Outspoken: Paul Robeson, Ahead of His Time: A One-Man Show

 
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Outspoken: Paul Robeson, Ahead of His Time: A One-Man Show
Co-Authors / Illustrators
Age Range
6+
Release Date
March 27, 2024
ISBN
978-1536212976
Buy This Book
      
Newbery Honoree Carole Boston Weatherford and award-winning illustrator Eric Velasquez—the team behind Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library—reunite to take full measure of an iconic performer and political activist.

Paul Robeson rose to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance, known for his extraordinary vocal, dramatic, and oratory skills. But he was a true Renaissance man: an accomplished athlete, a bright intellect, and a passionate supporter for humanitarian causes. He displayed his talents on many stages: the pulpit where he filled in for his minister father; on debate, football, baseball, basketball, and track teams; in college and law school classrooms; on the theatrical stage and the silver screen; and behind the podium. Paul Robeson became internationally renowned as a singer and actor, and as his fame grew, so did his unflinching activism against racial injustice. He used the power of his voice to speak out as America’s conscience, but when his nation was not yet willing to listen, he found a more-supportive reception abroad—in Africa, Great Britain, and the USSR. In this moving birth-to-death biography, Carole Boston Weatherford’s poetic first-person narrative, interlaced with excerpts from African American spirituals, pairs with dynamic illustrations by Eric Velasquez capturing Paul Robeson’s commanding presence. Back matter includes a time line, source notes, and bibliography for readers inspired to learn more.

Editor reviews

2 reviews
Bringing Paul Robeson Back Into The Limelight
Overall rating
 
5.0
Writing Style
 
5.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
 
5.0
Learning Value
 
5.0
Outspoken dives deep into the life of Paul Robeson. Born to a former slave in 1898 and living into the 1950s, he lived through many turbulent times. As an African American, he experienced discrimination and prejudice. He was so incredibly talented that it is shocking to realize his name is not known anymore when it should be up there among the greats. As one person I do not know how he found time to be valedictorian and participate well in 4 different sports. He was an accomplished actor, singer, orator and used his fame to advance better treatment for black people in America. He saw his legacy erased and himself branded a traitor when he aligned with communist ideals because they also advocated for workers and racial equality. Russia treated him fairly and with enthusiasm when his own country would not give him a hotel room in the city, he was the star performer at the concert. The McCarthy era was especially harsh for him as they tried to keep him from a living, his fame, and his platform to help other African Americans. The author does a fantastic job of bringing his history back into the limelight. Overall, this is a deeply inspiring individual who should hold a place in our cultural conscience as studies about the Civil Rights movements are taught.
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"All Men Are Brothers"
Overall rating
 
4.7
Writing Style
 
4.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
 
5.0
Learning Value
 
5.0
Paul Robeson was a man of many talents who overcame many adversities. Born in New Jersey in 1898 to a father who was born enslaved but became a college educated minister and a mother from a Quaker background, his life circumstances changed when he was very young. His mother passed away, and his father lost his job. He was raised by a community of friends and family when his father had work to do. He followed his older brothers into sports, and had to deal with racism in his high school. He attended Rutgers university, but did not want to go into the ministry, studying law instead. He sang, and had a career in Hollywood until he became unhappy with the stereotypical roles he was expected to play. Leaving the entertainment industry, he became interested in politics at a time when McCarthy Era witch hunts caused him to be shunned. He felt he should not have to share all of his politics publicly, but supported Communism since in its purest form, it called for all people to be treated equally. He suffered a health crisis while in Russia that had suspicious origins, and spent the end of his life in ailing health. In recent years, his legacy has been much lauded.

Good Points
Weatherford has included lots of details about Robeson's life in very poetic language. There is much more information than can be found in most picture book biographies, making this suitable for research projects as well as a selection for class read alouds during Black History Month.

Velzsquez's illustrations are realistic and show what the world looked like during Robeson's life. The attention to details in period clothing and backgrounds is evident; even the vintage football uniform and pads seem authentic to me. The page design is also good, with the text being in long, thinner paragraphs to blend in well with the illustrations.

It is good to see so many biographies of previously underrepresentsed people. While Robeson's involvement with Communism gave him trouble during his own lifetime, his reasons for investigating the philosophies are more clear through today's lens. Add this to a growing number of titles about civil rights activists like Wallace and Collier's Love Is Loud: How Diane Nash Led the Civil Rights Movement, Duster and Freeman's Ida B. Wells, Voice of Truth: Educator, Feminist, and Anti-Lynching Civil Rights Leader, Barton and Walthall's Moving Forward: From Space-Age Rides to Civil Rights Sit-Ins With Airman Alton Yates, Vernick and Chapman's All Star: How Larry Doby Smashed the Color Barrier in Baseball, and Duncan and Bobo's Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth.
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