Paul Robeson was born April 9, 1898. Robeson, often refered to as the “tallest tree in the forest,” was a world-famous political activist and leader, actor, singer – truly an American hero. At great personal sacrifice, Robeson stood for peace, equality, workers’ rights, democracy and, yes, socialism, during one of the most difficult and repressive times of our country’s history.

At the time of his death in 1976, the World Magazine published a four-page “Tribute” to this African-American freedom fighter and patriot. Here are some reprints of speeches by Robeson and others in tribute to him, published here in honor of his 105th birthday and to draw strength from his life, for today’s struggles.

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‘Mother is betting on us to save the peace’

By Paul Robeson

The following speech was made by Paul Robeson at the funeral of “Mother” Ella Reeve Bloor in 1951. Bloor was a beloved leader of the Communist Party, labor, peace and democratic movements.

This speech was among many that Robeson delivered at the height of the cold war and its domestic concomitant, McCarthyism. The Korean war was on; the Rosenbergs had been jailed; and scores of Communists and other progressives were being persecuted and prosecuted. Paul Robeson did not escape this infamy.

Mother Bloor is betting on us to save the peace as the true inheritors of our democratic traditions and our traditions of understanding and helping to fashion a world in the process of qualitative change.

For her forbears were part of our own Revolution of 1776 and of the French Revolution of 1789. They joined hands with those peoples of the world who helped to clear the path for democratic procedures and sound the death knell of feudal servitude. Her forbears also helped to free the Negro people – helped to free my slave father. So she fully understood the present world in change and was a firm friend of the Soviet Peoples Republics and Democracies, stretching all over the wide expanse of Europe and Asia. To them she extended, as had Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt, her hand in peace and progress and cooperation with other peoples. She would have no part of that America which fears the power of the people and their finding of new ways to their complete freedom and growth.

She was in the tradition of Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, John Brown, Lincoln, Douglass and Thaddeus Stevens. She was horrified when a leader of our nation, one of confederate lineage, declared that the Congress which gave the Negro people their freedom and the American people new freedom was the worst Congress in our history. No, these people were no part of her America. She wanted nothing to do with the imperialists of 1898, swaggering across the world to enslave the people of the Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, setting their sights on the great land of the East, especially China. She hailed China’s freedom.

And she wanted nothing to do with our present-day swaggerers and would-be conquerors with their callous destruction of heroic and struggling colonial peoples. And most of all, she was devoted to her comrades and close co-workers. She knew them as the salt of the earth – as she fought for their right to speak, right to bail, and their right to be free and continue their fight for American democracy and world friendship.

So she hands her tasks on to us. I say to Mother that never was I so proud as when she told me I was one of her sons among her countless other sons who loved her and will always honor and revere her memory. [We] will carry on – carry on fearlessly, tirelessly and courageously as she did, until this land is truly the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

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Tributes to Robeson

A friend

By Lloyd L. Brown
I remember one day during that period [1955] when I was working with Paul in the building next door to this church (that was his brother’s parsonage where Paul was then living) and he called to my attention a quotation from Frederick Douglass.

Himself the son of a former slave, Robeson greatly admired the ex-slave Douglass, and in a voice so filled with passion that I sat there transfixed, he read to me these words of Douglass concerning the oppression of his people in this land!

“What man can look upon this state of things without resolving to cast his influence with the elements which are to come down in ten-fold thunder and dash this state of things to atoms.”

Then, speaking very slowly for emphasis, Robeson added: “Well, that’s exactly how I feel!”

And later in his book, Here I Stand, Robeson wrote:

“When we criticize the treatment of Negroes in America and tell our fellow citizens at home and the peoples abroad what is wrong with our country, each of us can say with Frederick Douglass: ‘In doing this, I shall feel myself discharging the duty of a true patriot: for he is a lover of his country who rebukes and does not excuse sins.’”

His son

By Paul Robeson, Jr.
[My father] never regretted the stands he took, because almost 40 years ago, in 1937, he made his basic choice. He said then:

“The artist must elect to fight for freedom or for slavery. I have made my choice, I had no alternative.”

He knew the price he would have to pay and he paid it, unbowed and unflinching. He knew that he might have to give his life, so he was not surprised that he lost his professional career. He was often called a Communist, but he always considered that name to be an honorable one.

Paul Robeson felt a deep responsibility to the people who loved him and to all those to whom he was a symbol. … Because Paul Robeson’s views, his work, his artistry, his life, were all of one piece.