Paul Robeson: Words Like Freedom

“I defy any part of this insolent, dominating America, however powerful; to challenge my Americanism; because by word and deed I challenge this vicious system to the death.”

“The artist must elect to fight for Freedom or for Slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative.”

Paul Robeson: Words Like Freedom is not only the history of Paul Robeson as a freedom fighter but also the history of the fight for freedom in the U.S. It is Paul Robeson’s voice we hear; it is his spirit that gives voice to the Black struggle. In the voice, we hear a resolve to be alive with the struggle of resistance.

Featuring a collection of Robeson’s interviews and speeches, Words Like Freedom includes a little more than eleven minutes of riveting testimony by Robeson to the HUAC, June 12, 1956.

The CD also includes an excerpt from Here I Stand, Robeson’s autobiography, written in 1958, in which his concept of the “oneness of people” resonates with the force and the dignity of a commitment to freedom for all suffering injustice and inequality through the system of capitalism.

In his autobiography, Robeson talked about his belief in the principles of scientific socialism an his conviction that a “scientific socialism” would represent “an advance to a higher stage of life—that it is a form of society which is economically, socially, culturally, and ethnically superior to a system based upon production for private profit.”

Robeson lectured tirelessly across the country and around the world urging people of color and workers to unite and to organize in order to bring about a radical new world in which people are truly free. We hear him urge the audience to unite, in the “Harlem Speech: Communists.” “We must unite. We must know our strength.” Black people, Robeson declared, “must be the decisive voice” in the struggle for freedom. “We must shout at the top of our voices” about the injustices committed in the U.S.

In his interview with Elsa Knight Thompson, he called on Black people to be “militant” and at the fore front for freedom because Black Americans “we have a tradition of tremendous consistent speaking out.”

Since the days of slavery and the abolition movement, Blacks have followed the footsteps of Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth who did not, along with others enslaved, settle for the lesser brand of slavery. In his speech to the Progressive Party, “Lesser Evil,” Robeson reminds the audience that those enslaved ancestors “refused to settle for less.” Certainly now we will not settle for less in our struggle for freedom. Masses of Americans, Robeson declared, will be inspired by the Blacks and the workers fight and will join the fight, “working on the level of complete equality.”

This was a man who “never separated his work as an artist from my work as a human being.” “To me, my art is always a weapon.” And indeed, from his beginnings in Princeton, New Jersey in 1898, Words Like Freedom offers Robeson’s own voice exuberant and strong even in the telling of his personal tragedies and harassment by the U.S. government.

Words Like Freedom should find its way in the high schools and college classrooms. We hear the voice of a warrior, a radical voice who did not talk of triangulation! Robeson had convictions and was committed to fighting for the human rights of Black Americans and workers—but all Americans and all of humankind. We hear the voice of a warrior for freedom and we should not fear this voice.

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