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US embassy info centre named after Paul Robeson

Thursday, January 26, 2012    

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THE United States Embassy's information resource centre in Jamaica was on Monday named after African-American singer and civil rights activist Paul Robeson, at a function which recalled his 1948 visit to Jamaica and his constant battle to improve the conditions of people all over the world.

Robeson, the son of a runaway slave who excelled in American football in college, gave up a promising career in law to promote African-American history through theatre and music and agitate for the rights of all Americans and independence of colonised people, including those in Jamaica and the Caribbean.

Robeson's granddaughter Susan Robeson, chair of the Paul Robeson Foundation and an award-winning documentary film-maker, unveiled a plaque at the Kingston Embassy commemorating her grandfather, exactly 36 years after his death in 1976.

Recalling Paul Robeson's campaign against racism in the US and friendship with the Soviet Union -- which resulted in him being banned from performing and travelling abroad -- Susan Robeson said her grandfather placed his principles above his personal career.

She noted the warm reception her grandfather received during his visit to Jamaica which caused him to remark "I feel now that I have drawn my first breath of fresh air in many years." She said 80,000 gathered to hear Paul sing and "embraced him as a man of the people."

United States Ambassador to Jamaica Pamela Bridgewater, in her remarks, noted that like many Jamaicans, Paul Robeson excelled in sports and music and was a social activist like Jamaica's first national hero Marcus Garvey.

The naming of the centre followed an essay competition for its naming organised by the US Embassy last year. The essay competition was won by Kathy Smith, a first-year law student at the University of the West Indies, Mona, who was then a student of Manchester High School. Smith read excerpts from her winning essay, The Soul of a Continent, at the function.

With a powerful baritone and imposing figure, Robeson was known for playing Shakespeare's Othello, popularising the performance of negro spirituals and was one of the first black global superstars of stage, music and film.

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