Past Event

Eslanda and Black Women's International Solidarity: A Conversation with Barbara Ransby

Eslanda Robeson lived a large and colorful life. She was a woman of unusual accomplishment—an anthropologist, a prolific journalist, a tireless advocate of women’s rights, an outspoken anti-colonial and anti-racist 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. This book, Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson, by Barbara Ransby changes all that. 

Join us for a talk by award-winning biographer Barbara Ransby including a visual presentation of photographic images that help tell Eslanda’s story. Following her presentation, Ransby will be in conversation with fellow historian and educator Cheryl Johnson-Odim about Eslanda’s legacy.

More about Eslanda
Eslanda Robeson traveled to every corner of the globe, met revolutionaries and heads of state, befriended some of the most important cultural and literary figures of the twentieth century and penned numerous books, articles, and plays. Her 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. She lead a meaningful life of struggle and purpose. She was a fierce anti-colonialist, stood up to the McCarthy era anti-communist witch hunts, was an outspoken advocate of women’s rights, and embraced a Black identity and political stance that placed international solidarity and global justice at the center.

“This long overdue biography of a bold scholar-activist emerging from the shadows of her famous husband is a gift, and such are Ransby’s narrative skills that I wept when, in the final pages, the vibrant Essie died, two days shy of of 70. Ransby has a history of rescuing historically overlooked black female leaders; a prior biography was of the venerable civil rights activist, Ella Baker. This new work is a major contribution to her glorious reclamation project.”
-Joan Steinau Lester, Ms. Magazine Reviewer

Barbara Ransby is an historian, writer and longtime activist. She is a Professor of African American Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, and History at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) where directs both the campus-wide Social Justice Initiative and the Gender and Women’s Studies Program. She previously served as Interim Vice Provost for Planning and Programs (2011 -2012) at UIC. Prof. Ransby is author of the multi-highly acclaimed biography, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision. The book received eight national awards and recognitions including co-winner of the Liberty-Legacy Award from the Organization of American Historians, the Joan Kelley Prize for best book in women’s history from the American Historical Association, the Gustavas Meyers Prize for book on human rights, and a book award from the Association of Black Women Historians.

Her most recent book is Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson (Yale University Press, January 2013). Ransby has also published in numerous scholarly and popular publications and lectures widely. In terms of her activism, Ransby was an initiator of the African American Women in Defense of Ourselves campaign in 1991, a co-convener of The Black Radical Congress in 1998, and a founder of Ella’s Daughters, a network of women working in Ella Baker’s tradition. She has published and lectured widely at conferences, community forums and on over 50 college campuses. In the summer of 2012 she became the second Editor in Chief of SOULS, a critical journal of Black Politics, Culture and Society published quarterly.

Cheryl Johnson-Odim is Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Dominican University. Previously, she was Professor of History and Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Columbia College Chicago and prior to that was Chairperson of the History Department and Professor of History at Loyola University Chicago. She has also taught at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Johnson-Odim has a doctorate in history from Northwestern University and was a Fulbright Fellow in Nigeria. She is a past member on the Boards of Directors of the American Council of Learned Societies and the African Studies Association and a recent Vice Chairperson of the Illinois Humanities Council. She has served on the Advisory Board of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University and the Founding Editorial Board of the Journal of Women’s History. She is a recent past chair of the Joan Kelly Prize Committee of the American Historical Association. Johnson-Odim is a founding member of the Vivian G. Harsh Society of the Carter G. Woodson Library, among other community activities, and is an author of two books, an edited collection, and numerous chapters in books and articles in scholarly journals.

Thanks to our bookseller for the evening, Women and Children First, copies of Eslanda will be available for purchase.

Free and open to the public. Reserve your spot here. For more information please call 312.422.5580.

If you need a sign interpreter or require other arrangements to fully participate, please call 312.422.5580. For parking locations near the facility, please visit