Question of the Week
During the early 1940s, Paul Robeson starred in what record-breaking Broadway play?
In 1898, actor and activist Paul Robeson, the youngest child in a family of five, was born in Princeton, New Jersey. His father was born a slave, however he escaped and went on to serve in the Civil War and died a Presbyterian minister. Robeson attended Rutgers University and Columbia Law School – he excelled at athletics at both schools.
His turn as an actor began in the 1920s in Harlem, New York, and in London, England, where later in the decade he performed in Show Boat at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, he was cast in numerous theatrical and film productions, most famously the 1940s Broadway revival of Othello, in which he played the title role. Also during this time, Robeson made numerous personal appearances at various venues. Locally, he performed several times at Robin Hood Dell in Fairmount Park.
Later in life, Robeson delved more into politics and became very active in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s (though he had fought for equal rights all his life). In the late 1950s and early 1960s he embarked on tours of Europe, the Soviet Union, and Australia, which ultimately took a toll on his health. He eventually settled out of the spotlight in the late 1960s in Philadelphia at his sister's home at 4951 Walnut Street, where he spent the last ten years of his life. That home has been named a historic landmark. He died in the city in January 1976.
Image: Paul Robeson, photograph from Alix B. Williamson (1941), Philadelphia Record photograph morgue (Collection V07), The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.