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Robeson, Eslanda

Robeson, Eslanda

December 15, 1895
December 13, 1965

The anthropologist and activist Eslanda Cardozo Goode Robeson was born on December 15, 1895, in Washington, D.C. Her father, John Goode, was a clerk in the War Department. Her mother, Eslanda Cardozo, was the daughter of Francis Lewis Cardozo, a prominent pastor and Reconstruction-era politician.

When Eslanda Goode was six, her father died from alcoholism. Her mother moved the family to New York City, where her children could attend nonsegregated schools. Eslanda Goode graduated from Columbia University in 1917 with a bachelor of science degree in chemistry and took a job as a histological chemist at New York's Presbyterian Hospital, the first African American employed there in a staff position. It was there, in 1920, that she met Paul Robeson, who was recovering from a football injury. They were married a year later, and from then on Eslanda Robeson pursued her career as an anthropologist and journalist while managing her husband's singing and acting commitments. She combined both careers in 1930, when she published Paul Robeson, Negro.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Eslanda Robeson accompanied her husband on most of his travels. At the same time she studied anthropology at the University of London and at the London School of Economics (19361937). She received a Ph.D. in anthropology from the Hartford Seminary Foundation in 1945. She also traveled and worked on her own. A trip through Africa in 1936 resulted in a book, African Journey (1945), and led to her commitment to African anticolonialism. She was active on the Council on African Affairs, and in a 1946 address before the United Nations Trusteeship Council urged self-determination for all African people.

The combination of her political activities, a visit to China in 1949 and her public support of its government, and her vocal enthusiasm for the Soviet Union led her to be called before Senator Joseph McCarthy's Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Government Operations in 1953. From 1958 through 1963 she and her husband lived in self-imposed exile in the Soviet Union. Eslanda Robeson died of cancer in New York City on December 13, 1965.

See also Anthropology and Anthropologists; Council on African Affairs; Robeson, Paul


Dorinson, Joseph, ed. Paul Robeson: Essays on His Life and Legacy. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2002.

Duberman, Martin Bauml. Paul Robeson. New York, 1988.

Logon, Rayford W., and Michael R. Winston, eds. Dictionary of American Negro Biography. New York: Norton, 1982.

siraj ahmed (1996)
Updated bibliography

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