In her preface, Hamilton tells about the role model that Robeson became for young African Americans, especially for those who were artists. This discussion establishes much of the purpose of the book, a purpose that makes it an important biography for a young adult audience. The book portrays an individual who refused to abide by the rules forced upon him by a society prejudiced against him. In crafting this narrative, Hamilton has created images of one who stood against discrimination. Although he paid an enormous price for his stance, it is one that is both thoughtful and honorable.
Hamilton portrays Robeson as drawn little by little into the political world. Her approach suggests her enormous sympathy for this figure. She emphasizes his considerable stage skills, often referring to his deep, sonorous voice, and she supports her depiction of this side of Robeson with quotations from reputable reviews and news columns. More important, Hamilton emphasizes his courage as he dealt with the slights that surrounded him daily, particularly after his trip to the Soviet Union.
Hamilton condemns the government for its narrow-minded vision, even as she condemns American society at large for its repudiation of Robeson. If Hamilton seems clearly uninterested in presenting a balanced view of Robeson, then perhaps she might argue that she is furnishing a corrective biography. While the government is seen as almost reactionary, Robeson is depicted as liberal and tolerant. While the government is mean-spirited, Robeson is expansive. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between, but Hamilton has certainly...
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In her preface, Hamilton suggests that Robeson stood as an important role model for the African-American community while she was growing up. He not only experienced success in a world dominated by a white culture but also challenged that white culture. Although this book is not the only biography of Robeson, it is perhaps the one that most emphasizes this aspect of Robeson’s career, perhaps because it has touched the author personally.
By 1974, when this biography was published, the Civil Rights movement had made enormous strides since the days when Robeson first sang upon the stage. Yet the continuing existence of discrimination suggests the lasting significance of this book. In writing a story of a forerunner of the Civil Rights movement—regardless of the fact that he was rejected by some of the African-American leaders of that movement because of his political affiliations—Hamilton has written the story of an individual whose strength of will enabled him to fight against seemingly insuperable injustice.
Perhaps herein lies the significance of this biography for the young adult reader. While it tells the story of a certain figure in a certain politically turbulent time, the book also describes one person who believed that injustice should be fought. It is the story of one who did not give in to popular opinions and who even voiced opinions that were decidedly unpopular. Thus, the biography not only challenges many conceptions about Robeson’s life but also challenges the reader’s complacency—a tall order for a biography that is ably met.