Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Remembering Paul Robeson: Naomi Shihab Nye

Cross That Line
by Naomi Shihab Nye*

Paul Robeson stood
on the nothern border of the USA
and sang into Canada
where a vast audience sat on folding chairs
waiting to hear him.

He sang into Canada.
His voice left the USA
when his body was not allowed
to cross that line.

Remind us again brave friends!
What countries may we sing into?
What lines should we all be crossing?
What songs travel toward us
from far away
to deepen our days?

On May 18 1952 Paul Robeson performed a concert for 25,000 people gathered on both sides of the US/Canadian border (information about the background to the event can be read here). At the time Robeson was denied the right to travel out of the USA because of his political activities and beliefs, specifically his frequent criticism of the treatment of African-Americans, his work in the anti-imperialist movement and his support for communism.

In 1950 Robeson's passport was confiscated and was denied the right to leave the US to perform abroad. The daily surveillance, villification, persecution and harrassment he suffered from the US authorities and those who opposed his political views made it difficult for him to perform in the US. His income plummeted and his career stalled.

For over 8 years Robeson was unable to leave the USA and was under daily and heavy surveillance by the FBI and CIA.

Previous blog posts on Paul Robeson are here.
*Naomi Shihab Nye is a US poet  and writer of Palestinian and American heritage who lives in Texas. Her poems have featured on this blog before.

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