Podcast | How anti-communist fervor changed Paul Robeson’s career

The accomplished actor, athlete and singer was an outspoken leftist, which made him a target of Cold War paranoia.

Archival portrait of a man

Paul Robeson in 1942. (Gordon Parks, Office of War Information)

The reasons Paul Robeson was a beloved figure in the middle of the 20th century are many. He was a professional athlete, an accomplished actor and a sought-after singer. Yet for some in American government, his role as an outspoken activist defined him.

Robeson's criticism of his country's race relations and foreign policy made him a pariah to those who viewed him as an ideological enemy of the U.S. in the emerging Cold War. Eventually his passport was seized, which threatened his livelihood and led to a series of concerts at the U.S.-Canada border in Washington. 


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Crosscut's resident historian Knute Berger told the tale of those concerts at the Peace Arch in Blaine in a recent episode of his Mossback's Northwest video series, but there is more to the story.

For this episode of the Mossback podcast, Berger and co-host Sara Bernard talk about Robeson's concerts in greater depth. They discuss why Robeson's politics were considered such a threat, how the travel ban impacted his career and how anti-Soviet fervor affected those who shared Robeson’s beliefs, if not his celebrity.

Before listening, we suggest you watch the Mossback's Northwest episode about Paul Robeson here.

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About the Hosts

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.