Paul Robeson - The Man
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.
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.
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.