NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - It was a proud moment for the City of New Brunswick, Rutgers University and residents alike when they attended a ceremony to dedicate Paul Robeson Boulevard on Monday.
Mayor Jim Cahill led the ceremony at the corner of Baldwin Street and Robeson Boulevard near the entrance to Feaster Park.
But the celebration of the acclaimed scholar, athlete, actor, singer and global activist who graduated from Rutgers 100 years ago doesn't end with the renaming of the busy thoroughfare that had been known as Commercial Avenue.
Among other things, the city is planning to install a statue of Robeson in Feaster Park. The New Brunswick Public Sculpture has commissioned the statue, which is to be part of the Feaster Park redesign that was unveiled in February.
Feaster Park’s proposal includes plans for new playing fields, a spray pad, a garden, a fitness court, a playground, restrooms, new walking paths and an outdoor classroom area for the students of nearby Paul Robeson Community School for the Arts.
According to a city spokesperson, the statue is still in the planning phase along with the rest of the park design. An unveiling date has not yet been set.
In addition to the installations by the city, Rutgers University-New Brunswick recently dedicated Paul Robeson Plaza on the university’s College Avenue campus. At the university’s 2019 Commencement, President Robert Barchi presented a replica of the 1973 doctorate of humane letters given to Robeson and hailed him as Rutgers’ most gifted and accomplished alumnus, a Phi Beta Kappa scholar, an All-American athlete, a world-renowned singer and actor, a spellbinding orator and a passionate activist and humanitarian.
“It has been a long time coming to bring Paul Robeson back to the City of New Brunswick,” said Felicia McGinty, executive vice chancellor of administration and planning at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and chair of the university’s Paul Robeson Centennial Committee. “We celebrate with you long beyond the centennial of his graduation.”
The New Brunswick City Council unanimously approved the renaming of the street concurrent with Rutgers–New Brunswick’s yearlong celebration of the centennial of Robeson’s 1919 graduation. Despite enduring racism, Robeson achieved fame as a performing artist before finding his calling as an activist for the rights and dignity of African Americans and oppressed peoples across the world.
“We celebrate the 100th anniversary of Robeson’s graduation from Rutgers, but we need to be mindful of the obstacles he overcame to become the third African-American student to graduate from Rutgers,” Cahill said.