Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Barbara Ransby's biography of Eslanda Robeson

The story of a smart and fierce woman written by a rigorous intellectual and a passionate partisan

I saw Barbara Ransby at Bus Boys and Poets last night. She's on a tour promoting her new book, Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson.

I haven't read the book yet, but Barbara described Eslanda Robeson in very compelling terms. Robeson, called Essie by her friends (and by Ransby who spent six years researching and writing the book), was a journalist and advocate for human rights through a peripatetic lifetime, both as a companion to Paul Robeson and on international journeys of her own. She possessed "...a passion to live and speak and know and understand the world in all its amazing complexity...a capacity to love, to remain loyal, and to speak out with emphatic eloquence and steel-willed resolve against so many of the injustices of her day," writes Ransby.

How like Barbara herself, who describes her own circle of friends and family as progressive champions of a similar sort, and who deserves to be at the top of any list of current-day anti-racists, anti-imperialists and feminists. Clearly, Essie Robeson captured Ransby's imagination:

"[She] lived a life that was complicated and vibrant, rich and full, privileged but often difficult. Along the way she made some hard choices about the path she was going to follow, and about the the kind of woman she was going to be. Tough and determined, Essie fought long and hard for the ideas she believed in and on behalf of the people she loved and admired. She won some battles and lost others, but she was a fighter to the end."

I've know Barbara for a long-time, but not in the intimate way she has come to know Essie Robeson. Still, "tough and determined" sounds like Barbara to me, and so does fighting "long and hard" for ideas, and for principles and for progressive change. It does not surprise me to discover that Barbara has become the biographer of her soul-sister.

Eslanda is available from Teaching for Change. Ransby's earlier book, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision, is also available from Teaching for Change.

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