By Marily Lopez
Los Angeles, Calif.
Football player, actor, civil rights activist and singer, Paul Robeson was born in Princeton, New Jersey in a combined two-story house on the corner of Witherspoon and Green Street in 1898. Almost 116 years later, the Paul Robeson House, a historical centerpiece of the community, may now be in jeopardy due to increasing property values, gentrification and financial issues.
In order to save the house, a historical centerpiece of the community’s rich history, the Paul Robeson House Committee is considering some combination of five possible options: a Memorial Gallery of Paul Robeson, a Center for the Study and Advancement of Human Rights, a Center for the Promotion of the Arts, a Community Resource Center, and/or Mentoring and Referral Services.
The Memorial Gallery of Paul Robeson will “not be a museum” but an “interactive, permanent place to display Robeson’s work, photos, and audio,” said Benjamin Colbert, a committee member.
The overall goal of maintaining the Robeson House is to promote the ideals that Robeson supported in his humanitarian efforts.
Colbert recalls Robeson as “such a hero [because] he was way ahead of his time.” Robeson spoke about discrimination and civil rights before it was “popular” to speak out against these causes and also covered topics like communism, and blacklisting.
Shirley Satterfield, a member of the Paul Robeson House Committee and resident of the community in which the house resides for six generations, has witnessed the effects of gentrification and increasing property values on the neighborhood over time. “Many of the apartments start at 1.5 million dollars, but we want to survive in a community that is changing,” she said.
High prices for real estate and property taxes have substantially deterred many descendants of the predominantly African-American and Latino community from returning to the Witherspoon and Green Street area.
“Descendants aren’t able to pay rent and taxes because of recent developers,” Satterfield said. “We want to do what we can to combat that. It’s not going to reverse.”
In order for the Robeson House to prosper and maintain the legacy of Robeson, the committee must raise at least $1 million to pay off the mortgage of the Robeson house and to pay for the renovations.
Robeson “constantly fought for the rights of” African Americans, Colbert said. The Robeson House Committee plans to follow Robeson’s legacy and footsteps, he said.