Paul Robeson was a famous African American athlete, singer, actor and advocate for the civil
rights of people around the world. He rose to prominence in a time when segregation was legal in America and black people were being lynched by white mobs, especially in the South.
Born on April 9, 1898 in Princeton, New Jersey, Paul Robeson was the youngest of five children. His father was a runaway slave who went on to graduate from Lincoln University, and his mother came from a family of Quakers who worked for the abolition of slavery. His family was familiar with hardship and the determination to rise above it. His own life was no less challenging.
In 1915, Paul won a four-year academic scholarship to Rutgers University. In spite of open violence and racism expressed by teammates, Robeson won 15 varsity letters in sports (baseball, basketball, track) and was twice named to the All American Football Team. He received the Phi Beta Kappa key in his junior year, belonged to the Cap & Skull Honor Society and was the Valedictorian of his graduating class in 1919. However, it wasn't until 1995, nineteen years after his death, that Paul Robeson was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
At Columbia Law School (1919 to 1923), Paul met and married DR.Eslanda Cordoza Goode, who was to become the first black woman to head a pathology
laboratory. He took a job with a law firm, but left when a white secretary refused to take dictation from him. He decided to leave the practice of law and use his artistic talents in theater and music to promote African American history and culture.
On stage in London, Robeson earned international critical acclaim for his lead role in Othello, winning the Donaldson Award for Best Acting Performance (1944) for his portrayal of Othello on Broadway. Robeson performed in Eugene O'Neil's Emperor Jones, All God's Chillun Got Wings and the musical Show Boat. He is known for changing the Show Boat song "Old Man River" from the lamentable lyrics "I'm tired of livin' and feared of dyin'," to a stronger and more political, "I must keep fightin' until I'm dyin'." His eleven films include Body and Soul (1924), Jericho (1937) and Proud Valley (1939).
Paul noted that his travels had taught him that racism was not as virulent in Europe as it was in the United States. At home, it was difficult to find restaurants
that would serve him; theaters in New York would only seat blacks in the upper balconies and his performances were often surrounded with threats or outright harassment. In London, on the other hand, Robeson's opening night performance of Emperor Jones brought the audience to its feet with cheers for twelve encores.
Paul Robeson used his deep baritone voice to promote black spirituals, to share the cultures of other...