Paul Robeson’s Words on Obama’s April 9th Travels

(Paul Robeson painting by Robert Shetterly) Paul Robeson, like my beautiful grandmother, was born on April 9th. As President Obama travels across the Caribbean sea to Panama today, Paul Robeson’s words that he spoke at a rally on June 19, 1949 for the Congress of African Affairs ring incredibly true, and speak to the successful 2015 efforts of the people of Latin America to get the U.S. government to backtrack on their efforts to deem Venezuela a threat to U.S. national security because of their successful work with the PetroCaribe program that allows Caribbean and Latin American countries low cost oil. The following are Robeson’s words: “Almost every Negro in Princeton lived off the college and accepted the social status that went with it. We lived for all intents and purposes on a Southern plantation. And with no more dignity than that suggests—all the bowing and scraping to the drunken rich, all the vile names, all the Uncle Tomming to earn enough to lead miserable lives [describing it in terms that recalls Michelle Robinson Obama’s Princeton senior thesis that questioned the obligation of Black Princeton graduates to the Black citizens of Princeton”]… There, in my childhood, I saw my father choose allies. To him, it was the Taylor Pines’ of the Wall Street millionaires. They helped the church. They spread around a little manna now and then—that was an age philanthropy. But I recall that my father could never think of attacking these men for the conditions of those times. Always one had to bend and bow. That was forty years ago. Those present-day sycophants of big business, these supposed champion of Negro rights, can’t grow up to the knowledge that the world has gone forward …They can’t image that our people, the Negro people, forty millions in the Caribbean and Latin America, one hundred and fifty millions in Africa, and fourteen million here, today, up and down this America of ours, are also determined to stop being industrial and agricultural serfs…And you stooges try to do the work of your white bourbon masters, work they have not the courage to do. You try to play the role of cowardly labor leaders who are attempting to do the same job in the ranks of labor….Let them get their crumbs from their Wall Street masters. Let them snatch their bit of cheese and go scampering rat-like into their holes, where, by heaven, the Negro people will keep them, left to their dirty consciences, if any they have…As a consequence of my activities for Negro freedom, I had 86 concerts cancelled out of 86…I finished my professional tour at its height and announced that never again would I sing at a five dollar top, that I would sing at prices so that workers could come in comfort and dignity. I did this because I belonged to working people…as English workers came to understand that if cheap labor could be obtained in Africa or the West Indies or in Southeast Asia, their living standards in England would suffer accordingly. This is a lesson white workers in America must increasingly learn. For the tentacles of American imperialism are stretched far and wide into colonial countries: Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Trinidad, Panama…American big businss tells all of Western Europe what to do, what it can produce, where it must buy, with whom it can trade. And finally with the Atlantic Pact, the western Europeans are told that they must be ready to die to the last man in order to defend American Big Business…The Marshall Plan means enslavement of our people all over the earth, including here in the United States on the cotton and sugar plantations and in the mines of the North and South. And the Atlantic Pact means legal sanction for sending guns and troops to the colonies to insure the enslavement and terrorization of our people. They will shoot our people down in Africa just as they lynch us in Mississippi. That’s the other side of the coin. For who owns plantations in the South? Metropolitan Life—yes, the same Metropolitan Life Insurance Company that owns and won’t let you live in the Stuyvesant Town flats in New York. It is such giant financial interests that are getting millions from the Marshall Plan. They enslave us, they enslave Western Europe, they enslave the colonies. Many of our Negro leaders know this. But some of these so called distinguished leaders are doing the dirty work for Stettinius, aiding his scheme for the exploitation of Liberia and its people, or are serving as errand boys for Forrestal’s cartel interests, even though the chief has now departed. And there are a few other of these so-called Negro leaders who are too low and contemptible to give the courtesy of mention. Are these financial big boys America? No! They are the former enemies of Roosevelt. They were the ones who were glad when Roosevelt…At the Paris Peace Conference I said it was unthink able that the Negro people of America or elsewhere in the world could be drawn into war with the Soviet Union. I repeat it with hundred-folk emphasis. THEY WILL NOT. …To fulfill our responsibilities as Americans, we must unite, especially we Negro people. We must know our strength. We are the decisive force. That’s why they terrorize us. That’s why they fear us. And if we unite in all our might, this world can fast be changed. Let us create that unity now. And this important, historic role of the Negro people our white allies must fully comprehend. This means increasing understanding of the Negro, his tremendous struggle, his great contributions, his potential for leadership at all levels in the common task of liberation…let this be a final answer to the warmongers. Let them know that we will not help to enslave our brothers and sisters and eventually ourselves. Rather we will help to insure peace in our time—the freedom and liberation of the Negro and other stuggling peoples, and the building of a world where we can all walk in full equality and full human dignity” (p.201-211). From the book Paul Robeson Speaks edited by Philip Foner (New York, Citadel, 1978)