Rutgers remembers pro-communist alum with week-long celebration

Rutgers University celebrated its first annual “I Am Robeson Week” last week in remembrance of Paul Robeson, a Rutgers alumnus and popular social activist also known for his affinity for communism.

The university advertised its “I am Robeson Week” in a weekly newsletter, obtained by Campus Reform, sent to all Rutgers faculty, students, and staff. The newsletter praised Robeson as “one of the university’s most esteemed alumni” and encouraged students to attend a three-day series of events in his honor, including a viewing of a film adaptation of his biography and a trip to his home in Philadelphia.

Robeson, a 1919 graduate of Rutgers, vocalized his appreciation of Joseph Stalin and sent his son to the Soviet Union. His allegiance to Stalin began in 1934 after Robeson took a pilgrimage to communist Russia himself.

After he returned, Robeson was interviewed by the Daily Worker, a Russian publication based out of Moscow, and when asked about his experience in the Soviet Union, spoke about the “feeling of safety and abundance and freedom” he felt during his travels.

“I was not prepared for the happiness I see on every face in Moscow,” Robeson added. “I was aware that there was no starvation here, but I was not prepared for the bounding life.”

Robeson was eventually awarded the Stalin Peace Prize in 1953 and later wrote a eulogy titled “To You Beloved Comrade” after the death of Stalin in 1953.

“Through his deep humanity, by his wise understanding, he leaves us a rich and monumental heritage,” Robeson wrote.

Robeson defended Soviet ideals up until the day of his death in 1977. “From what I have already seen of the workings of the Soviet Government, I can only say that anybody who lifts his hand against it ought to be shot,” Robeson said in his interview with the Worker.

“I Am Robeson Week” was sponsored by the the Paul Robeson Cultural Center at Rutgers and lasted from Dec. 1 to Dec. 4. According to the event’s Facebook page, 95 students participated in last week’s celebration and many students praised the work of Robeson on social media.

“BSU fully backs ‘I Am Robeson Week’ and its activities. We encourage everyone to participate where you can and learn about Mr. Robeson,” the Black Student Union at Rutgers tweeted during the events.

“I am proud to be scarlet because Robeson went here,” another student tweeted in reference to the “Scarlet Knight,” the school’s official mascot.

Some students even created buttons for the events and distributed them on campus throughout the week.

Not all Rutgers students supported the activities, though.

Rutgers Law student Matthew Gilson thought the event inaccurately portrayed Robeson by cherry-picking highlights of his career and skipping over his work in the Soviet Union.

“Robeson gave aid and comfort to the Soviet Union during a time when they were our enemy and a threat to our national security,” Gilson told Campus Reform. “It was exceedingly inappropriate that Rutgers painted numerous historical figures in unflattering lights, choosing to emphasize minor flaws. They completely failed to even acknowledge Robeson's anti-American views and instead only discussed his football and acting career.”

Gilson said the school hopes to make “I Am Robeson Week” an annual celebration, but administrators at the Paul Robeson Cultural Center did not respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment.

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