Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Americas
Front Page 
World 
Africa 
Americas 
Asia-Pacific 
Europe 
Middle East 
South Asia 
-----------
From Our Own Correspondent 
-----------
Letter From America 
UK 
UK Politics 
Business 
Sci/Tech 
Health 
Education 
Sport 
Entertainment 
Talking Point 
In Depth 
AudioVideo 
Thursday, 2 March, 2000, 18:28 GMT
Robeson a 'security nuisance' - MI5
Paul Robeson
Paul Robeson: Passport confiscated in 1950s
The British security service deemed black American singer Paul Robeson a security risk and tried to prevent him from entering the UK, according to secret Home Office papers released today.

The star, who died aged 77 in 1976, was regarded as a "nuisance" by MI5 because of his outspoken left-wing views and support for black civil rights.


He is convinced that he has a mission to lead oppressed Negroes and colonial peoples everywhere

MI5 report
Robeson visited the UK in 1949, and returned the following year, when MI5 agents tracked his movements.

But for much of the 1950s, the United States authorities refused the singer a passport.

The US came under strong international pressure to allow the star to travel freely - particularly from the UK, when Robeson was invited to star in Othello at Stratford-upon-Avon and speak at trade union rallies.

MI5 repeatedly advised against letting him into the country.

"Robeson, when last over here, was a security nuisance," noted a report from 1951.

"He is convinced that he has a mission to lead oppressed Negroes and colonial peoples everywhere. He is a fanatical communist and intensely ambitious."

Propaganda


Orwell
Author George Orwell shopped Robeson to MI5 as an "anti-white" Soviet sympathiser
MI5 believed that the British Communist Party would "do all in its power to exploit the visit for propaganda purposes".

Despite MI5's disquiet, Robeson visited the UK for a series of concerts when the US authorities restored his passport in 1958.

One Home Office official wrote: "Paul Robeson may be a communist, but he is also a great artist and a world figure.


Robeson is going to give us a lot of trouble on African affairs

Patricia Hornsby-Smith
"To turn him out of the country or to refuse him entry would create a major crisis."

Conservative Home Office Minister Patricia Hornsby-Smith was less than enthusiastic.

As a personal friend of Labour politicians Aneurin Bevan and Barbara Castle, "Robeson is going to give us a lot of trouble on African affairs", she said.

Sex scandal

The controversy surrounding Robeson is among a series of revelations to emerge from the papers released to the Public Record Office in London on Thursday.

MI5 also investigated the 1920s American actress Tallulah Bankhead amid rumours she was corrupting pupils at Eton public school.

And the UK refused to give asylum to the exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky for fear of offending his archrival, Josef Stalin.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
BBC RADIO NEWS
BBC ONE TV NEWS
WORLD NEWS SUMMARY
PROGRAMMES GUIDE
Americas Contents

Country profiles
See also:

01 Jan 99 |  1968 Secret History
How top secrets become common knowledge
27 Jan 99 |  Wartime spies
Spy secrets revealed
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to other Americas stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Americas stories