PAUL ROBESON, Son of a Slave
Graduate of Columbia Law School, Class of 1923
From Here I Stand,
by Paul Robeson, 1958:
“I am a Negro.
The house I live in is in Harlem --
this city within a city,
Negro metropolis of America...
The streets outside are alive
with the presence of my people...
The rhythms of their footsteps,
their greetings to one another.
“I, who have heard only a few miles away,
the baying of the lynch mob,
the cries for my life from hate-twisted mouths,
feel here the embrace of love.
“Here I met and married Essie;
here lifelong friendships began;
here I started my career as an artist.
Just a few blocks away,
at the YWCA,
I first walked on the stage in a play;
and here I sang,
in the clubs and cabarets;
here were the thrills of the big basketball games,
the dances, the social life...
“Yes, here is my homeground --
here and in all the Negro communities
throughout the land.
Here I stand.”
|Ol’ Man River,|
by Oscar Hammerstein,
as sung by Paul Robeson, 1928:
Dere's an ol' man called de Mississippi
Dat's de ol' man dat I'd like to be!
What does he care if de world's got troubles?
What does he care if de land ain't free?
You an' me, we sweat an' strain,
Body all achin' an racked wid pain,
Tote dat barge!
Lif' dat bale!
You gits a little drunk,
An' you lands in jail.
Ah gits weary
An’ sick of tryin’
Ah’m tired of livin’
An’ skeered of dyin’,
But Ol’ Man River
He jes’ keeps rollin’ along.
Paris Peace Conference, 1949:
“It is unthinkable... that American Negroes would go to war on behalf of those who have oppressed us for generations... against a country [the Soviet Union] which in one generation has raised our people to full human dignity of mankind.”
Muhammad Ali, 1966:
“I ain’t got no quarrel with the Viet Cong. No Vietnamese ever called me nigger... No, I am not going 10,000 miles to help murder, kill and burn other people to simply help continue the domination of white slavemasters over dark people the world over.”
House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), 1956:
CONGRESSMAN SCHERER: Why do you not stay in Russia?
ROBESON: Because 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?...
ROBESON: You are the un-Americans and you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
CHAIRMAN: Just a minute, the hearing is now adjourned.
ROBESON: I should think it would be.
CHAIRMAN: I have endured all of this that I can.
ROBESON: Can I read my statement?
CHAIRMAN: No, you cannot read it. The meeting is adjourned.
ROBESON: I think it should be and you should adjourn this forever.
|Ol’ Man River,|
as sung by Paul Robeson, in later years:
There's an old man called the Mississippi,
That's the old man I don’t like to be.
What does he care if the world's got troubles?
What does he care if the land ain't free?
You and me, we sweat and strain,
Body all achin’ and racked with pain,
Tote that barge!
And lift that bale!
You show a little grit
and you lands in jail.
But I keeps laughin’
Instead of cryin’
I must keep fightin’
Until I’m dyin’
And Old Man River
He’ll just keep rollin’ along.
Oscar Hammerstein, Columbia graduate, who wrote Ol’ Man River:
“As the author of these words, I have no intention of changing them or permitting anyone else to change them. I further suggest that Paul write his own songs and leave mine alone.”
Paul Robeson to Harry Belafonte:
“Get them to sing your song,
and they will want to know who you are.”
“My song is my weapon.”