“Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson,” is a new book that tells the story of a woman of unusual accomplishments—an anthropologist, a prolific journalist, a tireless advocate of women’s rights, an outspoken anti-colonial and antiracist activist, and an internationally sought-after speaker.
Yet historians for the most part have confined Essie to the role of Mrs. Paul Robeson, a wife hidden in the large shadow cast by her famous husband. But the biographer Barbara Ransby refocuses attention on Essie Robeson, one of the most important and fascinating Black women of the Twentieth Century.
“Essie” Cardozo Goode Robeson’s career and commitments took her many places: colonial Africa in 1936, the front lines of the Spanish Civil War, the founding meeting of the United Nations, Nazi-occupied Berlin, Stalin’s Russia, and China two months after Mao’s revolution.
The book explores her influence on her husband’s early career and how she later achieved her own unique political voice. Her friendships with literary icons and world leaders, her renown as a fierce defender of justice, her defiant testimony before Senator Joseph McCarthy’s notorious anti-communist committee, and her unconventional open marriage that endured for over 40 years—are brought to light in the pages of this biography.
The author is a professor in the departments of African American Studies, Gender and Women Studies, and History, and director of the Gender and Women Studies Program, University of Illinois, Chicago. Ransby also wrote the award-winning “Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement,” and has earned a reputation as a respected scholar-activist.