American Football

Half a century before Colin Kaepernick, Jackie Robinson refused to defend the anthem

Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson addresses the House Anti-American Activities Committee in 1949. (AP Photo / William J. Smith)

Seventy years ago today – July 18, 1949 – members of the right-wing, segregationist Congress orchestrated a confrontation between the two most-known and most admired African-Americans in the country: Jackie Robinson and Paul Robeson. The media salivated the opportunity to represent the shock of these larger-than-life titans as a substitute for the cold war between capitalism and communism.

A few weeks earlier, Robinson – who had joined Major League Baseball when he signed with the Dodgers in 1947 – had received a telegram from Congressman John Wood (Georgia), former segregationist and former member of the Ku Klux Klan, chairing the – Committee US activities (HUAC). He invited Robinson to speak at a hearing on "The Communist Infiltration of Minority Groups".

Specifically, he wanted Robinson to attack Robeson because he was an unfaithful American and communist agitator who did not speak for blacks.

The pretense of the hearing was a statement that Robeson had made in April at a left-wing conference in Paris. The media ignored Robeson's main argument that most Americans, including blacks, did not want to go to war with the Soviet Union. Instead, most media outlets used the Associated Press report, quoting Robeson: "If a war broke out between the United States and Russia," it is unthinkable that the American Negroes go to war with name of those who oppress us for generations against countries which, in a generation, raised our people to the full dignity of humanity. "

At the time, Robeson was at the height of his glory. Born in 1898 of a former fugitive slave, he played in four different sports at Rutgers, was named twice in the American football team, won the Rutgers Public Speaking Award four years in a row , was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and was promoted. from his class of 1919. He played professional football to pay tuition at Columbia University Law School, but stopped practicing law to pursue a career in the theater. A great actor of cinema and theater, he could also sing operas, show tunes, negro spirituals and international songs in 25 languages. His concerts attracted a huge audience. His recordings sold well. During the Second World War, he entertained troops on the front and sang battle songs on the radio.

Robeson was also a provocative activist. He gave free concerts for left-wing unions and progressive causes. He refused to play in roles that humiliated African Americans. In 1945, he led an organization that challenged President Harry Truman to support an anti-lynching law. That year, the NAACP awarded Robeson the Spingarn Medal, his highest honor. He was a staunch critic of European and American imperialism and a staunch defender of nations, in Africa and elsewhere, seeking to free himself from the yoke of colonialism. He embraced the Soviet Union, which he said had done more than his country of origin to fight racism and anti-Semitism.

Activism Against Racism (t) Civil Rights Movement (t) Cold War

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