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Robeson
S. Georges
Eslanda Robeson
1920s
Carl Van Vechten Papers

In addition to her careers as manager and agent to her husband and as cultural anthropologist, Eslanda Robeson was also a creative writer. Her friend Carl Van Vechten was a trusted editor who encouraged her work and provided constructive criticism. This photograph is inscribed to Van Vechten and his wife, Fania Marinoff: “To Carl and Fania with love from Essie Robeson.”

 

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Today Eslanda Robeson is remembered as the wife of Paul Robeson, one of the most talented American singers of all time. However, she also forged careers for herself in several different fields, as an agent, anthropologist, and writer. Paul Robeson’s phenomenal success was in part due to the skill and savvy with which she managed his career, acting as agent, manager, and drama coach. In 1935 she enrolled in social anthropology courses at London University and traveled to Africa for several months of study and fieldwork. Her book African Journey recounts her experiences during this trip. As members of the Council on African Affairs (CAA), the couple fought to end colonialism in Africa. When their activities with the CAA were brought to the attention of the House Un-American Activities Committee, Senator Joseph McCarthy and his representatives scrutinized the Robesons’s friendships, travels, and political work. In 1957 the United States government revoked the Robesons’s passports. Blacklisted in the United States and prevented from traveling to engagements overseas, the couple struggled to survive. In spite of the difficulties they faced, they remained politically active and worked for fair treatment and equal rights for African Americans and to free African nations from European colonialism.

 

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