1957 May 26

Paul Robeson Denied Passport – Gives London Concert by Phone


Paul Robeson, the famous African-American concert singer, became a prominent left-wing activist in the post-World War II years, criticizing America’s Cold War policies. On this day, after the U.S. government had suspended his passport because of his political views on August 4, 1950, he gave a concert by phone for a London audience. One thousand people crammed into St. Pancras Hall to hear Robeson sing six numbers. The transatlantic phone connection was established only five minutes before the concert was scheduled to begin, but the sound quality proved to be excellent.

Because he was blacklisted in the U.S. and was denied concert opportunities overseas because of the lack of a passport, the Cold War attack on Robeson effectively destroyed his once-successful commercial singing career.

Robeson regained his passport in May 1958, as a consequence of the Supreme Court decision in Kent v Dulles (June 16, 1958), in which the artist Rockwell Kent successfully challenged the denial of his passport. (For Rockwell Kent and his passport problems during the Cold War, see August 7, 1950.)

Hear Paul Robeson Sing “Ol’ Man River” (“Show Boat” movie footage): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eh9WayN7R-s&feature=related

Read: Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson (1989)

Robeson singing “Joe Hill”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8Kxq9uFDes

Learn more about the U.S. passport office in the Cold War and after: Mrs. Shipley’s Ghost: The Right to Travel and Terrorist Watchlists (2013)

Read Paul Robeson’s FBI file: http://vault.fbi.gov/Paul%20Robeson%2C%20Sr.

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