Paul Robeson on the Labor that Built America

The Legacies blog is taking a break for Labor Day, but here are some stirring words for the day from artist and activist Paul Robeson:

Portrait of Paul Robseon
Paul Robeson (1898–1976). source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

[W]ho built this great land of ours?
Who have been the guarantors of our historic democratic tradition of freedom and equality? Whose labor and whose life has produced the great cities, the industrial machine, the basic culture and the creature comforts of which … [American] spokesmen so proudly boast?
It is well to remember that the America which we know has risen out of the toil of the many millions who have come here seeking freedom from all parts of the world:
The Irish and Scotch indentured servants who cleared the forests, built the colonial homesteads and were part of the productive backbone of our early days.
The millions of German immigrants … millions more from Eastern Europe … the brave Jewish people from all parts of Europe … the workers from Mexico and from the East….
And, through it all, from the earliest days—before Columbus—the Negro people, upon whose unpaid toil as slaves the basic wealth of this nation was built!
These are the forces that have made America great and preserved our democratic heritage.

Excerpt from “Forge Negro-Labor Unity for Peace and Jobs,” a speech that Robeson delivered at the National Labor Conference for Negro Rights in Chicago in 1950. You can also listen to Robeson singing the international labor anthem “Joe Hill”: