Paul Robeson was a towering figure in the 20th century. A brilliant scholar, athlete, singer, stage and film actor, activist, and revolutionary — and almost entirely erased from the curriculum, with a perfunctory sentence or two in U.S. history textbooks. This new graphic novel about Robeson’s life should be in every school library. It offers a fast-paced yet detailed overview of Robeson’s remarkable life.
The illustrations and narrative are playful and lively, but never lose sight of how Robeson’s life was animated by fights against racism, fascism, and class oppression — and in favor of international solidarity of all kinds. Not surprisingly, Robeson was blacklisted and hauled before HUAC — the House Un-American Activities Committee: “Why did you not stay in Russia?” “Because my father was a slave, and my people died to build this country and I am going to stay here and have a part in it, just like you. And no fascist-minded people will drive me from it. Is that clear?”
This is the kind of defiance that can sing to our students.
Ballad of an American by Sharon Rudahl
Published by Rutgers University Press on October 16, 2020
Genres: Activism, African American, Biography and Autobiography, Graphic Novels and Comics
Reading Level: High School
Review Source: Rethinking Schools
Publisher's Synopsis: The first-ever graphic biography of Paul Robeson, Ballad of an American, charts Robeson’s career as a singer, actor, scholar, athlete, and activist who achieved global fame. Through his films, concerts, and records, he became a potent symbol representing the promise of a multicultural, multiracial American democracy at a time when, despite his stardom, he was denied personal access to his many audiences.
Robeson was a major figure in the rise of anti-colonialism in Africa and elsewhere, and a tireless campaigner for internationalism, peace, and human rights. Later in life, he embraced the civil rights and antiwar movements with the hope that new generations would attain his ideals of a peaceful and abundant world. Ballad of an American features beautifully drawn chapters by artist Sharon Rudahl, a compelling narrative about his life, and an afterword on the lasting impact of Robeson’s work in both the arts and politics. This graphic biography will enable all kinds of readers — especially newer generations who may be unfamiliar with him — to understand his life’s story and everlasting global significance.