Paul Robeson

Paul Leroy Robeson (/ˈrbsən/ ROHB-sən;[2][3] April 9, 1898 – January 23, 1976) was an American bass baritone concert artist and stage and film actor who became famous both for his cultural accomplishments and for his political activism. Educated at Rutgers College and Columbia University, he was a star athlete in his youth. His political activities began with his involvement with unemployed workers and anti-imperialist students who he met in Britain and continued with support for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War and his opposition to fascism. In the United States he became active in the civil rights movement and other social justice campaigns. His sympathies for the Soviet Union and communism, and his criticism of the United States government and its foreign policies, caused him to be blacklisted during the McCarthy era.

Paul Robeson
Paul Robeson in 1942
Born
Paul Leroy Robeson

(1898-04-09)April 9, 1898
DiedJanuary 23, 1976(1976-01-23) (aged 77)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Education
Occupation
  • Singer
  • actor
  • social activist
  • lawyer
  • athlete
Spouse(s)
(m. 1921; died 1965)
ChildrenPaul Robeson Jr.
RelativesBustill family

Football career
Robeson in football uniform at Rutgers, c. 1919
No. 21, 17
Position:End / tackle
Personal information
Height:6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)
Weight:219 lb (99 kg)
Career information
High school:Somerville (NJ)
College:Rutgers
Career history
Career highlights and awards
Career NFL statistics
Games played:15
Games started:15
Touchdowns:2[1]
Player stats at NFL.com · PFR

In 1915, Robeson won an academic scholarship to Rutgers College, where he was twice named a consensus All-American in football, and was the class valedictorian. Almost 80 years later, he was posthumously inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He received his LL.B. from Columbia Law School while playing in the National Football League (NFL). At Columbia, he sang and acted in off-campus productions. After graduating, he became a figure in the Harlem Renaissance with performances in The Emperor Jones and All God's Chillun Got Wings.

Between 1925 and 1961, Robeson recorded and released some 276 distinct songs, many of which were recorded several times. The first of these were the spirituals "Steal Away" backed with "Were You There" in 1925. Robeson's recorded repertoire spanned many styles, including Americana, popular standards, classical music, European folk songs, political songs, poetry and spoken excerpts from plays.[4]

Robeson performed in Britain in a touring melodrama, Voodoo, in 1922, and in Emperor Jones in 1925, and scored a major success in the London premiere of Show Boat in 1928. Living in London for several years with his wife Eslanda, he continued to establish himself as a concert artist and starred in a London production of Othello, the first of three productions of the play over the course of his career. He also gained attention in the film production of Show Boat (1936) and other films such as Sanders of the River (1935) and The Proud Valley (1940). During this period, Robeson advocated for the Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War and became active in the Council on African Affairs (CAA), supporting their efforts to gain colonized African countries independence from European rule.

Returning to the United States in 1939, during World War II Robeson supported the American and Allied war efforts. However, his history of supporting civil rights causes and Soviet policies brought scrutiny from the FBI. After the war ended, the CAA was placed on the Attorney General's List of Subversive Organizations and Robeson was investigated during the McCarthy era. Due to his decision not to recant his public advocacy, he was denied a passport by the U.S. State Department, and his income, consequently, plummeted. He moved to Harlem and from 1950 to 1955 published a periodical called Freedom[5] which was critical of United States policies. His right to travel was eventually restored as a result of the 1958 United States Supreme Court decision Kent v. Dulles. In the early 1960s he retired and lived the remaining years of his life privately in Philadelphia.