Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson

Paul Leroy Robeson ( /ˈroʊbsən/ ROHB-sən April 9, 1898 – January 23, 1976) was an American singer and actor who was a political activist for the Civil Rights Movement. Although Robeson achieved artistic and financial success, the Spanish Civil War effectuated his deprecation of his commercial career in order to proselytize against Fascism and social injustices. Consequently, his advocacy of anti-imperialism, affiliation with Communism, and his criticism of the US government would bring retribution and public condemnation during the the age of McCarthyism. He was blacklisted, and to his financial and social detriment, he remained recalcitrant and against the direction of US policies. Health reasons later is his life forced him to retire privately, but he remained unapologetic for the unpopular political stances he took in his life which made a virtual social outcast.

Robeson won a scholarship to Rutgers University, where he became a football All-American and the class valedictorian. After Rutgers, he attended Columbia Law School, while playing in the National Football League (NFL). At Columbia, he sang and acted in off-campus productions and post-graduate, he became a participant in the Harlem Renaissance with performances in The Emperor Jones and All God's Chillun Got Wings. Robeson initiated his international artistic resume with a theatrical role in Great Britain before settling in London for the next several years with his wife Essie.

His renditions of spirituals were an integral part of the development of popular music in Britain, and his portrayal of Othello in London has been considered the high point in English Shakespearean theatre in the 20th Century. While Robeson became an international cinematic star in roles in Show Boat, Bosambo, and Sanders of the River, he became increasingly compassionate towards the the sufferings of all cultures and peoples. Acting against advice, which foretold of his economic ruin if he became politically active, he relegated the importance of his theatrical career to advocate the cause of the Republican forces of the Spanish Civil War.

He then became active in the Council on African Affairs (CAA). During World War II, he played Othello on Broadway while supporting America's war efforts.

After the war ended, the CAA was placed on the Attorney General's List of Subversive Organizations (AGLOSO) and he was scrutinized during the age of McCarthyism.

Due to his decision not to recant his beliefs, he was denied an international visa, and his income plummeted. He settled in Harlem and published a periodical critical of US policies. His right to travel was restored by Kent v. Dulles, but his health soon broke down.

Read more about Paul Robeson:  Withdrawal From Public Life (1963–1976), Legacy and Honors, Filmography

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