(Photo by MS AKR)
Thanks to a $175,000 gift from the Synod of the Northeast, Witherspoon Presbyterian Church now owns outright the Robeson House, the birthplace of actor and civil rights leader Paul Robeson and the parsonage occupied by Mr. Robeson’s father, the Rev. William Drew Robeson, when he was pastor of the historic church.
The announcement of the gift at a banquet last Sunday celebrating the church’s 175th anniversary wasn’t the only good news for the more than 200 people attending the event at The Nassau Inn. The congregation also received a formal apology from the Presbytery of New Brunswick for asking blacks to leave Nassau Presbyterian Church in 1836.
The monetary gift means the church can cover the two mortgages on the Robeson House. “This gift is just wonderful for us,” said Denyce Leslie, a ruling elder who chairs the church’s buildings and grounds committee. “Now we clearly outright own four properties within town — the church, the Paul Robeson House on Witherspoon Street, the church office next door, and the manse on Walnut Street.”
The apology from the Presbytery of New Brunswick for removal of Rev. Robeson from his post in 1900, after 21 years of service, is equally significant, Ms. Leslie said. “We had worked on this for several years starting with David Prince many years ago,” she said, referring to an interim pastor of the church, who died last year. The Rev. Prince and his wife Nancy, who was present at the anniversary celebration, researched the history of the church and learned that Rev. Robeson was forced out when some white people thought he was too outspoken about the rights of black people. more