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Nelson Peery, veteran revolutionary organizer, founding member of the League of Revolutionaries for a New America (formerly the Communist Labor Party), and award-winning author, spoke on “Paul Robeson and the Cold War” (see conference schedule). The moderator was Ilan Peleg, Dana Professor of Government and Law at Lafayette.

Nelson Peery was on the front lines of the black war veterans’ civil rights movement after World War II.

“Having fought for others’ freedom, [blacks] knew what freedom was. We were not going back,” he said.

Citing lynchings, murder, and mob violence that made “America, in 1946, more violently segregated than South Africa,” Peery discussed the terror campaign against blacks that combated the growing veteran-led civil rights movement.

“Possessing the characteristics demanded by the movement, the mantle of leadership fell upon the broad and capable shoulders of Paul Robeson,” he said.

In discussing the U.S. Cold War propaganda campaign, Peery said “Anti Communism was above all, anti-black.”

Robeson knew that the condition of blacks was “the Achilles heel of the new American imperialism and it was here that he concentrated his fire,” said Peery.

But Robeson was deserted by the black leadership and intelligentsia, Peery said, because the black bourgeoisie, fearful of white reaction, didn’t want to lose its economic standing.

“Since Robeson would neither retreat nor surrender, he would have to be destroyed. He could not be destroyed without the complicity of the black establishment,” said Peery.

The fallout of the splitting of the black community was that African Americans no longer “exist as a compact group described as a ‘people.’ The glue of violent, legal, color defined segregation held us together and apart from the rest of America. That and that alone created the African American people,” he said.

The splintering of the black population has created a black society outside the mainstream, a group of millions of black unemployed and working poor, a class “outside of and incompatible with capitalist society,” he said.

It is to help this group, that “history will call forth a visionary, an uncompromising defender of the truth, a new Paul Robeson,” he concluded.

In the post-presentation discussion, Paul Robeson, Jr. supported Peery’s comments about fragmentation of the black population, saying that “race has been connected to class, but primarily [the distinctions] today are class-based, rather than race-based.”

“African Americans can go no further as blacks [as they have legal civil rights]; it’s the class struggle that is the battleground,” Robeson, Jr. said.

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