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This article was prepared for the June 20, 2001 edition of U.S. 1

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Paul Robeson: A Son’s View

Among the many luminaries who have made Princeton their

home, few have made a larger impression on the nation and the world

than Paul Robeson. Born here in 1898, the youngest of a family of

five, his father, William Drew Robeson, was a runaway slave and

influential

minister who spent 20 years as pastor of the Witherspoon Street

Presbyterian

Church. His mother, Maria Louisa Robeson, who was descended from a

Philadelphia family of freedmen, died in a household fire when Paul

was only five. Actor, singer, scholar, linguist, and civil rights

activist, Robeson became larger-than-life in every sense of the term.

Now Robeson’s only child, Paul Robeson Jr., has published the first

in a two-volume biography, "The Undiscovered Paul Robeson: An

Artist’s Journey, 1898-1939" (John Wiley & Sons, $30), that

reveals

both the intimate details and the fuller picture of the man he knew

as his father. Paul Robeson Jr. will read from and sign copies of

his new book at the Princeton University Store on Saturday, June 23,

at 1 p.m.

As a biographer, Robeson Jr. says he set out to explore the connection

between the artist’s soul and the passions that ruled it, as well

as the relevance of his personal sense of vulnerability to his genius

as artist and prophet. His book is based on decades of conversations,

extensive research, personal insights, and previously unpublished

excerpts from the diaries and letters of his father and his mother,

Eslanda Robeson.

Reflecting the struggle for legitimacy for a succession of Robeson

biographers, including the controversial authorized biography

commissioned

from Martin Duberman, this biography has been eagerly awaited. "I

hope to tell his story as it was," explains his son, "with

no attempt at political, racial, or any other kind of `correctness.’

Paul Robeson has nothing to fear from history, from the public, or

from any critic; his true images speaks for itself and needs no

polishing

or protection."

"Robeson scholars and those who knew him personally will discover

that there were pivotal aspects of his personality that he kept mainly

to himself," says his son. "I have sought to recreate the

development of the character my father personally revealed to me.

I have ventured an exploration of his vulnerabilities and his inner

struggles, with a focus on the revelations that accompanied his growth

as an artist."

Paul Robeson Jr. spent more than 20 years working as his father’s

close aide and personal representative, and his book debunks many

established notions about who Robeson was and what he believed. Most

prevalent among his new interpretation of the Robeson legacy regards

the actor’s relationship to the Soviet Union and Stalin. "Because

he found no anti-black racism in the Soviet Union, he believed that

the Soviet Union and communists everywhere were the best available

allies of the world’s colored peoples in their struggle against racism

and colonialism," he says. "He was an artist who was

politically

active, but was independent of political organizations. For him,

culture

was superior to political ideology."

Robeson Jr. earned his B.A. in electrical engineering at Cornell where

he was also a star athlete in football and in track and field. After

spending 25 years as a translator and publisher of Russian scientific

journals, he has worked as an author, lecturer, journalist, and

archivist.

Today, Robeson Jr. travels extensively lecturing and talking about

his father, enjoying a renaissance of interest that has followed the

1998 celebration of the centennial of his birth. That celebration

included the major exhibition and catalog, curated by Jeffrey C.

Stewart,

at Rutgers’ Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum

Robeson Jr. established and is president of the Paul Robeson Archives

and is currently involved in creating a Paul Robeson Audiovisual

Archive

which will collect, preserve, and disseminate, all his father’s films,

concerts, and recorded speeches. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife

of 51 years, Marilyn Paula Greenberg. They are the parents of

documentary

filmmaker Susan Robeson.

Paul Robeson Jr. , Princeton U-Store, 36 University

Place, 609-921-8500. The author reads from and signs copies of his

new book, "The Undiscovered Paul Robeson." Free. Saturday,

June 23, 1 p.m.


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