The Baltimore Afro-American covered, in detail, the banning of singer Paul Robeson from Peoria and the incident’s aftermath.
According to the Afro-American, the American Legion had sprung into action when a syndicated columnist reported that Robeson dedicated a song to Gerhart Eisler. Eisler, an émigré from Hitler’s Germany, had recently defied the House Committee on Un-American Activities and was thought, by conservatives, to have been a Communist spy.
Under the pressure of a local American Legion chapter, Peoria’s City Council had then banned Robeson from performing at a large venue. Though other newspapers claimed that tickets to the Robeson concert were selling weakly, the Afro-American reported that there were 2000 tickets pre-sold.
Barred from giving a public concert, Robeson held a private audience at the home of his friend Ajay Martin, an organizer with Peoria’s Farm Equipment and Metal Workers Union, an organization that was noted for being racially egalitarian and for having officials who later refused to sign the anti-Communist oaths required by the Taft-Hartley Act for union certification.
In the aftermath of the banning of Robeson, the president of a group of Peoria clergy extended an invitation to the singer. The Peoria Journal Star responded by attacking the pastor for “revolutionary prophesies and teachings.”
The reporter for the Afro-American concluded that, with the Robeson cancellation, “different angles are mixed up in this issue” — “free speech, right of peaceful assembly, race prejudice, Bill of Rights, and so forth.”