A mural depicting Princeton native Paul Robeson was unveiled in the new Robeson Hallway at the Princeton Middle School on Jan. 15.
The unveiling of the mural was held in conjunction with the community event entitled “Focus on the W: Wives and Women of Social Justice Movements.”
Robeson was born in Princeton and moved to Westfield as a young child. He was a college athlete at Rutgers University. He was an actor, a singer, an orator, an attorney and a social activist.
The brightly-colored mural was created by Jocelynn Hunter Dow. She is a third-year student majoring in Visual Arts at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University.
The mural features four images of Robeson and an outline of the Paul Robeson House. The house is on the corner of Witherspoon Street and Green Street in Princeton.
In a corner of the mural at the top, Dow included a quote – “Artists are the gatekeepers of the truth. We are civilization’s radical voice” – that is attributed to Robeson.
One of the images shows Robeson in his costume of Othello, whom he portrayed in “The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice,” which was a play written by William Shakespeare. He was the first Black actor to play Othello.
Another image shows Robeson in a football jersey with the numeral “06,” which stands for 1906. It is the year that Alpha Phil Alpha fraternity was organized. He was a member of the fraternity, which is the oldest Black collegiate fraternity.
Members of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity’s Zeta Iota Lambda chapter were on hand for the mural unveiling and spoke of Robeson.
“Paul Robeson’s multifaceted talents and unwavering tenacity afforded him the opportunity to excel as an actor, athlete, singer and scholar. He used those platforms for advocacy, service, social justice, civil and human rights,” said the Rev. John H. Gamble Jr. He is the chapter president.
“The world is a better place because Paul Robeson lived. As men of Alpha Phi Alpha, we are committed to stand on this great legacy and do our part to build better and stronger communities in the greater Mercer County area that we are privileged to serve,” Gamble said.
Meanwhile, Dow said she felt a connection with Robeson, and admired him for his determination to succeed. He was multi-faceted and not limited in his craft – from acting to music to oratory, she said.
“The mural captures his confidence. He would not be intimidated. It declares his presence, his leadership and his charisma – what he stood for and what his story means,” she said.
Dow said she loves bright colors, which are linked to Black culture. She said she chose those colors to bring out the vibrancy of the characters.
“I wanted the mural to pop out,” Dow said.
Robeson’s quote about artists as gatekeepers of the truth resonated with her, she said. It means to her that she is an artist. “We are able to tell our own story, our way. We can claim our history and culture. I think Paul Robeson did that.”
Dow said creating the mural was a huge endeavor. She said she wants to use art as a platform for change and to advocate for civil rights. She wants to use art to make a difference.
“I want to increase Black and brown children’s representation in the arts,” Dow said.
Princeton Middle School Assistant Principal Ebony Lattimer said the Paul Robeson Hallway is the first of several hallways at the school to be named for persons prominent in the Princeton community.
“We wanted to carve out a space for a mural. We wanted a pop of color in the school. I found Jocelynn to be the best fit to create the mural,” she said. “The mural is colorful and it represents the students, who are vibrant and excited. It represents the energy of the Princeton Middle School students.
“‘It represents Robeson, who was an actor, orator, philanthropist and leader. The students need to see that they too can be ‘the next great’ of whatever they choose,” Lattimer said.