New employee Paul Robeson, just turning 25, feels as though he has been doing good work here at the law firm of Stotesbury and Miner, which mostly handles estates.
After being graduated from Columbia University Law School late last February, with C marks in most of his classes, Paul was just floating.
He appeared briefly in the chorus of a stupid play, Plantation Revue, designed to capitalize on the success of the recent all-Black musical Shuffle Along.
Robeson did receive a job offer from the Tammany Hall political machine, but his wife Essie, 27, was adamant that he turn it down. Not a good route to take, in Essie’s opinion.
And Essie’s opinion counts for a lot. She pushed Paul to work some connections with other alumni from Rutgers University, and Paul was asked to join this firm, headed by Louis William Stotesbury, 52. Both had lettered in football during their times at Rutgers.
Paul Robeson at Rutgers
Paul was glad for this opportunity; he is the only African-American in the office. He was asked to prepare a brief for a case involving the will for one of the wealthy Gould family members, and his version was used in the trial.
But today, he buzzed the stenographer to come in and take a memo. She stated flat out,
I never take dictation from a n*****.”
Paul walked right into the office of his mentor to complain. Mr. Stotesbury was sympathetic, but basically he told Robeson that he probably didn’t have much of a future as a lawyer anyway. Their wealthy clients weren’t prejudiced, of course. But they were worried that no judge would take their sides seriously if they were represented by a man of color. Many banks and insurance companies owned and operated by African-Americans wouldn’t even use Black lawyers.
Maybe the firm could open a branch in Harlem and Paul could be in charge of that.
Back in his own office, Robeson comes to a decision. He hands in his resignation and walks out the door. No law career for him. The Robesons will have to rely on Essie’s job as head histological chemist in Surgical Pathology at New York Presbyterian Hospital to support themselves.
“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s. Volumes I through III, covering 1920 through 1922 are available at Thoor Ballylee in Co. Galway, and as signed copies at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA. They are also on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in print and e-book formats.
Thanks to all who came by the “Such Friends” booth at the Greater Pittsburgh Festival of Books. To receive the Festival discount on any “Such Friends” books, email me at email@example.com.
Next month I will be talking about F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Carnegie-Mellon University.
Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is also available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in both print and e-book versions.
If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.