August 26th, 2006
Paul Robeson
About the Actor

Paul Robeson was the epitome of the 20th-century Renaissance man. He was an exceptional athlete, actor, singer, cultural scholar, author, and political activist. His talents made him a revered man of his time, yet his radical political beliefs all but erased him from popular history. Today, more than one hundred years after his birth, Robeson is just beginning to receive the credit he is due.

Born in 1898, Paul Robeson grew up in Princeton, New Jersey. His father had escaped slavery and become a Presbyterian minister, while his mother was from a distinguished Philadelphia family. At seventeen, he was given a scholarship to Rutgers University, where he received an unprecedented twelve major letters in four years and was his class valedictorian. After graduating he went on to Columbia University Law School, and, in the early 1920s, took a job with a New York law firm. Racial strife at the firm ended Robeson’s career as a lawyer early, but he was soon to find an appreciative home for his talents.

Returning to his love of public speaking, Robeson began to find work as an actor. In the mid-1920s he played the lead in Eugene O’Neill’s “All God’s Chillun Got Wings” (1924) and “The Emperor Jones” (1925). Throughout the late 1920s and 1930s, he was a widely acclaimed actor and singer. With songs such as his trademark “Ol’ Man River,” he became one of the most popular concert singers of his time. His “Othello” was the longest-running Shakespeare play in Broadway history, running for nearly three hundred performances. It is still considered one of the great-American Shakespeare productions. While his fame grew in the United States, he became equally well-loved internationally. He spoke fifteen languages, and performed benefits throughout the world for causes of social justice. More than any other performer of his time, he believed that the famous have a responsibility to fight for justice and peace.

As an actor, Robeson was one of the first black men to play serious roles in the primarily white American theater. He performed in a number of films as well, including a re-make of “The Emperor Jones” (1933) and “Song of Freedom” (1936). In a time of deeply entrenched racism, he continually struggled for further understanding of cultural difference. At the height of his popularity, Robeson was a national symbol and a cultural leader in the war against fascism abroad and racism at home. He was admired and befriended by both the general public and prominent personalities, including Eleanor Roosevelt, W.E.B. Du Bois, Joe Louis, Pablo Neruda, Lena Horne, and Harry Truman. While his varied talents and his outspoken defense of civil liberties brought him many admirers, it also made him enemies among conservatives trying to maintain the status quo.

During the 1940s, Robeson’s black nationalist and anti-colonialist activities brought him to the attention of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Despite his contributions as an entertainer to the Allied forces during World War II, Robeson was singled out as a major threat to American democracy. Every attempt was made to silence and discredit him, and in 1950 the persecution reached a climax when his passport was revoked. He could no longer travel abroad to perform, and his career was stifled. Of this time, Lloyd Brown, a writer and long-time colleague of Robeson, states: “Paul Robeson was the most persecuted, the most ostracized, the most condemned black man in America, then or ever.”

It was eight years before his passport was reinstated. A weary and triumphant Robeson began again to travel and give concerts in England and Australia. But the years of hardship had taken their toll. After several bouts of depression, he was admitted to a hospital in London, where he was administered continued shock treatments. When Robeson returned to the United States in 1963, he was misdiagnosed several times and treated for a variety of physical and psychological problems. Realizing that he was no longer the powerful singer or agile orator of his prime, he decided to step out of the public eye. He retired to Philadelphia and lived in self-imposed seclusion until his death in 1976.

To this day, Paul Robeson’s many accomplishments remain obscured by the propaganda of those who tirelessly dogged him throughout his life. His role in the history of civil rights and as a spokesperson for the oppressed of other nations remains relatively unknown. In 1995, more than seventy-five years after graduating from Rutgers, his athletic achievements were finally recognized with his posthumous entry into the College Football Hall of Fame. Though a handful of movies and recordings are still available, they are a sad testament to one of the greatest Americans of the twentieth century. If we are to remember Paul Robeson for anything, it should be for the courage and the dignity with which he struggled for his own personal voice and for the rights of all people.

  • justun


  • erinn

    very informative, good article

  • Dm

    To RERe why would it suck? Were you suprised to read and hear of this man or is it something else?






  • Alas

    Very Enlightening!

  • ashley

    very nice!!i like it!!(=

  • kira

    very educational

  • gabby

    this was alright, not interesting.

  • gabby

    this was alright, not interesting tho.

  • kolorz

    i felt that this reading really was helpful because i knew nothing about this actor but now i know a lot

  • Yevgeny

    Paul Robeson was a great man and a visionary for his time – here is one of his writings from the year 1953.

  • joe

    love it

  • ashton

    i love it. one of the best things i have read in a really long time. it was beautiful to read about him and his accomplishments. i would have loved to meet him so i could tell him how much i admire all of his work.

  • tara

    A true renaissance MAN!!

  • Kara

    Very informative article of a great man.

  • Mo Ray

    this is AWESOME!!!!!

  • Terry

    What an amazing man, so often the elite and conservative want things to remain as they are. Why? Selfishness, wanting to remain on top. Scared of change. Scared of anyone who doesn’t look like them or represent their ideals. So they attempt and succeed on crushing anyone who looks different from them. The acheivements of Mr. Roberson were astounding. Man is by far the most evil creature on earth and probably abound. So many of us are indeed the devil’s children. I pray that I’m not one of them. Paul certainly was one of God’s.

  • Elena

    One of the greatest, if not the greatest, figures of the 20th century.

  • Joe S.

    i haven’t read it yet…..

  • Chris T.

    What a well rounded and amazing life Mr. Roberson lived. I am glad to see that he is being talked about, and I was inspired with what he did with his life especially in the period he was living in. Should we never forget Mr. Roberson.

  • Bianca

    This man is the greatest man he is amazing, i mean he go 12 degrees in 4 years, that is almost impossible for many of us. i think he should be considered a hero by us because he had many qualities.

  • bianca

    i cannot believe that Roberson was seen as a major threat to America. He is a great and hard working man, he couldn’t possibly be of any threat to anyone.

  • Jasmin

    I enjoyed the Article on Paul Robeson, There was a lot of interesting facts about and it was very informative. He had so many talents in different fields from author to actor to athlete to political scholar and even a singer. Robeson was a very smart man he earned 12 degrees in four years and spoke 15 languages.
    This article was very interesting to read about his life and how he became so legendary.

  • blah

    this is too much information to process

  • ……..

    what the hell this is waaaaaaaaaay too much information to process!!!!!

  • Kaila Smith

    Paul Robeson was an extraordinary man! His accomplishment are amazing. I loved the fact that he could speak so many languages. Its not often that we see an african american man dominationg so many aspects of social life, entertainment, and education. He is truely an inspiration.

  • Jasmin

    Very intersting article. I enjoyed reading it.. Paul Robeson was such a multi-talented person. He did so much. Great man

  • Dante Ross

    Its amazing to see that a black man was able to accomplish all he did in a time where racisim was very much alive. Dante Ross Hum 312

  • Julio Tamayo

    When I grow up I want to be like this man.. LOL

  • Tricia B.

    I think Mr.Paul was a well rounded,smart and, bright man who accomplished above and beyond what one human being usually does. Very Brillant!!!!

  • anita carvin

    Paul Roberson is for sure a new negro due to his education and his sucess in life. Due to the time period of the early 1900’s a black man sucess was diccriminated against, they wasnt allowed to stand for what they believed in. I agree with Roberson it should be the famous people responsibility to ensure justice and peace. I also believe if Roberson would have been apart of black history blacks would have more hope in thier people and the education system. A movie on his life would be great.

  • Steven Nelson

    very cultural

  • Schauna Porter

    This was a great article, very informative!

    Schauna Porter

  • Mariela B.

    It is truly sad that a man as smart and talented as him has not received the credit he obviously deserves. It is truly unfortunate to have seen his genius wasted so soon.

  • joan parks

    I started to look for recordings for my 82 year old mother who remembers his incredible voice and delivery. Wanting to buy her a cd, I read about the man and was so saddened by his persecution, it sounds like McCarthy did his best to break him. What a tragedy that one with such superb talent was made to be less. Joan

  • tahanae butler

    Robeson continued his interest in the politics of Communism, bringing him into conflict with the government of the United States. He rose to national and international fame as a multi-talented black man from the most humble beginnings. The determination to expand his self and succeed was strong. Roberson was a leader in the black community, sometimes accepted by the larger society, and at the same time vilified by opponents in the white community as a dangerous radical. In his footsteps and challenges, the existing power structure in American society comes from Roberson and many other great African American accomplishers like Dubois, Dr.king, and Garvey.

  • netia

    this is a wonderful article its good to see african american men getting recongnized for things they should have already been reconized for anyway

  • Nikki

    I feel bad for him. He died all upset because of stupid Joeseph McCarthy

  • paul daniels

    im doing a research project and this was very helpfull thanks

  • Grant Grover

    this was good

  • Grant

    This was GREATTTT

  • paul saltzman

    anyone know where i can purchase a dvd of the paul robeson american classics program?

  • Nikki

    This was really fun to read. I feel sooo bad for Paul Robeson now!!!!!!!! This was also really helpful for the paper I have to write on him

  • Joe Verser

    Truly, what a talent. What a voice. Too bad the voice was applauding while having personal knowledge over decades of Stalin’s murder of millions (helped his brother-in-law escape the NKVD). His own son, Paul Robeson, Jr. decries his father’s “apology” for the slaughter, “…sometimes great injustices may be inflicted on the minority when the majority is in the pursuit of a great and just cause.” The KKK couldn’t have said it any better (thank God no one listens to them any more). Love the music, celebrate the accomplishments – don’t ignore his life-long devotion to a pernicious political philosophy responsible for the mass murder of millions.

  • Briyunna

    I want to e just like you when I grow up

  • Mo Davies

    Paul Robeson is my hero. I saw a documentary about him when I was in my ‘teens and had no idea why he had disappeared from view. He is a hero to many people in Australia who still remember his visit to the workers at the new Parliament House being built at that time. How sad that he was villified by little people who couldn’t handle such a brave, multi-talented man. America and the world should honour sucha remarkable and honourable man.

  • someone

    nice article and hello fromj montreal

  • nicky

    this man made history he was the first man to sing in a therater

  • Gerald

    First met Robeson at a children’s camp at age 9. Later, was with PR and other civil rights activists in 1949 in Peekskill NY, where, with acquiescence by the NY State Police, we were violently attacked by “patriots” who called our rally for equal rights a subversive, Communist inspired plot. Robeson and others were the ones upon whose shoulders the successful civil rights movement of the late ’50s and early 60’s stood. It’s about time that the radicals of the 30’s and ’40s are recognized for the contribution they made to the goal of equal rights.

  • keiasia

    that movie was off the chain and i liked it

  • Tony Caparo

    I feel that Paul Robeson was a great American and a shining example of humanity. Like all greats he was not fully understood and appreciated when he walked among us.

  • LaLa624

    Hi my name is Brittany,I am doing a report on Paul Robeson. He seems to be very interesting. I’m accutulaty learning a lot about him to say it only been a week.

  • Tam

    In this age where vaccuous celebrity is revered and morally corrupt businessmen or morons with big guns are role models for our children, we must remember people of integrity like Paul Robeson. People such as he are Americas greatest hope.

  • Geoff

    I’ve often wondered what drove Paul Robeson insane. His talent was recognized in Jim Crow America. His stature as a civil rights defender was immense. But Robeson knew things that electro shock therapy could not erase. Paul Robeson was a dyed in the wool Stalinist. He gave a eulogy at Stalin’s funeral. “Glory to Stalin”. Robeson knew people who had been swept away in Stalin’s slave labor system. He had personal knowledge of the Soviet mass murder system. Maybe it was too much to bear particularly as the Civil Rights Movement gained steam in the U.S. and progress could be seen.

  • tara

    I want to thank “buddy” for shareing this her personal stories of Paul and encouraging me to look him up and learn his story. I met “buddy” on a Southwest flight from pheinox to portland oregon. Her late husband was a close friend of Paul Robeson. I was comeing from the inaguration of our president. She had been at the speech in 1963 and although she could not see Obama be sworn in on that same place, I shared with her the stories of the day and all the moments leading up during the weekend in D.C. and in return i got a window into history and what a neat lady and life and how lucky are we all to be able to share moments with one another and to find out that good people have been fighting for the good of the many for so long and that one person can make a difference and how many you can effect even after your death!!!

  • aziza

    its really good

  • Julicaer

    what a influencial character, he must have been a great man.

  • Taneisha Cameron



    its very exiting reading about paul robeson its amazing what done did….that go for everybody back in history

  • casey schoolcraft

    i like this

  • Cristi Schlesinger

    uh yeah i have to do this stupid project for black history month and i havent learned much but this article was really helpful

  • SANG

    very helpful

  • Emily

    why is this stupid? uh i think you can learn alot from this man. :) love ittt. haha

  • Aidan

    he was a great man

  • laquan felton

    very educational

  • C.W.’bill’ LOCKE


  • Jazmine

    Black history is just amazing to me I never get board with this stuff! We need to know are history to learn from it. God Bless!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Frank Hayden

    Yes,I love Our Cultural Black History Legacies. A wide resource of very,very talented and creative African-Americans. God is so good!!! Peace,Frank

  • Les Johns

    From what I can gather, Robeson always got good press in Australia, and footage of his singing, echoing through an unfinished Sydney Opera House with hard-hatted construction workers his main audience bobs-up on T.V. every few years.Australia disregarded its aboriginals at the time, just as the yanks gave their slave descendants a hard deal. Could have been the boofheads of the era displaying their new-found refinement.

  • Erick

    I find it difficult to put into words how much I appreciate what I have read about such a man. What a extraordinary and special individual. Here is a man who had it all but because of who he was, he found it necessary to fight for social justice, equality, and fairness.


    Paul Robeson, the black spiritual singer of yesteryear, was the spiritual and moral father of Dr. Bhupen Hazarika — the versatile octogenerian singer of Assam, the northeastern state of India. When Dr. Hazarika was a student leader of Columbia University was close friend of Paul Robeson. Dr. Hazarika sings around the world in the tune of Paul Robeson….”We’re on the same boat brother….”

  • Barbara Fisher

    Make no mistake, Paul Robeson was stumping for all of us not just black people. But he was up against, as we are today, the corporations (military/industrial complex) who at the moment, have most of the money (much of it ours). Mr. Robeson was never, ever radical, and I deeply resent PBS labeling him as such. He was a brilliant, compassionate man, who wanted a peaceful, just world, and that is a most conservative, wonderful idea!

  • Brendan Amott

    One of the greatest Americans that ever lived.

  • jasmine gills

    i think it is goood to learn about people that did thing back in the day because if they didn’t then would we be doing the thing that we are doing today so this really dosen’t suck

  • jazzy

    i think it is good to learn about black history i love to really like reading about it in class

  • Thomas Cofer

    In this era of the “Hegelian Dialectic” being enforced upon the masses, and, especially upon people of color, Paul Robeson stands out as a man amongst men! I happen to live in Philadelphia where he lived his final years at his sister’s home! It’s a shame that home only has an landmark posted on the sidewalk! Asiatic children in search of a role model need to do their research on this great man! Forget about the zero’s and find out more about this hero, Mr. Paul Robeson, a giant amongst all men!

  • Nichole Ferguson

    One of the greatest Americans that ever lived.

  • sierra gosvemore


  • Lynu

    I could listen to Mr Paul Robeson sing all night.Be was a very telanted man and most definitly the most accomplished American( black or white)of the 20th century.I know I read that he was Fluent in 16 languages (I thought it was 12) The world is a sad place without him here.I can see him smile now to see who is in the White House.A truely great man.Lynu

  • pam

    i’ve known of mr. paul robeson, actor, singer, athlete and scholar for over a decade; (as an extension of my ancestral research) i became extremely interested – reading books, watching movies
    and have come to the conclusion that he was and will remain one of the most important humans in the history of the world; he exuded uncomparable eloquence, intelligence and charm.

  • doug

    Why did a pasty, rat-faced McCarthy hate Paul Robeson?Probably rage over his feelings of jealousy. His justified feeling inferior. After all Paul was everything he wanted to be and wasn’t. Tall, dark and handsome. And smart, don’t forget smart.
    But he was too tall, at 6′10″-295, he was a Goliath. (A favorite photo shows him leaning over a young boy that the caption identifies as Champ Joe Louis. Yes, he was that big.) McCarthy was intimidated. He feared him. Because he was too dark, way too dark. He looked like a black god. Because he was too Good. McCarthy was intimidated. He feared him.
    It was only because Paul was ‘First Black’ in everything. The first two-time, black all American. The first black movie star, producer, concert performer, Shakesperian, etc, that he could kiss Desdomona. Think about it. A Black God kissing a White Woman on the Broadway stage. It was 30 years before Portier in Guess Whos Coming to Dinner.
    Listen to Paul sing Joe Hill or All Men Are Brothers and you know why Capital considered him Enemy #1. It feared him. Capital doesn’t get intimidated.

    The Surpremesist heard The House I Live In and Ballad for Americans or Four Rivers and reached for a gun. They fomented riots to stop the enlightened from listening. They ware intimidated. They feared him.
    He had to go. He was dangerous. Because Paul was so adored by so many to kill him was to create a martyr. Capital’s reaction was an attempt to erase him from History. They funded the McCarthy witchhunts. Capital’s banks pressured the record, radio and concert companies to embargo Robeson. Their newspapers didn’t cover the many church concerts or the Peace Arch Concerts. And still he fought the good fight until he saw the magnitude of his misjudgement. And he lost faith in himself and we lost our greatest voice for Freedom. My pick for Best American, ever.

  • Robert Crowder

    I have a two disc record album set (12″, 78 rpm)entitled “Ballad for Americans”. The songs are sung by Paul Robeson. The music is by Earl Robinson and the words are by John Latouche. This set was produced by RCA Victor and was purchased by a member of my family, new, in 1940. I feel they may be of some value, at least social historic, and would like to make a proper disposition of them. I can be contacted at email, Thank you.

  • K. Piork

    Paul Robeson was an extremely talented singer and performer.

    He was also a Communist and well aware of the millions that were killed under Stalin in the Soviet Union. Yet he always supported Stalin and refused to criticise him. In fact, when people in the US wanted to petition for the release of Trotskyites who were imprisoned in the US, Roberson refused to support this movement.

    Robeson described Socialists as being fascists. For him the only valid political system was Communism. I wonder how his vaunted conscience dealt with the pressure of knowing that millions, innocent millions, including people he knew, were killed by Communism.

  • Anne

    Just a quick response to K. Piork. Paul Robeson was an African American, a man who had to deal with the many contradictions of national politics. He was born and lived his life in a country that refused to acknowledge or atone for the suffering and deaths of millions of African American men and women, generations of whom were incarcerated by the American slave system, abused under Jim Crow laws, lynchings, racism, segregation, denial of their voting and citizenship rights, etc. It might be difficult to understand why Communism appealed to Robeson, but in comparison to American “Democracy,” perhaps it seemed to promote an ideal of equality that the U.S. was failing to even aspire to. I just wonder if it’s a little more complicated than you seem to want to make it.

  • Marianne

    Not enough detail, missing dates of birth and birth-place. Family details, how many childeren in HIS family, What lyrics did he change in the, “Old Man River” song. Not a real compliment to the man himself.

  • Eric0.

    Paul Robeson,was a giant among men,any colour or creed.Iam nearly 80, and Paul has been dead for many years,but will never be forgotten in my house-hold.

  • Scott

    I remember him well. By the way he did not earn 12 degrees in 4 years; he lettered 12 times in different sports over a 4-year period–quite an athletic achievement but not an academic one. I have never seen any documentation to support the 15 languages; then again, one RCC Pope claimed to speak over 300 languages, including Californian. Fer sure, fer sure. He was a good singer but his Black Nationalism turned off Whites as much as White Nationalism would turn off Blacks. His support of Communism did not bother Eleanor Roosevelt; then again, FDR saw no problems with Uncle Joe and Eleanor supported Alger Hiss even adter his conviction for treason. She forever procvlaimed him as the Father of the United Nations–what a significant comment.

  • Bernard S. Oranika

    This is an absolutely informative story of Paul Robeson. I have to say after reading the story of Paul Robeson that America would have been more than 1000 times greater than its current status if it were not for its fascination with persecution of innocent citizens past or present. I hope that her real great ness will shine through the realization of her potentials is felt and worked on.

  • agustin

    he’s l;ike the chuck norris of hios time hahaha

  • Jenna

    this was really helpful! im doing a project on Paul Robeson for English and I do believe that I will be using this alot. The only thing is, websites never have who wrote the article! They should get credit too especially when I am citing my sources…anyways the article was quite beneficial! It gave me lots of the information I needed =]

  • Me

    Instilling piece tending to exacerbate his struggles and his “agape” love for his peolpe and those enduring similar strife. It strongly demonstrates the one right so unjustly revoked of him, that of life. He readily earns my respect as nothing short of the most influential entertainer to live.

  • yaan huang

    one of the greatest in US history.

  • Joe

    the reading is very amazing.. i had soo much fun reading this!!!

  • johnny!

    it really sucks when i have to wait till my sophomore year to hear about this man who suffered a lot, and until now is he being recognized!!!!

  • Giant

    Great story…
    MY grandfather spoke a lot of this great man. He is a hero in the hearts of many. Tembo!!!

  • frank

    Mr.Robeson used his empowerment to help others,with persecution. If we don’t empower ourselves, we disable ourselves to help others, with persecution. “Persecution” is a given. Some folkes are forced or internalized with idealisms that are destructive to themselves and others, I think that’s persecution too. THANK YOU!

  • Arlene

    I didn’t learn a lot about Paul Robeson until I worked for a black newspaper in San Diego. He was extraordinary for his time and for the things he had to go through because of his outspokeness. That’s probably why he was hidden deep in the page of history. Robeson was the one who came up with the idea to approach the U.N. on behalf of the black people being oppressed in America.
    As for him knowing Stalin was killing so many people, how would he know. He didn’t have a passport to leave the country and no one knew the horrors of Stalin outside of the people of Russia. He may have thought communism was a good thing, but if he had live long enough, he would have seen how the concept was perverted.

  • Anne

    Wow, My Dad always played his music when i was a child and i grew to love it, but never knew who he was until recently,
    Very interesting!!

  • Ike

    I have always admired this man. Very much misunderstood as would be any multi-talented, extremely educated african american man during this period. He was like “we shall overcome” on steroids and this bothered people.

  • yung moneh

    very gud infomation

  • laura lozano 17yrs

    i relly think it was not fair that America turned his back to Paul Robeson .. He was a very hard working man and did not deserve the end he had.=(

  • JJ 706


  • Robert Fown

    I just saw the movie “King Solemon’s Mine” (1937), where Paul was the title lead. I was impressed by his voice both speaking and singing (loved the echo in “mighty Mountain”). It is obvious that the movie would not have had the impact that it did without him as the lead. A wonderful actor, extremely talented singer and much neglected role model.

  • Maaaarciawhatsup

    thanks, helped me on my project!! ;)

  • Dipsy

    nice article, really helpful

  • Carolyn

    I have been looking for a filmed version of Paul Robeson’s Otello. I believe I am looking for the Shakesperean play, not the opera. Has anyone every heard of this film? Can one purchase a copy, VHS or DVD tape?

  • David

    Sadly this morning, my friend Barba-del Campbell, a champion of Paul Robeson, passed away this morning. She fought to get the postal service to issue a stamp in his honor. I urge any one with an interest in Paul Robeson to visit to listen to hers and the stories of others touched by Mr. Robeson and to support The Paul Robeson House in Philadelphia. Thank you.

  • blah

    This is an amazing article great job!

  • Stephen b. Logan

    Reading that a person of this caliber existing amidst such horrific prejudice,oppression and ignorance makes me feel cheated. We are all robbed of what he COULD have achieved, yet , somehow, I feel more inspired. He did plenty! It’s an honor to be able to share the same planet men such as this have walked. Thanks to Mr. Robeson for bothering to endure all the B.S., and insisting to achieve at least some of his potential.


    I have long admired Mr. Robeson. He was the master of so many things. Aside from his magnificent voice, his acting ability, his philosophic views, his prowess, and his scholastic achievements, his absolute love of mankind was amazing. As a woman, I find that his committment to his wife and family was beyond admirable in a time, then and now, that many don’t understand the importance of such a committment. As a famous person, he suffered openly what many of us suffered in the dark. However, he maintained a strength that is awe inspiring. I do believe that he is happy now, reunited with his loving wife.

  • Nathan S.

    Great info! Im working curently on a history assignment on him, and thanks to PBS it’s become much easier. Thanks =)

  • juniesound

    A great man. Good article.

  • Anri2008

    It’s no wonder …they almost did the same to Charlie Chaplin. A very important and informative article on Robeson though. Thanks a lot.

  • kimonate203

    This was a very EDUCATED man!!!!…. This got to help me for the research i got. It was wonderful tho…

  • Sam Neisen

    I wrote this for a class in college.. Very interesting life he lived.

    I remember back in junior high school taking an American history class that covered colonialism up to World War II. This class hit on so many interesting things in American history, from the good times of how and why the United States formed, to the bad times of the Great Depression. However, a big thing I remember is, in the middle of all those things, there was a movement in a small area in New York City that had a huge impact on the African American culture. This movement took place in the 1920’s in Harlem, New York, and today it is known as the Harlem Renaissance; it was a time where many great ideas about African American progress were fostered. From writers and poets like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, to musicians like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong so many great people helped influence this cultural movement for a better African American society. Yet what sticks with me most, for some reason, is a small two paragraph passage in our book about how influential the theater was in this whole movement. There was a small picture that accompanied this passage that said something along the lines of “The theater was very important in the Harlem Renaissance- especially actor Paul Robeson as seen here in his famous role as Othello.” It went on to talk about how important Robeson was in the Renaissance with his acting and singing and how he became politically active for African American equality. It was an interesting glimpse into who Robeson was and what he did. Nonetheless, before reading Lloyd L. Brown’s The Young Paul Robeson I had some knowledge of what impact he had, what he did, and who he was but I did not know the whole story of Paul Robeson.
    “Famous as a football star and prizewinning student, then acclaimed as a world-class concert singer and actor on stage and screen, Paul Robeson became one of America’s most controversial figures during the cold war” (177). Yet, my previous knowledge of Robeson was minute. Granted after reading Brown’s work and a little outside research it was obvious why I had heard so little about him. To begin with, Robeson led a successful and amazing life: “…From 1919 [to 1923], Paul worked his way through law school, got married, played three seasons of professional football, made his debut on Broadway… played semi- pro basketball… and tutored… student[s] in Latin” (105). He is a truly mythical figure. Yet what interests me most is the legacy he left, the times he was a part of, and all the controversy that surrounded him. All the talk about the controversy in his life prompted me to look more into it.
    PBS wrote a wonderful online bio about Robeson and a majority of the following will be based from there. The article talked about how Robeson’s activism allowed him to socialize with the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, W.E.B. Du Bois, Joe Louis, Pablo Neruda, and Harry Truman. “Robeson was a national symbol and a cultural leader in the war against fascism abroad and racism at home” (American Masters). Yet, this outspokenness made him a suspect of Joe McCarthy, and Robeson “Was singled out as a major threat to American Democracy.” Even though he traveled overseas to support the troops in WWII by putting on concerts at bases in Europe, the US government still took his passport and discredited him every way possible. He was removed from the record books and hall of fame of college football and was perpetually ostracized in public life. Understandably all this hate got to Robeson and affected his health as he struggled with it until his death in 1976. Yet, we need to examine the times he lived in to get a look at why he was so hated and abused for doing things that today would be viewed as heroic for a person of his stature. Granted, his image has slowly been restored in recent years and he has been put back into the football hall of fame and record books. (Thanks in large part to his son).
    Regardless of what has been done recently Robeson’s life is fascinating. Robeson was a national figure as a prominent African American man and was extremely outspoken; although in a different way than say, Jack Johnson. Anyhow, the culture of the ‘30’s, ‘40’s, and ‘50’s was one where if a person was not a white male, middle class, and “loved America” they would be an outcast. Regardless of this status-quo Robeson challenged these paradigms. He was his own man and stood up for what he believed in- which was African American nationalism, anti-colonialism, and anti-fascism. The big issue of his that troubled whites was his black nationalism. He was one of the first actors to play African Americans in dignified roles and that challenged white ideology. This is one of the reasons why Robeson’s legacy was tarnished. Additionally, he supported freedom movements abroad (Like Ho Chi Minh’s Vietminh), and had an open relationship with the Soviet Union. All these things that today would be less of an issue for a person that accomplished so much. Yet, then it was the major issue in a time where fear was everywhere- fear of communism and fear of differences. It was that fear that led to his tarnishment. Even with opposition he stood for what was right even when no one would stand with him. Henry David Thoreau, who had a huge influence on Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement, would have been exhilarated with Robeson’s life because Robeson “March[ed] to the beat of a different drummer.” Robeson took the Declaration of Independence into his own hands: “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations… reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty… to provide new Guards for their future security.” Robeson was a revolutionary and made it his duty to fight against injustice; injustice at home, and injustice abroad. It was this individuality and his undeniable belief in what he knew was right made Paul Robeson a true American hero.

    Works Cited
    “Paul Robeson: About the Actor.” American Masters. PBS, 26 Aug 2006. Web. 4 Oct 2010. <

  • Alpha man

    This article may be true, however it does not tell how he was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated and because of that, this article is weak.

  • Neville

    As far as I’m concerned the greatest singer that has ever lived. Probably the first racial equality leader of Americans, well before Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King. Something that the article doesn’t state is that because of his viewpoints he was considered a Communist and struck from the year books and roll of honour at college. It is about time that he and others like him were given the credit due them.

  • The Rooskies

    Propaganda? It isn’t propaganda when it’s true.

    ‎”Through his [Stalin's] deep humanity, by his wise understanding, he leaves us a rich and monumental heritage.” – Paul Robeson

    A heritage that includes thirty million murdered Russians, Poles, and Gypsies, whose bodies lie among us, unspoken for.

    Robeson was talented, but he was also an apologist for a mass murderer. That goes to character.

  • Mark

    Rooskies has it right. Robeson’s sad tribute was to Russia where he lived, in approval of the Stalin regime.
    Mr Robeson deserves everyone’s respect for speaking out against the horrible racism of his time, yet he
    tacitly approved of Stalin’s murder of white people in the USSR.
    An unparalleled athlete, actor, singer and speaker, he deserves credit where it is due. His anti-American beliefs stemmed from his involvement as a Communist, with the Communist agenda to honor the USSR’s interests as superior to the US.

  • Super Amanda

    “Robeson did speak at Josef Stalin’s funeral in 1953, so it was possible to draw a connection to Communism.”

    Paul Robeson never met Stalin nor did he ever live in self exile within the USSR nor did he attend or speak at his funeral! How many of you actually READ? If you found that information from David Horowitz realize that he is a liar who provides no sources and makes things up about Paul Robeson and his family. He is a lying **** Robeson wrote the eulogy for Stalin at a time when many, many celebrities and artists had hoped for the USSR as a counter balance aganist the segregationist USA and the rape of Africa, Latin America and Asia that personified the “free world.” Robeson was not privy (obviously) to the hindsight that we have today about the USSR as well. Even in that era though, American Communists weren’t blindly supporting Stalin, but were demanding local rights like basic workers’ conditions and racial and sexual equality that we now take for granted (even when we fail to live up to the ideals)Rights that the US government could not have cared less about.

    “His evasive refusal to denounce Stalin in his House of Un-American Activities Committee hearings is certainly a difficult piece of history for fans to accept; but it’s also not difficult to understand why Robeson would not be particularly eager to deliver these criticisms to the disgraceful HUAC to serve as handy propaganda for a country that had essentially marginalised his ability to speak and segregated him from the global community (Robeson’s FBI files can be found online). Instead, Robeson simply stated that “whatever has happened to Stalin, gentlemen, is a question for the Soviet Union .. I will discuss Stalin when I may be among the Russian people some day, singing for them, I will discuss it there”. (Testimony of Paul Robeson before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, 12 June 1956.)”

    From Kit Mcfarlane:

  • evonne waldrum

    This man was an example of how far America will go to silence anyone who has a difference of opinion, or even to think you are equal with white society. What happened to him is still happening to others, only difference is the racism is againsts any religion, race, ethnic background or political affiliation.

  • Colin Stewart

    This article about Robeson on the PBS website glosses over the fact that Robeson undoubtedy was what Lenin would have described as a “useful idiot”. Despite all that he achieved, it is overshadowed by the fact that he was an apologist for one of the most evil regimes in History. Robeson knew about the purges and still remained a supporter of Stalin. He also knew American emigres living in the USSR were being arrested and killed but did nothing and said nothing. He was complicit in genocide.

  • John Mackie

    The USA would be a better place today if it had more citizens like Paul Robeson, a truely great man. It fascinates me that America could produce a person of his talents and one that the average American would have no idea about. Yes it is easy to cherry pick his socialist opinions and actions as a negative but I think you will find that he was very consistent in his treatment of all nations and races when it came to human rights and the rights of the working man. To align him as a supporter of the attocities carried out by Stalin is a major injustice to one of the great men of the twentieth century.

  • Kyra

    He was really expiring. I have learned a lot from this man. Who ever doubts him is probably not fond of anyhting political. Maybe just maybe you just dont have a brain which just means you cont imput this wonderful information about Paul Robeson.

  • oye afrika

    robeson singing praises to stalin . . . how different is that from u.s presidents singing praises of pinochet, and other dictators (including saddam hussein before he fell out of favour and chased like a rat), like suharto of indonesia, as well as fascists who killed people for fun?.

  • Merlene

    I googled Paul Robeson b/c I volunteered to do some work with the YWCA in Princeton this weekend, and the address is Paul Robeson Place. The name Paul Robeson is very familar to me b/c I live next to an Elementary school and taught in that school -Paul Robeson Elementary School. Yes, I knew about his work in the arts and an advocate, but not the other deep and interesting things about him.
    I will make a commitment to read and share all I can find about this great man, Paul Robeson.

  • John Doe

    These events that happened to Mr. Robeson still exist in a round about way. In a lot of areas in America today there is still total WHITE rule. If the majority is white populated in your area the majority will win. Since beginning of this great american country the causation race invaded the native american and created the constitution along with the bill of rights only signed by his race. Enslaving the African man not education then on the same level as he was educated and now with his uncontrollable money system that is starting to slap him in the face, this great so called America is falling down hill very fast and we will ALL feel the effects of it. We always hear GOD bless America. The only time the races come together and are considered Americans is when they travel outside the US and in time of WAR, but when they walk the streets of America its like they don’t even know each other. Peace

  • BIG John 78

    For those who care… Paul Robeson is a wonderfull person who contributed to the advancement of the
    African-American Race. So for those who say the article is B.S. You my Friend are wrong beyond compare. My advise would be to actually read and plaese for the love of everything that is good and true. “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.”

  • mark stomer

    i found this great fan website about paul robeson

  • Steve

    If racism had not stricken this great man what would he have achevied ?…Obama Status , I thought I knew his story but I did not know Graduate with 12 sports letters ,Valavictorian ,Lawyer ,Spoke 15 laungages, longest running Shakespear on Broad way….when american can make movies of gangsters (Alcapone 20 times) and not a word about this great man. if it’s not logical it is usually racial

  • Don Ashton

    I am 74 years old tomorrow and I remember his movies so very well, one particular scene was in the head of a canoe with his native underlings behind him, I even remember the song he sang. I missed him at the time and realize that he fell under the clean up from Communism, he had communist leanings. Such a great shame to lose the sight of such a great man.

  • sdumo mtshali

    Deeply moved!

  • Chris Kinter

    Paul Robeson is the main reason I decided to become an educator. Being a white male knowing his incredible legacy was denied to me. It has become my mission to rebuild his role as a leader of our country especially during a time when we needed it the most and were least able to appreciate what a man we were blessed to have among us. As for Joe Stalin, he was a brutal ditator who killed millions of his own people getting his country under his control but also created enough time to prepare for Hitlers onslaught. We may not like this side of history but the Russians killed a lot more Germans than we did. In fact I’ll go on board to say he killed the cream of the crop of the German army. We fought a lot of German who had survived the Eastern front and sent west for rest and recovery. (If their is really any such thing) When the Japanese thought to attack the Russians early in their war of conquest. The Russian Siberian Army all but obliterated them and the Japanese never bothered them again. sadly many of our textbooks continue to history of lies about who we have been as Americans. Some of greatest examples of Americans we should be proud of are denied to us for a number of reasons. Mainly color or politics. Perhaps someday when we truly practice what we preach we can come together and embrace those words our founding fathers could visualize but were sadly unable to totally live up to.

  • Bobby Longthing


  • Elaine Armstrong

    I was raised listening to this wonderful man and can remember being told, as a child, that he had his tongue cut out because of his political beliefs. To read bout him and know this was not true, as I found out as I grew older, was great for any other fans that may have been misinformed. His singing to the workers at our Opera House in Australia shows what a great man he was and how his need to entertain far surpassed any thoughts of money.
    What a wonderful man.

  • Marc

    One of the greatest voices of the modern era. He would definitely side in solidarity with the 99%, don’t you doubt it.

  • Andy Z

    LISTEN TO PAUL SING SCANDALIZE MY NAME……..that title of the song says it all

  • Bigm860

    The man spoke fifteen languages. Need I say more…

  • David McDonnell

    Would like to have read something about his time organising the miners in Wales. A Truly fascinating and talented man, who’s heart I believe was in the right place.

  • Susan Allen Blanco

    When recently looking through my father’s VERY extensive music collection I came across Mr. Robeson’s album “Ballad for Americans”. Curious about a man I’d never heard of, I popped the CD into my computer and was totally blown away by the awesomeness of his voice. It was just the one album and the only reason I can think of for Dad not having more of a selection of albums is that he acquired this album quite recently himself. Wanting to find out if there were more albums available I decided to Google Mr. Robeson’s name and came across this website.

    What an incredible man! I was raised to be “color/racially/ethnically blind” and tolerant of differences, to look beyond what a person is or isn’t perceived to be. I find the beauty of the spirituality of his songs – I dare anyone to listen to this album and NOT hear it – deeply moving. I eagerly look forward to finding out more about his legacy, the “good”, the “bad”, all of it. Thirteen, thank you for opening the first door to learning about Mr. Robeson. I hope you will do some follow-ups!

  • By Night

    Robeson ne fut jamais une menace pour qui que ce soit, celui-ci est un grand homme.

  • By Night

    Robeson posed no threat to anyone, it is a great man.

  • Patricia Stallinger

    I just saw Mr. Paul Robson on Rawhide a TV western from 1964. I knew of him because of my parents, but I forgot what he looked like. What when I heard him sing that is something you never never forget. My word! What a voice!!!

  • popuri.baburao

    It is great to learn about this fantastic human being.I am a Indian.I admire this gifted man.


    the first time i heard mr. robson sing was a long time ago. but i due rember how it was sung byu him,and never to this day have i ever heard it done any better than how he didit.i would like to find a copy of that album, it was either on 78, or 33, i cant rember which.


    In the 1940s, Robeson was an outspoken critic of segregation and racial discrimination in the United States, who was also a strong advocate of the Soviet Union and a member of the Communist Party USA.


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