Paul Robeson

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Paul Leroy Robeson[1] (April 9, 1898 – January 23, 1976) was an American bass-baritone concert singer, recording artist, athlete and actor who became noted for his political radicalism and activism in the civil rights movement.[2] The son of an escaped slave, Robeson was the first major concert star to popularize the performance of Negro spirituals and was the first black actor of the 20th century to portray Shakespeare's Othello on Broadway.[3]

A nationally renowned football player from 1917 to the early 1920's, Robeson was an All-American athlete, Phi Beta Kappa Society laureate during his years at Rutgers University. In 1923, Robeson drifted into amateur theater work and within a decade he had become an international star of stage, screen, radio and film. Robeson would go on to be a recipient of the NAACP's Spingarn Medal, the Stalin Peace Prize and of honorary memberships in over half a dozen trade unions.[4][5][6][7] James Earl Jones, Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte have cited Robeson's lead film roles as being the first to display dignity for black actors and pride in African heritage.[8][9] Though one of the most internationally famous people of the 20th century, blacklisting during the Cold War has largely kept Paul Robeson out of mainstream interpretations of history.[6]

At the height of his career, Paul Robeson chose to become a political artist. In 1950, Robeson's passport was revoked under the McCarran Act over his work in the anti-imperialism movement and what the U.S. State Department called Robeson's "frequent criticism while abroad of the treatment of blacks in the US."[10] Under heavy and daily surveillance by both the FBI and the CIA[11] and publicly condemned for his beliefs,[6][12] Robeson became very nearly a non-person. Robeson's right to travel was restored in 1958 and his already faltering health broke down under controversial circumstances in 1963. By 1965, he was forced into permanent retirement. He would spend his final years in seclusion, unapologetic about his political views and career.[13] Present day advocates and historians of Paul Robeson's legacy have worked successfully to restore his name to numerous history books and sports records, while honoring his memory globally with posthumous recognitions.[14][15]

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