Lesson Theme: Paul Robeson and 20th Century U. S. History

Born in Princeton NJ in 1898, Paul Robeson was the son of a former slave who graduated from Rutgers College and later rose to world-wide prominence as an actor, athlete, singer, civil and human rights advocate and political activist. During his lifetime, Paul Robeson both witnessed and participated in some of the most significant political and social movements of the twentieth century, including the struggle by African-Americans for civil rights and social equality, the international struggle to end colonialism, the anti-fascist struggle both before and during World War II, efforts by labor movements around the globe to end exploitation and improve working conditions and compensation, and the struggle between opposing ideologies during the Cold War. The relationship between Robeson’s artistic expression and his political principles became a source of intense conflict during the post World War II period, when in 1950 the U. S. government revoked his passport and effectively “blacklisted” Robeson as it sought to silence his criticisms of U. S. domestic and foreign policies. Robeson’s health, his artistic career and his annual income were severely impacted by the U. S. government’s actions, and he was only able to resume his international concert career in the late 1950s, after the U. S. Supreme Court declared the revocation of his passport unconstitutional.

This curriculum module invites teachers and students to explore many dimensions of Robeson’s life and career, a personal saga that has few peers in illuminating some of the most significant themes in the history of the twentieth century.

Related Lesson

Sources Consulted

Wright, Giles R. "Paul Robeson." In Maxine N. Lurie and Marc Mappen, editors, The Encyclopedia of New Jersey. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2004.