Tuesday, August 1, 2017

"And Forget It!" Paul Robeson Before HUAC

Robeson takes on HUAC.
Paul Robeson had been to Moscow. He'd cavorted with prominent leftists in London. He sang to entertain the troops of the Spanish “Red” Republic and to raise money. That's just to name a few of the transgressions that landed him before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee(HUAC) in the mid-1950s.

There is an archived recording of Robeson locking horns with HUAC chairman Rep. Francis Walter (D).

Walter is the Walter of the McCarran-Walter Act, a nefarious piece of legislation still on the books used to root out and deport “subversives” in America. 

Here's the link.

The exchange has been transcribed below, although the real magic is in Robeson's stentorian voice, dripping with contempt for Walter. 

Committee: Now, Mr. Robeson-
Robeson: [interrupting] Do I have the privilege of asking who is addressing me?
Committee: I'm Richard Arons.
Robeson: What is your position?
Committee: I'm director of the staff. Did you file a passport application in July 2, 1954?
Robeson: I've filed about 25 in the last few months.
Committee: In July of 1954, were you requested to submit a non Communist affidavit?
Robeson: Under no conditions would I think of signing such an affidavit. It is a contradiction of the rights of American citizens.
Committee: Are you now a member of the Communist Party?
Robeson: Oh, please, please, please.
Committee: [interrupting] Please answer will you Mr. Robeson?
Robeson: What is 'the Communist Party'? What do you mean by that?
Committee: Are you now a member of the Communist Party?
Robeson: [interrupting] Would you like to come to the ballot box when I vote and take out the ballot and see?
Rep. Frances Walter (D-Penn.)
Committee: Mr. Chairman, I respectfully suggest the witness be directed to answer the question.
Chairman: You are directed to answer the question.
Robeson: I invoke the Fifth Amendment and forget it!
Committee: I respectfully suggest the witness be directed to answer the question, whether if he gave us a truthful answer he would be supplying information, which might be used against him in a criminal proceeding?
Chairman: You are directed to answer Mr. Rob-.
Robeson: [interrupting] Gentlemen, in the first place, wherever I've been in the world, the first to die in the struggle against fascism were the communists. I laid many wreathes upon the graves of communists. That is not criminal. Chief Justice Warren has been very clear that the Fifth Amendment does not have anything to do with the inference of criminality, and I invoke the Fifth Amendment.
Committee: Have you ever been known under the name of John Thomas?
Robeson: Oh please, does somebody here want me to put up a perjury someplace, John Thomas? My name is Paul Robeson and anything I have to say I have said in public all over the world and that is why I am here today.
Committee: Mr. Chairman, I ask that you direct the witness to answer the question. He's making a speech.
Chairman: I ask you to affirm or deny the fact that your Communist Party name was John Thomas.
Robeson: I invoke the Fifth Amendment. This is really ridiculous.
Committee: The witness talks very loud when he makes a speech, but when he invokes the Fifth Amendment I can't hear him.
Robeson: I have medals for diction. I can talk plenty loud.
Committee: Will you talk a little louder?
Robeson: I invoke the Fifth Amendment. Loudly! 
Committee: Sir, who are Mr. and Mrs. Vladimir-
Robeson: [interrupting] I invoke the Fifth Amendment.
Committee: Do you know a Manning Johnson?
Robeson: I invoke the Fifth Amendment.
Committee: Do you know a Gregory Kiefitz?
Robeson: I invoke the Fifth Amendment.
Committee: Do you know a Max Yergan?
Robeson: I invoke the Fifth Amend-
Committee: Max Yergan!
Robeson: Why don't you call these people here to be cross-examined. Could I ask whether this is legal?
Committee: This is not only legal, but usual. By unanimous vote this committee has been instructed to perform this very distasteful task.
Robeson: [interrupting] To whom am I talking?
Committee: You're speaking to the chairman of the committee.
Robeson: Mr. Walter?
Committee: Yes.
Robeson: The Pennsylvania Walter?
Committee: That is right.
Robeson: Representative of the steel workers?
Committee: That is right.
Robeson: And the coal mining workers?
Committee: That is right.
Robeson: Not United States Steel by any chance? A white patriot.
Committee: That is right.
Robeson: You are author of the bills that are going to keep all kinds of decent people out of the country?
Committee: No, only your kind.
Robeson: Colored people like myself. And you would let in the Teutonic Anglo-Saxon stock?
Committee: We are trying to make it easier to get rid of your kind, too.
Robeson: You don't want any colored people to come in. Could I be allowed to read from my statement?
Committee: Will you just tell this committee please, while under oath, Mr. Robeson, the communists who participated in the preparation of that statement.

Robeson: Ohhhh....please. The reason I am here today, from the mouth of the State Department itself, is I should not be allowed to travel because I have struggled for the independence of the colonial peoples of Africa. The other reason I'm here today, again, from the State Department and from the record of the Court of Appeals, is that when I am abroad I speak out against injustices against the Negro people in this land. That is why I'm here. I'm not being tried for whether I'm a communist. I'm being tried for fighting for the rights of my people who are still second-class citizens in this country, in this United States of America. My mother was born in your state. And my mother was a Quaker. My ancestors in the time of Washington, baked bread for George Washington's troops when they crossed the Delaware. My father was a slave and I stand here struggling for the rights of my people to be full citizens in this country and they are not. They are not in Mississippi. They are not in Montgomery, Alabama. They are not in Washington they are nowhere and that is why I am here today. You want to shut up every Negro who has the courage to stand up for the rights of his people, to stand up for workers. And I have been on many a picket line for the Steelworkers too. And that, is why I'm here today.
Committee: Would you tell us whether or not you know Thomas W. Young?
Robeson: I invoke the Fifth Amendment.

No comments:

Post a Comment