Paul Robeson

(1898-1976) was born in Princeton, New Jersey, and was a graduate of Rutgers College and Columbia University. Since he was academically brilliant, it was thought that he could pursue any career he chose.

A brilliant sportsman, he was undeterred by the racism he met on the field at trials. Some encounters resulted in several broken bones. After the initial rejection, he tried again for the team, won a place and the necessary respect, and went on to play for the All American College Team.

It was as a stage performer that he made his name. In 1924 he performed in All Gods Chillun’ Got Wings, by Eugene O’Niell. The play came up against opposition by dealing with the subject of inter-racial marriage. He famously appeared in Showboat, and with Lawrence Brown performed the first concert of all Black Music on the London Stage. In 1930 he played Othello opposite Peggy Ashcroft at the Savoy Theatre. He was resident in London for ten years after having his passport impounded by the U.S. Government for links with communism. In 1935 he stated, “in Soviet Russia I breathe freely for the first time” He regularly visited and performed there.

Robeson was also the first black actor to play a leading role in a British film, Sanders of the River, and brought pleasure to many through his work. Five thousand people gathered outside St. Pauls Cathedral to hear him sing Ole man River. Robeson showed uncompromising strength and courage through his work.

The nation is stronger because of Robeson’s vision

Bill Clinton, former USA President, 1998