Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Black History Month NWA style

A few days ago I needed some stamps and hoofed it to the nearest DC post office. The weather was obnoxious, so it turned out that I was the only one there besides three postal service employees. Befitting the population distribution in DC, all were black - one was a man who looked old enough to remember the bad old days well enough, and the other two appeared to be late-thirtyish women.

The stamp machine didn't work and I didn't want a pocket full of dollar coins for change, so I went to the counter. I was given 3 Paul Robeson stamps. I commented about him being a Communist. The women weren't unpleasant, but they were skeptical. The man sounded offended.

I told them that there was no doubt that Paul Robeson was a very talented man. He was a successful college athlete and a world-renowned singer. But doggone it, he was a Communist, like many others of his time.

The man didn't seem satisfied. Fair enough - Paul Robeson wasn't the only prominent black accused of Communist ties. But then it was also true that the Communists had tried to get their hands on the civil rights movement dating back at least to the Scottsboro boys, and getting a man of Robeson's stature was a coup. Men like A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters kept them out.

I wouldn't say that the environment became hostile, but the man didn't appear pleased as I left. I promised to bring back some information from the Web to substantiate what I was saying.

I was back about an hour later with screen prints from the History Channel describing Robeson including the Communism, some prominent black organization that acknowledged the Communism, and the Young Communist League claiming him. By then the man I was looking for wasn't visible and the place was busier. I saw one of the women who had been there earlier, handed her the paper and said it was for whoever might be interested. She grinned and I assume it made it to the target.

I haven't seen the man since. My guess is that he still isn't convinced.

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