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In 1949, popular singer, Hollywood actor, All-American athlete, and civil-rights activist Paul Robeson argued that, given Jim Crow laws, African Americans would not fight for the U.S. military in the seemingly imminent war with the more racially-egalitarian USSR. Within anti-Communist America, these comments garnered intense public outrage. That July, amidst an MVP and World Series season, Jackie Robinson, the first African American in 20th-century major league baseball, testified before Congress' Un-American Activities Committee to refute Robeson and deny any connection between Communism and the struggle for black equality. Why did Robinson testify against Robeson when both men strove for racial equality, and what might this reveal about the larger civil rights struggle and the fraught definition of "Un-American" in 1949? By comparing Robeson and Robinson on progressively deeper levels, this thesis explores how their differences of vocation, generation, and political principle determined their clash of opinions. While Robinson’s testimony reveals fear for the public image of the civil rights struggle in a controversial time, it also hints at a hidden solidarity with Robeson’s perspective. Ironically, Robeson – beloved by black and white Americans in 1939 – by demanding his constitutional rights, became the very definition of "Un-American" in 1949. These two men’s intertwining stories provide insight into themes of fear, fame, free speech, intolerance, and the changing complexities of race and class oppression, during the early Cold War.

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Restricted: Embargoed [Open Access After Expiration]

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Bachelor of Arts

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1 pdf file


Available to all on Friday, May 29, 2026