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Lafayette will inaugurate a series of major conferences on the history and culture of civil rights and civil liberties with a three-day conference entitled “Paul Robeson: His History and Development as an Intellectual” on campus April 7-9.

  • The McDonogh Report celebrates the contributions of African Americans to the Lafayette community.

Open to scholars and members of the community at no charge, the conference will engage the life of Paul Robeson (1898-1976) – stage and film actor, opera singer, athlete, attorney, political and social activist – who explored, at another time and in another context, some of the same personal and national identity questions that are prominently at issue today. It promises to deepen the national and international discussion on American identity, human interdependency, and our shared responsibilities of security and advancing civil society.

Click here for an extensive web site on the conference.

Conference director John T. McCartney, professor of government and law and head of the department, says, “We have invited the leading Robeson scholars in the world to address two overriding questions: What substantive conclusions did Robeson draw about his studies of everything from Igbo culture to Proust, and in what ways did his studies significantly influence his life and work?”

Keynote addresses by Paul Robeson Jr. and Randall Robinson and performances by spoken-word artist Saul Williams and bass baritone Alvy Powell of the U.S. Army Chorus will be among the highlights.

Leading scholars and other authorities will speak on topics ranging from Robeson as public intellectual to the cultural politics of Robeson and Richard Wright:

  • “Paul Robeson: The Quintessential Public Intellectual,” Paul Von Blum, senior lecturer in African American studies, University of California, Los Angeles
  • “Paul Robeson and the Cold War,” Nelson Peery, a founding member of the League of Revolutionaries for a New America
  • “The Significance of Robeson’s Theater Productions,” Amiri Baraka, professor emeritus of Africana Studies, State University of New York at Stony Brook
  • “Marx and Engels’ Influences on the Development of Robeson’s Intellect,” Harry R. Targ, professor of political science and American studies, Purdue University, and John T. McCartney, professor and head of government and law, Lafayette
  • “Paul Robeson’s Lifelong Brush with the Law, ” James E. Lennertz, associate professor of government and law, Lafayette
  • “Robeson: Forgotten Hero Who Laid the Foundation for A Movement,” Lamont Yeakey, associate professor of history, California State University, Los Angeles
  • “Robeson’s Research for His Roles in Films and Plays,” Charles Musser, professor of film studies and American studies,Yale University
  • “Robeson as Labor’s Champion,” Noel Beasley, international vice president of UNITE HERE
  • “The Significance of the Production History of Phillip Hayes Dean’s Paul Robeson,” Ed Bullins, Distinguished Artist-in-Residence, Northeastern University; Miller Lucky Jr., associate professor of theater, North Carolina A&T State University; and Samuel A. Hay, visiting professor of government and law, Lafayette
  • “The Cultural Politics of Robeson and Richard Wright: Theorizing the African Diaspora,” Floyd W. Hayes III, senior lecturer in political science and coordinator of undergraduate programs in Africana studies, The Johns Hopkins University
  • “Standing on A Stone: The Influence of Africa on Paul Robeson’s Life and Work,” Kofi Asare Opoku, professor of religious studies and co-chair of Africana studies, Lafayette

Actors Stephen McKinley Henderson, J.D. Hall, John Peak, and Ron Dortch will presesnt a reader’s theater production of Paul Robeson’s autobiography Here I Stand, a session that will also include a performance by the Lafayette Concert Choir. In addition, there will be festival of Robeson films, a curriculum workshop on Robeson studies, and a high school essay contest.

Several Lafayette faculty, staff, and alumni will serve as moderators of conference sessions. They include Rexford Ahene, professor of economics and business and co-chair of Africana studies; Kevin Cameron, visiting assistant professor of government and law; Diane Elliott, director for public service of the Robert B. and Helen S. Meyner Center for the Study of State and Local Government; Gladstone A. Hutchinson, dean of studies; Curlee Raven Holton, professor of art and director of the Experimental Printmaking Institute; Ilan Peleg, Charles A. Dana Professor of Government and Law; June Schlueter, provost and Charles A. Dana Professor of English; Mercedes Sharpless, librarian, Kirby Library; Javad Tavakoli, associate professor of chemical engineering; Riley K. Temple, secretary of the Board of Trustees; and Suzanne Westfall, professor of English.

Also serving as moderators will be two members of the faculty of Northampton Community College, Sharon Gavin-Levy, professor of English, and Norman Roberts, professor of communications/theater.

Robeson Jr., who served as a personal aide to his father for more than 20 years, is a freelance journalist, translator, and highly regarded lecturer on American and Russian history. Owner and archivist of The Robeson Collection, which consists of more than 50,000 items, he is author of The Undiscovered Paul Robeson, 1898-1939 and Paul Robeson Jr. Speaks to America.

Robinson is founder and former president of TransAfrica, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating the general public—particularly African Americans—about the economic, political, and moral ramifications of U.S. foreign policy as it affects Africa and the Diaspora in the Caribbean and Latin America. He is author of Quitting America: The Departure of a Black Man from His Native Land, published this year by Dutton, and The Reckoning: What Blacks Owe To Each Other, The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks, and Defending the Spirit: A Black Life in America.

Williams co-wrote and starred in the 1998 urban drama Slam, winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival and Camera d’Or at Cannes Film Festival. In 1995 he began mesmerizing audiences with landmark performances at the Brooklyn Moon Cafe’s fabled “Open Mic” sessions and in 1996 became the Nuyorican Poet Cafe’s Grand Slam Champion.

Powell will perform “A Robeson Portrait” to mark the 107th anniversary of Paul Robeson’s birth date, April 9, 1898. The production is written, produced, and narrated by Jewell Robinson, award-winning actress and public program director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery.

Powell has performed with companies such as La Scala, Houston Grand Opera, San Francisco Opera, Cape Town Opera, and Sydney, Australia. Powell first came to national prominence singing “The Star Spangled Banner” at the inauguration of President George H.W. Bush in 1989. His performance of Porgy in the New York City Opera production of Porgy and Bess, broadcast live from Lincoln Center on PBS, was nominated for an Emmy Award for “Best Classical Music Production.”

Registration is free. For information contact Lafayette’s Department of Government and Law (Ruth Panovec, secretary), (610) 330-5390; John McCartney (330-5394), or Sam Hay (330-5588).

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