Robeson Arch concerts recreated
In February 1952 the legendary singer Paul Robeson was invited to sing at a Vancouver union convention, but he never made it.
The son of an escaped black slave who had risen to become one of the highest paid artists in the world, Robeson was the first to refuse to play for segregated audiences. His left-leaning political views made him unpopular with the U.S. government who took his passport away from him in 1950 when he refused to sign a statement that he wasnt a communist.
When he reached the U.S./ Canada border Robeson, as well-known for his civil rights and labor views as his voice, was told by the Immigration and Naturalization Service he had become a threat to the United States government and prohibited from crossing. He sang over the phone from Seattle for 15 minutes and his voice was broadcast at the Vancouver convention. Mine and mill workers union western district president Harvey Murphy promised Robeson over the phone that this summer and for every summer until they let you pass, the union would mount a stage on a flatbed truck and drive down to meet him at the Peace Arch so he could sing and speak to people on both sides of the border.
May 18, 1952 over 40,000 people gathered in the park and union organizers parked a truck straddling the border. Robeson climbed onto the stage at 2:30 p.m. I stand here today under great stress because I dare, as do you all of you, to fight for peace and for a decent life for all men, women and children, he said before he began his first song. For 45 minutes he sang spirituals, folk songs and labor songs. When he came to Old Man River, a song written for him, he changed one line, slowly and clearly singing show a little grit and you land in jail. Robeson sang again at the Peace Arch the next August but it was his last concert there. He died in 1976.
On May 18, 2002 a concert organized by social and union activists from both sides of the border will commemorate Robesons visit to the Peace Arch. A flatbed truck stage will cary the same piano used in the 1952 concert and music will mingle with speeches on social justice issues. Performers include the Total Experience Gospel Choir, D.O.A, Ronnie Gilbert of the Weavers and the Seattle Labor Chorus.
For more information go to www.herewestand.org