"The artist must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative. The history of the capitalist era is characterized by the degradation of my people: despoiled of their lands, their true culture destroyed... denied equal protection of the law, and deprived their rightful place in the respect of their fellows."
In celebrating Black History month, I'm returning to my Black Superheroes series with new portraits of Black civil rights pioneers and wanted to start with Paul Robeson. In what seems to be a moment of synchronicity, I stumbled upon an article today in USA Today that discussed how Paul Robeson's activist legacy is so relevant to current times because it merged art with activism.
Robeson was born in Princeton, New Jersey in 1898 to a father who was a former slave and went on to become an All American football player at Rutgers University and became class valedictorian. While pursuing his law degree at Columbia University, he sang and performed in various off campus productions. As his notoriety as an actor and vocalist grew, he became increasingly interested in civil rights issues of Black Americans. Robeson traveled abroad often and he eventually embraced Soviet communist principles because of its seemingly colorblind philosophy. Unfortunately, his support for communism cost him his career; during the McCarthy era, he was investigated by the US government and stripped of his passport. Unable to earn a income or travel abroad, his career suffered and never recovered. He spent his remaining years in declining health and seclusion but still remained committed to the principles of activism and social justice.
Robeson the athlete, intellectual, artist, and activist, was a renaissance man who's legacy is currently undergoing a resurgence at a time when we need it the most. May his work inspire us to be "the gatekeepers of truth" and to speak up against injustice wherever we see it.