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New Jersey Library Celebrates Legacy of Paul Robeson: All-American Athlete, Actor & Activist

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Paul Robeson, third from left, pickets outside the White House in 1949 protesting discrimination at the Bureau of Engraving.
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Susan Robeson, granddaughter of Paul Robeson, will reflect on her grandfather and lessons to be learned from his life. Credits: Courtesy SCLSNJ
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Paul Robeson played football at Somerville High School before his All-American career at Rutgers University.
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The United States Post Office paid tribute to Paul Robeson, issuing a first-class stamp in his honor in 2004.
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SOMERVILLE, NJ - The life and times of actor and activist Paul Robeson, an All-American football player and scholar who attended Rutgers University and graduated from Somerville High School will be celebrated at the borough library, 35 West End Ave. on Saturday, April 8.

Guest speaker Susan Robeson, his granddaughter, will explore what it means to be a global citizen in today's world and how to stay true to Robeson's ideals of peace and freedom.

"Paul Robeson was one of the most well-known African-Americans of the 20th century,” said Jim Sommerville, adult services librarian at Somerset County Library System of New Jersey’s Somerville Library branch.

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“He was a renaissance man, a social activist, scholar, intellectual, lawyer, All-American athlete, singer, linguist, humanist, and advocate for international peace.”

Robeson was born in Princeton on April 9, 1898. He and his family moved to Somerville when he was young, and it was there that he attended school, graduating from Somerville High School with honors in 1915.

His father, William Drew Robeson, was minister of the St. Thomas A.M.E. Zion Church.

Robeson went on to become an accomplished actor and athlete, as well as an international activist.

“He had been active in football, basketball, baseball, and track at Somerville High School,” said Sommerville. “and had been, as a football teammate described him, ‘THE football team.’ He excelled additionally on the debating team. He was an A student amid the 29 other students in his class.

"One of his teachers, Anna Miller, was so impressed by the acting talent he exhibited in school drama that she encouraged him to seek acting as a profession," Sommerville continued. "One of his acting roles at SHS was Othello, the first of many occasions when he would portray the Shakespearean antihero.”

The library will offer several programs for children and adults:

Paul Robeson Sports Stations (ages 4+ years old), 10 a.m. - noon. Inspired by Robeson's athletic ability, children are invited to participate in sports stations.

This event will be held outdoors on the lawn of Borough Hall. In the event of inclement weather, this event will be held inside the Library. Sneakers or closed toe shoes are recommended. No registration required. A Parental Waiver & Consent Form will need to be signed for children participating in this event.

Paul Robeson’s Vision of Peace and Freedom, and his Relevance Today, Noon  - 1 p.m. Susan Robeson will explore what it means to be a global citizen in today's world and how to stay true to Paul Robeson's ideals of peace and freedom.

She is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, broadcast journalist and author of the award-winning book, "The Whole World In His Hands: A Pictorial Biography of Paul Robeson," and a forthcoming children’s book, "Grandpa Stops A War."

She lives in New York City where she is Executive Director of the Paul Robeson Foundation and is producing her first dramatic feature film.

Paul Robeson, A Chautauqua, 2-3 p.m. Actor Marvin Jefferson brings the life of Paul Robeson alive through first-person historical characterization.

Registration is required to attend these programs unless otherwise indicated. To register, visit SCLSNJ.org or call 908-725-1336.

Throughout the day, clips of some of Robeson's foremost film and singing performances will be shown in the Taub Reading Room Meeting Room at SCLSNJ’s Somerville Library branch. Additionally, there will be a display in the Reading Room of SCLSNJ’s Somerville Library branch that will feature visual resources that highlight Robeson’s career.  

For more information, visit SCLSNJ.org or call 908-725-1336.

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