History & Tourism

When Mansfield Welcomed: Paul Robeson

21 Aug , 2021  


By 1812Blockhouse

There are many Mansfielders who today would not recognize the name of Paul Robeson.

That is unfortunate. Robeson was an extraordinary talent who, as Wikipedia shares, “…became famous both for his cultural accomplishments and for his political activism.” A man large in stature, he had an oversized influence in American musicals and in the Civil Rights Movement.

He was also someone who made a visit to Mansfield to perform in concert.

Robeson’s career was so varied that the best way to become familiar with his life is to visit his extensive Wikipedia page.

In late 1942 and early 1943, during the middle of World War II and at a time when the ultimate outcome was anything but certain, Robeson made a 70 performance concert tour across the country, mostly in the west but going east to New England and Montreal. He delivered full concerts every two to three days.

During that prolonged tour he performed in concert in Mansfield, on April 15, 1943. Some 1,300 were in attendance to hear a program of folk tunes and American favorites, ending with the National Anthem. It took place in the Mansfield Senior High School Auditorium.

And, of course, Robeson did a rendition of “Ol’ Man River” from the musical Showboat, likely his best-known piece.

There were reportedly 13 encores, and he expressed a desire to return to Richland County to visit Malabar Farm.

To see and listen to a Robeseon perform Ol’Man River from the 1936 film version of Showboat, click here.

Above photo: Robseon leading Oakland California shipyard workers in The Star Spangled Banner” in September 1942, just a few months before his Mansfield concert.

Source: Wikipedia, Paul Robesen: A Biography” by Martin Duberman; Mansfield News-Journal; Photos: Public Domain

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