Passport Withdrawal

“To deny a great artist like Robeson his right to give his art to the world is to destroy the very foundation upon which our culture and civilisation is built.”

Charlie Chaplin

Paul Robeson's Cancelled Passport

Paul Robeson during his exile

In July 1950, the State Department cancelled Robeson’s passport. He was now imprisoned within the United States. He was followed, his phone tapped, his mail opened, and informants reported his comings and goings. In the eyes of the US establishment he was an enemy and had become a nonperson in the public record. But, despite these pressures and his increasingly-failing health, in June 1955 Robeson gave one of his finest performances in answer to the accusations of the House Committee on Un-American Activities:

“I am not being tried for whether I am a Communist, I am being tried for fighting for the rights of my people, who are still second-class citizens in this U.S. of America ... You want to shut up every Negro who has the courage to stand up and fight for the rights of his people ...... my father was a slave and my people died to build this country. And I am going to stay here and have a part of it just like you. And no fascist-minded people will drive me from it. Is that clear?”

Paul Robeson starring in Emperor Jones, 1933

The withdrawal of Robeson’s passport brought world protest. American diplomats abroad were asked,

“If you’re so democratic, why don’t you let Paul Robeson travel?”

His friends in Britain campaigned harder than any for the return of his civil rights to talk and sing throughout the world. The Let Robeson Sing Campaign was established in 1954. In October 1950, he was awarded the International Peace Prize at the World Peace Conference in Warsaw, along with Pablo Picasso, and he won the International Stalin Peace Prize in 1952. In 1953 came the first of yearly invitations from Wales to sing at the Miners’ Eisteddfod - and from England to perform Othello. Although his ostracism at home was in marked contrast to his continued lionisation abroad, Robeson’s censorship was not confined to the US. Lord Beaverbrook had him placed on his so called ‘white list’ of people whose names were never to be mentioned in the Express newspapers. Robeson’s continued ‘imprisonment’, however, failed to extinguish his political activity.

In 1951, he led a delegation to the United Nations to present a Civil Rights Congress petition.

‘We Charge Genocide’ asserted that “15 million black Americans are mostly subjected to conditions making for premature death, poverty and disease.”

“I refuse to let my personal success explain away the injustices to 14 million of my people”

Paul Robeson, 1947