Scholar and activist Ransby (History and Gender Studies/Univ. of Illinois, Chicago; Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement, 2002) deftly details the accomplishments, struggles and impact of Eslanda Cardozo Goode Robeson.
Robeson’s life, writes the author, “was set against the backdrop of the Harlem Renaissance, World War II, the Cold War, African decolonization, and the early rumblings of the U.S. Black Freedom movement.” Though Essie’s husband, the well-known artist and activist Paul Robeson, has been the subject of multiple biographies and numerous articles, her accomplishments have not garnered the in-depth attention they deserve. Ransby outlines Essie’s early life and family history, delves into the high points of her married life in Harlem, and recounts her growing awareness and tenacious engagement in the numerous political causes she supported. Beginning in the 1920s, Essie was deeply involved in the international art scene, corresponding with giants like Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Virginia Woolf and Noel Coward. By the ’40s, Robeson’s political consciousness emerged, and she became an outspoken proponent for racial justice in the United States and “freedom and self-determination” for people around the world. During the McCarthy era, Essie and Paul suffered persecution for their political views and personal relationships. Ultimately, their passports were revoked for nearly a decade, causing the couple great financial hardship. Upon regaining their freedom to travel, the couple relocated abroad for five years. When they returned to America in 1963, a shift had occurred, and the Black Freedom movement was stirring. Known as a journalist, anthropologist and public speaker, Essie repeatedly spoke out on the evils of colonialism and racism in America, and she supported independence movements in India and Africa.
A well-researched, informative, readable biography.