Paul Robeson's speech to the large crowd gathered to hear him sing at Peace Arch Park on May 18, 1952

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 5/11/2007
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8160

Paul Robeson (1898-1976) was a singer, actor, and political activist.  This essay contains his remarks made during his historic concert at Peace Arch Park in Blaine, Washington, on the United States/Canadian border on May 18, 1952.

Background on Paul Robeson

During the late 1940s-1950s Cold War period Robeson was persecuted by the United States government for his views supporting worldwide African liberation. He was not a member of the Communist Party, but was enthusiastically outspoken about his positive experiences as a person of color while visiting the Soviet Union. He was blacklisted in the film industry and frequently prevented from renting concert venues.  The State Department confiscated his passport, and even his right to cross the border into Canada (which did not at that time require American citizens to carry passports to enter the country) was withheld.

Robeson had been prevented from crossing the Canadian border in January 1952 while en route to address the Fourth Canadian Convention of the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers in Vancouver, British Columbia.  On Sunday May 18, 1952, the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers sponsored a concert at Peace Arch Park in Blaine, Washington, so that their members from Vancouver, British Columbia, could hear Paul Robeson sing.  After his introduction by Harvey Murphy, regional director of the Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers, Robeson addressed the crowd, which was estimated to comprise anywhere from 25,000 to 45,000 people.

The concert sponsor recorded Robeson's remarks and the hour-long concert that followed, later distributing them as a record called I Came Here To Sing.  Portions of this recording are included on the compact disc Paul Robeson: The Political Years and it is from this disc that Robeson's remarks are here transcribed.

Paul Robeson's Remarks

"I want to thank you for being here today.  I want to thank Harvey Murphy and the Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers.  I can't tell you how moved I am at this moment.  It seems nothing can keep me from my beloved friends in Canada. 

"I stand here today under great stress, because I dare, as do you, all of you, to fight for peace and a decent life for all men, women, and children wherever they may be.  And especially today, I stand fighting for the rights of my people in this America, in which I was born. 

"You have known me through many years.  I am the same Paul, fighting a little harder because the times call for harder struggles. This historic occasion today probably means that I shall be able to sing again as I want to, to sing freely without being stopped here and there.  What is being done at this Peace Arch today will ring out, is already ringing out, around the world.  I thank you deeply."


Sources:

Paul Robeson: The Political Years produced by Bob Martin (Dover, Delaware: Magnum America, Inc., 1996).
Note: This essay was revised on May 17, 2012, to correct a typo and to include the full range of estimates for the size of the crowd.


Related Topics:   Government & Politics | Labor | Music & Musicians | People's Histories

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