Postcards From Africa #17. Remembering And Celebrating International Artist & Activist Paul Robeson

Sometimes, you come across a post or video on social media and you feel you simply have to share it with everyone you know! A huge thank you to Ufulu Bomani and J Adam Merriwoodweatherson, for sharing this video on Facebook. I’d suggest you check out their pages, they share very insightful posts. I think at some level, this video somehow raises and expands our collective consciousness. Enjoy 🙂

 

Personally, I was immediately intrigued by Paul Robeson’s charisma and grasp of his core identity. I wanted to know more about his story. Interestingly, he was an international artist and a friend of Nigeria’s own Nnamdi Azikiwe, the erudite Journalist and Pan Africanist (Nigeria’s first president after independence). He was also a mentor to the great Harry Belafonte (Watch Mr Belafonte’s video about moving from random violence to strategic activism).

 

No sooner had I posted the video above on my wall, did I get a few private messages asking me who he was. So, I decided to do this post so that more people, especially younger men and women, within the global black community, will become more aware of this international activist and artist, who stood up against injustice in all shades. ~ ❤ Cyber-Hugs, Juliet ‘Kego Ume-Onyido

 

More about Paul Robeson
(This abridged version is culled from: http://www.biography.com).

 

Who is Paul Robeson? Rhym Guissé said it succinctly with her post on Google+: “What a role model for any actor: Paul Robeson was involved in the Harlem Renaissance, an advocate of anti-imperialism, who publicly critiqued the U.S. government, and had a great appreciation for Africa. He was an actor, athlete and an intellectual who used his public persona for good. The ultimate renaissance man….who clearly had amazing energy”

 

“My father was a slave, and my people died to build this country, and I am going to stay right here and have a part of it just like you. And no fascist-minded people will drive me from it.” ~Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson was an acclaimed 20th century performer known for productions like The Emperor Jones and Othello. He was also an international activist. Born on April 9, 1898, in Princeton, New Jersey, Paul Robeson went on to become a stellar athlete and performing artist. He starred in both stage and film versions of The Emperor Jones and Show Boat, and established an immensely popular screen and singing career. Robeson spoke out against racism and became a world activist, yet was blacklisted during the paranoia of McCarthyism in the 1950s. He died in Pennsylvania in 1976.

 

Paul Robeson was born on April 9, 1898, in Princeton, New Jersey, to Anna Louisa and William Drew Robeson. Robeson’s mother died from a fire when he was 6 and his clergyman father moved the family to Somerville, where the youngster excelled in academics and sang in church. When he was 17, Robeson earned a scholarship to attend Rutgers University, the third African American to do so, and became one of the institution’s most stellar students. He received top honors for his debate and oratory skills, won 15 letters in four varsity sports, was elected Phi Betta Kappa and became his class valedictorian.

 

In 1924, Robeson played the lead in the production All God’s Chillun Got Wings, and the following year, he starred in the London staging of The Emperor Jones—both by playwright Eugene O’Neill. Robeson also entered film when he starred in African-American director Oscar Micheaux’s 1925 work, Body and Soul. Robeson continued to make waves in London in 1928 with his star turn on stage in Showboat, where he brought the house down with “Ol’ Man River,” a song that would become his signature.

 

In the late 1920s, Robeson and his family relocated to Europe, where they lived for more than a decade. He established both a singing and film career, and his next big-screen feature was 1930’s Borderline. He was also in the 1933 movie re-make of The Emperor Jones and would be featured in six British films over the next few years, including the desert drama Jericho and musical Big Fella, both released in 1937.

 

During this period, Robeson also starred in the second big-screen adaptation of Show Boat (1936). His last movie would be the Hollywood production Tales of Manhattan (1942), which he critiqued for its demeaning portrayal of African-Americans. A beloved international figure, Robeson regularly spoke out against racial injustice and was involved in world politics.

 

He supported Pan-Africanism, sang for Loyalist soldiers during Spain’s civil war, took part in anti-Nazi demonstrations and performed for Allied forces during WWII. He also visited the Soviet Union several times during the mid-1930s, taken by much of its culture and ideas.Back in the United States, he once again received accolades for his stage work in the 1943 Broadway production of Othello.

 

Yet McCarthyism and Cold War paranoia was on the bound. Robeson found himself contending with government officials looking to silence a voice who spoke out eloquently against racism, and had political ties that could be vilified. Robeson was labeled a communist, and was barred by the State Department from renewing his passport in 1950 to travel abroad for engagements. *Despite his immense popularity, he was blacklisted from domestic concert venues, recording labels and film studios.

 

A Lasting Legacy

 

Robeson published his biography, Here I Stand, in 1958, the same year that he won the right to have his passport reinstated. Robeson again traveled internationally and received a number of accolades for his work, but damage had been done, as he suffered from debilitating depression and related health problems.

 

Robeson and his family returned to the United States in 1963. After Eslanda’s death in 1965, the artist lived with his sister. Robeson died from a stroke on January 23, 1976, at the age of 77, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In recent years, some efforts have been made by various industries to recognize Robeson’s legacy after a period of silence about his achievements. Several biographies have been written on the artist, and he was inducted posthumously into the College Football Hall of Fame. In 2007, Criterion released Paul Robeson: Portraits of the Artist, a box set containing several of his films, as well as a documentary and booklet on his life.

 

“Our children are not waiting on A God, A Messiah, A President or A Politician to change their reality…No, they are waiting on THE God, THE Messiah, THE President and THE Politician within each and every one of us.”
~Ufulu Bomani… Scholarship is the prerequisite of revolution. #‎LetsGetFree

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