Extract from Mining Review 2nd Year No. 11 (1949)
The highlight of this 1949 issue is the visit of American actor and singer Paul Robeson to Woolmet Colliery near Edinburgh. Robeson was also a renowned (and often persecuted) left-wing political activist and he made several visits to British mining communities. On this occasion he sings “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night” for miners in the canteen, a song about an American trade unionist who was allegedly framed on a murder charge and executed in 1915. Robeson had long been something of a hero to the British mining community, ever since he starred in the film Proud Valley (d. Pen Tennyson, 1940) as an American sailor stranded in Cardiff who finds work in a Welsh colliery (the newsreel opens with a short clip from the film).
CHRIS McCALL // Video: Folk hero Paul Robeson entertains miners in Edinburgh – The Scotsman – But as a prominent black man working before the dawn of civil rights, Robeson encountered racism on an almost daily basis.
Rather than accept it, he chose to speak out. He was a passionate believer in equality and workers’ rights at a time when expressing such viewpoints was enough to end careers in the US.
He became a hero to trade unionists and miners in particular after starring in The Proud Valley, a 1940 Ealing production filmed on location in the South Wales coal fields.
Now the life and work of Robeson is being celebrated as part of the British Film Institute’s Black Star season.
The BFI has shared with The Scotsman rare newsreel footage of Robeson’s visit to Edinburgh in May 1949.
He performed a special concert for miners at the Usher Hall, as well as touring a Midlothian colliery.
The visit was arranged by the Scottish Area of the National Union of Mineworkers, and the concert attracted thousands of pit workers from across the country.