This Week’s Profile in Black History – Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson was a remarkable America figure who made great strides in numerous fields. A testament to these achievements are the numerous Awards and Honors that were bestowed upon him, such as a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award. A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and entry into the American Theater Hall of Fame. The Spingarn medal from the NAACP. In 1995, he was named to the College Football Hall of Fame. In 1976, the apartment building on Edgecombe Avenue in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan where Robeson lived during the early 1940s was officially renamed the Paul Robeson Residence, and declared a National Historic Landmark. In 2004, the U.S. Postal Service issued a 37-cent stamp honoring Robeson. His efforts to end Apartheid in South Africa were posthumously rewarded by the United Nations General Assembly.

Robeson was born on 9 April in 1898 in New Jersey.  In late 1915, Robeson became the third African-American student ever enrolled at Rutgers, and the only one at the time. He was accepted into Phi Beta Kappa and his classmates elected him class valedictorian. He would go on to Columbia Law School. He also had a successful entry into football, playing professionally in the NFL ‘Milwaukee Badgers’ until 1922.

Robeson would become known to most Americans however though his talents in signing (in numerous languages) and on the stage of the theater. The run of Othello starring Robeson was the longest-running production of a Shakespeare play ever staged on Broadway. He received a Donaldson Award for his performance.

Robeson was one of the most outspoken performers and personalities of his era, black or white. He famously commented,

“The artist must take sides. He must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative.”

A fervent believer in international solidarity, on June 20, 1949, Robeson spoke at the Paris Peace Congress saying that,

“We in America do not forget that it was on the backs of the white workers from Europe and on the backs of millions of Blacks that the wealth of America was built. And we are resolved to share it equally. We reject any hysterical raving that urges us to make war on anyone.”

On January 23, 1976, following complications of a stroke, Robeson died in Philadelphia at the age of 77.

Technically, he was the first one to sing at the Sydney Opera House, in Australia, he did so for the workers while it was still under construction. Here is a clip of that visit….