Essential Paul Robeson

Posted on Feb 1, 2017

On display until April 2017

Robeson stamp

“The Essential Paul Robeson” contains materials consolidated from a previous exhibit on the towering Twentieth Century historical figure Paul Robeson. The exhibit will remain on view at least until April 2017 when Rutgers University will commemorate the Rutgers graduate’s life and accomplishments on the occasion of dedicating a large memorial to Robeson on the New Brunswick campus. Rutgers archives provided materials and encouragement to the Trenton Museum Society in preparing “The Essential Paul Robeson” exhibit.

Paul Robeson (1898-1976) enjoyed great success and popularity as a scholar-athlete, as an actor-musician, as a civil rights and labor activist, and as an advocate for world peace. Born in Princeton, Paul Robeson had many New Jersey connections.   From 1915 to 1919 he attended Rutgers College, which is currently celebrating the centennial of Robeson’s distinguished record as a scholar and athlete, On the Banks of the Old Raritan.   Robeson was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and Cap & Skull. His college transcript is part of the Ellarslie exhibit called “The Essential Paul Robeson.”

As a student- athlete, Paul Robeson earned eleven varsity letters in four sports at Rutgers, and his prowess was renowned as All-American football player. After graduating from Rutgers, Robeson played in the early National Football League in order to pay for Law School, at Columbia University in New York.

As a concert singer, Paul Robeson performed before large crowds worldwide including concerts at Rutgers and Princeton Universities where his powerful bass-baritone voice drew crowds. The song “Ol’ Man River” (from the musical Showboat) was popularized by Robeson.

While in Princeton, Robeson had a close personal friendship with scientist and Princeton resident Albert Einstein.

As an actor, Robeson performed as the lead in Shakespeare’s play Othello on Broadway, in London and in Princeton. His dignified interpretation of the character Othello was hailed for its power and originality. His performance was a milestone in the American civil rights movement.

In Trenton, Robeson had a success of a different kind when he protested the conviction of six young black men for murder. Upon review, the innocence of these falsely accused black men was established and all were eventually exonerated, but only after a long legal struggle that started with Robeson’s personal intervention. The book Jersey Justice, which documents the prolonged struggle for exoneration and justice, is part of the display called “The Essential Paul Robeson.”