Columbians Ahead of Their Time
 Paul Robeson
Paul Robeson “The artist must elect to fight for freedom or slavery.”

Paul Robeson (1898–1976)
Singer, Actor, Activist
Law 1923

One of the most prominent black Americans of the 1930s and 1940s, Robeson won critical and popular acclaim for his stage and screen roles. It was as a concert singer, however, that he earned his greatest fame, performing a uniquely broad repertoire of spirituals, classical music, world folk songs, and political songs that reflected the struggles of the marginalized and disenfranchised. Admired by many Americans for his outspoken opposition to racial and social inequality, Robeson was reviled by others for his support of left-wing causes and open admiration for the Soviet Union. As the Cold War intensified in the 1950s, his political views cost him his popularity and, for eight years, his U.S. passport. Unable to perform abroad, and suffering from depression, exhaustion, and arteriosclerosis, Robeson last sang in public in 1961.

Robeson graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Rutgers College, where he was a star four-sport athlete, and enrolled at Columbia Law School in 1920. Persuaded by his wife to take time off from legal studies to act on Broadway and in England, he returned to New York to earn his law degree in 1923. While Robeson was increasingly attracted to the theatre, he joined a prestigious law firm; repelled by the racism he encountered, he abandoned legal practice after less than a year for the life of a performing artist. An annual conference and lecture at the Law School honor his memory.

Robeson sings Ol’ Man River in a 1949 Moscow concert.

U.S. Postal Service unveils Robeson stamp in campus ceremony.

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