The Sound of Racial Harmony.

April 9, 1998, marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Paul Robeson. Harry Truman once called him "the most dangerous man in America." Born in Princeton, New Jersey, he went to Rutgers where he was a champion debater, lettered in basketball and baseball, was twice-voted onto the All-American football team, joined Phi Beta Kappa, and was class valedictorian. Then he put himself through Columbia University Law School by playing professional football on weekends. Unable to find a job after graduation, a trustee from Rutgers got him a job at a law firm, but other lawyers objected and Paul finally quit when a secretary refused to take dictation from a black man.

Robeson had sung at his father's Baptist church as a teenager and had acted in a couple plays in college. He built a career as a singer and actor, still running into prejudice when starring opposite white women or in productions where children of all races had to play happily together. He starred in some Hollywood films, played with Leadbelly, Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, and was good friends with W. E. B. DuBois, founder of the NAACP. During WWII, he became chairman of the Crusade Against Lynching. At the meeting with Truman, he asked how the US could try Nazis for war crimes yet allow lynchings to go unpunished. Then he suggested blacks wouldn't want to go to war again for a white America.

That happened 50 years ago, but what do you think the headlines would say today if a popular acknowledged black "leader" said he wouldn't support a war?

Racism is rampant in our country. About the only place equality is achieved is in the military. In the 1970s, generals realized race problems could cause the self-destruction of the armed forces, so they worked on elevating recruits and soldiers, not lowering standards. Almost anyone is trainable. But the Army has its own culture so they didn't try a multicultural approach. Now we have a military Robeson could be proud to fight in, yet the society it protects is still racist. Black colonels and generals who retire don't get the job offers whites do. (All That We Can Be: Black Leadership and Racial Integration the Army Way, Basic Books).

The Baha'i Faith has also decided race is a key problem in the world. They've produced a half -hour video, The Power of Race Unity, that is appearing on the Odyssey channel (44,43,57) at various times and at the main Fort Collins Library Wednesday, April 15th at 7:00 PM and Sunday, April 19th at 3:00 PM with refreshments and discussion afterwards. In the many seminars and whatnot I've attended about integration while working for USDA, I've found that discussion has been more useful than tapes and talks.

In civilian society, we must take the multicultural, unity-in-diversity approach. Many people have complaints about this method, preferring the melting pot to the salad bowl. I don't like either metaphor. A crucible pours out shapeless molten slag and a salad is made to be eaten. The Baha'i's have a couple other analogies from their Sacred Writings that I prefer. One says we are each an individual flower in a brightly colored garden, evoking the concept that diversity is necessary for many forms of beauty. The other is musical: "The diversity of the human family should be the cause of love and harmony as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord." That's the sound of racial harmony, a melody that would have appealed to a singer such as Paul Robeson.