Paul Robeson and Understanding Africa Today: Part One
"Twelve South African workers now lie dead, shot in a peaceful demonstration by Malan's fascist police; as silent testimony to the fact that.. . it is later than they (the oppressors) think in the procession of history, and that rich land must one day return to Africans on whose backs the proud skyscrapers of the Johannesburg rich were built�"
-Paul Robeson 1950
Africa. Once known as the dark continent and called the "hopeless continent" by the Economist in 2000, Africa has been the subject of countless celebrity charity campaigns, some very questionable. Most in the western world, especially in the United States think of Africa as "wild", "out of control" and "very poor", a place where money is donated and where savage ethnic cleansing conflicts exist. Countless people have read that South Africa has finally been "liberated from Apartheid" yet we read of continued violence and instability there. Many simply see Africa as "lost" but few really have stopped to figure out why they believe this.
Paul Robeson's active involvement in dispelling the myths about the continent of Africa while tirelessly working for decolonization and human rights for all races living in Africa being exploited by imperialists, is a key aspect to his legacy as a peacemaker and shows us today how vital gaining an understanding about this part of the world is to humanity. Many historians miss the empirical fact that Robeson's persecution by Hoover's FBI and the Right Wing of the US was due largely to his fervent dedication to freeing Africa from the shackles of Colonialists exploitation and not necessarily just for his support of the Soviet Union, which was a common cause celeb of many artists at the time of the Red Scare during the 1950's.
Paul Robeson's founding in 1937, of The Council on African Affairs saw the first major US organization created towards dispelling the myths about the continent of Africa-myths that persist in the mostly right wing dominated media to this very day.
The Council on African Affairs was founded in 1937 by Paul Robeson and the black American leftist Max Yergan as an organization whose main focus was on providing current information about Africa in the United States, particularly to Black Americans. During WWII the CAA existed as a broad based coalition consisting of a wide variety of leftist and community activists. Probably the most successful campaign of the Council was for South African famine relief in 1946. Thousands attended CAA sponsored rallies in Madison Square Garden and donated canned goods to be shipped across the Atlantic.
Unfortunately, like other organizations that had an interracial base of left wing supporters and members, such as the National Negro Congress, the Council on African Affairs would eventually fold due to the repression of cold war politics. The split was inexplicably precipitated by Max Yergan’s desertion of left wing politics and his subsequent advocacy on behalf of colonial rule in Africa. Through the early 1950s, the Council sponsored concert tours by Paul Robeson and continued its monitoring of UN votes on trusteeship for African colonies. However, the CAA never again attained it's pre-McCarthy era broad based appeal. The organization formally disbanded in 1955, which African scholar Hollis Lynch deemed, “another victim of McCarthyite repression.”
The vilification of Robeson for his work to liberate Africa, reached it's zenith in idiocy when Hoover with the help of a docile NAACP, arranged for a ghost written leaflet to printed and distributed in Africa called "Paul Robeson: Lost Shepherd."
The Council on African Affairs was only one part of Paul Robeson's dedication and to the continent of and peoples Africa, it was dedication born out a need to explore who he was and where he came from.
(His legacy in ending the bleeding to death of Africa by Colonialist aggressors and imperialists is unparalleled , please watch this space for this piece as it develops)