The following, one of Robeson’s most famous songs, was written to demonstrate the complicity of the Mississippi River in relation to the suffering of his people in the South. One can stretch his imagination today to associate the song with the Jordan River…. and the present suffering of the Palestinian people. Paul would have liked that 🙂

Today is the 111th anniversary of the birth of Paul Robeson. I posted most of this article last year and the year before, but a man of such great stature must be read about and remembered, hence the repeat…

A gift, not only to humanity, but to the country he was born in; but the latter rejected this gift, hounded him till his death. Why? Because he dared to stand up against injustice, against war and against the racism that his people were subjected to.

Growing up in the United States in the 50’s gave me the opportunity to see these injustices first hand, to question them and to fight against them. It was the Paul Robesons that gave inspiration to those struggles.

The High School I attended had an auditorium; it was called the Lincoln Awards Auditorium. Each year an award is given to an outstanding citizen and that persons photo is hung at the back of the auditorium. There was an empty space, a space where a photo once hung. I asked about it and was told that a photo of Paul Robeson was removed. Why? Because he was a communist! A definite no-no in those days. From outstanding citizen he went to non-person. Perhaps it was because he was a communist that he was an outstanding citizen? No one would dare answer that question.

Here was a man that not only was a gift to us us, but he gave us gifts through his music, his acting and last but not least his love for humanity. He was a special man, one that deserves to be remembered not only as an outstanding citizen, but also as an outstanding human being.

I found this Biography of Paul Robeson. It is a must read.
This one is also very informative and worth reading.

I am also including a poem that I wrote in honour of him about twenty five years ago….


A giant among men;
not only in stature
but in outlook as well.
You envisioned a world
at peace and men of
different colors working
together without hatred.

Your gifted voice enriched
all who heard it as
your message bellowed out
in song and ballad.
An outcry for justice
in every land where
there was none.

In your own land
you were treated as
an enemy agent.
Stripped of your passport
and prevented from performing
you never lost your dignity
or your visions of tomorrow.

A proud son of your people
but loved in every nation
of the world.
Your songs and message
were heard by millions despite
the plots to keep you silent
and isolated from the masses.

The aura of love and warmth
which surrounded you created
an image of sacredness.
Your smile made us smile
and we could sense the
meaning of your message
that all men are brothers.

You are gone now but the
message remains with us.
We still hear your songs
and hold to the future
world at peace and harmony.
Your spirit remains a part
of all who hold your vision.

The United States Government, years after his death, issued the following postage stamp in his honour. After a lifetime of hounding him, some justice was done, far from enough, but some.


  1. April 9, 2009 at 10:42

    […] Original post by desertpeace […]

  2. aufzuleiden said,

    April 9, 2009 at 17:13

    It is always worth remembering and celebrating the life and work of the legendary and indomitable Paul Robeson, particularly on the occasion of his 111th birthday … however, one must not attribute to someone that which they did not create.

    Robeson made some changes and additions to his solo version of ‘Ol’ Man River’ (not the one on the clip you have posted) which were poignant commentaries of the civil rights situation of the time, but the song itself was composed as a part of the 1925 musical ‘Showboat’ (music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II). While this is the most remembered song from the show, it is still a part of a larger work (which does relate the story of the hardships endured by black ‘workers’ on the Mississippi River – Joe, the character that sings the infamous ‘Ol Man River’ is a dock worker in the show and sings the song once in its entirety and then three more times in shorter versions.

    From Wikepedia:
    Robeson’s own 1938 changes in the lyrics of the song are as follows:

    * Instead of “Dere’s an ol’ man called de Mississippi, / Dat’s de ol’ man that I’d like to be…”, Robeson sang “There’s an ol’ man called the Mississippi, / That’s the ol’ man I don’t like to be”…”

    * Instead of “Tote that barge! / Lift that bale! / Git a little drunk, / An’ you land in jail…”, Robeson sang “Tote that barge and lift dat bale!/ You show a little grit and / You lands in jail…”

    * Instead of “Ah gits weary / An’ sick of tryin’; / Ah’m tired of livin’ / An skeered of dyin’, / But Ol’ Man River, / He jes’ keeps rolling along!” , Robeson sang “But I keeps laffin’/ Instead of cryin’ / I must keep fightin’; / Until I’m dyin’, / And Ol’ Man River, / He’ll just keep rollin’ along!”

    End Wik quote

    At the most, the credit that Robeson would be given – as a singer – would be one of two things, either ‘adaptation by’ or, ‘text altered by’ – either of which communicates that there has been a change, though not to the music.

    Happy birthday Paul … I’m sure the singing is great where you are now.


  3. ione said,

    April 9, 2009 at 17:44

    Thanks for this. I’ve seen Showboat a dozen times just to hear Robeson sing. I think I own all of the movies he was in – all his music. I didn’t even discover him until I was in my 40’s. It made me angry that this man, who had the most spectacular voice, was blacklisted. It made me angry that I was denied the opportunity to even hear him speak or sing. Instead, I had to grow up listening to the likes of Eddie Fisher and The Hit Parade, etc.
    Robeson was a great man in many ways. And your poem is wonderful!

  4. Brigette said,

    April 10, 2009 at 03:59

    Peace and blessings to you in this important work. Thank you for honoring Paul Robeson on the 111th anniversary of his birth! He is an All-American hero for our times. Your poem is such a fitting tribute. Thanks, too, for the work on Israeli-Palestinian peace. I now believe that it can happen in our lifetime. The ways of the divine – through the arc of the moral universe – will surely bring justice and peace.

  5. JD Jackson said,

    April 10, 2009 at 04:14

    April 9, 2009–Th.

    A man of incomparable, multiple talents, Paul Robeson was and is the real Superman!

  6. André Brochu said,

    April 15, 2009 at 21:16

    Thank you for your tribute to Paul Robeson.

    Maybe the following quote from his speech at a London rally for Spanish Republicans in 1937 can inspire others:

    “The artist must elect to fight for freedom or for slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative.”

%d bloggers like this: