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No Way But This: in search of Paul Robeson…
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No Way But This: in search of Paul Robeson

by Jeff Sparrow

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Jeff Sparrow’s biography of Paul Robeson is great reading, even if you have never heard of Paul Robeson. The blurb actually says that Robeson is one of the 20th century’s most accomplished but forgotten figures – but surely not? Could this voice really be forgotten?

But Paul Robeson, superstar of the early 20th century that he was, was not just an extraordinary bass singer. His father the Reverend William Drew Robeson had been a slave and he was ambitious for his son. He saw to it that Paul transcended the institutional racism all around him under the Jim Crow laws that enforced segregation in America until 1965. Paul became the third ever African-American student at Rutgers University, and he graduated with both academic and sporting distinction. He then went on to enrol at Columbia university, supporting himself with football coaching and – with the encouragement of the girl he married, ‘Essie’ Goode – also with an emerging career as a performer.

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2017/03/07/no-way-but-this-in-search-of-paul-robeson-by-jeff-sparrow/
  anzlitlovers | Mar 7, 2017 |
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'This morning the Committee resumes its series of hearings on the vital issue of the use of American passports as travel documents in furtherance of the objectives of the Communist conspiracy.'
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Paul Robeson was an actor and performer, a champion athlete, a committed communist, a brilliant speaker, and a passionate activist for social justice in America, Europe, and Australia. Hailed as the most famous African American of his time, he sang with a voice that left audiences weeping, and, for a period, had the entire world at his feet. But then he lost everything for the sake of his principles. Robeson's life took him from North Carolina plantations to Hollywood; from the glittering stages of London to the coal-mining towns of Wales; from the violent frontiers of the Spanish Civil War to bleak prison cells in the Soviet Union; from Harlem's jazz-infused neighbourhoods to the courtroom of the McCarthy hearings. Yet privately Robeson was a troubled figure, burdened by his role as a symbol for the African American people and an international advocate for the working class. His tragedy was to battle ambition and uncertainty, ultimately clinging to his beliefs even as the world changed around him. As optimistic ideals of communism turned to repression under the Cold War, his public decline mirrored that of the world around him. Today Robeson is largely unknown, a figure lost to footnotes and grainy archival footage. But his life, which followed the currents of the twentieth century, reveals how the traumas of the past still shape the present.… (more)

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