Cultural Literacy: Paul Robeson

The New York Review of Books recently ran a review of two recent biographies of the the great Paul Robeson. I was glad that the article disclosed the fact that Mr. Robeson earned a law degree, and that on his first–and last–day practicing law, he suffered the indignity of dealing with a secretary who refused to take dictation (see the fourth paragraph of the article beneath the hyperlink above) “from a n****r.” That’s the kind of disgraceful fact that I think we need out on display when discussing, say, the Black Lives Matter movement, especially with those who dismiss the movement with rhetorically insipid and factually dubious claim that “all lives matter” in American society.

Anyway, here, on a Monday morning, is a Cultural Literacy worksheet on Paul Robeson. I still listen to his music, especially the album Ballad For Americans, which includes his great song “Scandalize My Name.”

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

2 responses to “Cultural Literacy: Paul Robeson

  1. Paul Robeson was a multi-talented genius. He has always been a figure that I admired enormously.
    I don’t know if either of these books cover this, but when Robeson was ready to go to college as an undergraduate, supposedly Princeton was one of the schools he was considering. Much to Princeton’s ever-lasting shame, the story goes that Woodrow Wilson (yes, that Woodrow Wilson), who was President of Princeton at the time, said “We’ll have no Coloreds at Princeton.” Robeson was offered a great scholarship to Rutgers, and went there. But it still wasn’t easy for him, even at Rutgers.

    PS. Yes, Woodrow Wilson was a huge racist, and I have never admired him in any way because of this. I never understood why so many people thought he was such a “great” president. He wasn’t, he was an awful racist, and that’s only beginning to be recognized in recent years.


    • Thanks, Zorba. Woodrow Wilson was indeed a legendary racist who praised D.W. Griffith and “Birth of a Nation” as “lightning in a bottle.”

      Have you heard Billy Bragg’s renditions of those Woody Guthrie lyrics that Woody himself never set to music? They’re collected on the “Mermaid Avenue” albums Bragg recorded with Wilco. One song, “My Thirty Thousand” tells the story of the Peekskill Riots. Highly recommended.

      And thanks again for showing up here….

      Liked by 1 person

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