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John Richard Archer - the first Black mayor of a London borough

Updated: Jan 31

John Richard Archer was born on 8 June 1863 in Liverpool to Richard Archer, from Barbados, and Mary Theresa Burns, from Ireland.

Following in his father’s footsteps, he became a seaman and travelled the world for many years spending time in America and Canada.

He married Margaret, a Black Canadian, and in the 1890s, returned with her to England, settling in Battersea while in his thirties. He started to study medicine but supported himself by a small photographic studio.

Archer entered local politics after attending the Pan-African Conference held in London in 1900, where he met leading members of the African diaspora. He was also a supporter of the radical Liberal John Burns and friendly with London radicals.

In 1906 he was elected as a Progressive (Liberal) to Battersea Borough Council for Latchmere ward; at the same time, Caribbean Henry Sylvester Williams and fellow Pan-Africanist won in Marylebone.

Archer successfully campaigned for a minimum wage of 32 shillings a week for council workers but lost his seat in 1909; he was re-elected in 1912.

In 1913, Archer was nominated for the position of mayor (at that time a position implying that he was the political leader of the Battersea council, rather than the ceremonial role common in England from the 1920s). There were negative and racist aspects to the campaign, with allegations that he did not have British nationality. He won by 40 votes to 39 among his fellow councillors.

His success caught the eye of the newly formed NAACP in the United States who reported Archer’s success in their journal the Crisis in January 1914.

Archer moved to the left during his years in Battersea and in 1919 was re-elected to the council as a Labour representative, and by 1931 he had become the deputy lead of the Labour group.

In 1918 he had been elected as the first president of the African Progress Union, working for "advanced African ideas in liberal education". In 1919 he was a Bri