Thursday, June 08, 2006

Paul Robeson Jr

I got an email yesterday informing me that Paul Robeson Jr. will be speaking at the Prince Georges County Memorial Library in Oxon Hill. I immediately switched all of my plans for the evening. I’ve only seen Mr. Robeson speak once and that was almost 6 years ago. The event was hosted in conjunction with Vertigo Books. Mr. Robeson was there to speak and promote his new book, A Black Way Of Seeing: From “Liberty” To Freedom. I was running late and still on the beltway when I thought the program had already started. The event was scheduled for 7pm, but I was delighted to find out upon arrival that it had been delayed because Mr. Robeson was stuck in traffic. I didn’t miss a thing! There was a scattered crowd of about fifty sitting in the small auditorium when I walked in. I saw that there were available seats in the front so I went straight for one. Mr. Robeson arrived a little past 7:30 and apologized to the crowd for his tardiness. He stated that he didn’t have any excuses, but that he could offer an explanation. The crowd smiled and applauded as the host formally introduced him as the night’s speaker.

He started off evening reading from the introduction to his book:
“I am a free Black American. I have a distinct culture. It derives from the traditional culture of African field slaves in the South. I identify with that culture by capitalizing the “B” in Black.”

Mr. Robeson stated that Americans should stop pretending that black people and white people are the same in this country. He said that an example of our differences was evident in the 2000 presidential elections when 92% of black voters were against the Bush campaign while 55% of white voters were pro-Bush. This same pattern continued in the 2004 elections that showed 91% of the black voters still against and around 58% of the white voters. This indicates a very clear divide concerning the thinking and overall outlook between black and white citizens in this country.
Mr. Robeson spoke to the crowd candidly and expressed his delight in addressing a crowd of “just plain folk” as he gave his “humble opinion.” He stated that he no longer enjoyed speaking in the halls of Harvard, Princeton, Yale and other Ivy League institutions. “They wouldn’t want to hear what I’m saying tonight anyway,” he chuckled. He wanted to be among “his people” in community centers and libraries that are located in the black community.

Overall, the lecture was refreshing coming from a man of almost 80. A table was set up for him to sell and sign copies of his book. The small turnout opened the door for small lectures as people were getting their books signed while asking questions. I was one of the last in line and step up to get my book signed. He smiled as I shook his hand and expressed how much I enjoyed the lecture. He began to sign my book. I then informed him that I am a descendant of Ezekiel Robeson. Ezekiel Robeson was William Drew Robeson’s older brother. William Drew Robeson is Paul junior’s grandfather and Paul Robeson’s father.

Brief history:
Ezekiel and William escaped slavery together from the Cross Roads plantation in Martin County, North Carolina, but my great-great-grandfather, Ezekiel, returned to his family on the plantation after the Emancipation Proclamation. William would never return to the Cross Roads of Martin County, North Carolina and the late Paul Robeson would never get to know any of his cousins from that region before his death in 1976.

Paul Robeson Jr. was happy to find out that I was his distant cousin and I was happy that I wasn’t just brushed off. He confirmed things by asking questions about family history that I was able to answer. He smiled and just said, “wow!” Well, It was after 9pm and the library was closing. He signed my book and we exchanged information. I went away satisfied that I mentioned my connection to him. I had failed to mention it the last time that I saw him almost 6 years ago. I was determined this time. It was a very nice and enlightening experience. Peace
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