Paul Robeson on Olcott Street

Posted on Posted in interviews

On July 29, 1956, one of the great New Jerseyans, Paul Robeson, gave a concert at Ernest and Margaret (Maggie) Thompson’s house, at 397 Olcott Street.  Robeson had many triumphs in his life, beginning with being a college all-star football player at Rutgers University, to acting in theater and film, and singing to international acclaim.  Because he was an activist for Civil Rights and peace, he was attacked during the 1950s McCarthy Era. He was prevented from performing in the US and the government took his passport so that he could not travel to earn a living. He was in a terrible position. Many friends in New Jersey tried to organize a series of concerts, but concert halls and churches alike were threatened by the FBI. The committee decided to hold a concert at a private home — Ernest and Maggie Thompson’s house in Orange, NJ. The Thompsons invited friends and neighbors over for ping pong, horseshoes, ribs and an unforgettable concert. The point of the concert was to help Robeson make a living.  Very little money was raised.  Maggie Thompson remembered being very sad at how little they had to give him. Robeson, however, was very gracious and accepted it with gratitude for the effort and the affection that accompanied it.

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