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A mockery of Black Heritage.

On January 20, the Postal Service issued the latest stamp in its Black Heritage series. The new stamp honors identified Communist Party member Paul Robeson. Americans of African ancestry, like all Americans, should be outraged by this insulting elevation of an admitted enemy of the American system to hero status.

Robeson was known to the American public principally as an actor, singer and recording artist. But unlike Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, Scott Joplin and other black performers who have been honored by being depicted on postage stamps, Robeson's greatest performance was to hide his Communist affiliations from an unknowing public.

Robeson had an exceptional education for an entertainer in a period when most of his contemporary performers, black or white, were graduates of the "school of hard knocks." He received his B.A. from Rutgers College in 1919 and an LL.B from Columbia University in 1922.

This entertainer with a law degree made his first visit to the Soviet Union in 1934, at the height of Stalin's tyranny. So enthralled was he with the Soviet system that he enrolled his nine-year-old son, Paul Jr., in a Moscow school for four years. In 1936, Robeson wrote in the Communist monthly Soviet Russia Today: "Now, the Soviet Union is the only country I have ever been in where I have felt completely at ease. I have lived in England and America, and I have almost circled the globe, but for myself, wife, son, the Soviet Union is our future home. For a while, however, I would not feel right going there to live. By singing its praises wherever I go I think that I can be of the most value to it."

In 1949, former Communist Manning Johnson (who had been in the party from 1930 to 1940, but then became an ardent anti-Communist) was called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which was conducting a series of hearings entitled "Communist Infiltration of Minority Groups." When asked if he had met Robeson within party circles, Johnson replied: "I have met Paul Robeson a number of times in the headquarters of the national committee of the Communist Party.... During the time I was a member of the Communist Party, Paul Robeson was a member of the Communist Party...."

Johnson continued: "Paul's assignment was to work among the intellectuals, the professionals, and artists that the party was seeking to penetrate and influence along Communist lines. As long as Paul Robeson's identity with the party was kept secret, so long would his work among these groups be effective and serve the best interests of the party. It was for this reason we were told never to reveal the fact that he was a member of the Communist Party."

In 1956, Robeson himself was called to appear before the HCUA and asked about his Communist Party membership. He pleaded the Fifth Amendment. That same year, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee included his name among the 82 most active sponsors of Communist front organizations.

Has the U.S. Postal Service been hoodwinked into issuing a stamp honoring a man who made a career out of advancing the cause of America's enemies? Is the knowledge of his love affair with Stalin's Soviet Union, and his membership in an organization that conspired to destroy the land of his birth, so obscure as to be overlooked? We doubt it.

The November 2003 issue of Dynamic--the magazine of the Young Communist League--featured a revealing article (posted on its website, for all the world to read) about the Robeson stamp: "During the anti-Communist witch-hunts spearheaded by Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Paul Robeson became a target for repression. He went from being arguably the most famous person in the world, to being erased from the history books. Now, after a six-year grass-roots campaign, the United States Post Office is issuing a commemorative stamp in his honor. The stamp is the twenty seventh to be issued in the Black Heritage series, which has also included Harriet Tubman, W.E.B. DuBois, Thurgood Marshall, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The stamp will be issued in 2004, in time for Black History Month. Robeson is perhaps the first U.S. communist to be so honored." (Emphasis added.)

Perhaps the Young Communists are too young to remember that, after decades of serving the Communist cause, W.E.B. DuBois decided to formally join the U.S. Communist Party. In an October 1, 1961 letter of application to Communist Party leader Gus Hall, DuBois praised Communism, saying: "in the end Communism will triumph. I want to help to bring about that day."

The Dynamic article celebrating the new Robeson stamp over-flowed with typical Communist class-struggle rhetoric: "The ruling class of this country will never be able to atone for the grave injustices it committed against this national and international hero. However, the US Postal Service has finally taken a step in the right direction. We should use the newly issued stamp as a tool to continue to educate people on Robeson's life, and on a part of U.S. history that the ruling class wishes to erase."

If a society may be measured by the heroes it chooses, then the decision by the Postal Service to honor Paul Robeson is a sad commentary indeed.
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Title Annotation:The Last Word
Author:Mass, Warren
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 23, 2004
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Next Article:Carver: ignored hero.

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