Paul Robeson Fights for Freedom
Part three of a three-part column
Paul Robeson did not look upon himself as an activist, his circumstances in life turned him this direction. Suddenly his rich, bass voice was not singing, the athlete body stopped running, and his human emotion stepped forth.
He was one of the first artists to use his influence and exposure to aid causes around the world. He went to Spain during a civil war, Africa to promote self determination, India to aid in the Independence movement, London for labor rights, and the Soviet Union to promote anti-fascism.
In the USSR, he could eat in any restaurant, and walk through front doors in hotels, which were actions he could not do at home. As his activist activities became more public, he met dissent and intimidation in the United States.
He was now a target for anticommunists. His pro-Soviet stance caused the State Department to revoke his passport in 1950, denying him the right to travel and stopping him from making his living and spreading his word of equality.
Robeson went as far as to refuse to swear an affidavit stating he was not Communist.
“Whether or not I am Communist is irrelevant, the question is whether American citizens, regardless of their political beliefs or sympathies, may enjoy their constitutional rights."
In 1958, the U.S. Supreme Court finally agreed the State Department could not deny citizens the right to travel because of their political beliefs. His career now in ruins and his depression taking hold, he performed at a sold out Carnegie Hall and made a short European tour before his health issues became too much in 1960.
While living with his sister, he fell into a deep depression and made two suicide attempts while enduring a series of mental breakdowns. He lived his final 10 years of life in seclusion, and died January 23, 1976 at 77 years old.