By Nii B. Andrews.
Paul Robeson was a polymath with a flaming social conscience.
He graduated Columbia Law School and funded his studies by performing in concerts, coaching and playing professionally in the NFL.
Robeson renounced the legal profession on account of the discrimination that he encountered; he then restricted his activities to the stage and screen as his chosen arenas for a tenacious fight against fascism and the denial of human rights.
In 1927, Robeson’s friend – the British-American sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein, after a visit to New York executed a bronze bust of Robeson.
One art patron on viewing the bust stated, “It certainly is a work where the texture of the bronze is fascinating.
It seems to draw attention to the humanity and energy of the living subject as opposed to a more god-like flawless smoothness.”
Paul Robeson was an incredible human being with a bearing, poise and charisma not found in many.
His quiet strength and dignity were accompanied with a voice, oration, articulation that were all something to behold.
He faced and stared down Joe McCarthy and the House of Un American Activities, along with Edgar Hoover and the American government.
The extraordinary relationship between Robeson and Epstein was almost certainly based on shared values, their lived experience of bigotry and discrimination (Epstein was the son of Polish-Jewish refugees and Robeson’s father was born into slavery), and music.
Their friendship has produced a stunning piece of work of a remarkable man by an accomplished artist.
It captures the essence of pride, dignity and even defiance that were central to Robeson’s life.
Work like this is a powerful advocacy for more traditional materials such as bronze.