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. 

Subscribe to Mossback on Apple PodcastsSpotifyAmazon, or Podbean.

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.


About the Hosts

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

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

Stephen Hegg

Stephen Hegg

Stephen is formerly a senior video producer at Crosscut and KCTS 9. He specialized in arts and culture.