Sunday, February 28, 2010


I have always found it a bit perplexing that African-American musician Hazel Scott has never been given the proper credit she deserves for taking on the House Un-American Activities Committee several years in advance of Edward R. Murrow's widely-heralded attack on Joseph McCarthy (see Good Night, and Good Luck). But that's another story. I find it almost as odd that another of the bravest acts committed against mid-century Communist witch-hunting, enacted by Paul Robeson, has also been given scant shrift in the history of such, ahem, activities. It happened in 1949 when my friend, the late actress-activist Frances E. Williams, produced a rally in support of then-beleagured Renaissance Man Robeson at Los Angeles' Embassy Theater. Muzzled by the government from giving a political speech, Robeson sang his message, from the audience, to the accompaniment of a string quartet. Technically, it was not illegal to sing such a speech. Federal agents stationed around the auditorium were either powerless to stop him or else, too slow up on the uptake to realize what was going on. Would that make a great scene in a movie or what?

After the California Northridge earthquake, I immediately phoned Frances to see if she was alright. An old hand at such seismic events, she laughed it off saying, "Honey, that's the best sex I've had in years."

Both Hazel Scott and Frances Williams have chapters devoted to them in my book Hot from Harlem. I'll be reading from it at a signing at L.A.'s Book Soup on March 10 at 7 pm. Here is part of an oral history of Frances that I conducted in 1992 for the California African-American (then Afro-American) Museum

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