Conversations With Our Past
Eric LeGrand writes to Paul Robeson

You amaze me, Paul. You were only the third African American to enroll at Rutgers and the university’s first All-American football player. Later, you made your mark with your groundbreaking role in Othello, your film roles, and your political activism.

The Paul Robeson Cultural Center, which opened at Rutgers–New Brunswick in 1967, was the first African-American cultural center at an American college. Today, there is the Paul Robeson Campus Center at Rutgers–Newark and the Paul Robeson Library at Rutgers–Camden.

What was it like to play football when there were so few African-American players? How were you able to be your dad’s caretaker when he got sick and still balance your schoolwork and also play four varsity sports? What was it like trying to have a voice in politics?

Your views about the Soviet Union put you under the watch of the FBI. You were the Muhammad Ali of your time. Whatever you believed in, you were going to speak up. That shows a lot of courage.

Courage, to me, is being able to face adversity in a positive manner, when all odds are against you. Your courage came from a lot of people hating you. You didn’t allow that hate to get to you. My courage comes from my life dealing with this injury. I want to show as many people as possible that you can still live life, no matter what type of adversity you’re facing.

There are some parallels in our lives. We both grew up in New Jersey, and we both played football at Rutgers. And we both have had our challenges. There is one big difference, I think. I’m the type of person who likes to be liked, and I don’t like to be disliked. I’m still writing my book of life, how I’m handling my adversity. I think I’m handling it in a way that you would.

Thank you for everything that you stood for and the man you represent—and for that R on your chest. You’re a true inspiration to somebody who tries to inspire the world every day.

Eric LeGrand
SAS’14, SMLR’14

Life Changing
A defensive tackle, he was paralyzed below the shoulders while making a tackle against Army on October 16, 2010.

Posterity Calls
In September 2013, he became the only player in Rutgers football history to have his number (52) formally retired.

Graduation Day
A labor relations major, he received his diploma in May 2014. “Don’t ever let someone tell you you can’t do something!” he declared in a commencement speech.

Football as Life
Today he’s an analyst on the Rutgers Radio Network during broadcasts of Rutgers football games. He also provides analysis for the Big Ten Network and Sirius XM satellite radio.

Paul Robeson

Garden State Roots
The son of a former slave (who became a pastor) and a mother who died in a fire when he was 6, Robeson was raised in Princeton and Somerville, New Jersey.

A Man of Letters
A member of the Rutgers Hall of Distinguished Alumni, Phi Beta Kappa, and Cap and Skull, he received a four-year scholarship to Rutgers. Robeson was the star of his debating team and a commencement speaker at his graduation. He earned a law degree from Columbia University.

A Sports Superman
He was a two-time All-American in football (“a veritable superman”) and received 15 varsity letters for football, baseball, basketball, and track and field.

Ol’ Man River
He became an international screen and stage star, best known for performances in Othello and Show Boat.

Red Scare
An international civil rights activist in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, he was blacklisted after being smeared as a Communist sympathizer. He died in 1976 at age 77.