From Slave Roots to Rhoads Scholar: Remembering Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson: Lawyer, Scholar, Athlete, Performer and Activist

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In the words of Paul Robeson:

“To be free -to walk the good American earth as equal citizens, to live without fear, to enjoy the fruits of our toil to give our children every opportunity in life – that dream which we have held so long in our hearts is today the destiny that we hold in our hands.”

In Princeton, New Jersey on April 9, 1898, Paul Robeson was born to a former slave, the Rev. William Robeson. His mother, a teacher, died shortly thereafter when he was only five years old. Three years later, the Robeson family moved to Westfield, New Jersey. In 1910, Robeson’s father became pastor of St.Thomas A.M.E. Zion Church and the Robeson family moved to Somerville, New Jersey. Paul Robeson attended Somerville High School. There, Robeson excelled in sports, drama, singing, academics, and debating. He graduated from Somerville High School in 1915.

Robeson was awarded a four year academic scholarship to Rutgers University in 1915, the third black student in the history of the institution. Despite the openly racist and violent opposition he faced, Robeson became a twelve letter athlete excelling in baseball, basketball, football, and track. He was named to the All American Football team on two occasions. In addition to his athletic talents, Robeson was named a Phi Beta Kappa scholar, belonged to the Cap & Skull Honor Society, and graduated valedictorian of his class in 1919.

He went on to study law at Columbia in New York and received his degree in 1923. There he met and married Eslanda Cardozo Goode, who was the first black woman to head a pathology laboratory. Robeson worked as a law clerk in New York, but once again faced discrimination and soon left the practice because a white secretary refused to take dictation from him…Read More

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