Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976) was an actor, singer, athlete and scholar.
He won some fifteen letters in four sports at Rutgers University and
was one of the first Black Americans to graduate from Columbia
University Law School.
Robeson was a renowned singer and is famous for his rendition of "Old
Man River." He is also known for his acting achievements on stage and
film in such productions as Showboat, The Emperor Jones,
and Othello. At a time when Black actors were relegated to
shuckin' and jivin', Robeson often played very strong characters who
were quite in control of their lives.
It was during the red scare of the 1950s, when Robeson's life took a
downturn; he was hounded by the House Un-American Activities
Committee for his outspoken stand against American racism. He was
blackballed. The State Development Commission of Connecticut went to
court to prevent Robeson from visiting his family home in Enfield,
He became the only American denied a passport for his political views;
namely, for the obvious purpose of being prevented from travelling the
world spreading "unpatriotic" stories about the mistreatment of Black
Americans: in August 1950, the State Department cancelled his
passport, after he refused to sign an affidavit in which he would
pledge that he was not a Communist. His fight to have it restored
eventually lead him to the supreme court, where he won his case.
His political stance and refusal to back down cost him dearly. It took
its toll on both his health and his income. Still, he was defiant to
the very end:
The artist must elect to fight for freedom or for slavery... I have
made my choice.