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Paul Robeson:
Athlete, Activist, and Artist Extraordinaire

co-curated by Mary Teasley and Charles F. Cummings.

Second & Third-Floor Galleries Through March 31, 1998


Paul Leroy Robeson was born on April 9, 1898 in Princeton. He was the youngest of five children born to Rev. William Drew Robeson, a former slave, and Maria Bustill Robeson, an educator. Tragically, when Paul was almost six years old, his mother was killed in a parsonage fire. Subsequently, Paul and his father moved first to Westfield, and later to Somerville, where his father assumed pastorates. Rev. Robeson encouraged Paul always to "aim high" and "never quit," a personal philosophy that helped him amass numerous achievements in scholarship and sports. He began acting at Somerville High School, where he played the lead role in Shakespeare's Othello. He entered Rutgers College (University) on a scholarship where he won twelve varsity letters in football, baseball, basketball and track, and graduated with Phi Beta Kappa honors. He received a law degree from Columbia University in 1923, and while there met and married Eslanda Cardoza Goode. Robeson's sonorous voice and his interpretation of Negro spirituals such as Ol' Man River became his trademark. His stage and film performances, especially in The Emperor Jones, Showboat, and Othello, gained him international recognition.

Robeson's political views, and activism for civil rights for African-American and oppressed peoples worldwide caused him to suffer public condemnation in the United States, but he continued to perform in Europe. Robeson declared, "All I want is a good America for all its people. Robeson was indeed a renaissance man and a great American. He died on January 23, 1976 in Philadelphia.


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