Paul LeRoy Bustill Robeson was born April 9, 1898 in Princeton, New Jersey. He was an internationally renowned American bass-baritone concert singer, actor of film and stage, All-American and professional athlete, writer, multi-lingual orator, scholar and lawyer who was also noted for his wide-ranging social justice activism. Robeson was a trade unionist, peace activist, Phi Beta Kappa Society laureate, and a recipient of the Spingarn Medal and Stalin Peace Prize. Robeson achieved worldwide fame during his life for his artistic accomplishments, and his outspoken, radical beliefs which largely clashed with the Jim Crow climate of the pre-civil rights United States. He became a prime target of the right during the McCarthyist era.
Robeson was the first major concert star to popularize the performance of Negro spirituals and was the first black actor of the 20th century to portray Shakespeare's Othello on Broadway. He originated the role of Joe in Show Boat in 1928 and appeared in 11 films.
At the height of his fame, Paul Robeson chose to become a primarily political artist, speaking out against fascism and racism in the US and abroad as the United States government and many Western European powers failed after World War II to end racial segregation and guarantee civil rights for people of colour. His passport was revoked from 1950 to 1958 under the McCarran Act and he was under surveillance by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency and by the British MI5 for well over three decades until his death.
In 1959, after his passport was reinstated, Robeson was asked to reprise his role in Othello on the stage in Stratford-Upon-Avon in the United Kingdom. The production was directed by Tony Richardson and despite some criticism, Robeson performance was praised unanimously. However, this production proved to be Robeson's last appearance on the stage. During this time, he also attended speaking engagements and performed concerts throughout Europe and the USSR.
Despite persecution and limited activity resulting from ailing health in his later years, Paul Robeson remained, throughout his life, committed to socialism and anti-colonialism as a means to world peace and was unapologetic about his political views. He died in 1976 in Philadelphia, PA at the age of 77.
Scope and Content
This is item consists of a portrait of Paul Robeson.
This items has no proofs.
Copyright is held by the Ontario Jewish Archives. Please contact the Archives to obtain permission prior to use.
See Fonds 80, series 6-1 for more photographs of Robeson by Schwartz.