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Your KS #56: Katharine Susannah and Black Lives Matter

The Black Lives Matter movement has spread from America around the world in the last weeks. Katharine Susannah Prichard’s encounters with two significant African-American leaders, Booker Washington and Paul Robeson, give glimpses of the long history of their people’s struggle.

In 1910, Katharine abruptly left Australia on a boat to North America. Docking on the west coast of Canada in November, she took a long train journey to New York on the east coast. She broke the journey for a few days in Chicago, where she was inspired to hear a speech by Booker Washington (1856-1915), a former slave, on a freezing night in a hall on the lake. Katharine wrote ‘I… have never heard a more naturally eloquent speaker, or one who moved his hearers more… [T]he honesty of the man, the dignity of his bearing… his stories of the [African-American] struggle for human rights… compelled admiration.’ (Child of the Hurricane, 173-174)

In November 1960, fifty years later to the month, the singer and activist Paul Robeson (1898-1976) visited Perth with his wife Eslanda. When the Robesons arrived at the Perth airport, a crowd of two hundred greeted them with banners and bouquets. Katharine gave a welcome speech on behalf of the Peace Council. The Tribune records, ‘Amongst the crowd was a group of Aborigines, greeted by the singer with the words: “I hope that soon they will treat you as well as they treat me.” ‘No man I’ve ever met has so impressed me with his personal greatness’, Katharine wrote to her son Ric Throssell. ‘He’s so simple & unaffected in his manner, so dignified, yet straight forward & uncompromising in what he says. The voice—even when he speaks is deeply moving, but it’s the man himself, I think, who demonstrates the greatness of the human spirit.’ Katharine attended a concert he gave at the Capitol and then a reception at the Palace Hotel by the Peace Council, before farewelling him at the airport.

A century after the death of Booker Washington and forty years after the death of Paul Robeson, current events show their work is not yet done.

- Photo: Globe, 7 June 1911, 8. More on KSP at

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