Stamp honors a man in full

January 26th, 2004

A decade-long struggle to memorialize Paul Robeson, the singer, actor, athlete and civil rights activist blacklisted because of his activism and political beliefs, ended Sunday with the unveiling of a stamp in his honor.

Robeson's athletic skills as a two-time All-American football player for Rutgers College, his starring role in the Broadway smash "Othello" and his rendition of "Ol' Man River" in the musical "Showboat," made him a worldwide sensation.

The son of an escaped slave, he graduated at the top of his class at Rutgers, earned a law degree from Columbia University and briefly practiced law. Robeson could sing in 20 languages and is credited with popularizing African-American spirituals. As an activist he used his popularity to speak out against racism in America, apartheid in Africa and for workers rights here and abroad.

The Paul Robeson 100th Birthday Committee, led by Mark Rogovin of Columbia College, started a campaign in the early 1990s to urge the postal service to choose Robeson. More than 90,000 letters were sent, but the citizen committee that recommends honorees did not grant the request. Officials have never explained why, except to say that they receive more than 50,000 requests each year to honor individuals with a commemorative stamp.

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