Inge Ruth Hardison
is the creator of the sculpted portrait of Paul
In Princeton, New
Jersey on April 9, 1898, Paul Robeson was born to a former
slave, the Rev. William Robeson.
Robeson excelled in sports, drama, singing, academics, and
debating. He graduated from Somerville High School in 1915.
Robeson was awarded a four
year academic scholarship to Rutgers University in 1915, the
third black student in the history of the institution.
Robeson became a twelve letter athlete excelling in
baseball, basketball, football, and track. He was named to
the All American Football team on two occasions. In addition
to his athletic talents, Robeson was named a Phi Beta Kappa
scholar, belonged to the Cap & Skull Honor Society, and
graduated valedictorian of his class in 1919.
He went on to study law at
Columbia in New York and received his degree in 1923. There
he met and married Eslanda Cardozo Goode, who was the first
black woman to head a pathology laboratory. Robeson worked
as a law clerk in New York, but once again faced
discrimination and soon left the practice because a white
secretary refused to take dictation from him.
At this point in his life,
Paul returned to his childhood love of drama and singing. He
starred in Eugene O'Neill's All God's Chillun Got
Wings in 1924, creating the starring role. While the
racial subject matter of the play spurred controversy and
protest, he went on to star in another play by O'Neill -
Emperor Jones. Perhaps he is most widely
recognized from the musical Showboat, where he
changed the lines of the song "Old Man River". His eleven
films included Body and Soul, Jericho, and Proud Valley.
His concert career reads like
a world traveler's passport: New York, Vienna, Prague,
Budapest, Germany, Paris, Holland, London, Moscow, and
Nairobi. Robeson believed in the universality of music
and that by performing Negro spirituals and other cultures'
folk songs, he could promote intercultural understanding. As
a result, he became a citizen of the world, singing for
peace and equality in twenty-five languages.
Robeson's legacy has been an
inspiration to millions around the world. His courageous
stance against oppression and inequality in part led to the
civil rights movement of the 1960s. Through his stage
and film performances he opened doors to inter-racial
performances. With his travels across America and abroad, he
opened the world's eyes to oppression. Robeson stood tall
and proud against powerful governmental and societal forces.
He remains in our memory a successful scholar, athlete,
performer, and activist.
In the words of Paul Robeson:
"To be free .... to walk the good American earth as equal
citizens, to live without fear, to enjoy the fruits of our
toil to give our children every opportunity in life - that
dream which we have held so long in our hearts is today the
destiny that we hold in our hands."