The Paul Robeson Legacy

The Central State University campus pays tribute to Paul Robeson, a true renaissance man whose achievements won him world renown. Robeson was a scholar and a gifted athlete. He was an attorney, an acclaimed actor, and one of the finest bass-baritone singers the nation has known. He could speak and write and sing in 20 different languages, and he used his talents to speak out against racism and economic injustice.

The Paul Robeson Center for Music and the Performing Arts is fronted by an impressive sculpture, presented to the University by major benefactors Bill and Camille Cosby.


A mural of Robeson's life, painted by Jon Onye Lockard, is a feature of the main lobby. Entitled "The Tallest Tree in the Forest," it is a multi-image presentation of the different stages in Robeson's life.



Paul Robeson's Achievements

Born in 1898, Paul Robeson earned a four-year scholarship to Rutgers University, where he was a Phi Beta Kappa and valedictorian of the graduating class. He also earned 15 varsity letters, in track, baseball, basketball, and football, and was named Rutgers' first All American in football.

He went on to study law at Columbia University, supporting himself by playing professional football on the weekends. He left the bar, discouraged by the racist climate, and took up acting, becoming a star of both stage and screen. He eventually dedicated himself to full-time singing. Fluent in several languages, he was also a gifted orator.

Robeson's lifetime achievements are many:

  • He appeared in 11 feature films, including Body and Soul (1924),Jericho (1937), and Proud Valley (1939).
  • He recorded dozens of albums. His concert tours spanned four decades and carried him to every continent, where he used his talent to promote African American spirituals, share the cultures of other countries, and benefit the labor and social movements of the era.
  • He won critical acclaim for his lead roles in Eugene O'Neill's Emperor Jones (1933) and All God's Chillun Got Wings (1924), and he gained an international reputation for his lead role in Othello (1930, 1943) and for his performance in the musical Showboat (1936). He is know for changing the the lines of the Showboat song "Old Man River" from the defeated "I'm tired of livin' and 'feared of dyin'" to the defiant "I must keep fightin' until I'm dyin'."

Robeson received numerous awards during his lifetime and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In addition to his other achievements, Paul Robeson was an eloquent and outspoken advocate for civil rights and social justice, expressing pride, vision and determination that moved multitudes. He actively opposed racism, refusing to sing before segregated audiences and picketing the White House. He also started a crusade against lynching and urged Congress to outlaw the practice that kept African Americans from playing major league baseball. In every aspect of his extraordinary life, he dedicated himself to struggles and causes, never compromising, even when his political opinions made him unpopular and when confronting those who would restrict his freedom of speech.

Robeson's leadership and vision united millions of people around the world in a common desire for peace and equality.