Robeson 1952 border concert remembered

Concert held at Canada-U.S. border to remember rally given by singer, activist Paul Robeson 50 years ago

The sounds of a choir soared above the Canada-U.S. border Saturday to pay tribute to a social activist with one of the most distinctive voices ever recorded.

Exactly 50 years ago, American singer and actor Paul Robeson performed on the same spot between B.C. and Washington state known as Peace Arch Park.

He had been invited to Canada to take part in labour rally in Vancouver on May 18, 1952. But officials refused to let Robeson cross the border.

Branded a left-wing radical for his strong views about equality, the U.S. government had banned him from performing and revoked his passport.

Refusing to be silenced, however, Robeson rolled up on a flat-bed truck and started singing about civil rights, freedom and social justice to the delight of about 40,000 fans.

"It was a glorious day. And we knew that a lot of people would come, but we didn't anticipate how many," recalled Sylvia Friedman at this year's anniversary tribute, dubbed Here We Stand.

"You had to hear him sing and hear him speak," she said. "He spoke with such dignity."

U.S. actor Danny Glover came to the border Saturday to praise an often-unsung black hero in American history.

"Paul Robeson was a man who knew that his voice mattered ... in terms of working on behalf of humanity, and on behalf of ordinary people," Glover said.