"As an artist I come to sing, but as a citizen, I will always speak for peace, and no one can silence me in this." Paul Robeson (1898 – 1976)
Paul Robeson is one of my heroes. And I find this photo of the great man profoundly moving.
This photo was taken in 1951, around the time Robeson was blacklisted by the US Government, who had taken away his passport and issued stop notices at all ports to prevent him leaving the US.
The US Government was outraged by his political advocacy for civil rights for African Americans and his frequent advocacy for the independence of colonial peoples around the globe.
The US Government believed that by isolating him inside US borders they could limit his freedom of expression and his political campaigning. Robeson was told by the US State Department that he was denied a passport because "his frequent criticism of the treatment of blacks in the United States should not be aired in foreign countries".
This photo of Robeson was taken when he presented a petition titled “We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People” to a UN official.
The document was written by William Patterson, an African American lawyer and Communist, who was Secretary of the Civil Rights Congress.
The document included hundreds of cases of lynching, which showed a clear pattern of government inaction or actual complicity. It charged that in the 85 years since the end of slavery more than 10,000 Blacks are known to have been lynched (an average of more than 100 per year), and that the full number can never be known because the murders are often unreported.
The American government and white press accused Robeson and Patterson and the Civil Rights Congress of advancing the cause of Communism by exaggerating racial conflict and inequality. The US State Department forced Patterson to surrender his passport after presenting the petition to a UN meeting in Paris.
More detail about the document We Charge Genocide: The Crime of Government Against the Negro People” and Robeson's involvement in its development is here.