Icons: Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson among a crowd of racially integrated shipyard workers in Oakland, California,  performing the Star Spangled Banner.

Paul Robeson among a crowd of racially integrated shipyard workers in Oakland, California, performing the Star Spangled Banner.

The name Paul Robeson may be unfamiliar to many Americans, young and old. But why is this name important? Why should this man’s name be imbedded into the public’s consciousness? There are many reasons why Paul Robeson still matters today. Principally, Robeson exemplified the “conscious” artist driven by strong convictions. He represented the cause of the people of color against racial discrimination. He was the type of artist who saw it as a personal duty and obligation to use his talents and influence to advance social causes, causes that went beyond the theatrical stage. No other statement captures the essence of his ideology and his self-imposed obligation to social change, than when he famously exclaimed, “the artist must elect to fight for freedom or for slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative.” Throughout his life, Robeson lived by this motto. No matter how viciously the American media slandered his name, or how greatly he was persecuted by the government for his socialist inclinations, he continued to fight against racism and support liberation struggles. Robeson was never dissuaded from following his personal and moral convictions, including his great admiration of the first socialist state, the Soviet Union.
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Pan Am Blackbirds

Black Bird Alice Dear

Black Bird Alice Dear

Its prestige and notoriety exemplify a bygone era of travel during the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Many became familiar with Pan American World Airways’s glory via the television series that aired on ABC. Specific words are synonymous with the historical international carrier, especially regarding their iconic flight attendants (then known as stewardesses): elegance, glamour, class, sophistication, allure, glitzy status…Pan Am’s history is certainly intriguing! But what is most empowering is the influence stewardesses had on overcoming social injustice within the airline industry. The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the world’s largest flight attendant union, commented:

“The Pan Am drama may be a nostalgic escape to the days before deregulation, but it also highlighted the myriad of social injustices overcome by the strong women who shaped a new career. Weight checks, girdle checks, the no marriage rule, sexism, gender discrimination, racism—all of this was challenged by intelligent, visionary women who helped to usher in the call for social change throughout the country and around the world.”
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LGBT Activists in Africa

Image courtesy of timestilve.co

Image courtesy of timestilve.co

I recently listened to an interview about Eliot Elisofon’s exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. Elisofon was a photojournalist for LIFE Magazine and major influence on America’s view of life in Africa. Contrary to much of the reporting on Africa, during his time, Elisofon chose to photograph a more positive reality of the life of Africans. He again came to mind when I was considering how discouraging it can be to discover that many internet search results for activists for LGBT rights in Africa end up being biographies about fearless leaders whose lives have ended in brutal murder, such as Ugandan activist and teacher, David Kato Kisule. As did Elisofon with his photography, I am hoping to highlight a few activists who, despite the risk of being ostracized, attacked and jailed, continue to be vocal in the fight for LGBT rights in Africa.

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