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Robeson sang at NMU conventions in 1941, 1943, and 1947. He spoke each time of how proud he was to be an honorary member, and of the NMU’s path-breaking role in American race relations.

Lyrics to “The House I Live In” were written in 1943 by Abel Meeropol (under the pen name Lewis Allen), and the music is by Earl Robinson. The song was featured in a short film of the same name in 1945. Frank Sinatra sings the song in the film, which was made to combat racial prejudice and anti-Semitism at the end of World War II. Sinatra continued to sing it throughout his career, but Robeson too made it a meaningful part of his repertory, and was warmly applauded when he sang it at the 1947 NMU convention.

Paul Robeson leading shipyard workers in singing the “ The Star Spangled Banner” in Oakland, California, 1942.

African-American US Merchant Marine sailors R. C. Woods, A. M. Mulzac, W. B. Shepard, and S. O’Neil posing with Liberty Ship SS Booker T. Washington’s mascot “Booker,” February 1943. Photographer: Baum ~ United States National Archives, ID# 111-SC-180663

While America’s armed forces were still racially segregated all through World War II, many of our soldiers shipped overseas aboard vessels manned by racially integrated NMU crews.

The House I Live In

(Earl Robinson and Lewis Allan)

What is America to me? A name, a map, the flag I see,
a certain word, “Democracy” What is America to me?

The house I live in, the friends that I have found,
The folks beyond the railroad and the people all around,
The worker and the farmer, the sailor on the sea,
The men who built this country, that’s America to me.

The house I live in, my neighbors white and black,
The people who just came here, or from generations back,
The Town Hall and the soap box, the torch of Liberty,
A place to speak my mind out, that’s America to me.

The words of old Abe Lincoln, of Jefferson and Paine,
Of Washington and Douglas, and the task that still remains,
The little bridge at Concord, where Freedom’s fight began,
Our Gettysburg and Midway, and the story of Bataan.

The house I live in, the goodness everywhere,
A land of wealth and beauty with enough for all to share,
A house that we call Freedom, the home of Liberty,
and the promise for tomorrow, that’s America to me.

The town I live in, the street, the house, the room,
The pavement of the city, or a garden all in bloom,
The church, the school, the clubhouse, a million lights I see,
But especially the people, that’s America to me.
But especially the people, that’s the true America.

Recording from “The Odyssey of Paul Robeson,” with Lawrence Brown on piano.
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