OAKLAND, Calif.—– A new exhibit highlighting the life and work of legendary artist and political activist Paul Robeson is slated to open at the African American Museum and Library at Oakland (AAMLO), on April 8, the day before the 108th anniversary of his birth.

“Paul Robeson: The Tallest Tree in Our Forest” is a multimedia presentation developed by the museum to honor Robeson’s contributions and legacy as a scholar, singer, actor, athlete and human rights activist. It features photos, original art, documents and artifacts on loan from the Bay Area Paul Robeson Centennial Committee, and video and audio presentations about Robeson’s life, artistic and political activities.

Because of his extensive work for peace, equality, democracy and social justice, Robeson was viciously attacked by the witch-hunting congressional committees of the McCarthy era.

Museum Director Rick Moss said he hopes the display will introduce new audiences to the history of Paul Robeson as a man of integrity and principle.

“If our Constitution and Bill of Rights are worth anything,” Moss said, “then it’s worth it, as an American and a citizen, to stand up for something you believe in. We think that’s the example that Paul Robeson, probably more than any other single person, helps to create.”

Moss said he feels Robeson’s experiences can also be empowering in the face of present-day attacks on the African American community and especially on African American men. “Yes, he was a great man and an individual who stood up for his rights,” Moss said. “But the greatness of Paul Robeson exists in each of us. We need to decide that there are some things we are going to do.”

Moss said that to him, one of the most exciting items in the exhibit is a small premium card — one of a set of 50 “radio celebrities” issued in Britain in 1934. “It demonstrates just how popular Robeson was at a time in his life when he could have just coasted along with a career in film, music and radio and been OK,” Moss said.

Many items on display have been loaned by the Bay Area Paul Robeson Centennial Committee, formed to celebrate the 1998 centennial of Robeson’s birth. The committee is continuing its work to popularize Robeson’s legacy. It is collecting archival materials of all types and is working on a Robeson curriculum for the public schools.

Over 160 collections in AAMLO’s archives feature diaries, publications, video and microfilm documenting the activities of African Americans in and around Oakland, the Bay Area and California. Its reference library includes some 12,000 volumes by or about African Americans.

An opening reception for the Paul Robeson exhibit will be held April 8 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The display can be seen Tuesdays through Saturdays, from noon to 5:30 p.m. It is slated to close July 8. The museum and library is located at 659 14th St., Oakland. For information, call (510) 637-0200.

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