Friday, January 14, 2011

Paul Robeson in Canada: A Border Story

By Laurel Sefton MacDowell
Labour/Le Travail

IN 1952, THE GREAT AMERICAN ACTOR, Paul Robeson, was invited to sing at the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers (Mine Mill) convention in Vancouver. The State Department intervened and refused to allow Robeson to leave the United States even for Canada, where a passport was not needed, and its officials stopped him at the border in Washington state. Union delegates were outraged,
and marched to the American Embassy in Vancouver to protest the incident.

To register their indignation in a satisfying way, the union hooked up a device so that by long distance telephone Robeson was able to sing and speak to the delegates for seventeen minutes the next day from the Marine Cooks and Stewards' Hall in Seattle. He sang the old union song about the Wobbly martyr Joe Hill and told the convention that his government was keeping him confined under "a sort of domestic
house arrest."

The convention approved Mine Mill leader Harvey Murphy's suggestion, that a spring concert at the "Peace Arch" be held to condemn the actions of the State Department. That May, with the FBI and the RCMP present, the union presented the first of four Robeson concerts at the Peace Arch on the Canada/US border in Blaine, Washington.

Read more HERE.

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