There has rarely been an American more versatile and with such stellar achievements in as a wide variety of categories as Paul Robeson.
Robeson was a concert singer, an actor who had leading roles in Hollywood films in the 1930s, a star athlete and scholar. Born in Princeton, New Jersey, Robeson was an All-American football player and valedictorian at his class at Rutgers University (the school has a cultural center named for him). After graduating, he attended Columbia Law School while playing professionally in the National Football League. After graduating from law school, he worked briefly as a lawyer, but soon devoted his energy to the arts and began singing tours in the United States and Europe. He had a career in the arts that made him an international sensation.
But his travels around the world and his view of the difficulty of racial discrimination in the United States led him to become an activist on civil rights and human rights. He began to spend a great deal of time in the former Soviet Union, where he was treated royally. That relationship drew the attention of Congress during the Cold War and he became vilified by Congress and other powers in Washington. His public appearances, popularity and income faded. Robeson endured McCarthyism and briefly returned to the artistic spotlight.
As his health began to fail, he lived out the last years of his life privately in Philadelphia, where he died in 1976 at the age of 77.
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(Photo: CBS /Landov)