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Jackie Robinson

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Robinson, along with other prominent blacks, were asked to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee as part of an inquiry against performer Paul Robeson. Robeson, an accomplished singer, had left the United States for Europe after finding himself unable to live with segregation and discrimination. During the worst of the Cold War, he was alleged to have said that because of these conditions, the black population in the United States would not fight against Russia should it come to war.

The speech I gave in front of the committee was well-received. However, many of the newspaper articles praising it, also gave the impression that I had put down [Paul] Robeson hard. That wasn't true. The major points I made were these:

I said that the question of Communist activity in the United States wasn't a matter of partisan politics. I mentioned that some of the policies of the committee itself had become political issues.

I told the committee that I didn't pretend to be an expert on Communism or any other kind of political "ism," but I was an expert on being a colored American, having had thirty years of experience at it, and I knew how difficult it was to be in the minority. I felt that we had made some progress in baseball and that we could make progress in other American fields provided we got rid of some of the misunderstandings the public still suffered from. There had been a lot of misunderstanding on the subject of Communism among Negroes in this country that was bound to hurt my people's cause unless it was cleared up. Every Negro worth his salt hated racial discrimination, and if it happened that it was a Communist who denounced discrimination, that didn't change the truth of his charges. It might be true that Communists kicked up a big fuss over racial discrimination because it suited their purposes. However, that was no reason to pretend that the whole issue was a creation of the Communist imagination. This talk about "Communists stirring up Negroes to protest" only made present misunderstandings worse.

I then said I had been asked to express my views on Paul Robeson's statement to the effect that American Negroes would refuse to fight in any war against Russia because we loved Russia so much. I commented that if Mr. Robeson actually made that statement, it sounded very silly to me but that he had a right to his personal views. People shouldn't get scared and think that one Negro among 15,000,000 of us, speaking to a Communist group in Paris, could speak for the rest of his race.

I wound up my statement by saying:

"I can't speak for fifteen million people any more than any other person can, but I know that I've got too much invested for my wife and child and myself in the future of this country, and I and other Americans of many races and faiths have too much invested in our country's welfare, for any of us to throw it away because of a siren song sung in bass.

I am a religious man. Therefore I cherish America where I am free to worship as I please, a privilege which some countries do not give. And I suspect that nine hundred and ninety-nine out of almost any thousand colored Americans you meet will tell you the same thing.

But that doesn't mean that we're going to stop fighting race discrimination in this country until we've got it licked. It means that we're going to fight it all the harder because our stake in the future is so big. We can win our fight without the Communists and we don't want their help."

That statement was made over twenty years ago, and I have never regretted it. But I have grown wiser and closer to painful truths about America's destructiveness. And I do have an increased respect for Paul Robeson who, over the span of that twenty years, sacrificed himself, his career, and the wealth and comfort he once enjoyed because, I believe, he was sincerely trying to help his people.

Jackie Robinson also continued to help "his people." Over the course of his baseball career and beyond, Robinson was an outspoken civil rights advocate, and champion of racial tolerance.

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Excerpted from I Never Had It Made by Jackie Robinson. Copyright 1995 by Rachel Robinson. Published by arrangement with Ecco Press, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.
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