Lecturer Extolls Black Activist

Eric Adams

“Paul Robeson and His Legacy” is the title of a lecture to be delivered on campus Thursday by Dr. Lamont Yeakey, associate professor of history at Cal State L.A.

Robeson was a towering figure in American and black history who Yeakey and others believe deserves far more attention than he has received.

Yeakey hopes to shine light on Robeson and his life and ideals, and on his struggle to survive with those ideals.

Some suggest that Robeson is the ultimate representative of black history. Born in 1898, he was a star athlete and scholar who became a singer and actor, and eventually a fighter against racial and economic injustice.

By the end of his life, he was embroiled in political controversy and rejected by both white and black America.

Born to a pastor and schoolteacher in the racially mixed but tense Princeton, N.J., Robeson developed his gregarious personality while excelling in school.

Robeson’s mother was killed in a stove fire when he was 6, and was raised by an outspoken father and an extended family.

He received a four-year scholarship to Rutgers where he became the first black to play on an All-American football team, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa.

He went on to graduate from Columbia University Law School, but after a white stenographer refused to take a memo for him he abandoned his career.

In 1924, he sought acting work and won a leading role in Eugene O’Neill’s “All God’s Chillun’ Got Wings,” followed by a part in O’Neill’s “The Emperor Jones” and a string of singing engagements.

By the late ’30s, Robeson was a celebrity and was well-respected and well-received by critics, yet he was still a victim of racism in many parts of the country. He began to speak out more aggressively about the treatment he and other blacks received.

He traveled to the Soviet Union and vocally supported its government when it was very un-American to do so. But he held firm to his ideals even when they were unpopular and when his words and actions led to social exile.

The lecture is Thursday from noon to 1 p.m. in Kreider Hall. It is free and open to all.