Robeson Fest 2019: Living Paul Robeson’s Legacy

Rutgers University–New Brunswick recently dedicated a plaza to Paul Robeson, one of the university’s most distinguished alumni.

Located on the College Avenue Campus, adjacent to Voorhees Mall (behind Ford Hall), the plaza officially opened on Friday, April 12 during a ceremony attended by hundreds of students and community members. Originally envisioned and championed by the Class of 1971 with strong support from the Rutgers African-American Alumni Alliance (RAAA) Inc., the plaza boasts eight black granite panels that recount the events of Robeson’s life.

Earning a four-year academic scholarship, Robeson became just the third African-American student to attend Rutgers when he enrolled in 1915 at the age of 17. Also the university’s first black football player, he twice garnered All-America honors and earned 15 varsity letters in football, basketball, baseball, and track. Excelling in the classroom, Robeson was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and Rutgers’ Cap and Skull Honor society before graduating as class valedictorian in 1919.

After earning a law degree from Columbia Law School following graduation, Robeson turned his attention to theater and music as a way to promote African and African-American history and culture. Earning acclaim as a singer and actor with a career spanning four decades, Robeson utilized his platform to fight for political rights, cultural recognition, and economic justice for oppressed people around the world.

“Paul Robeson is a pillar of hope and resilience,” says senior Eseoa Idumwonyi, “which is really important in today’s time.”

Prior to the official dedication of the Paul Robeson Plaza, the Division of Student Affairs hosted its inaugural Robeson Fest. Part of #IAmRobeson Week, Robeson Fest inspired students and community members to learn about Paul Robeson’s legacy in a fun and educational way.

Led by student volunteers, faculty and staff, attendees received a passport that guided them through five tents which represented the various pillars of Robeson’s identities: global activist, scholar, actor, singer, and athlete. The activities encouraged attendees to gain an understanding of collaborative activism and the importance of intersectionality.

“When you see people that look like you and represent you,” says first-year Tiffany Sagastume, “You’re more encouraged to take opportunities that you normally wouldn’t.”

For more information on the Paul Robeson Centennial Celebration, please visit: robeson100.rutgers.edu

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