Paul Robeson (1898-1976)

From: No Way But This (2017), by Jeff Sparrow:

“…Robeson had reached out to the Welsh miners when his career was at its height. They came back to him at his lowest ebb, almost two decades later, at a time when all he’d achieved seemed to have been taken from him. In the midst of the cold war, the FBI prevented Robeson from performing at home. [He’d proclaimed his sympathy for the Soviet Union ever since the mid-30s. That leftism now made him a target. He became, in Pete Seeger’s words, “the most blacklisted performer in America”, effectively silenced in his home country.] Worse still, the US state department confiscated his passport, so he could not travel abroad. He was left in a kind of limbo: silenced, isolated, and increasingly despairing.

On 5 October 1957, the Porthcawl Grand Pavilion filled with perhaps 5,000 people for the miners’ eisteddfod. Will Painter, the union leader, took to the microphone. After welcoming the delegates, he announced that they would soon hear from Paul Robeson, who’d be joining them via a transatlantic telephone line.

When Painter spoke again, he was addressing Robeson directly. “We are happy that it has been possible for us to arrange that you speak and sing to us today,” he said. “We would be far happier if you were with us in person.”

Miraculously, Robeson’s deep voice crackled out of the speakers in response. “My warmest greetings to the people of my beloved Wales, and a special hello to the miners of south Wales at your great festival. It is a privilege to be participating in this historic festival.”

He was seated in a studio in New York. Down the telephone line, he performed a selection of his songs, dedicating them to their joint struggle for what he called “a world where we can live abundant and dignified lives”.

The musical reply came from the mighty Treorchy Male Choir, the winners of that year’s eisteddfod, and a group that traces its history back to 1883. Robeson joined the choir in a performance of the Welsh national anthem, Land of My Fathers, before the entire audience – all 5,000 of them – serenaded him with We’ll Keep a Welcome. “This land you knew will still be singing,” they chorused. “When you come home again to Wales.” ”

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