The Paul Robeson House, a museum and cultural space in West Philadelphia, has received a $135,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The funds were part of $1.6 million in grants given to 27 cultural sites and organizations around the country that the National Trust awarded through its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.
The awards were announced Thursday.
Brent Leggs, executive director of the Action Fund, said in a release: “The recipients of this funding exemplify centuries of African American resilience, activism, and achievement, some known and some yet untold, that tell the complex story of American history in the United States.
“With urgency and intention, the nation must value the link between architecture and racial justice, and should fund these and other cultural assets to ensure their protection and preservation.”
Actor and activist Paul Robeson lived in the 1911 Victorian rowhouse that belonged to his widowed sister, Marian Forsythe, for the last 10 years of his life, from 1966 to 1976.
It is now both a museum and the headquarters for the West Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.
Vernoca L. Michael, the Robeson House executive director, now a volunteer position, said the grant will be used to pay the salary of a new executive director to take over and “propel us to the next level.”
“We want to show the world who Paul Robeson was, and what he has meant to the Black Lives Matter and the civil rights issues of today. Many of them are the same issues he fought for in the 1930s, 40s, 60s, and 70s.”
She said she has pictures of Robeson demonstrating outside the White House in the 1930s.
Michael had known the Robeson family since she was a child living across the street from the Forsythes’ home, and called the famous actor and activist “Uncle Paul.”
Now 75, Michael, who is the former owner of the Legendary Blue Horizon boxing venue on Broad Street, said she has retired four different times and is looking forward to bringing a younger director to lead the museum. She had a mortgage burning party in January.
The museum is still applying for other funding to make renovations and improve accessibility to the 109-year-old house on Walnut Street.
Paul Robeson was a bass baritone concert artist and stage and film actor. He was the third African American to enroll at Rutgers University, where he was a standout football player before graduating in 1919. He received a law degree from Columbia University in 1923.
As a concert artist, he was invited to travel to the globe including the Soviet Union, where he remarked on being treated with respect by white strangers:
“Here, I am not a Negro but a human being for the first time in my life ... I walk in full human dignity.”
Although never officially identified as a Communist, in 1956, Robeson was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
When a member of Congress asked him why he had not remained in Russia, Robeson famously said: