Paul The Great

Paul The Great Paul the Great The exhibit I viewed was a very interesting exhibit. It had lots of great information about Robeson and his accomplishments. When I walked in the museum I saw that there were other exhibits. They were interesting also. Paul Robeson was a famous African-American athlete, singer, actor, and advocate for the civil rights of people around the world.

He was perhaps the best known and most widely respected black American of the 1930s and 1940s. As a young man, Robeson was virile, charismatic, eloquent, and powerful. He learned to speak more than 20 languages in order to break down the barriers of race and ignorance throughout the world, and yet, as pointed out in the New York Times Book Review, for the last 25 years of his life his was a great whisper and a greater silence in black America. Born in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1898, Robeson was spared most of the daily brutalities suffered by African Americans around the turn of the century. But his family was not totally free from hardship.

Robeson’s mother died from a stove-fire accident when he was six. His father, a runaway slave who became a pastor, was removed from an early ministerial position. Nonetheless, from his father Robeson learned diligence and an unshakable dignity and courage in spite of the press of racism and poverty. These characteristics, The New York Times noted, defined Robeson’s approach in his beliefs and actions throughout his life. Having excelled in both scholastics and athletics as a youth, Robeson received a scholarship to Rutgers College (now University), where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year and chosen valedictorian in his senior. He earned varsity letters in four sports and was named Rutgers’ first All-American in football.

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Fueled by his class prophecy to be the leader of the colored race in America, Robeson went on to earn a law degree from Columbia University, supporting himself by playing professional football on the weekends. After graduation he obtained a position with a New York law firm only to have his career halted. While in law school, Robeson had married fellow Columbia student Eslanda Cardozo Goode, who encouraged him to act in amateur theatrical productions. Convinced by his wife and friends to return to the theater after his departure from law, Robeson joined the Provincetown Players, a group associated with playwright Eugene O’Neill. Two productions in which he starred, The Emperor Jones and All God’s Chillun Got Wings, brought Robeson critical acclaim. Thus Robeson continued on the stage, winning applause from critics and audiences, gaining an international reputation for his performances on the London stage, and eventually extending his acting repertoire to include films.

In Show Boat he sang the immensely popular Ol’ Man River, displaying a powerful, warm, soothing voice. Robeson had been giving solo vocal performances since 1925, but it wasn’t until he traveled to Britain that his singing became for him a moral cause. A critical journey at that time, one that changed the course of his life, was to the Soviet Union. Regardless of his ostensibly simple desire to believe in a cultural genealogy, Robeson soon become a vocal advocate of Communism and other left-wing causes. After World War II, when relations between the United States and the Soviet Union froze into the Cold War, many former advocates of communism backed away from it.

When the crimes of Soviet leader Josef Stalin became public–forced famine, genocide, and political purges–still more advocates left the ranks of communism. After he urged black youths not to fight if the United States went to war against the Soviet Union; a riot prevented his appearing at a concert in Peekskill, New York. But his desire was never to leave the United States, just to change, as he believed, the racist attitude of its people. In 1950 the U.S. Department of State revoked Robeson’s passport, ensuring that he would remain in the United States. He was black-listed by concert managers–his income, which had been Robeson’s passport was restored in 1958 after a Supreme Court ruling on a similar case, but it was of little consequence.

When Robeson’s autobiography was published that year, leading literary journals, including the New York Times and the New York Herald-Tribune refused to review it. Robeson traveled again to the Soviet Union, but his health began to fail. He tried twice to commit suicide. He became depressed at the loss of contact with audiences and friends, and suffered a series of breakdowns that left him withdrawn and dependent on psychotropic drugs slowly deteriorating and virtually unheard from in the 1960s and 1970s, Robeson died after suffering a stroke in 1976. During his life Paul Robeson inspired thousands with his voice–raised in speech and song.

But because of his singular support for communism and Stalin, Robeson disappeared in sadness and loneliness. His life, full of desire and achievement, passion and conviction, the story of a man who did so much to break down the barriers of a racist society, only to be brought down by the controversies sparked by his own radical politics. After viewing the exhibit, it inspired me to be just as good as Robeson. History Essays.