Paul Robeson House new reading room pays tribute to his wife

Eslanda Cardozo Goode Robeson not only served as a manager to her world-famous husband, she was also a photographer, actress, author and activist

A newly created reading room at the Paul Robeson House and Museum in West Philadelphia pays tribute to the late artist’s wife, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

The Eslanda Robeson Reading Room, which opened on Dec. 13, is a space for research and digitization of the family’s collection. The museum worked with media artist Malkia Okech for about a year to organize and digitize the materials.

The museum “wanted to honor her legacy,” hence the reading room, said Janice Sykes-Ross, executive director of both the museum and the West Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.

Off To Hollywood
(L to R ) Singer and actor Paul Robeson and his wife Eslanda shown in this archival photo at London’s Waterloo Station. (Photo by H F Davis/Getty Images)

Museum officials note that Eslanda Cardozo Goode Robeson not only served as a manager to her world-famous husband, she was also a photographer, actress, author and activist.

“At one point, he was the No. 1 entertainer in the world,” said Vernoca L. Michael, former executive director of the West Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, which owns the museum, according to The Inquirer.

Paul Robeson is famously known for his cultural accomplishments and human rights activism, but Sykes-Ross and Michael pointed out that it was Eslanda Robeson who inspired him. “… She got him involved in activism,” Sykes-Ross said, adding that it was Robeson who pushed her spouse to get “involved in the arts” and to “pursue acting and singing on a professional level.”

When Paul Robeson finished law school in 1923, he found work with a white-owned firm, but “the white secretary would not take dictation from him,” Michael said. At his wife’s urging, he pursued a career in the arts instead. “She was the one who pushed him out in the world, yet nobody knew about her.”

Eslanda Robeson gave up a medical career to support her husband but would later earn a doctorate in anthropology, pen two books and act in films: “Borderline” (1930), “Big Fella” (1937) and “Jericho” (1937), according to The Inquirer.

“Eslanda has always been a conversation of the museum,” Sykes-Ross said. “You can’t talk about Paul Robeson and not have a conversation about his wife.”

Eslanda Robeson died in 1965, while her husband passed in 1976.

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