Paul Robeson's Philadelphia Story

Civil Rights activist, singer and actor Paul Robeson died in Philadelphia 35 years ago this Sunday at his sister's house on 50th and Walnut Streets. Today, the house in West Philadelphia is open to visitors while it's slowly being restored to its past glory when the neighborhood housed middle class families , mostly African American . WHYY's Elisabeth Perez Luna spoke with some of the past neighbors and friends who remember Robeson's presence in the city.


Photo Credit: Isaac Maefield, WPCA artist-in-residence.


Marian Forsythe, Paul Robeson's sister, lived in Philadelphia in an ample, comfortable house at the corner of 50th and Walnut Streets. It was there that Robeson spent the last ten years of his life, from 1966 to 1976. He died on January 23, 1976 at age 77.


In poor health, Robeson lived in semi-reclusion in the refuge of a caring household and a vibrant neighborhood. The memories of his Philadelphia years are kept alive by the people who knew him or just saw him sitting quietly on the porch under his sister's watchful eye.


Those memories are captured in the book, website and CD "Stories from the Paul Robeson House: Lives touched by a Renaissance Man". The project is a collaboration between the West Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage and WHYY. The interviews were conducted by WHYY's Elisabeth Perez Luna, Karl Seifert is the photographer.


Here are six of the 24 stories posted on The Paul Robeson House website:


Stories from the Paul Robeson House


Click on the images below to listen to the stories.





Here at WHYY, we have also gathered original archival materials from Fresh Air, PBS's American Masters and a 1958 interview with Paul Robeson from the Pacifica Radio Archives.


Paul Robeson's life and art
from the Fresh Air Archives


April 25th, 2001

An interview with Paul Robeson Jr. about his memoir called The Undiscovered Paul Robeson It's one of two books on his father, the famed actor, singer, activist and athlete. In the interview with Fresh Air's guest host Neil Conan, Robeson Jr. talks about his father's rise in show business and what it was like to grow up as the son of an icon.


March 26, 2007

Fresh Air classical music critic Lloyd Schwartz reviews a new Criterion 4-DVD set featuring six of Paul Robeson's films and documentary materials.


February 7, 1990

Schwartz reviews a reissue of the 1932 recording of "Show Boat" on CD. It includes performances by Paul Robeson and Helen Morgan (Part of the CBS Special Products Series).


February 24,1989

Terry Gross interviews biographer Martin Bauml Duberman, who was selected by Paul Robeson Jr. to write a biography of his celebrated father. During his research on the project, Duberman had to sue the FBI to secure access to their files on Robeson.



The Pacifica Radio Interview


An interview with Paul Robeson on the "Power of Negro Action." Pacifica Radio Archives 1958.