Tonight I heard a story about the Ballad for Americans a song popularized in 1940 by the singer Paul Robeson, who was also an activist for human rights. The song was covered by people like Bing Crosby and seemed to strike a chord as Americans faced struggles at home and abroad. There were lynchings and denial of basic human rights for people who looked like Robeson. He was the perfect person to speak to the heart of that song and declare that we are all Americans.
However in the era of red baiting Robeson’s Americanism was questioned and the song lost favor. The ugly divisions of class and race re-emerged stronger than ever and other songs were used to rally the freedom fighters. Today these divisions are even greater than ever. We have a historic achievement, the election and re-election of our first African-American president and social changes including marriage equality are the hallmarks of a changing America. And yet there are people seeking to turn back the clock, eliminate union protect, the social safety net, and even strip citizenship with the aim of destroying the 14th amendment to the constitution. The president’s identity has been questioned by people who hate his color and people like him.
The Ballad for Americans is as valid today as ever. We need to root out fear of the other, people who don’t look like, have less money, speak a different language and yet share the fact they all came to this country. It is up to the 99% to restore the meaning of Ballad of America and sing it out loud.