Paul Leroy Robeson April 9, 1898 – January 23, 1976) was an American singer and actor and Civil Rights activist. Paul was an internationalist and international singer with a distinctive, powerful, deep bass voice, as well as acting in theatre and movies.
He became politically involved in response to the Spanish Civil War, Spanish Civil War, fascism, and social injustices. His advocacy of anti-imperialism, communism, and criticism of the United States government caused him to be blacklisted during the McCarthy era.
Robeson won an academic scholarship to Rutgers College, where he became a football All-American and the class valedictorian. He received his LL.B. from Columbia Law School, while playing in the National Football League (NFL). At Columbia, he sang and acted in off-campus productions; and, after graduating, he became a participant in the Harlem Renaissance with performances in The Emperor Jones and All God’s Chillun Got Wings. Robeson initiated his international artistic résumé with a theatrical role in Great Britain, settling in London for the next several years with his wife Essie.
Robeson next appeared as Othello at the Savoy Theatre before becoming an international cinema star through roles in Show Boat and Sanders of the River. He became increasingly attuned towards the sufferings of other cultures and peoples.
Acting against advice, which warned of his economic ruin if he became politically active, courageously he set aside his theatrical career to advocate the cause of the Republican forces of the Spanish Civil War. He then became active in the Council on African Affairs (CAA).
During World War II, he supported America’s war efforts against the Nazis and won accolades for his portrayal of Othello on Broadway. However, his history of supporting pro-Soviet policies brought attack from the FBI. After the war ended, the CAA was placed on the Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations and Robeson was investigated during the age of McCarthyism.
Due to his decision not to recant his public advocacy of pro-Soviet policies, he was denied a passport by the U.S. State Department, and his income, consequently, plummeted. He moved to Harlem and published a periodical critical of United States policies. His right to travel was eventually restored by the 1958 United States Supreme Court decision, Kent v. Dulles, but his health broke down. He retired and he lived out the remaining years of his life privately in Philadelphia.
Robeson’s work in support of the USSR (Which he visited), the Chinese revolutionaries and then Socialist China, his support for African liberation and the struggle against fascism in Spain as well as his achievements against racism and imperialism in the USA are enormous accomplishments which are relatively little known amongst current generations.
6pm, Friday 12th Feb
Farringdon (2min walk from Farringdon tube station)
£5 suggested entry
Featuring a live performace by Tayo Aluko, writer and performer of the award winning play – Call Mr. Robeson.
Guest lecture from leading Black radical scholar – Hakim Adi
More speakers and performers TBC