Paul Robeson

Paul RobesonCelebrating a Legacy: The 100th Anniversary of Paul Robeson's Graduation

Doctor of HumanE Letters

In 1973, Rutgers University bestowed an honorary doctorate of humane letters on Paul Robeson for his accomplishments as a scholar, athlete, singer, actor, and global activist.

As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Robeson's graduation, we recognize the honorary degree previously bestowed and his legacy that carries on today. He is one of Rutgers' most distinguished alumni and was the quintessential 20th-century Renaissance man.

The son of a runaway slave, Robeson attended Rutgers College in New Brunswick on an academic scholarship, becoming the university's third black student and its first black football player. At Rutgers, "Robey"—as he was known at school—showed his prowess on the athletic field as well as in the classroom. An extraordinary athlete, he earned 15 varsity letters in football, basketball, baseball, and track. He was a two-time All-American in football who is in the College Football Hall of Fame. His scholarly accomplishments included being inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa Society and Rutgers' Cap and Skull Honor Society. Robeson, who spoke more than 20 languages fluently, honed his oratory skills as a member of the Intercollegiate Debating Association. He was chosen to give the valedictory address at Commencement.

After graduation, Robeson earned a law degree from Columbia Law School but decided to use his artistic talents in theater and music to promote African and African-American history and culture. Over nearly four decades, he achieved worldwide acclaim as a vocalist and actor on stage and screen. A towering figure in the African-American struggle for human dignity and democracy, Robeson connected this struggle with people around the world who also were fighting for political rights, cultural recognition, and economic justice.

The spotlight that shines on Robeson on the centennial of his graduation from Rutgers illuminates the rich legacy he left at the university and the world.

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