“The artist must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative.” —Paul Robeson’s Epitaph.
About Paul Robeson
Paul Robeson was a famous African American athlete, singer, actor and advocate for the civil rights of people around the world. He was born on April 9, 1898 in Princeton, New Jersey. In 1915, Paul won a four-year academic scholarship to Rutgers University. 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.
At Columbia Law School during the time period of 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 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) . Robeson performed in Eugene O’Neil’s Emperor Jones, All God’s Chillun Got Wings and the musical Show Boat. His eleven films include Body and Soul (1924), Jericho (1937) and Proud Valley (1939).
During the 1940s, Robeson continued to perform and speak out against racism in the U.S. and for peace among nations. As a passionate believer in international cooperation, Robeson protested the growing cold war hostilities and worked tirelessly for friendship and respect between the U.S. and the USSR. In 1945, he also headed an organization that challenged President Truman to support an anti-lynching law.
In 1950, the U.S. government revoked Robeson’s passport, leading to an eight year battle to secure it and to travel again. In 1960, Robeson made his last overseas concert tour. Suffering from ill health, Paul Robeson retired from public life in 1963. He died on January 23, 1976 at age 77, in Philadelphia.
An informative website maintained by Princeton Public Library, dedicated to Paul Robeson.
Explore the different phases of Paul Robeson’s life by visiting this website. Decide for yourself what his legacy will be for the twenty-first century!