By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Mural Arts Program today rededicated a mural of Paul Robeson on his 115th birthday, while students from Robeson High School in West Philadelphia celebrated a victory inspired by the civil rights leader.
At nearly four stories tall, the mural of Robeson faces west on Chestnut Street near 45th, just across the street from the high school that bears his name.
Born in 1898 in Princeton, NJ, the scholar, activist, athlete, and entertainer was blacklisted during the McCarthy era, and died in seclusion in Philadelphia, at age 77.
“He had the nerve to try to get out and stop lynchings during the Truman administration,” notes Frances Aulston, who runs the Paul Robeson House at 50th and Chestnut Streets. “He walked around the White House saying, ‘This isn’t supposed to happen,’ and tried to put a stop to it.”
“He fought against poll taxes that were common during that time, and worked hard to make sure people had the right to vote,” Aulston says. “But because he had the courage and conviction to speak out, he was persecuted greatly in this country.”
“When we saw this mural starting to fade, we knew we had to fix it,” says Jane Golden, executive director of the Mural Arts Program. “Because he meant so much to the world, we knew his image shouldn’t fade. By redoing this mural, by preserving it, it lives on for another 20 years as a beacon of inspiration.”
“He’s always an individual that influences me in my life,” said Totiana Myers, a sophomore at Robeson High.
Last December, the Philadelphia School District recommended that the school be closed. Myers battled on the front lines, along with the rest of the school’s 200-plus students, and last month the SRC announced that Robeson would be spared.
“We fought hard and our fighting wasn’t in vain,” says Myers.
And, she notes, Robeson stands tall, looking down on West Philadelphia, almost as a guard, smiling down.
“I think this was the best birthday present we could have given him,” she says, looking up at the mural.