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Robeson's international achievements as a singer and actor in starring roles on stage and screen made him the most celebrated black American of his day, but his outspoken criticism of racism in the United States, his strong support of African independence, and his fascination with the Soviet Union placed him under the debilitating scrutiny of McCarthyism. Blacklisted, his famed voice silenced, Here I Stand offered a bold answer to his accusers. It remains today a defiant challenge to the prevailing fear and racism that continues to characterize American society. No one had more to lose in following his political convictions than Paul Robeson. Here I Stand, originally published in 1958, was Robeson's response to the questions about why his mission--to win the freedom of black people everywhere--incited so much hatred and fear in his country.
Following Sterling Stuckey's 1988 introduction and Lloyd L. Brown's 1971 preface, both providing invaluable commentary, Robeson begins with his recollection of a Princeton boyhood. The roots of his world-view that would ultimately be his undoing were set down there. "Throughout his youth, Robeson's father [a pastor in the A.M.E. Zion Church] insisted on 'personal integrity,' which included the idea of 'maximum human fulfillment.'" Indeed, to list Robeson's achievements while attending university is to be in awe of a fabulously endowed man, bent on living out his father's edicts, and achieving his magnificent potential.
As his fascination with the Soviet Union grew, he began to attract the notice of McCarthy's watchdogs. He had begun to draw parallels between the Soviet social "experiment," which brought a whole underclass into the 20th century, and the emerging nations of Africa. In the early '40s, he reached the height of his performing career ("Robeson's Othello was more authentic than that of any other actor of his time"), but soon thereafter, he would set aside his brilliant career and commit fiercely to the struggle for black liberation. In 1949, it would all come crashing down, and for a decade, an ugly, active campaign against Robeson reigned, stemming not from the growing radicalization of his beliefs, but from the turning tide of cold war politics. W.E.B. DuBois, also a victim of the Communist witch-hunts noted, "He is without doubt today, as a person, the best known American on earth, to the largest number of human beings. His voice is known in Europe, Asia and Africa, in the West Indies and South America and in the islands of the seas. Children on the streets of Peking and Moscow, Calcutta and Jakarta greet him and send him their love. Only in his native land is he without honor and rights."
Lloyd L. Brown helped Robeson write Here I Stand, and he crafted the tone, which is at once accessible and impassioned, originally aimed at the black religious community. Highly idealistic, passionately exhorting, deeply committed to the "common people," this Paul Robeson gem remains a vital challenge to the racism that still dogs American society. -- Hollis Giammatteo