Celebrating Paul Robeson's Legacy of Art and Activism

Lindsey R. Swindall
Mar 28, 2019 - 5:00

One hundred years ago, Paul Robeson graduated from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. To mark this anniversary, Rutgers will dedicate an outdoor plaza to Robeson as part of a series of centennial events for one of its most notable alumni. Robeson was already nationally known during his college years as an All-American football player and grew to become a nationally recognized vocalist and stage actor in Harlem in the 1920s. He became an early film star and crisscrossed continents on his way to becoming a globally beloved singer (perhaps most recognized for “Ol’ Man River”). Robeson’s portrayal of...

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5 Replies to “Celebrating Paul Robeson's Legacy of Art and Activism”

  1. Have we not moved beyond the cold war era thinking that “communist” as a label is a smear to be avoided at all costs? This piece seems to bend over backwards and contort its language to make sure it only implies Mr Robeson had common cause with left wingers and Communists when their views on colonialism and liberation happened to overlap.
    As a child and grandchild of CP USA members of Robeson’s era, I can unequivocally state that the main stated focus of American Communists of the first half of the 20th century was the liberation of all people and a refutation of the wrongs wrought by the capitalist empire. Robeson was certainly claimed by the Communists I know as one of their own, whose speeches in front of the huac committees are still to this day revered for their courageous and unyielding ferocity.

  2. I encountered the performer Robeson as a child, but the activist Robeson as an adult. His speeches transcribed and archived in civil rights periodicals of the 20th century are powerful and moving. His legacy endures and deserves to. Thank you, North Star, for this reminder that we stand on some mighty shoulders.

    1. Great question! Robeson’s memoir, Here I Stand, is very good. It does not cover his entire life, however. My biography, Paul Robeson: A Life of Activism and Art, offers an overview of his whole life and there is additional reading included with each chapter so that you can continue to learn about him. St. Clair Bourne’s film, Paul Robeson: Here I Stand, is also a good overview.

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