Favorite Classic Actors/Actresses #2 Paul Robeson
ne Paul Leroy Robeson
(9 April 1898 - 23 January 1976)
Why he makes the list:
Robeson was only the third African-American student accepted at Rutgers, and the only black student during his time on campus. Robeson was also one of three classmates at Rutgers accepted into Phi Beta Kappa in his third year, and one of four students selected in 1919 to Cap and Skull, Rutgers’ honor society.
Paul Robeson was also active on the Rutgers debate team and oratorical contests both on and off campus, winning the statewide prize four years in a row. He sang with the campus Glee club, but due to the racist climate at the time, he was not welcome to travel with the latter group out of town or to any social events following on campus performances. In the same capacity, was he elected to the Rutgers literary society, the Philoclean Society without being allowed to fully share in its festivities.
Chosen to be the 1919 class valedictorian, during his commencement oration, he exhorted his classmates to “catch a new vision”, while the “class prophecy” envisioned that he would become a governor of New Jersey by 1940 and “leader of the colored race in America.” Robeson’s senior thesis was entitled “The Fourteenth Amendment, the Sleeping Giant of the American Constitution”, in which he displayed optimism about white intentions to end segregation. Regarding his prodigious record at Rutgers, sports historian Francis C. Harris would say of Paul Robeson that he, “…established a level of excellence as a scholar-athlete that few others, if any, have ever attained.”
After graduation from Rutgers, Robeson moved to Harlem and entered Columbia Law School. Between 1920 and 1923, Robeson helped pay his way through law school by working both as an athlete and as a performer.
In the 1930s Robeson appeared in nine films, all but two of them British productions—after he and his wife moved to England in the late 1920s. For a total of nearly eleven years, he lived in the United Kingdom, with extended periods away on singing tours, until the outbreak of World War II. In 1928, at the invitation of a group of Labour MPs, he was the first actor of any race to have lunch at the House of Commons. During his many years abroad, Robeson became acquainted with conditions in different countries. Subsequently, his political thinking began to transcend racial divisions and encompass social and political issues and systems.
From 1927 to 1939, while continuing his professional singing and acting career, Robeson was increasingly involved with the struggles of British workers. He performed for them on numerous occasions, going down into the pits with the miners to see their working conditions and befriending them. Returning to England in 1949, he stated that his time there had a profound influence on his political development:
I learned my militancy and my politics, from your Labor Movement here in Britain…. That was how I realized that the fight of my Negro people in America and the fight of oppressed workers everywhere was the same struggle. [Wikipedia]