Paul Robeson - The Man

Early Years

Before the civil rights movement of the 1950's and 60's and before the time of Dr Martin Luther King or Malcolm X, Paul Leroy Robeson was born; he came into the world on April 9, 1898 in Princeton, New Jersey. He was the youngest child born to Rev. William D. Robeson and Maria L. Robeson. He was the son of freed slave who in time would become an internationally known multi-talented activist, civil rights spokesman, actor and concert singer.

From his early years, Paul Robeson knew hardship, and he was determined to rise above it. So when he got a chance to attend college he took it. In 1915, Robeson was awarded a four-year scholarship to Rutgers University. He took his studies very seriously; on graduation day in 1919, he was valedictorian of his graduating class. In addition to being an excellent student, he excelled in sports. Paul won varsity letters in baseball, track and field, basketball and football. Despite the objections of his team mates, Paul Roberson was one of the first African Americans to make the All American football team twice.

Graduation from College

In 1923, Paul Robeson earned a law degree from Columbia Law School; it was during this time he met his wife Eslanda C. Goode. After graduation from law school, Robeson found work at a law firm, but it didn't last. He left the law firm when he had difficulties with other employee's at the firm.

At this point in time, Robeson decided to use his talents in theater. By doing this, Robeson believed he could help his people by promoting African-American history and culture.

Beginning in the twenties and for almost 40 years, Robeson had an excellent career. first he was a concert singer, then later he was an actor. Robeson stared in well known plays such as "Othello" (which earned him the Donaldson award for his acting in London) and "Show Boat." In addition, as he became better known, he was also in a few motion pictures from the twenties on into the 1940's.

Professional career

From one of his performances "All God's Chillun got wings" he donated the proceeds to help Jews escaping Hitler's Germany in the 1930's. Robinson became a world citizen singing for peace and justice in more than 20 countries including Asia, Africa, Europe, Soviet Union and the United States. As a result of his travels he made friends world wide. Some people he called friend included Dr W.E.B. DuBois (Historian), James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway.

Because of his international activism, out spoken nature, and visits to the Soviet Union Robeson was the target of the FBI and CIA during the McCarthy Era of the 1950s. His passport was confiscated most of the 1950's, attempts were made to discredit him, and he was under surveillance for the rest of his life. During this period of time(1950 -1958) when he fought to get his passport back, Robeson made good use of his time. He studied Chinese, and met with Albert Einstein to discuss world peace. In addition, he sang at Carnegie Hall, and he wrote his autobiography. It was also during this time he sang at two concerts on the US-Canadian border which attracted attendance of over 30,000 people. In 1958, when his passport was returned to him he went on a tour of Europe for the last time. Early in the 1960's, for health reasons he ended his career and lived quietly until his death on January 23, 1976.

Later years

Paul Robeson was a activist, athlete, scholar and internationally renown actor and concert singer. He truly was one of the forerunners of Dr Martin L. King. He worked tirelessly to speak against racism, to support labor and for peace. He was in support of working people and often spoke and sang at labor rallies and conferences worldwide. After his death, work has been under way to restore his name. For example, he was inducted into the college football hall of fame in 1995; Also, before his death in 1973 at age 75, Robeson was given an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.Regardless of what we may think of him then or now, he was committed to justice for the powerless and the forgotten people in all areas of the world.

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Comments 28 comments

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

I don't know Robeson's work too well. I remember him in showboat. I think a friend mentioned him in relation to folk music. Thanks for the information.

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 7 years ago

Nice Hub. Paul Robeson was an amazing man and a great American. He was also an outstanding athlete, a two-time All American football player at Rutgers University.

Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@dahoglund - I knew he was a good singer too but didn't realize how concerned he was for the people of the world - Thanks for stopping by

Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@Ralph Deeds - Thank you I was really impressed with what I found during my research into Paul Roberson. I am just surprised 30+ years later there is not more main stream information on him.

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PWalker281 7 years ago

Great hub! Very well researched. Thanks for sharing info on this great American!

Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@PWalker281 - Thanks for your comments; thanks for stopping by

cojaqmarketing profile image

cojaqmarketing 7 years ago from Carmel, Indiana

Excellent history lesson...I really appreciate this hub!


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@cojaqmarketing - Thank you for your feedback. Paul Roberson is an interesting man.

whiteorchids profile image

whiteorchids 7 years ago from Tropical Paradise

I am quite familiar with Paul Roberson but I did not know that he had met with Albert Einstein. I enjoy history and appreciate the additional information. There is always room for us to learn, enjoyed the hub.

Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@whiteorchids - Glad you enjoyed reading this article. I was a little surprised myself when i did my research on Paul Robeson. He was an impressive man. Thanks for your comments and thank you for following me.

Truth From Truth profile image

Truth From Truth 7 years ago from Michigan

Great hub on a Man I did not know anything about. Thanks to you I now know a great deal about a good man. Thanks.

Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@Truth From Truth - Glad you enjoyed reading this article. Thanks for your feedback

prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 7 years ago from US

hey coolmon, thank you for letting me know aout this man, as long as you said, he is for the justice to the lowly people I admire him, Maita

Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@prettydarkhorse - he was an impressive man. Thanks for stopping by

andromida profile image

andromida 7 years ago

Great article.He was a man with great vision.Surely, we miss this type of people in recent times.I think there was a time when nature used to produce Paul Robeson and Martin Luther King;why we are not seeing this type of true man anymore-their inspiration will certainly inspire some of us to follow their path once again.thank you.

Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@andromida - in reference to your question why there aren't there more men like this anymore I could do a whole article to answer that question; I will say this I wish the system will allow it to happen more often - Thanks for stopping by

andromida profile image

andromida 7 years ago

Glad to know that you are planning to write a hub answering my question-I will be looking forward to your hubs.Thanks a lot.

Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 7 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@andromida - I will try.. thank you for your interest in this topic

Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 6 years ago

I remember little about him. I remember Showboat and the songs. What a remarkable man though! Thank you for keeping him alive for us hubbers.

Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@Micky Dee - Thank you for your feedback; you are right he was a remarkable man - Thanks for stopping by

tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

I grew up with the glorious sound of Robeson's voice coming out of the old wooden baxed wind-up gramaphone that my parents had. My father, a none too shabby bass singer himself, was a devoted Robeson fan. I can still hear that voice singing songs like "Mood Indigo", "In My Solitude" and "Old Man River" on somewhat scratchy old 78rpm shellack records in their brown paper covers.

Still listen to him on CD now.

Just a pity that the accompanyment on so many of his performances was rather pedestrian and uninteresting. But that voice - never to be equalled.

And the way his own country treated him was shameful, just utterly shameful.

Thanks for sharing this great Hub about a truly great artist.

Love and peace


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@tonymac04 - Sounds like you and your dad enjoyed your time together listening to Paul Robeson. I agree with you on the accompaniment topic, it could have been better. In those days I am sure he did the best he could do. Thanks for leaving your feedback.

allan price 6 years ago

paul robesons family are donating a record of him to our south wales mining museum.we are proud and privillaged to accept it.solidarity

Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@allan price - That is interesting thanks for the information.

Support Med. profile image

Support Med. 6 years ago from Michigan

I remember that deep voice. The man is definitely worthy of many accolades. Because of your hub, I have learned much more about Mr. Paul Robeson. So many accomplishments, meeting with many of the brilliant minds of that time. He was definitely disciplined and a man of integrity to have accomplished so much. Thank you for this article. Voted-up/rated!

Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@Support Med - I know what you mean Robeson is a special man and so is his voice. Thanks for your feedback on this article :)

platinumOwl4 profile image

platinumOwl4 3 years ago

I missed this article, but I am reading it now and it is great. This was a man who made a stand and was crucified for it. I believe every black man who truly makes a stand run the risk of criticism and Crucifixion. The record speak for itself. Again great article.

Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 3 years ago from Texas, USA Author

@platinumOwl4 - Yes he had a back bone and you knew where he stood; Thanks for your comments and I hope all is well in your world.

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