Interview with Gerald Horne

robeson-softball-game-810x660Gerald Horne is one of the leading and most influential historians in the nation. The author of more than 30 books, Horne is currently the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston. His research explores racism in a variety of contexts, involving labor, politics, civil rights, international relations, and war. In this interview, section editor Keisha N. Blain interviews Horne about his recent book, Paul Robeson: The Artist as Revolutionary. In this short and compelling biography, Horne charts the life of the famed singer and civil rights activist from his early years in Princeton, New Jersey, until his passing in Philadelphia in 1976. The book takes the reader on a transnational journey through Robeson’s eyes, exploring his varied political commitments and his efforts to advance civil and human rights from various locales including London and Moscow. Robeson’s remarkable life deepens our understanding of the global black freedom struggle in the 20th century, and offers valuable insights on contemporary movements for social justice.

Keisha N. Blain (KNB): What motivated you to write a biography of Paul Robeson?

Gerald Horne (GH): I have multiple research agendas with which the Robeson biography was aligned. One agenda is telling a continuing story of how Africans have sought to ally with global forces—in Robeson’s case, with the socialist camp and a rising Africa and India—to erode our oppression. Another is writing a broad history of the Black Radical Left. Yet another is writing about Hollywood and the entertainment industry generally. Writing about Robeson met all these criteria.

However, the Robeson biography is particularly germane, I think, given the present conjuncture. That is, just as France and Germany over the decades often surrendered to the rightward leanings of “allies” in London and Washington—and have now been repaid with “Brexit” and Trump and the possibility of an offshore alliance headed by the United Kingdom and the United States targeting the European Union—centrist and “liberal” forces surrendered in often joining in the crusade against Robeson and the radicalism he represented—and have now been repaid with a right-wing populism dominating Washington, as the routing of radicalism created favorable conditions for the rise of this trend. It is too early to ascertain how this current trend will eventuate, but it is apparent that the intentions of the perpetrators are not benign.

[click here to read more of this interview on Public Books]