1950 August 4

Paul Robeson’s Passport Suspended; Trip Blocked

 

The State Department took emergency action on this day to suspend the passport of the noted African-American singer and civil rights activist Paul Robeson. Apparently uncertain about where he would leave the U.S., the agency sent an emergency bulletin to all possible exit points. Robeson had emerged as a left-wing critic of American foreign policy during the Cold War, including the Korean War, which had broken out in June 1950.

For his views, Robeson was called before the House-Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) on June 12, 1956. On May 26, 1957, unable to leave the country because he did not have a passport, he gave a concert by telephone to an audience in London. The Cold War effectively ended Robeson’s successful career as a singer. He was blacklisted in the U.S., and the restrictions on his travel denied him performance opportunities in other countries.

Read: Martin Duberman, Paul Robeson (1989)

Watch Robeson sing for workers at the Sydney, Australia, Opera House: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eg7bPgrosAE

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)

Watch Robeson speak on colonialism, African-American rights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puOIdh944vk

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