Monthly Archives: August 2013

Interview on Blog Talk Radio

Many thanks to Cheval John for interviewing me today on his program on Blog Talk Radio!  It was really fun to have a chance to talk about my books, my classes, and how I got interested in Paul Robeson.

Here is the link to listen to the interview.

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Upcoming Book Review

I’m very excited to be reviewing Barbara Ransby’s recent biography of Eslanda Robeson for the The American Historical Review.  This important book fits well with recent scholarship on progressive women activists like Dayo Gore’s book Radicalism at the Crossroads: African American Women Activists in the Cold War and the edited volume Want to Start a Revolution?: Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle as well as Gerald Horne’s Race Woman: The Lives of Shirley Graham Du Bois and Kate Weigand’s study Red Feminism: American Communism and the Making of Women’s Liberation.

While Paul Robeson’s celebrity illuminated the cinema and theater world, it was Eslanda’s management and support that had helped make sure his star would shine brightly.  A biography of Eslanda Robeson has been needed for a long time and helps to elucidate her public career as a writer, speaker, and political activist.  Just as she did for Ella Baker, Ransby has helped to shed light on the vital endeavors of a remarkable woman in Eslanda.


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Four Freedoms Park

On a recent trip to New York City I visited Four Freedoms Park for the first time.  I had never known about the park until I stumbled into a link while doing research for my trip.  The park is quite an incredible space which was conceived by renowned architect Louis I. Kahn.  It occupies the southern tip of Roosevelt Island and the memorial uses the site to the fullest extent.  As a visitor walks the length of the park, the bed of grass narrows and eventually empties into a granite room that surrounds the visitor on two sides.  Standing in this spot compels one to block out extraneous noise and focus on the river which, when at the tip of the park, becomes the center of attention.  The space is superb for contemplation and meditation.  I love how the vast and furiously paced city of New York is capable of offering a place of such serenity for those who go in search of it.

Visiting the park was especially meaningful to me because I had just finished writing my third book, Path to a Greater, Freer Truer World: Southern Civil Rights and Anticolonialism, 1937-1955, which used Roosevelt’s conception of the Four Freedoms as the framework for the chapter on World War II.  The Four Freedoms – Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear – were introduced by Roosevelt and became the foundation for the US case for joining the war.  By positioning the Allied cause as representative of basic freedoms to which every American could identify, Roosevelt skillfully shaped an anti-fascist philosophy that could be widely adopted in the United States.  Though today many might more readily identify FDR’s Pearl Harbor speech, the Four Freedoms speech from January 1941 had a significant long-term impact.  The freedoms became not only the basis for mobilizing the US war machine but were a guiding force for the United Nations charter that was forged as the war was winding down.  In addition, as I argue in my book, African American activists utilized the idea of the Four Freedoms to fight for full civil rights since many in their community were not able to enjoy these freedoms due to segregation, disfranchisement and racial violence.

Since the legacy of the Four Freedoms is so vital to understanding the war years and their immediate aftermath, it was fitting and gratifying to see this concept used as the basis for a memorial to Roosevelt.  And one need only glance to the Manhattan skyline from Roosevelt Island to see the United Nations complex.  The location of Four Freedoms Park, thus, successfully employs both geography and history to remember one of the most important milestones in the administration of the nation’s longest-serving president.

Here is a link to the park’s website:


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