By Derrick Brown (follow on Twitter @dbrowndbrown)
"LEarning (Honor Role - The Power Of Mentors)"
By Derrick Brown
American history has not been kind to Paul Robeson.
Robeson was a complex individual.
Even complex individuals can be erased - one dimension at a time.
As an actor and singer, he was erased - even as one of the most powerful and popular performers in the world.
As a football player, he was erased - even as a Rutgers University All-American.
As a civil rights activist, he was erased ("blacklisted") for his "un-American" support of communism and The Soviet Union.
Despite these concerted efforts, we still have choices regarding how we remember Robeson.
We can either acknowledge his considerable achievements and prowess - or dismiss them.
We either agree on, disagree on, or misunderstand his politics.
There are two noteworthy nuggets that have earned my respect, though.
First, Robeson could find a way out of "no way".
When the United States seized his passport (to stem his worldwide popularity and activism), he still gave concerts via radio, telephone, and at the geographic border between Washington state and Canadian British Columbia.
Second, Robeson left a legacy through his mentoring.
Follow this anthropology with me.
Actor / Activist Harry Belafonte (who was almost 30 years younger) looked up to Robeson.
Belafonte served as a pallbearer at Robeson's funeral.
Belafonte was also blacklisted during his career because of his views (which were influenced by Robeson).
His career survived, though - as did his activism.
Belafonte supported Martin Luther King, Jr. financially - because fighting for freedom ain't free.
He financed the 1961 Freedom Rides.
He helped to organize the 1963 March on Washington.
He financed the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer (with $60,000 carried in a suitcase), and entertained crowds with Sidney Poitier.
Poitier was also at the 1963 March on Washington.
Years earlier, Belafonte and Poitier (who are the same age - born 10 days apart) used to purchase a single ticket to attend local plays.
One would watch the first act, then they would trade places - and the other watched the second act.
They would compare notes about the play during the seat exchange.
Actor / Activist Ossie Davis (who was ten years older than Belafonte and Poitier - and 20 years younger than Robeson) wrote a play called "Paul Robeson: All-American".
Davis also attended the 1963 March On Washington.
He made his film debut in Sidney Poitier's 1950 film "No Way Out".
Davis gave the eulogy at Malcolm X's funeral.
He also paid tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. at a Central Park memorial the day after MLK was killed in Memphis, TN.
See, even as an "Invisible Man", Paul Robeson contributed to the growth and work of our visible, well-known leaders.
To anyone who has ever been marginalized, oppressed, or subverted - and lost the spotlight as a result ...
Do not mistake that activity for achievement.
A transferred legacy is timeless, indelible, and far more powerful.