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Paul Robeson: A Watched Man av Jordan…

Paul Robeson: A Watched Man (urspr publ 2013; utgåvan 2013)

av Jordan Goodman (Författare)

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
362558,898 (4.2)21
Documents the African-American singer's achievements as both a performer and a political activist who vocally supported civil rights throughout the world, risking his career to raise awareness.
Titel:Paul Robeson: A Watched Man
Författare:Jordan Goodman (Författare)
Info:Verso (2013), Edition: Illustrated, 320 pages
Samlingar:Ditt bibliotek


Paul Robeson: A Watched Man av Jordan Goodman (2013)


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If you’ve ever wondered just how far government agencies will go to keep us safe from ideas that they find dangerous, this account of the US government’s sustained attack on the singer Paul Robeson will make fascinating reading.

Robeson never participated in or advocated violence or crime, and yet he was placed under continuous surveillance for years, called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, had his passport confiscated and subjected to arbitrary restrictions that almost killed both his career and his health.

The official State Department justification for depriving Robeson of the right to travel was that:

"[The Secretary of State] disapproved of the political ideas previously expressed by [him], and disapproved of [his] association abroad with persons of a similar political bent."

In a country priding itself on the right to freedom of speech, statements like these are astonishing, and yet they occur frequently throughout the book. Jordan Goodman has combed through the archives and created a frightening picture of Cold War paranoia and its effects on one man.

Later on in the same statement we get a glimpse of the real problem. Robeson, it says, had:

"been for years extremely active politically on behalf of the independence of the colonial peoples of Africa … Though this may be a highly laudable aim, the diplomatic embarrassment that could arise from the presence abroad of such a political meddler, traveling under the protection of an American passport, is easily imaginable."

The United States was, at the time, engaged in a fight to the death with a bitter opponent, and so considered infringements on civil and human rights totally justified in a time of war. Sound familiar? Communism changes to terrorism, and the results remain the same. The US government is currently engaged in activities which we would normally consider completely unacceptable, but which we shrug at because they are aimed at ‘terrorists.’ Assassinations, illegal abductions, torture, drone strikes … hey, it’s all fair game, because this is a time of war. It’s reminiscent of the 1950 McCarran Act, used against Robeson, which stated that people involved in the Communist movement “are effectively discounting themselves as Americans.” Again, the usual rules do not apply. At the time, it seemed justified to many people; in hindsight, it seems barbarous. If only we could get to hindsight a little more quickly.

That’s what makes this a timely and important book. At times there’s a bit more detail than is strictly necessary. Robeson’s battles with the State Department and other US government agencies were protracted and complicated, and we don’t really need to hear about every twist and turn of the various hearings and appeals and bureaucratic procedures. Well, the general reader doesn’t anyway, although I can see that the detail would serve a purpose for some readers.

For me, the value of the book lies less in the detail of Robeson’s legal struggles, and more in painting a picture of a time in which a US citizen could lose his right to due process because of his political beliefs, and in which attending a Paul Robeson concert could meaning running a gantlet of patriotic protesters shouting “Lynch the fucking niggers!” and “Hitler was a good man. He should have killed all the Communists and Jews!”

It’s easy, of course, to criticise the U.S. government or its people, particularly when looking back at the 1950s. It’s less easy, but more important, to recognise that similar things can happen in any society at any time. When some people’s beliefs are considered so beyond the pale that they should no longer be protected by the constitution or the law, it’s a very dangerous time. We have to be vigilant in protecting the rights even of those with whom we most strongly disagree. We certainly can’t trust our governments to do it for us. ( )
2 rösta AndrewBlackman | Jan 26, 2014 |
Paul Robeson, son of a minister and ex-slave, was bigger than life in every way; he was, in fact, the very definition of a Renaissance Man: although probably best known for his huge and hugely beautiful basso voice, he was also an athlete, actor, graduated from university with a law degree while playing for the NFL, and became one of the leading Civil Rights Activists in the United States.

In this biography by author Jordan Goodman, it is mainly his activism which is examined. With all Robeson's talent and accomplishments, it seems like he should have been able to do anything. Movie roles and plays were written for him, he sang at all the biggest music venues in the US including Carnegie Hall. He numbered, among his close friends, people like Einstein and WEB DuBois. Yet, despite this popularity, he was still refused a room in most hotels across the country.

Despite his popularity and his growing wealth, his concern was always, above all, for the rights of other African Americans as well as for the struggles of black people everywhere and for worker struggles both in the US and England. His activism started early in his career and would continue for the rest of his life.

This activism and his pro-Soviet stand led to clashes with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and his refusal to sign an affidavit saying that he was not Communist led to the refusal by the government to allow him a passport which, in turn, effected his ability to earn a living as a singer and actor. But he refused to back down even under attack and censure from other African American leaders. He had said, in 1946, that he wasn't a Communist, and felt he should not have to say it again. When he wasn't allowed to accept invitations in other countries to sing, he found ways around it either by radio broadcast to miners in England and, in the case of Canada, a series of concerts in the middle of the bridge between Washington and British Columbia.

Although there is little about Robeson's personal life in this biography, it is still a fascinating look at a fascinating man. For anyone interested in his activism, in the workings of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee or other actions of the US government during this rather sad period of history, this book gives some real insight. And it does it in language which makes it a very interesting read, accessible to everyone. ( )
2 rösta lostinalibrary | Sep 5, 2013 |
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In the Presence of Greatness
Toronto, February 11, 1956
In 1956, my parents, my younger sister, and I were living in Toronto.
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Documents the African-American singer's achievements as both a performer and a political activist who vocally supported civil rights throughout the world, risking his career to raise awareness.

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