Thursday, February 5, 2009

Paul Robeson

Paul LeRoy Bustill Robeson (April 9, 1898 – January 23, 1976) was an African American actor of film and stage, All-American and professional athlete, writer, multi-lingual orator, lawyer, and basso profondo concert singer who was also noted for his wide-ranging social justice activism. A forerunner of the civil rights movement, Robeson was a trade union activist, peace activist, Phi Beta Kappa Society laureate, and a recipient of the Spingarn Medal and Stalin Peace Prize. Robeson achieved worldwide fame and recognition during his life for his artistic accomplishments, and his outspoken, radical beliefs which largely clashed with the colonial powers of western Europe and the Jim Crow climate of pre-civil rights America.[1][2][3][4] Paul Robeson was the first major concert star to popularize the performance of Negro Spirituals and was the first black actor of the 20th century to portray Shakespeare's Othello. His 1943-44 Broadway run of Othello still holds the record for longest running Shakespeare play. Despite Robeson's vocal dissatisfaction with movie stereotypes, his roles in both the American and British film industry were some of the first parts ever created that displayed dignity and respect for the African American movie actor, paving the way for Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte.[5] At the height of his fame, Paul Robeson decided to become a primarily political artist, speaking out against fascism and racism in the US and abroad as white America failed post-World War II to stand up for the rights of people of color.[6] Robeson thus became a prime target of the Red Scare during the late 1940s through the late 1950s. His passport was revoked from 1950 to 1958 under the McCarran Act and he was under FBI, MI5 and CIA surveillance for well over three decades until his death in 1976. The reasoning behind his persecution centered not only on his beliefs in Socialism and friendship with the peoples of the Soviet Union but also his tireless work towards the liberation of the colonial peoples of Africa, The Caribbean and Asia, his support of the International Brigades, his ardent efforts to push for anti-lynching legislation and the integration of major league baseball among many other causes that challenged worldwide white supremacy. Condemnation of Robeson and his beliefs came swiftly, from both the white establishment of the US, including the United States Congress, and many mainstream black organizations including the NAACP. This mass vilification by the American establishment not only blacklisted and isolated him for the latter part of his career, but it virtually erased him from mainstream culture and subsequent interpretations of 20th Century history, including civil rights and Black History.[7][8] To this day, Paul Robeson's FBI file is one of the largest of any entertainer ever investigated by the United States Intelligence Community, requiring its own internal index and unique status of health file.[9] There is also documented and conflicting evidence from the files released under the Freedom of Information Act that Paul Robeson was drugged and neutralized under the CIA's clandestine MKULTRA mind control program and subsequently subjected to unnecessary and abusive levels of electroconvulsive therapy while under private care in Great Britain as a means to keep him from influencing the US civil rights movement and worldwide anti-imperialist movements of the 1960s.[10] Despite persecution and limited activity due to ailing health in his later years, Paul Robeson remained, throughout his life, committed to world peace and anti-fascism and was unapologetic about his political views.[11] Present day advocates and historians of Paul Robeson's legacy have worked successfully to restore his name to history books and sports records, while honoring his memory globally with celebrations, festivals and posthumous awards and recognitions. Courtesy of:

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