In a letter published July 21, Richard Koritz proclaimed Paul Robeson to be the “greatest U.S. citizen of the 20th century.” His praises did not mention the name with whom Robeson is often associated: Joseph Stalin.
The talented singer and actor who dared challenge American racism had an unfortunate blindness toward a regime easily compared with Nazi Germany, given its staggering disregard for human rights and life. Any admiration for Robeson the entertainer and civil rights activist is forever tinged by his political credulity.
As with Ezra Pound and Roman Polanski, there is a question of separating the art from the artist. When do moral failings, political myopia and other hypocrisies become so much that they completely tinge other achievements?
Are the Cantos still good poetry? Is “Chinatown” still a good movie?
Given several million deaths in the Holodomor and the misery of the Gulag, this question of distinguishing art and artist must be asked about Robeson, who toured the Soviet Union with naive praises.
Robeson’s 1958 Carnegie Hall Concert may have been a great performance but, then again, “Chinatown” was a good movie.