You Have Shaped My Life

“You have shaped my life - I have learned from you.”

Paul Robeson

Speech delivered at the Eisteddfod, Ebbw Vale, 1958

In July 1958, Paul and Eslanda recovered their passports. A tumultuous welcome met the Robesons in Britain and throughout Europe. Between 21 September and 7 December 1958, Paul performed a hectic round of concerts from Glasgow to Exeter, from Bradford to Belfast, and from Porthcawl (5 October) to Cardiff (4 November) to Swansea (23 November). Robeson also took tea at the House of Lords, lunched at the House of Commons, sang on British television, and celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre by starring in Othello. He was the first lay person to read scripture from the pulpit at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and the first black person ever to stand at that lectern. A visiting American remarked:

“You had to be there to experience the full symbolic weight of the reception to understand how Europe feels about Robeson.”

Othello, 1943

Nye Bevan and Paul Robeson at Eisteddfod, Ebbw Vale, 1958

Paul Robeson with Hymn Book presented to him at the Ebbw Vale National Eisteddfod, August 1958

He made certain that one of his first appearances was at a reception at the National Eisteddfod, Ebbw Vale, in August 1958. Here he was presented with a Welsh hymn book, and spoke of the importance of his Welsh links:

“You have shaped my life - I have learned from you.”

Later that year, Robeson was given a miniature miner’s lamp inscribed: ‘Greetings to Paul Robeson from the South Wales Miners, October 1958’ at the Miners’ Eisteddfod in Porthcawl. The same weekend, he revisited old friends at Talygarn Miners’ Rehabilitation Centre.

Five thousand people attended Paul Robeson’s funeral service in the Mother AME Zion Church in Harlem, many standing in the rain outside. The assembled group listened in silence to a recording of Robeson, his incomparable voice singing ‘Deep River’. South Wales miners organised a commemorative concert in the Porthcawl Pavilion on Sunday, 28 February, 1976.

Here they could cherish memories of an old friend, whose life offered them a unifying legacy of hope both then and now. Paul Robeson’s journey provides an illuminating picture of the recent past which continues to shape our present day lives. So many have already been touched by his extraordinary life. His relevance to our future here in Wales will remain as strong as ever, as others continue to discover him.

“It seems I am standing right there with you.”

Paul Robeson by transatlantic telephone to Miners’ Eisteddfod, Porthcawl

5 October 1957