Art & History Exhibits, Activities, Education, Music, Dance and More Inspired by Paul Robeson
In conjunction with The Paul Robeson House of Princeton
and the African American Cultural Collaborative of Mercer County
Exhibits on Display – July 9 – September 11, 2016
Opening Reception Saturday, July 9, 7-9 pm
Presentation – “Remembering Paul Robeson,” with Denyse Leslie
Sunday, July 10, 3 p.m.
The art exhibit, displayed on the first floor of the museum, includes works by local and regional artists, many of whom created works expressly for the exhibit. The works are inspired by Paul Robeson’s life-long battles for racial justice, economic justice and peace. Artists from the Trenton Community A-Team and Homefront have contributed to the exhibit.
On the second floor of the museum, the history exhibit includes archival materials and artifacts loaned and donated by archives and special collections at Alexander Library at Rutgers University and the Julius Lazarus Photo Collection, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard, Princeton Public Library, the Paul Robeson House of Princeton, and PBS American Masters – Paul Robeson Timeline.
Born in Princeton in 1898, Paul Robeson graduated near the top of his class from Rutgers College in 1919, acquired a law degree from Columbia Law School in 1923, became an internationally acclaimed singer and actor performing in O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones, in Showboat and as Othello in Shakespeare’s play. He became politically involved in response to the Spanish Civil War, fascism, and social injustices. He was an avid supporter of trade unions. His advocacy of anti-imperialism, affiliation with communism, and criticism of the United States government caused him to be blacklisted during the McCarthy era.
Robeson enjoyed great success 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, 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. As an athlete, Robeson earned varsity letters in four sports at Rutgers, and his prowess was renowned as All-American football player.
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.
Robeson’s popularity was diminished in the 1950s by right-wing attacks and slanders during the McCarthy period. The State Department feared Robeson’s advocacy of civil rights, labor rights, and independence for African colonies. The FBI tracked his movements and contacts. Declassified FBI documents are included in the Ellarslie exhibit. The U.S. government made a concerted effort to smear Robeson and to prevent his travel abroad by seizing his passport.