In February we celebrate African American History Month. That history has given us some of humanity’s greatest freedom fighters: Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, Rosa Parks, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

All of these women and men shared a common characteristic: They drew their strength from the masses, understanding the power of our multiracial working class and its allies to make history in the face of reaction’s stubborn resistance.

None stood taller than Paul Robeson, the “great forerunner,” who spearheaded a civil rights movement decades before the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s. He led the movement against fascism, war and Cold War repression. Together with William L. Patterson, he presented to the newly founded United Nations the “We Charge Genocide” petition exposing widespread lynching, segregation, discrimination, hunger and poverty inflicted on the African American people. The petition exposed this system of racist oppression as a source of billions of dollars in corporate superprofits.

Enraged, the U.S. Senate dragged Robeson before a witch-hunt hearing. The all-white, all-male senators impugned Robeson’s patriotism. One asked him why he didn’t “go back to Russia.” Robeson leaned into the microphone and replied, “Because my father was a slave and my people died to build this country and I’m going to stay here and have a part of it. And no fascist-minded people will drive me from it. Is that clear? I am here because I am opposing the neo-fascist cause which I see arising in these committees.”

It isn’t fascism we see arising in the U.S. Senate today. But the cowardly Republican minority is doing the bidding of the Bush-Cheney administration in its illegal, immoral Iraq war, blocking an increase in the minimum wage, pushing to make permanent trillions in tax cuts for the rich, and otherwise serving the interests of corporate America.

Surely what we need today are courageous leaders like Paul Robeson who tell the high and mighty in Washington: “Here I stand!” So this cold February, let us honor African American History Month by remembering Paul Robeson. Let us try to live as he lived.

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