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Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson: The Artist as Revolutionary OPEN ACCESS

Gerald Horne
Copyright Date: 2016
Published by: Pluto Press
Pages: 272
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    Paul Robeson
    Book Description:

    Realizing the Witch follows the unfolding of Benjamin Christensen’s visual narrative in his 1922 film, Häxan (The Witch). Through a close reading of Häxan, Baxstrom and Meyers examine the study of witchcraft from historical and anthropological perspectives, as well as the intersection of popular culture, artistic expression and scientific ideas.

    eISBN: 978-1-78371-755-2
    Subjects: Sociology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Paul Robeson—activist, artist, athlete—experienced a dramatic rise and fall, perhaps unparalleled in U.S. history. From consorting with the elite of London society and Hollywood in the 1930s, by the time he died in 1976, he was a virtual recluse in a plain abode in a working-class neighborhood of Philadelphia.

    What helps to explicate this tragic arc of his life is a fateful decision he made when fascism was rising: he threw in his lot with those battling for socialism and decided to sacrifice his thriving artistic career on behalf of the struggle against Jim Crow—or U.S. apartheid....

  2. 2 Rising Star (pp. 19-40)

    As Paul Robeson was leaving Rutgers in 1919, African-Americans were being subjected to ghastly pogroms, as soldiers having risked their lives in Europe during the Great War were at times slain in their uniforms, a reminder that they should not think that their blood sacrifice would bring rights.¹ There was fear that the relative equality experienced by these young men in Europe—particularly France—would embolden them upon their return and they must be compelled to abandon this course.

    Such burdensome thoughts hung ominously in the air as Robeson entered Columbia Law School, a prestigious institution that sat uneasily adjacent...

  3. When Robeson played the lead role inOthelloin London in 1930, box-office records were set and the tragedy ran for six weeks.¹ Reportedly, it garnered a hefty £22,000 in the first few weeks of production.² It was not unusual for early performances to be greeted by 20 or more curtain calls.³ His already skyrocketing reputation ascended further for this production struck a chord in the populace. This was not unlike what had happened in the nineteenth century, when Robeson’s predecessor as premier tragedian, Ira Aldridge, was also catapulted into further prominence when performing this same role in Europe.⁴ This...

  4. Robeson had arrived in Moscow in the mid-1930s at a fraught moment. “I was there during the purges,” he recounted later, and discussed this grave matter with Sergei Eisenstein, particularly the tragic fate that befell Soviet leader Nikolai Bukharin. This was an acknowledgment of the massive human rights violations then unfolding but which Communists—and their sympathizers—tended to rationalize as an unfortunate but necessary measure needed to brace effectively for the fascist onslaught which was to cost tens of millions of lives in the Soviet Union. Some on the left, alternatively, blamed these violations on provocations engineered by these...

  5. Paul Robeson consideredProud Valley, filmed in the coalfields of Wales, just before his fateful return to the U.S., his proudest accomplishment in cinema. A production of Ealing Studios, it tells an affecting story of an African-American miner and singer and his relationship to the harsh reality of coalmining in Wales. The story mirrored Robeson’s life in that like his character in the movie, he too won the hearts of the working class in Wales (and England, Ireland and Scotland besides). Viewed from the perspective of Hollywood, even today it is hard to find a film that better captures the...

  6. Though there were indications that the U.S. would turn sharply to the right after the war concluded, thereby jeopardizing his livelihood—if not his life—Paul Robeson initially proceeded without evident signs that he sensed the wide and tumultuous dimensions of what was brewing.

    In December 1945 Eslanda Robeson—still acting in a managerial capacity—was continuing to regard her chief client as “one of the greatest concert attractions in the western world,” which was hardly inaccurate. She was negotiating with Sergei Eisenstein about producing a film about Felix Eboue, a hero of the Francophone world due to his stern...

  7. By 1949, Robeson’s income was plummeting, while his popularity was declining (in certain quarters). But even this unfolding annus horribilis hardly prepared him for what befell him in Peekskill, New York in August–September of that crucial year. For it was then that what he had encountered in Missouri a few years earlier came close to derailing him again: he almost lost his life.

    He had come to Peekskill, north of Manhattan, for a concert on behalf of the Civil Rights Congress, headed by William Patterson who had helped to draw him closer to a commitment to socialism, more than...

  8. 8 Britain Beckons (pp. 143-167)

    17 May 1954 marked a departure in the torturous journey of Africans in North America, for it was then that the high court ruled that Jim Crow should no longer obtain. The process unleashed—which continues to unfold—also marked a departure for Robeson: it vindicated and validated his outspoken activism on this front. But it also eroded his base of support among—particularly—middle-class African-Americans who were slated to benefit from this turn of events. Yet the retreat of Jim Crow also undercut the rigid conservatism that had undergirded the snatching of his passport and buttressed his general marginalizing,...

  9. The Robeson case had become a symbol and focal point of widespread British resentment against their former North American colony, at a time when Washington was in the process of supplanting the Empire in London’s former colonies. Few Britons would have disagreed with the opinion of Louis Burnham, who worked alongside Robeson at “Freedom.” “It is one of the shameful consequences of the Cold War that the American most honored abroad is most cruelly persecuted at home,” he said, referring to his co-worker.¹ Robeson’s uplifting message that “after all there is but one race—humanity” sounded dangerously subversive in his...

  10. On 23 December 1965, Eslanda Robeson died at Beth Israel Hospital in Manhattan. She was 69 years old.¹ Weeks earlier she was slowly recovering from what she termed “my own big operation, cancer of the uterus”²—but she did not survive. This was a cruel blow inflicted simultaneously on the already tottering fortunes of her surviving spouse. They had relocated to New York earlier because of his nagging health problems which—it was thought—could be better handled while in the loving embrace of his son’s family, which included two children. But it seemed that demands on his time were...

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This book is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 International.
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