March 31, 2021

Sponsors of Robeson Celebration Plan to Make it an Annual Event

ROBESON REMEMBERED: A series of events honoring one of Princeton’s most famous residents begins April 4 and runs through April 9. (Photo courtesy of Paul Robeson House of Princeton)

By Anne Levin

A week of events intended to inspire an annual recognition of Princeton native son Paul Robeson will begin Sunday, April 4 and culminate on Friday, April 9 – Robeson’s 123rd birthday – at locations in and around the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood where the famous actor, singer, athlete, and political activist grew up.

The Robeson Week of Remembrance is a project of the Paul Robeson House of Princeton board of directors, which has been closely involved in the renovation of the Robeson family house on Witherspoon Street, across from the Princeton Cemetery.

“We originally had planned this for last year, but COVID-19 got in the way,” said Ben Colbert, president of the board. “It’s part of an annual observance we are going to be doing. One of our biggest objectives is to really put his name and accomplishments as part of our regular observances here in Princeton. If Albert Einstein deserves a day, Paul Robeson deserves a day.”

The celebration begins with a “Football Toss and Hunt” at Palmer Square Green on Sunday from 1-3 p.m. Princeton High School students, Robeson House board members, and others will share information about Robeson’s life, and will distribute footballs and other materials.

On Tuesday, April 6, Princeton Public Library’s Storytime will feature Grandpa Stops a War, by Robeson’s granddaughter Susan Robeson, which tells the true story of his visit to the front lines of the Spanish Civil War. Princeton High School student Hailey Hawes will read the story on the library’s YouTube channel. Also to be featured is the Robeson graphic biography Ballad of an American, by Sharon Rudahl.

The Robeson House’s YouTube premiere will be celebrated Thursday, April 8 with “Robeson Legacy Interviews and Reflections,” in which board and advisory committee members and friends discuss what Robeson’s life has meant to them, and to the world.

The final event, at 12 p.m. on Friday, April 9, is the placement of a memorial wreath at the bust of Robeson in front of the Arts Council of Princeton building at Witherspoon Street and Paul Robeson Place. Mayor Mark Freda is scheduled to read a proclamation declaring April 9 Paul Robeson Day, and historian Shirley Satterfield will lead a walking tour highlighting sites related to Robeson in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood.

Renovations of the Paul Robeson House on Witherspoon Street have been interrupted by the pandemic, but things are picking up. “They’ve been hindered quite a bit,” said Colbert.

“First there was the long approval process, and then, just as we were about to get started, the pandemic hit. But we are hoping this series of activities
will jump start the process. There is progress on the house. The front and sides are all enclosed. The back, which was severely in need of repair, is our next big expense. We are in the middle of beginning a major funding initiative.”

Preservation of the house will include space for temporary lodging. “It was a rooming house for many, many years. Lots of students and people in the community trace their arrival in Princeton to living there. So we will continue that tradition by providing space for temporary housing,” said Colbert. “And we will be working with the schools to raise the visibility of Paul Robeson, recognize the plight of the poor and underserved in Princeton, and keep with what we think is a very, very important part of Princeton’s history.”

For details about the Robeson Birthday Celebration, visit