Paul Robeson was an American singer, actor, civil rights activist, and college football player. He was exceptionally famous for his political views on anti-imperialism, communism, and the United States Government.
Paul Leroy Robeson was born on April 9, 1898 in Princeton, New Jersey. His mother died when he was six and he was forced to live in an attic of a store in New Jersey due to financial difficulties. Robeson attended the Somerville High School where he found great success in whatever endeavors he pursued there; he sang in the chorus for “Julius Caesar” and “Othello”, and was also a part of the basketball, baseball, and track teams. Robeson also won a statewide academic competition for a full scholarship to Rutgers College, where he enrolled in 1915.
Robeson was the third African American to be enrolled at Rutgers; he immediately signed up for football tryouts where he was tested with excessively aggressive play, which many people attributed to racism. Despite having a broken nose and a dislocated shoulder after the tryouts, Robeson made the Rutgers Scarlet Knights Football team. He also joined the Rutgers Debate Team, and for spending money, he would sing off-campus at various gigs. Robeson’s presence at the campus was not devoid of controversy; for instance, he could not officially sing for the college’s glee club, furthermore, he was benched in a football game in his sophomore year as a Southern Team refused to play with a Negro on the field. Even so, Robeson played spectacularly to earn All-American Team Selections in both his Junior and Senior Years; he was also voted Class Valedictorian. Even his singing skills were recognized in “The Crisis”.
After a short stint at the New York University School of Law, Robeson enrolled at the Columbia Law School in 1920. In 1921, he also played Football for the Akron Pros; he then played for the Miluakee Badgers in 1922. During his time at Columbia, Robeson also performed for the Harlem YWCA. He also started portrayed Simon in Ridgely Torrence’s “Simon of Cyrene”. He also acted in a production of Mary Hoyt Wilborg’s “Taboo”.
Robeson was forced to give up his career in law due to excessive racism; however, he had much better luck in the theatrical realm. He played the lead role for Eugene O’Neill’s “All God’s Chillun Got Wings”, which attracted a lot of public attention due to its unnatural plot. Robeson also acted in “The Emperor Jones” and Oscar Micheax’s race film, “Body and Soul”. He performed in the highly sought after musical, “Show Boat”, and also in Shakespeare’s “Othello”; the latter of which went on to become a highly acclaimed Broadway performance.
The later years of Robeson were marked by strong political activism. He became a strong advocate of the Republican Forces in the Spanish Civil War. He also strongly advocated the political independence for African Nations; hence, he became a member of the Council on African Affairs. He was a strong supporter for America’s war efforts in World War II; however, he was blacklisted in the McCarthy Era due to his apparent support for Soviet Policies. Robeson was stripped of his right to travel; consequently, the Council of African Affairs was placed on the Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations. Robeson could only resume traveling after the 1958 Kent vs. Dullies Supreme Court Case.
Paul Robeson died on January 23, 1976, due to complications arising from a stroke.