Paul Robeson: A Watched Man by Jordan  Goodman
(Verso, 2013)

Paul Robeson: A Watched Man

by Jordan Goodman

Robeson was many things to many people - a great performer, a dauntless champion of human rights, a rebel and a traitor. In Robeson: A Watched Man, Jordan Goodman will offer a portrait of Robeson from many different points of view simultaneously: the fans who flocked to his performances in their tens of thousands, the politicians and activists who either rallied to his cause or bitterly opposed him, and the secret service men from countries all over the world - USA, Britain, Canada, Russia, Australia - who watched his every movement and went to extraordinary and disturbing lengths to contain and undermine him.

Told as a series of scenes, each structured around a particular seminal ‘performance’ by Robeson - his ferocious defence of his beliefs to the House Un-American Activities Committee (who had removed his passport, and whom he fearlessly accused of being themselves the true “un-Americans”), to the British-based “Let Robeson Sing” campaign in London and Manchester (unable to travel, he sang down phonelines to audiences thousands-strong across the country), to his tour of the frontline during the Spanish Civil War - Robeson: A Watched Man is also the story of the political tensions of the middle years of the twentieth century and the worldwide struggle for civil rights. These ideological struggles were embodied in Robeson himself and attitudes to him, and through him, Goodman argues, we can have a unique view of their history.