Robeson spoke out against racism, facism, and became an international activist fighting for the labor movement, trade unions, Welsh coal miners, the Spanish Civil War, and the civil rights of Africans everywhere.
Robeson became the first African American celebrity to pose nude.
The well-known Italian-American sculptor Antonio Salemme invited the actor to pose for him after seeing Robeson perform in “The Emperor Jones.” More than an actor, he saw an awesome body “beautifully formed and glistening with sweat.” He approached Paul Robeson backstage and told him he wanted to sculpt a life-size, seven foot tall nude statue of him. Paul eyed him and they both grinned like adolescent schoolboys.
He went home with Salemme and posed for the first time that very night. It was his first time among the radicals, the avant-garde, the renegades, anarchists and libertarians.… Paul would pose after performances sometimes up to three hours. Antonio Salemme called it “the highest achievment of my art.”
… In 1930, when it was finally going to be seen publically in Philadelphia, all hell broke loose. It was recrated and returned to Salemme after they saw there was no figleaf to cover what couldn’t be covered, and race and politics blocked the inclusion of the statue in the exhibit.