NO WAY BUT THIS: IN SEARCH OF PAUL ROBESON

Esquire (UK) - - Culture - By Jeff Sparrow (Scribe)

When Sparrow de­scribes his bi­og­ra­phy of Paul Robeson, the pi­o­neer­ing African-Amer­i­can singer, ac­tor and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist, as a “search”, he means it quite lit­er­ally. Sparrow, a left-lean­ing writer who lives and works in Aus­tralia, traces the path of Robeson’s ex­is­tence from Prince­ton, New Jersey, where he made his mod­est be­gin­nings in 1898, to New York where he at­tended Columbia Law School, to Lon­don where he was em­braced by the the­atri­cal in-crowd, to Spain where he sang to Re­pub­li­can troops dur­ing the Span­ish Civil War, and to Wales where he ral­lied protest­ing min­ers. On the way, Sparrow con­jures up the ghost of this ex­tra­or­di­nary fig­ure, pos­sessed of both enor­mous tal­ent, po­lit­i­cal in­tegrity, and charisma, who none­the­less strug­gled with a dif­fi­cult mar­riage, a wan­der­ing eye, and, ul­ti­mately, Se­na­tor Joseph McCarthy. But it is the weight of his role as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of his race in Amer­ica that gives this book such heft. He forged an as­ton­ish­ing path dur­ing an un­speak­ably racist era, well be­fore the Civil Rights Move­ment had prop­erly be­gun, when any achieve­ment or mis­take he made was au­to­mat­i­cally seen as em­blem­atic rather than per­sonal. This pas­sion­ate bi­og­ra­phy is tes­ta­ment to a fig­ure who de­serves to be bet­ter re­mem­bered.

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