Here We Stand, Paul Robeson Memorial Concert
The issues dear to Paul Robeson -- social justice, freedom, and civil rights- are as pertinent now as they were then. "Here We Stand", a free concert at the Peace Arch Park in White Rock on May 18 will feature musicians, artists and social activists committed to the same ideals.
From People's Voice, December 1-31, 2001
The 1952 ConcertThe venue was an odd one for one of the great artists of the 20th century, and the sponsor, the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers equally curious, or maybe not. "Mine Mill", as it was known, had been founded in a jail cell in Idaho in 1893. It was a union that represented some of the most militant North American workers, the hard rock miners, whose battles with the mine owners were legendary.
Paul Robeson, whose own uncompromising militancy in the face of oppression and injustice was equally well known, had been invited to sing at the Fourth Canadian Convention of the union in Vancouver in February of 1952. The American authorities, however, had seized Robeson's passport, and he was denied permission to leave his country. The convention heard Robeson sing over the telephone and promised to organize a concert on the US-Canadian border, and indeed they did.
Accompanied by Lawrence Brown on piano, Robeson sang and spoke for 45 minutes. He introduced his first song stating "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 proceeded to sing spirituals, folk songs, labour songs, and a passionate version of Old Man River, written for him in the 20's, slowly enunciating "show a little grit and you land in jail", underlining the fact that his government had turned the entire country into a prison for Robeson and many others.
It was a magnificent performance and a triumph for a movement facing the scourge of McCarthyism and the Red Scare. The Korean War was at its height, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were under sentence of death, and it seemed the social and political gains of the previous generation were being eroded by a right-wing offensive. The Peace Arch Concert was a rare victory, a massive solidarity, and a demonstration that the dream of a different world was still alive. The concert was recorded and issued as a record by the union. It now is available as a CD.
The 2002 Anniversary CelebrationTo commemorate that event, and to show that what Robeson fought for is still worth fighting for, a committee has been formed in Vancouver to organize a concert exactly 50 years after the Robeson concert. The members of the committee are cultural and social activists and trade unionists; the same kind of folks who put together the 1952 concert. The piano Robeson played, lovingly kept all these years, will once again adorn a flat bed truck for a stage. Artists who live, work and sing for the things that Robeson represented, "peace and a decent life for all men, women, and children", will sing from that truck.
Groups supporting a wide array of struggles will be invited to participate in an information fair, giving the event a practical turn. The committee will do everything in its power to draw the largest crowd possible and to show that the dream that inspired Robeson still lives in the hearts and minds of many thousands. Some of the issues we face would be familiar to Robeson solidarity in the face of war, racism, and oppression; others have new names such as globalization, or neo-liberalism, but the struggle is the same.
We are asking individuals and organizations that share the beliefs that Paul Robeson represented, who cherish the memory of an uncompromising artist, and who believe in bringing together thousands of people to publicly celebrate those beliefs and that artist, to give as generously as they can. Stand with us!