Key, clockwise beginning upper left corner: Paul Robeson, All-American football player at Rutgers University; Robeson, Phi Beta Kappa laureate, Rutgers, 1919; Robeson as Othello in New York production, 1943; Robeson leading Anti-Lynching Campaign in front of statue of Abraham Lincoln, Washington, D.C., 1946; Robeson leading Civil Rights protest in front of the White House, Washington, D.C., 1948; and the cover of The Undiscovered Paul Robeson, Vol. I, by Paul Robeson, Jr., published 2001.
A significant portion of class filled in the context of Robeson’s life by discussing underlying reasons for the persecution of thousands of artists, teachers (and by the way, scientists such as Albert Einstein as well) by the US Congress during the McCarthy period; the Spanish Civil War; the Cold War; and more.
Questions to consider: What do you find most compelling or surprising about Paul Robeson’s life? What does it say about our country that Paul Robeson’s life has been so effectively erased ? What specific connections to other material we’ve covered so far this semester can you articulate? Why do you think the story of Paul Robeson’s life has been successfully kept hidden all these years? In what specific ways is the story of Robeson’s life relevant to your life? In what specific ways is the story of Robeson’s life relevant to concerns you may have about the United States right NOW?
One has to stop and think and put Robeson’s achievements in context: How many artists today – in music, theatre, and film are superstars in all areas? Who among them are world class singers; and able to act in musicals and also in Shakespearean dramas? Who are those people today? Are any of them who are also world leaders in terms of the fight for people’s rights? And of course, it has to be kept in mind that Paul Robeson was among the best ever college football players. And spoke 12 languages and sang in twice that number. As one ponders all of this, one might ask another question: What was it about Paul Robeson, and his towering talents and achievements that made people either uncomfortable or afraid?
Any and all other comments are welcome.
This post will be open until about 10 pm on Sunday.
In class we viewed four excerpts from the documentary film Here I Stand, about Paul Robeson's life. The film is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUki-v-NvoE