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Paul Robeson: Labor's Forgotten Champion

Paul Robeson: Labor's Forgotten Champion image
Parent Issue
Day
5
Month
February
Year
1976
OCR Text

f Lost in ,i W maze of anonymity, Paul Robeson's amaine achic vemen ts feil prey to the McCarthy Era of the early 50's, and r its residual effects. Despite the resurgent interest in Black h story in the 60 , Robeson's tartiished image remained undeservedly fixed. lor more than thirty-t'ive years, Robeson's versatility had danced lts way across the world s stage. I mm his early fanie as an American football player and Phi Beta Kappa at Princcton, whete he was the tïrst Black student to enter the liallowed halls of ivy, and his subsequent law degree at Columhja Univetsity, Robeson's achievements became mcreasingly nonacadetntc and universal in their applicalion. Turning his hack cm the practico of law, Robeson took center stage as a singer and actor. His concert tours with pianist Lawrence Brown resonated with Black spirituals and folk songs of various cultures, (racing the serious theatre in Kugene O'NeilI's All God's Chillun and The Hairy Ape, and rising to l'ull prominente in his role as the Moor in Shakespeare's Othello, Robcs)n introduced another dimensión of his inehauslible talents. Nevei complacen) toward his accompljsh.mentsand tenaciously believing in treedoni, Paul Kobeson fought by the side of f reed om throughout the world, Whethei contriluiting his eneigy in the Spanish Civil War. the Council for African Affairs, or the UAW fight to unionie the r-ord Rouge Plant here in Detroit, Robeson exhibited a reservoir ol' courage. Ushered out of the world foruin by the advent ofMcCarthyism, Robeson Was unuble to travel outside America lor more ihan eiglil years. Simultaneously. the backstagc comin'unity of America unceremoniously sluil itsdoors tq Robeson's concerts. I inally paying the long overdue tribute to Paul Robeson in 147;,, mostlv throuel) the I ui is of Ossie Davis, lena Home, and Detroit 's Judge George Ctockett, Carnogie Mali staged "A Sal uk' to Paul Robeson." Otliers wlio participated in Robeson's celebra üon were Ruby Dce, Linda Hopkins, Mayor Richard Hatcher of Gary, Indiana, and Coretta Scott King. With Ihis dawn ing of a new era, Robeson's image lias begun to regain ils shining glory within America's Black community. In Robeson: Labor's Forgotten Champion. author Dr. Charles Wright flashes a beacon light into Robeson's rarely discussed labor activity. Dr. Wright, diairman of Dctroit's Afro-American Museum, nieticulously unveils Robeson's contributie lo the Spanish Civil Warund its Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Reflecting Robeson in ternat imi.i I scope, Wright .tlso examines the unsoltisli aid Robeson leut to the Scottish, Wclsh, .nul Uriiish labor unions. In merica, Robeson guined notoreity aniong the ruling drdes through li is unflagging work foi the National Maritime Union, the International Long shoremen s and Ware liousemeu's Union, the Tobacco Workers of North Carolina, and labof organizations. B Ol special concern to Detroit's Bluck conuminity is Kobeson s association with three campaigns which liad a l'ar-reaehinp impact on Ihis turbulent city. Harbinger to the industrial unión drive, l'ord's Rouge auto plant was the key to the UAW's battle plan. Wright uneartlis the pivotal role played by leaders of the Black community in the UAWs major coup. Active figures in this dramatic scenario included Rev. Robert Bradby of the Second Ave. Baptist (ïuirch and Rev. Daniels of St. Mat the w Episcopal Church, who were amorig the liaisons between Henry Ford and the Black community. Bolsterjng the phalanx of armor against encroachmenl by anti-unionizing elements were Christopher Alston. the Chronicle's Louis Martin, Rev. Charles Hill, Snow Grigsby. Father Malcolm Dade and others, who made a painstaking attempl to bring the Black workers inlo the arms of the UAW. L .iter. in 1951. the National Negro Labor Council (NNLC) was developed as .1 weapon in the Rght against racisni within industry and the unions tiiernselves. Guiding the actionsof the NNLC were Robeson. William Ilood. and nowmayor C'oleman Young. Unfortunately, under the hystêrics of the C'old War. the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) branded NNLC as a subversive OTganization, and its uork was basically halted. Prior 10 Detroit 's ll)4.ï wee riot, the Sojourner Trutli llousing Project retlected in microcosm the deep unresi beneath the calm. Under the sanction of the Federal Housing Commission. the Sojourner Truth project wasdesigned in assauge the "sliortáge" of housing lor blacks. Whiriing the backiash of racism, white citizens' ( groups began """' violent protests against . the project. Led by the . Seven Mile Road-Fenelon ment Association and the National Workers' League, tiiis bastion of racisni repulsed the attempt al integration. Aiding the Sojourner Truth Citizens' Committee, Robeson gave a benelït performance to raise funds lor this campaign. Encouraged by Robeson 's words and actinns in their behalt, the group broughi 10 bc. ir enough muscle to ultimately win the battle. Toda) , Robeson's energy diminished bj Jee. nies ol' freedom fïghting rests in relirement in Philadelphia. (Since iliis review as ritten. Paul Robeson lus passed away, the victim ol serious hearl disorders.) Nevertheleis, thegaunilel li.isn'i been ignored. In the ftghting Iradition of Paul Robeson. the Afro-American community maintatnt its constant vigil againsl inequality and racial oppression. Robeson's ot'iquoted lyrics, "1 must keep laughin' ingtead of cryin.' Keep fightin' nntil I ani dying," represent the legacy inherited by thosfi still able to do battle. Old guard soldien like Judge Crockett and Mayor V'oung, no doubt deriving special inspir.ition Irom Robeson's inmortal words. are stül pavint! the way tor the no recruits. Our champion bas nevei forgotten os let us nol forget him. Dr. W'right's moving work will help us remember.