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Commercial Ave. to be renamed Paul Robeson Blvd. in honor of Rutgers alumnus

The first trial school for the 'Nurture Through Nature' program
will be at the Paul Robeson Community School on Commercial Avenue,
whose students achieved lower test scores than other schools. – Photo by Andrew Howard

At the most recent New Brunswick City Council meeting, an ordinance was passed to change the name of Commercial Avenue, a mile-long road that crosses George Street, to Paul Robeson Boulevard. 

Jennifer Bradshaw, the public information officer for the City of New Brunswick, said Commercial Avenue was specifically chosen because of its neighborhood and location as an entrance to New Brunswick via Route 18. It is also the street where Paul Robeson Community School for the Arts is located.

This year, the city is also renovating Feaster Park, which includes creating a statue of Robeson by the New Brunswick Public Sculpture, she said. The park is also adjacent to Commercial Avenue. 

The name was proposed by a group of community members and partners who organized and advocated for the change. Bradshaw said the name change is significant because Robeson is an important figure in both American and New Brunswick history. 

Robeson was not only a renowned student-athlete, but also a celebrated actor and activist, according to the Rutgers website. He earned a four-year academic scholarship to Rutgers, and became the third African-American to attend. A member of the football team, he not only became the first Black football player at Rutgers, but also went on to earn more than a dozen varsity letters and the status of All-American athlete. 

Academically, Robeson was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa Society, a prestigious academic honor society in the United States, and Rutgers’ Cap and Skull Honor Society. When he graduated from the University in 1919, he was also valedictorian and gave the commencement ceremony speech. 

“This year marks the 100th anniversary of his graduation from Rutgers University,” Bradshaw said. “We are proud to be able to count him as part of our community, and the parties involved feel that a street renaming is an appropriate tribute to his legacy during this milestone year.” 

The process of changing signs is currently underway, she said.

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