Paul Robeson and Albany

Why is Robeson important to Albany history?

In 1947 Robeson was at the center of a great political and legal battle that took place in Albany – watched by all of America and the world. He was booked to sing in the auditorium of Philip Livingston Jr. High in Arbor Hill by a black cultural organization in the city. (Livingston was often a venue for large concerts and theatrical productions.. it had a big auditorium and parking space.)

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Robeson had previously been questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee (under Senator Joe McCarthy) as being a potential communist. The Albany School Board, appointed by Mayor Erastus Corning (and at the direction of the Mayor) said Robeson could not use the school venue because Robeson was a communist. A huge political crisis ensued.

Local attorney Arthur Harvey, known for his civil rights work for decades , took the Board to court. (Much of the legal expense was funded by the local unions.)

A decision was rendered in favor of Robeson and the concert took place. (One the few times Mayor Corning lost a fight.)

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It’s a story that has been lost to time, but as relevant today as it was 70 plus years ago.

Robeson was an amazing man – an athlete and a lawyer, turned actor and singer – who began to stand up for civil rights and against fascism before it was fashionable. If you would like to know more about him, click here for a summary of his life prepared by the New York Public Library. http://archives.nypl.org/scm/20649

And if you can wait, there’s a Robeson biopic in the works with Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”) collaborating with Harry Belafonte.

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

The Rev. Martin Luther King in Albany NY

Rev. King only visited Albany NY once, in June 1961.  He spoke at the Wilborn Temple on Jay St., which until 5 years before had been a Jewish synagogue, Temple Beth Emeth.

In the wonderful featured picture in this blog post, the Reverend is sitting back while NYS Governor Nelson Rockefeller  (left) and Albany Mayor Erastus Corning (right) appear to compete for his attention.

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Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor