One hundred years ago, the 1918 football season marked the conclusion of one of the most successful four – year periods in Rutgers history. There are many contributors to a successful team. Nevertheless, one contributor stands out, the senior end Paul Robeson.
Paul Robeson was one of the greatest football players during the era from 1869 to 1918. Raised in Princeton and Somerville, he won a scholarship to attend Rutgers. He was one of the first African Americans to attend RU.
Beyond his overall athletic excellence, Robeson was a remarkable individual with remarkable achievements. An outstanding student, he was Valedictorian. He went on to receive a law degree from Columbia University. However, he is best known for his contributions to the legitimate and musical theater. Among his achievements, Robeson starred in Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones and sang Old Man River in Rogers and Hart’s seminal musical Showboat. He played the lead in Othello. He starred in movies and appeared on radio. He spoke many languages and was an international star. Using his rich baritone voice, he brought folk music from around the world, especially black spirituals, to an international audience.
It is difficult to imagine today his presence on the world scene in his own time. If you can imagine what it would be like if Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson were the same person, you have some idea.
Throughout his life, Robeson used his fame to fight for civil rights and economic equality for all Americans.
Paul Robeson is arguably one of Rutgers’ two greatest alumni all-time and should be an inspiration to all generations of Rutgers students. As an athlete at Rutgers, he earned 15 varsity letters in four sports, but he is best know for his football achievements. He is on the wall honoring notable Big Ten alumni at the conference headquarters. Let’s hope the athletic department honors this Rutgers great at some point in the coming season, which would mark the 100th anniversary since Robeson’s last season on the gridiron on the banks. He certainly deserves that honor!