More-than-human heritage: The political ecologies of the Paul Robeson tomato

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Paul Robeson's global memorialization poorly represents the extent to which the famous African American activist, actor, athlete, singer, and scholar impacted international culture and politics. Robeson's memorials, while few and far between, particularly in the United States, reside primarily within college campuses and theatrical and musical productions, alongside a few more traditional plaques, works of public art, and his own work. While there has been some interest in these various memorials, commemorations, and works of Robeson, no one has yet explored one of the most widespread and historically loaded aspects of his commemoration: the Paul Robeson Tomato. This heirloom tomato, developed in the Soviet Union, has, as one seed website states, "a cult following." Reading through various gardening and seed websites, we find that the tomato has a special place among heirlooms. At the same time, the digital and print networks conveying information about the tomato and Paul Robeson silence and twist Robeson's memorialization given political, cultural, and ecological contexts. This leads us to ask a number of questions, particularly how we might understand this tomato within the broader memory and memorialization of Paul Robeson? How does this human-environment interaction of more-than-human memory impact Robeson's legacy? And how can we further think of living memory beyond human experience to the remainder of the natural landscape around us and the power it has? This project explores these notions of living memory, more-than-human, and memorialization in the context of the histories which envelop Paul Robeson and the tomato.

Keywords: Paul Robeson, memorialization, tomato, seeds, foodways, heritage

How to Cite: Rhodes, M. A. & Keeve, C. B. (2023) “More-than-human heritage: The political ecologies of the Paul Robeson tomato”, Journal of Political Ecology. 30(1). doi: