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Paul Robeson on Jackie Robinson
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From "Paul Robeson Speaks" Edited by Philip S. Foner p.242-4

An Open Letter to Jackie Robinson

"Here's My Story," Freedom, April 1953

   I notice in a recent issue of "Our World" magazine that some folks think you're too outspoken.' Certainly not many of our folks share that view. They think like you that the Yankees, making many a "buck" oil Harlem, might have had a few of our ball players just like Brooklyn. In fact I know you've seen where a couple of real brave fellows, the Turgerson brothers, think it's about time we continued our breaking into the Southern leagues‑Arkansas and Mississippi included.

I am happy, Jackie, to have been in the fight for real democracy in sports years ago. I was proud to stand with Judge Landis in 1946 and, at his invitation, address the major league owners, demanding that the bars against Negroes in baseball be dropped. I knew from my experi­ences as a pro football player that the fans would not only take us‑but like us. That's now been proven many times over.

Maybe these protests around you, Jackie, explain a lot of things about people trying to shut up those of us who speak out in many other fields.

You read in the paper every day about "doings" in Africa. These things are very important to us. A free Africa‑a continent of 200 millions of folks like us and related to us‑can do a lot to change things here.

In South Africa black folks are challenging Malan, a kind of super Ku Kluxer. These Africans are refusing to obey Jim Crow laws. They want some freedom like we do, and they're willing to suffer and sacrifice for it. Malan and a lot of powerful American investors would like to shut them up and lock them up.

Well, I'm very proud that these African brothers and sisters of ours play my records as they march in their parades. A good part of my time is spent in the work of the Council on African Affairs, supervised by Dr. Alphaeus Hunton, an expert on Africa and son of a great YMCA leader, the late William Hunton. Co‑chairman of the Council is Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois, one of the greatest Americans who ever lived. We raise funds for Africans and bring information to Americans about the conditions in Africa—conditions to be compared with, but worse than, those in Mississippi and Alabama.

We bring the truth about Kenya, for example‑about a man like Kenyatta, leader of the Kikiyu, a proud African people of centuries of culture. I know Kenyatta. He's a highly educated man, with many more degrees than we have, Jackie. He's getting seven years in jail because he wants his people to be free. And there are Americans of African descent who are today on trial, in jail, fugitives, or dead (!) because they fought in their own way for their people to be free. Kenyatta's sentence calls to mind Ben Davis, Henry Winston, James Jackson, Claudia Jones, Pettis Perry and, yes, Harry Moore.

What goes here, Jackie? Well, I'll tell you. The same kind of people who don't want you to point up injustices to your folks, the same people who think you ought to stay in your "place," the same people who want to shut you up‑want to shut up any one of us who speaks out for our full equality, for all of our rights. 

Thats the heart of what I said in Paris in 1949, for example. As a matter of fact the night before I got to Paris 2,000 representatives of colored colonial peoples from all over the world (most of them students in English universities) asked me and Dr. Dadoo, leader of the Indian population in South Africa, to greet the Congress of Peace in Paris in their name.

These future leaders of their countries were from Nigeria, Gold Coast, South Africa, Kenya, Java, Indonesia, India, Jamaica, Trini­dad, Barbadoes, the Philippines, Japan, Burma, and other lands. They were the shapers of the future in the Eastern and colonial world and they asked us to say to this Congress representing about 800 million of the world's 2,000 million that they and their countries wanted peace, no war with anybody. They said they certainly did not want war with the Soviet Union and China because these countries had come out of conditions similar to their own. But the Soviet Union and China were now free of the so‑called "free western" imperialist powers. They were countries which had proved that colonial countries could get free, that colored peoples were as good as any other.

All these students made it clear that they felt that the nations who wanted war wanted it in order to head off struggles of colonial peoples, as in Indo‑China, Malaya, Africa and Korea, for freedom. For example, if you could start a war in Africa the authorities could clamp down completely with war measures. (It's bad enough now!)

The students felt that peace was absolutely needed in order for their peoples to progress. And certainly, they said they saw no need to die for foreign firms which had come in and taken their land, rubber, cocoa, gold, diamonds, copper and other riches.

And I had to agree that it seemed to me that the same held good in these United States. There was and is no need to talk of war against any nation. We Afro‑Americans need peace to continue the struggle for our full rights. And there is no need for any of our American youth to be used as cannon and bomb fodder anywhere in the world.

So I was and am for an immediate cease‑fire in Korea and for peace. And it seemed and still seems unthinkable to me that colored or working folk anywhere would continue to rush to die for these who own most of the stocks and bonds, under the guise of false patriotism.

I was born and raised in America, Jackie—on the East Coast as you were on the West. I'm a product of American institutions, as you. My father was a slave and my folks worked cotton and tobacco, and still do in Eastern North Carolina. I'll always have the right to speak out, yes, shout at the top of my voice for full freedom for my people here, in the West Indies, in Africa‑and for our real allies, actual and potential, millions of poor white workers who will never be free until we are free.

And, Jackie, the success of a few of us is no final answer. It helps, but this alone can't free all of us. Your child, my grandchildren, won't be free until our millions, especially in the South, have full opportunity and full human dignity.

We fight in many ways. From my experience, I think it's got to be a militant fight. One has to square off with the enemy once in a while.

Thanks for the recognition that I am a great ex‑athlete. In the recent record books the All‑American team of 1918 and the nationally‑picked team of 1917 have only ten players‑my name is omitted.

And also thanks for the expression of your opinion that I'm certainly a great singer and actor. A lot of people in the world think so and would like to hear me. But I can't get a passport. And here in my own America millions of Americans would like to hear me. But I can't get auditoriums to sing or act in. And I'm sometimes picketed by the American Legion and other Jim Crow outfits. I have some records on the market but have difficulty getting shops to take them.

People who "beef" at those of us who speak out, Jackie, are afraid of us. Well, let them be afraid. I'm continuing to speak out, and I hope you will, too. And our folks and many others like them all over the world will make it‑and soon!

Believe me, Jackie.

We are in this for the long run! Free the Five