chapter  37
Paul Robeson
Pages 8

The origins of Paul Robeson's radicalism are to be found, first, in his family background and upbringing amid Jim Crow America. The youngest of six children born to Maria Louis Bustill and William Drew Robeson, Paul inherited from both sides of his family significant legacies of AfricanAmerican pride and achievement. His mother, a member of the prominent Bustill family of Philadelphia, could trace her lineage to the colonial era and Cyrus Bustill, who had baked bread for George Washington and his starving troops at Valley Forge. The Bustills had later founded the Free African Society, maintained agents in the underground railroad, and provided ministers, teachers, and artisans to the Northern free black community. Less is known about Paul's father's family, but William was born a slave in North Carolina, escaped North, joined the Union Army, and fought to overthrow slavery. During Reconstruction he aided the destitute and attained a divinity degree at Lincoln University. He pastored a small, poor Presbyterian church in Princeton, New Jersey, and, after Maria's death, relocated the family in Somerville.