“I can remember Mrs. Jason telling us that we were having a very important visitor. She said, “Guess who it is? Paul Robeson!” And she said, “Can you give us a hand to tidy up nice?” So we were all hands on deck! We polished the linoleum until you could see your face in it. It was lovely. And up the stairs everything was shining ... ”
Paul Robeson’s visits to the South Wales valleys are legendary. Less well known is his visit, in early 1949, to Tiger Bay. The main purpose of the trip was a personal one - to meet with Aaron Mansell, formerly of Baltimore. The communist son of a runaway slave, Mr Mansell was Robeson’s uncle-in-law. While Robeson was visiting the house, a crowd gathered outside. Perhaps some of them were locals who, dressed in traditional African costumes, had appeared with him in Sanders of the River. Many of those in the crowd were Somalis, including Mr. Duallah, who can be seen next to Robeson in the photograph.
Mary Neil recalls the day:
“When Paul Robeson came, oh, it was exciting. My mother put on a pinny. We polished the passage and everything ... I was on the stairs. I watched him coming through the front door and I heard his voice. (Oh, he had a wonderful voice!) All the neighbours were out around the front door. And then he got out of the limousine. (Oh, he was a fine figure of a man!) One of the girls who only had a little part in Sanders of the River came up to him with her baby in her arms. And she said, ‘Mr. Robeson, do you remember me in Sanders of the River?’ And he said in a deep, deep voice, ‘Indeed, I do, my dear. Indeed, I do.’ And then he went through the passage. We were all mesmerised. Then he walked into Mr. Mansell’s room – his room was always full of books - and they stayed there talking for about an hour ...”
From an interview with Mary Neil at her home in the Rumney area of Cardiff, conducted by: Glenn Jordan and Julia Young with Vera Johnson and Olwen Watkins, 13 February 2002