Paul Robeson was so influential that, with his singing, he was able to stop the fighting, momentarily, on the battlefield during the Spanish Civil War. Because of his outsized talent and extraordinary good looks, Robeson became an internationally regarded artist and appeared in films such as Oscar Micheaux’s Body and Soul and Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones. He and friend and colleague, Count Basie, recorded “King Joe” (with lyrics by Richard Wright) in 1941 to pay homage to another 555 resident,
Joe Louis. (Listen to it above, left.)
Robeson, along with many of his neighbors and comrades, paid the cost for their outspoken political activism that called for the equality of Black Americans. Along with W.E.B. Du Bois and attorney, William Patterson, Robeson was persecuted by the American government and vilified by the McCarthy witch hunts of the mid twentieth century. Because of his political beliefs, he was stripped of his passport and could not leave the country to make a living to supplement the loss of income in the U.S., result-ing from this vilification. In a years' long legal battle, all the way to the Supreme Court, Robeson's passport was reinstated, though the damage had been done to his career and spirit. Thanks to Paul Robeson for winning the fight that gives all Americans the right to travel, regardless of their political beliefs.