Rutgers University

Harry Belafonte to Discuss Paul Robeson, Civil Rights at Rutgers


NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Harry Belafonte, a stalwart of the 20th-century civil rights movement who also charmed audiences as a pop singer, is coming to the Hub City.

He’s scheduled to speak with Susan Robeson, a filmmaker and granddaughter of the Rutgers University-bred activist and musician Paul Robeson, at 7 p.m. today, April 5, in the multipurpose room at the College Avenue Student Center, 126 College Ave. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

The event is part of I Am Robeson Week, an annual celebration of Paul Robeson, which includes a lecture series sponsored by various university offices.

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Belafonte and Susan Robeson are slated to discuss Paul Robeson’s “life and legacy of civil rights activism,” according to an announcement from Rutgers.

School officials describe Paul Robeson as one of Rutgers’ “most revered alumni.” He rose to prominence as an athlete, actor, singer, scholar, writer and human rights activist, according to the university.

Indeed, a number of institutions around New Brunswick and the state bear Paul Robeson’s name. Among them are the Paul Robeson Community Theme School for the Arts in New Brunswick, Rutgers’ Paul Robeson Cultural Center in Piscataway and the university’s Paul Robeson Library in Camden.

What makes his success all the more notable is that Paul Robeson was the son of an escaped slave.

Despite the challenges posed by that status, he attended Rutgers on a scholarship and received “an unprecedented” 12 major letters in four years. He graduated valedictorian in 1919, the third-ever African-American to receive a degree from Rutgers.

He then earned a law degree from Columbia University before launching his decades-long career in art and activism.

Along the way, Paul Robeson befriended Belafonte, whose caribbean pop music had made him something of a household name. In fact, Belafonte considered Paul Robeson a mentor and an inspiration, according to Rutgers.

Belafonte was also an “early supporter” of the civil rights movement, positioning himself closely to Martin Luther King Jr., according to the university. Belafonte went on to champion causes like the anti-apartheid movement and now works with the American Civil Liberties Union.

Susan Robeson, meanwhile, has published a “pictorial biography” called “The Whole World in His Hands,” which focuses on her grandfather. She has taught classes on the civil rights icon and works as a producer, documentary filmmaker, writer and consultant, according to Rutgers.

David Jones, director of the Paul Robeson Cultural Center at Rutgers, and Edward Ramsamy, chair of the Department of Africana Studies, will also participate in the discussion of Paul Robeson.

I Am Robeson Week includes a number of other events, whose details can be found here.

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