of allegiance to Moscow and for years was barred from performing. Susan Robeson remembers him both as a grandfather and as a resolute campaigner for civil rights in AmericaAs a teenager Susan Robeson spent a lot of time with her grandfather Paul. Her memories are keen and affectionate.She’s a private and thoughtful person not always at ease with the glare of publicity. But since the death last month of her own father, Paul Robeson Jr, she is the family member left to tell the world about a unique and controversial figure in American culture.“I grew up in the period when my grandfather had his passport revoked by the State Department in Washington. For eight years from 1950 he couldn’t travel so I got to know him better than I might have done. The US Government was obsessed with silencing him.“President Truman even signed a specific executive order restricting my grandfather to the continental United States, so he couldn’t even go to Canada. It was repressive and absurd.”Paul Robeson had been born in 1898 in Princeton, the son of a Presbyterian minister. At Rutgers university in New Jersey he showed both academic and athletic skill before going to study at Columbia in New York City. Though he trained for the law, as a young man his looks and superb bass voice pushed him toward a career in acting and singing.As a singer he tackled everything from Broadway show tunes to folk songs to spirituals and parts of the classical repertoire.Robeson made his first post-war TV appearance in 1949 on the BBC’s magazine show Picture PageRobeson made his first post-war TV appearance in 1949 on the BBC’s magazine show Picture PageBut Susan Robeson says her grandfather always encountered racial prejudice, from childhood onwards.“It went right through his college years and later when he was an artist trying to make his way. He grew up at the turn of the century when America was an apartheid society.“In 1928 he was offered the chance to appear in the London premiere of the musical Show Boat. He thought African Americans needed to understand the struggles around the world and connect with them.—Susan Robeson“He felt there would be less prejudice there and he ended up staying for about a decade. London was where his film career emerged and he made a lot of recordings. So he did well financially but he knew that as an African American he was the exception who stood out.”Susan Robeson says her grandfather’s political instinct also developed in Britain.“He really emerged as someone who spoke out about independence for the colonial world. He linked the conditions of African Americans to colonised people all over the world. He saw it as one and the same struggle.“It was something he was very outspoken about. And when he came back to the States at the beginning of the war he brought that global awareness with him. He thought African Americans needed to understand the struggles around the world and connect with them.”

 

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