Paul Robeson: athlete, actor, singer, activist

Paul Robeson (1898-1976) was a world famous athlete, actor, singer, and activist, who became known for both his cultural achievements as well as his political stances. In this post some information, as well as a pattern of a puppet to act out his various roles, or to use as a posable magnet with magnetic tape.

Resident of Princeton and Somerville, NJ

Paul Leroy Robeson was born in 1898 in Princeton, New Jersey to Reverend Drew Robeson, a runaway slave, and Maria Robeson, the youngest of five surviving children. The family moved to Somerville, NJ in 1910, where his father served as pastor of St. Thomas A.M.E. church. Paul graduated from Somerville Highschool in 1915.


Paul Rutgers as a student and football player at Rutgers College, Class of 1919

In 1915, Robeson won a scholarship and became the third African-American student ever enrolled at Rutgers College, and the only Black student at the time of his studies. He graduated at the top of his class, got athletic letters in multiple sports, and played for the NFL’s Milwaukee Badgers while attending law school at Columbia.

Actor and singer

Paul Robeson singing “Ol’ Man River” (Showboat – 1936)

Robeson did not work as a lawyer for long, because of the racism he experienced. Instead he started a career in singing and acting, with performances in concerts, on stage, and in movies at home and abroad.

Social and Civil Rights activist

Paul Robeson leading shipyard workers in singing the Star Spangled Banner, Oakland, CA, Sept. 1942

Believing that the famous have a responsibility to fight for justice and peace, Robeson advocated for civil rights at home and abroad and performed benefits all over the world.

Puppet pattern

You can make a puppet of Paul Robeson (who was a head taller than most adults!) to use for shadow play or as a hand held puppet to let him act, sing, speech, or march as a political activist. If you want to sing, act, or march along with friends or class mates, you can make a puppet of yourself, and other civil rights activists!






Shadow/Silhouette puppet of Paul Robeson among workers from a photograph, 1942