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  • Althea McNish - the first Caribbean British designer to achieve international acclaim

    Windrush Month 2024 'Celebrating the Caribbean pioneers of the 1940s & 1950s' - exploring the lives and stories of the the early Caribbean people who came to Britain after the 2WW. Althea Marjorie McNish was born in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago around 1924. She was the only child of a well-to-do couple Joseph and Margaret Bourne. Her father, a teacher and writer, was descended from the Merikin settlers in Trinidad and her mother was a dressmaker. McNish showed a precocious talent for art at her mother’s knee: “My mother made clothes, but she didn’t draw,” she said. “She would say ‘I want a round collar’ and I would draw it. I was only four or five.” An enthusiastic painter from an early age, while still in school she landed a job as an entomological illustrator with the colonial Trinidad and Tobago government. “I had to go into the field and do detailed drawings of insects to help in the sugar and cocoa pest control programme.” Later she became a junior member of the prestigious Trinidad Arts Society and had her first work exhibited at the age of 16. At the time, Trinidad was at the centre of a Caribbean cultural renaissance, propelled by the struggle for independence and the need to forge a national identity. This would throw up an extraordinary array of talent that would produce some 50 novels between 1948 and 1958 and several internationally renowned artists. As McNish said, “There was quite an artistic thing going on at the time.” (1) Inevitably, McNish would take influence from the leading lights of this movement, taking inspiration from local artists such as Sybil Atteck, Amy Leony Pang Boscoe Holder and M.P. Alladin. She also enjoyed European modernists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Gauguin. “Van Gogh was one of my favourites – he was very tropical” she said. In 1951 McNish moved with her mother to London, England to join her father, who had already moved there to work. In London she won a scholarship to study architecture at the Architectural Association School of Architecture but chose instead to take a course in print studies at the London School of Printing and Graphic Arts (now the London College of Communications) where she developed an interested in textiles. She took an extra class at the Central School of Art and Design, where renowned artist Eduardo Paolozzi taught. After completing her undergraduate studies, she went to complete a postgraduate degree at the Royal College of Art (RCA) where her talent was recognised by Hugh Casson. In 1957 during her final year at the RCA, McNish took a trip to the Essex home of her tutor, the painter and graphic artist Edward Bawden and his wife Charlotte, a potter. When walking in the countryside near the Bawdens' home, McNish encountered a wheat field for the first time, which for her recalled sugar cane plantations in Trinidad. This trip and the organic forms found in the English countryside made a significant impression on McNish, and in 1959 she used the wheat motif in Golden Harvest – her first design for commercial design company Hull Traders. Produced in four colours, the furnishing fabric of printed heavy cotton satin was Hull Traders' best-selling design when released the following year and stayed in production until the 1970s. (2) After graduating, McNish was hired by Arthur Stewart-Liberty – chairman of London’s Liberty department store – who famously commissioned the young graduate to create new exclusive designs for both fashion and furnishing fabrics. “He thought Britain was ready for colour and it was” said McNish. On that same day, Liberty despatched McNish in a taxi to fashion supplier Zika Ascher, who likewise immediately booked her to create a new collection, this time for Dior. Successfully designing for such prestigious clients, McNish was the first Caribbean woman to achieve prominence in this field. (1) McNish designed a range of fabrics for Liberty including a furnishing fabric called Cebollas with a strong tropical flavour – featuring blue onions set against a brown background – and another called Hibiscus, an even bolder furnishing textile boasting bright-red hibiscus flowers set against a sharply contrasting black background. (1) One of her most popular designs for Liberty included the abstract Cascade – a heavily textured cotton poplin fabric from 1959, featuring a black and blue background with small, overlaid circles repeated in bright reds, greens and blues. The pattern fizzed with energy and was reminiscent of observing a living organism under a microscopic eye. (2) In 1959, for Hull Traders, a company later responsible for many of the colourful and irreverent pop designs of the swinging 60s, she created a sensation with Golden Harvest, a screen print on cotton satin used for upholstery fabrics that featured a bright-orange, yellow and black graphic pattern inspired by the wheat fields of Essex, which reminded her of Trinidad’s sugarcane plantations. (3) By 1960 she was taking on jobs for Cavendish Textiles and then for Heal’s, for whom she designed Trinidad, a printed furnishing textile covered with a loosely sketched dense tropical forest, filled with green palm trees of different shapes and sizes. At this time, she also worked for Ascher’s textile company, which commissioned her to create printed silk dress fabrics. (3) Other British manufacturers who approached McNish included Danasco Fabrics, for whom, in 1961, she produced Tomée, an exceptionally vivid monoprint of an abstract pattern made up of pink, orange and lemon stripes. In 1968, for the Bridlington-based firm Sanderson-Rigg, she designed a space-age-style wallpaper, named Zircon, featuring a dazzling abstract pattern coloured orange, mustard and yellow. (3) McNish's reputation was such that she designed fabrics for Queen Elizabeth II's wardrobe for the 1966 Royal Tour of Trinidad and the Caribbean. Throughout the 1960s McNish also ensured that she retained her links with the West Indies. She was a founding member of the Caribbean Artists Movement (CAM) and took part in their art exhibitions held in 1967, May 1968 and January 1971, exhibiting textiles as well as ‘plastic panels in laminate.’ For the Caribbean edition of the BBC TV magazine programme Full house, produced by John La Rose and transmitted on 3 February 1973, she brought together the work of CAM visual artists as a studio setting for CAM writers, musicians and filmmakers. In 1969, she married John Weiss, architect, jeweller and historian, and worked in partnership with him from 1971. At the same time McNish’s artwork was being displayed in exhibitions – beginning with Paintings by Trinidad and Tobago Artists at the Commonwealth Institute in London in 1961. Over the years her paintings and drawings were shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum (1978), the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester (2007) and, most recently, at Somerset House in London (2019). Examples of her textile design can be found in the V&A, the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture in London, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York. (3) In 1976, McNish was awarded the Chaconia Medal Gold for her contributions to art and design, and in 2006 an honorary doctorate in fine arts from the University of Trinidad and Tobago, where she mentored many of its student designers. She also appeared on the BBC4 documentary Whoever Heard of a Black Artist? aired in 2018, and in the same year a section of the book Women Design, by the design historian Libby Sellers, was devoted to McNish and her work. More recently, her work — represented by three printed textiles from early in her career: Golden Harvest, Pomegranate and Fresco — was featured in the exhibition RCA Black: Past, Present & Future (31 August–6 September 2011), organised by the Royal College of Art in collaboration with the African and African-Caribbean Design Diaspora (AACDD) to celebrate art and design by African and African-Caribbean graduates. McNish was also an important presence in the wider British design scene. She was a member of the board of the UK’s Design Council and a Vice-President and Fellow of the Chartered Society of Designers. (3) Althea McNish died in April 2020 in a London nursing home at the age of 95. A major retrospective of her work was held in April 2022, entitled Althea McNish: Colour is Mine. The exhibition was sponsored by Liberty Fabrics who reissued a capsule collection of her designs to coincide with the it. Co-curator Rosie Sinclair of Goldsmiths College said: “McNish was a rare Black woman within the international textile history. She broke boundaries [and] perhaps following this exhibition people will take another look at furnishing and fashion fabrics and wonder why colour became such an important part of new design taste in post-modern society and think about the individuals, a design pioneer such as Althea, who made this happen.” On the 15 May 2023, coinciding with the 99th anniversary of her birth, a Nubian Jak blue plaque was unveiled in her honour at her former home on West Green Road in Tottenham, north London. McNish was a gifted and pioneering force in textile design who brought colour into the lives of young consumers desperate to move beyond the greyness of post 2WW Britain. Her contribution to post-war British design and pioneering creative vision changed the character of British Modernism. Source: (1) (2) (3)

  • Floella Benjamin: A Trailblazer in Children's Television

    Windrush Month 2024 'Celebrating the Caribbean pioneers of the 1940s & 1950s' - exploring the lives and stories of the the early Caribbean people who came to Britain after the 2WW. Floella Benjamin was born on 23 September 1949 in Pointe-a-Pierre, Trinidad and Tobago. She was one of six children, with an older sister, three younger brothers and a younger sister. Her father was a policeman and a talented jazz musician, who decided to migrate to England to play jazz saxophone. Her mother later joined him along with Benjamin’s youngest sister and brother. While the four older children, including Floella, were left in the care of family friends who were secretly abusive to them. Benjamin and her sister often tried writing to their parents to tell them about the abuse, but the letters were always read, and censored before they were sent. Two years later, her parents sent for all their children, and they travelled by ship to England. Floella was just ten years old when she boarded the Marques de Comillas with her siblings. They arrived at Southampton docks on 2 September 1960. That early childhood experience was the focus of her first memoir “Coming to England,” which she wrote, she says “because there was nothing that reflected my experience.” The family of seven initially lived in one room in Chiswick in West London before settling in the affluent London suburb of Beckenham, in Kent. Floella has talked candidly about the abuse she and her family faced whilst growing up with neighbours and at school. “For the first four years of being in England. I fought almost every day. You never knew who would spit at you, or try to pee on you, or lift your skirt and say “Where’s your tail, monkey?” she said. At school, Benjamin was an outstanding athlete, but she was prohibited from taking the running trophy home because of her colour. She recalls her mother’s advice to focus on her education, as it was the passport to success in England. Benjamin remembers realising that she had to double her work rate and had to be dually accomplished to succeed in England.[1] The turning point in her life she, says, came in 1964 at 14, when she nearly killed a boy who was shouting racist names at her, as she walked to the shops in Penge High Street. She grabbed his lollipop and jammed it down his throat, watching him turn blue. Benjamin calls it her “spiritual moment”; the moment when she says she realised that violence was not the answer. She pulled out the lollipop and walked off proud. [2] And the Benjamin family — high achievers all – made the classic immigrant journey so often held up by politicians of all persuasions. Working hard at school, gaining qualifications and entering the professions. [2] Her sister Sandra is a writer and author, and her brother Lester Benjamin was honoured in 2015 for his dedication to duty and services to Parliament over nearly two decades. Floella’s ambition was to become a teacher, but her parents couldn’t afford the educational fees to keep her on at school at 16. So, she left school and spent three years working for a bank. Eventually, raising enough money to do her ‘A’ levels at night school, and passed her banking diploma with the intent of becoming the first Black female bank manager. However, realising that her dream would be unlikely to come true, she auditioned for a part in a touring musical called Hair. [3] Used to singing on stage with her clerk and part-time jazz musician father’s band and organising dance nights for the West Indian Student Centre in London’s Earl Court, Benjamin responded to an advert in a newspaper in 1973 seeking non-professionals for a new musical tour. The show was “Hair,” famously controversial for its hippie onstage nudity. Going in her lunch break from the bank, you know all you need to know is Benjamin’s steely determination from the fact that she not only got cast but also rather presumptuously announced at the audition that she wouldn’t be taking her clothes off. [2] But she still got the role. It was during this time that she met her husband Keith Taylor, whom she now lives with in London together with their children. Benjamin went on to get several parts in a variety of musicals including Jesus Christ Superstar and the Black Mikado. However, she was keen to break into television and made her debut on television in 1974 in an episode of Love Thy Neighbour. Her true acting opening occurred when she appeared as a prisoner in six episodes of the prison drama Within These Walls, which ran from 1973 to 1978. She also acted in the situation comedy Mixed Blessings (1978) and the drama serial Send in the Girls (1978). In 1976 she auditioned for the presenter role in Play School and got the part. Benjamin was the first person in Britain to wear beads in her hair in the 1970s – it was to become her trademark look. Benjamin was the first children's television presenter to appear on her show, pregnant. Playaway followed Playschool and Benjamin dressed up as a whole range of characters – from queens to witches – alongside well-known actors such as Brian Cant, Tony Robinson, Anita Dobson and Griff Rhys-Jones. In 1977, she appeared in her first and only leading role in the UK Black film called Black Joy alongside Norman Beaton and Paul Medford. The movie was about a young man coming to live in a big city and learning to fend for himself. Benjamin was critically acclaimed at the Cannes Film Festival for her portrayal of ‘Miriam’ in the film, which was the British entry that year, the first Black-led film. By this time Benjamin had become recognisable by her beaded hair and was not best pleased when one photographer tugged at it when she walked down the red carpet. In 1987, Benjamin set up a production company with her husband and was commissioned by Channel Four to write a children's programme called The Tree House. The programme was a huge success, and the company made other programmes for different places worldwide, including Cuba, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica. They produced children’s programmes Jamboree, Hullaballoo and an adaptation of her autobiography Coming to England, documentaries, cookery series programmes such as A Taste of Barbados, Caribbean Light and Caribbean Kitchen. [3] Beyond her on-screen persona, Floella Benjamin has been a vocal advocate for children's rights and education. She was the vice-president of NCH Action for Children and Barnardos and was in the NSPCC Hall of Fame. And part of the ‘4Rs Commission’ which the Liberal Democrats established to look into primary education in the UK. She has voiced concerns about the lowering standards of children’s television and the increasing objectification of women because of the widespread availability of online porn to young children. Floella's incredible journey from Trinidad and Tobago to becoming a respected figure in the British establishment is a testament to her unwavering determination. Just like the entire Windrush generation, she confronted and overcame the blatant racism prevalent in Britain, paving the way for those who came after. Recognised for her outstanding contributions to broadcasting with an OBE in 2001, she later became Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham in the County of Kent in 2010, making history as the first actress to be appointed as a peer in the House of Lords. In her inaugural address, she eloquently highlighted the significance of her childhood and the enduring legacy of her parents by choosing Beckenham as her title. Sources: Historical Geographies: Biography - Floella Benjamin ( [1] Swinging racism: Floella Benjamin’s memoir of 60s London | Samira Ahmed: Journalist, Broadcaster, Writer [2] h2g2 - Floella Benjamin - Activist, Actress and Producer - Edited Entry [3]

  • A Profile of David Pitt, Baron Pitt of Hampstead

    Windrush Month 2024 'Celebrating the Caribbean pioneers of the 1940s & 1950s' - exploring the lives and stories of the the early Caribbean people who came to Britain after the 2WW. As Windrush Day approaches, reflecting on the significant contributions and stories of individuals who have shaped the Windrush generation’s narrative is essential. One such influential figure is David Pitt, Baron Pitt of Hampstead who dedicated his life to medicine and politics, tenaciously fighting against racism and discrimination. Pitt was born in St David’s Parish, Grenada in 1913. He first visited the UK as a Grenada representative at the World Scout Jamboree in Northern England in 1929, when he was only 15. At his secondary school, the Grenada Boys Secondary School, where he won the Island Scholarship in 1932, and returned to the UK to study medicine at the University of Scotland. It was here that he developed his political perspectives and was an active member of the Edinburgh University Socialist Society. Edinburgh was in the grips of the Depression when Pitt arrived. He witnessed the poverty of the working classes in the slums of Edinburgh and saw similarities to the poverty of the rural communities in Grenada. It profoundly shaped his worldview and he said it made him a socialist. Nicholas Rea, in the British Medical Journal, summarised Pitt’s political development: “It was in the slums of Edinburgh as much as in the Caribbean that [Lord David Pitt] became convinced of the links between poverty, disadvantage, and ill health”. For Lord Pitt, access to medical support was inseparable from social and political factors – a view he maintained throughout his life. In 1936, David Pitt joined the Labour Party, and as a member of the University of Edinburgh Socialist Society, became the First Junior President of the Students’ Representative Council, the co-founding body of what is now the Edinburgh University Students Association (EUSA). He participated in Edinburgh University and UK national politics, both of which helped shape his views on Caribbean independence and politics. In 1938 Pitt graduated with a Bachelor of Medicine (MB) and Bachelor of Surgery (ChB) and moved back to the Caribbean to begin his medical career. His first job was as a District Medical Officer in Saint Vincent, followed two years later by a position in Trinidad as a house physician at San Fernando  Hospital. By the end of 1941, he had set up his own General Practice (GP) in San Fernando and was elected to serve on the local town council until 1947. The 1940s were fundamental years for politics in Trinidad and Tobago. The 2WW had ended and the countries of the Caribbean wanted their independence and the right to rule their nation’s affairs. Pitt joined the struggle and in 1943, he co-founded and was the leader of the West Indian National Party (WINP) – a socialist party whose main aim was to deliver political autonomy across the Caribbean. He believed “the whole of the Caribbean, not just any one island, [to be] his home and his political responsibility.” Under Pitt, the party demanded self-government for Trinidad and Tobago, constitutional reform, and the nationalisation of commodities industries such as oil and sugar. After decades of campaigning, to which Pitt contributed, Trinidad and Tobago were granted universal adult suffrage by the British Parliament in 1945. The following year, Trinidad and Tobago held its first public election. Pitt ran as a candidate for the United Front, made up of the WNIP and others, m the WNIP, but was unsuccessful. Caribbean politicians and voters, unlike British Caribbean ones, did not uniformly envision a Federation of independent states like David Pitt’s party and many of the region’s trade unionists and intellectuals. (1) Nonetheless, Pitt did not give up on his political activism and “in 1947 led a group of WINP members to Britain to lobby the Clement Attlee Government for Commonwealth status for a Federation of the West Indies.” Finally disillusioned with the trajectory of mainstream Caribbean politics, David Pitt ended up settling in North London, England, in November 1947 with his wife Dorothy Elaine Alleyne, whom he had married in 1943, and their children Bruce, Phyllis, and Amanda. After working as a medical assistant in Chiswick, London, to a Black doctor from Barbados who introduced him to the challenges of practicing as a medic of African descent, in 1950 David Pitt opened his surgery in Euston which treated both black and white patients. Through his medical practice, he made the political contacts that led him to a renewed involvement with the Labour Party. After a successful speech at the 1957 Labour Party Conference, he was asked to stand as the party’s candidate in the 1959 General Election for the north London constituency of Hampstead. He was the first person of African-Caribbean descent to stand as an MP. Right-wing media outlets accused him of not deserving the candidacy, merely justifiable for The Daily Mirror as an act of “fashionable liberalism” (i.e. political correctness in today’s language) (Arnold, 2014). This was, however, only the tip of the iceberg. Fascist leader Oswald Mosley decided to stand against Pitt in the Hampstead seat. Mosley supporters disrupted Pitt’s political hustings and heckled him with their slogan of ‘Keep Britain White.’ Fights broke out and Pitt was forced to seek police support after death threats and a barrage of abusive “go home N***r” phone calls were made to his home. He became the first Black person to be elected to the Greater London Council in 1958, paving the way for future generations of Black politicians in the UK. His dedication to advocating for equality and social justice earned him a place in the House of Lords in 1975, where he served as a Labour peer. Baron Pitt of Hampstead played a pivotal role in championing the rights of the Windrush generation and the broader Caribbean community in the UK. He advocated for fair treatment, access to healthcare, and acknowledgment of the contributions made by Caribbean migrants to British society. His tireless efforts helped raise awareness of the challenges faced by the Windrush generation and pushed for meaningful change. David Pitt's legacy extends beyond his political achievements. His commitment to social equality and his advocacy for marginalized communities left a lasting impact on British society. His work laid the foundation for greater representation and inclusivity in politics and paved the way for a more diverse and equitable UK. As we commemorate Windrush Day and reflect on the stories of resilience and achievement within the Windrush generation, let us not forget the individuals like David Pitt, Baron Pitt of Hampstead, whose contributions have significantly impacted the fabric of British society. Their stories deserve to be celebrated and remembered as we strive for a more inclusive and diverse future.

  • E. R. Braithwaite: the incredible life of the author of ‘To Sir, with Love’

    Windrush Month 2024 'Celebrating the Caribbean pioneers of the 1940s & 1950s' - exploring the lives and stories of the the early Caribbean people who came to Britain after the 2WW. Eustace Edward Ricardo (ER) Braithwaite was born in Queenstown, Georgetown in the then British colony of British Guiana (now Guyana). He was one of five children. Both his parents were graduates of Oxford University and he described growing up surrounded by education, achievement, and parental pride. Braithwaite was a studious child who attended the prestigious Queen’s College in Guyana (a secondary school modelled on the English public school) and, in 1940, earned a BSc in Physics from The City College of New York. He then moved to Britain to study and suddenly saw the English in a new light. “I couldn’t believe my eyes. White porters in the college. White waiters in the dining halls. Barmen. Servants. In far off British Guiana they were served,” said Braithwaite. “All the whites in British Guiana were in managerial positions. I never associated poverty with white persons.” Then Nazi Germany invaded Poland, and England declared war. Braithwaite and his fellow students heard a new word on the radio “blitzkrieg.” London and other British cities were being heavily bombed, and Britain desperately needed manpower to help defend their cities. So, in October 1939, they lifted their ‘colour bar’ in the military and the RAF began recruiting Black aircrew. Braithwaite initially joined the Cambridge University Air Squadron and learned how to fly, then signed on as an aircrew cadet with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1940. He described his time in the RAF as one where he didn’t experience any discrimination based on his skin colour nor ethnicity. “I was at one with everything. A part of everything. Black and different as blonde was different from red. The colour of my skin was no weight on my shoulders. I was proud in my skin, not defensive of it. There was a war on, and I was a warrior. War drew the people together.” After the war, Braithwaite resumed his studies and graduated from Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge in 1949 where he earned a master’s degree in physics. But despite his qualifications and experience – Braithwaite was a Spitfire pilot and had graduated top five in his class at Cambridge – he couldn’t find work as an engineer. Nothing prepared him for the brick wall of institutionalised racism he faced. His credentials got him in the door. But once a potential employer saw his skin colour, they made excuses. One man chatted with Braithwaite about his background, his time in the RAF, and his research at Cambridge. Braithwaite dared to hope. [1] Then, “Mr Braithwaite, I’m sure my colleagues would wish me to say that we are deeply impressed with your qualifications and your obvious abilities. Were the circumstances different we would be only too happy to appoint you a member of our staff. But we have a problem. All our employees are British, and we would face the reality of their almost certain reluctance to work with and perhaps under a person of colour…” [1] He experienced that scenario over and over again for nine months. Finally, after his umpteenth rejection, he found himself sitting on a park bench contemplating his future when an old man sat down next to him. He started feeding the ducks and mumbling. Braithwaite ignored him but the old man turned to him and said, ‘how people could be hurt by other people and things, but mostly themselves, and that hatred solved nothing.’ [1] Braithwaite lost it and replied “Look, why don’t you shut up? You white people are all the same. All this philosophical drivel has no meaning because, in fact, you are white and when you look out on the world you see it in a certain way. For Black people like me it has to be different…” [1] They then fell into a conversation in which, a despondent and almost defeated Braithwaite told him of his difficulties in finding work. Finally, the old man said, ‘Why don’t you try something else? A man like you, with your educational background, shouldn’t think that physics is the end of the world,” and told Braithwaite that London City Council was desperate for teachers, that they’d welcome someone with his credentials. [1] Braithwaite called the council the next day and they offered him a teaching job immediately. Braithwaite reluctantly accepted the job as a schoolteacher at St George-in-the-East Central School (now the Mulberry House apartments) in the Wapping area of East End of London. “Making plans on the half-realized dream of achievement as a physicist. Dreaming. Then the bitterness of seeing the dream whittled away, bit by bit, day by day, into weeks and months, until the only place on the whole arid horizon was a mangy schoolhouse beside a bomb-racked, rotting graveyard, and a smelly classroom with forty-six foul-mouthed youngsters. White, English youngsters.” His teaching career formed the basis of his autobiographical novel ‘To Sir With Love (1959),’ which won an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. It was later adapted into the sentimental 1967 movie of the same name starring Sidney Poitier. Although the movie was a box-office success, Braithwaite hated it. In the movie, Sidney Poitier played the well-educated, middle-class graduate forced to deal with casual racism, violence and antisocial behaviour by a group of disadvantaged pupils. Hardest to bear was the self-hatred the racism brought out in him and the low expectations of colleagues for their charges. [2] While in contrast, the Braithwaite’s book was a gritty and unsentimental account of how he gradually turned his class around through a mix of affection and respect. It also revealed his love affair with a fellow teacher – controversial at the time because the other teacher was white. Braithwaite criticised the movie adaptation for downplaying the love affair. [2] “I detest the movie from the bottom of my heart,” he said in 2007. “I don’t like it because the movie is about the classroom, while my book is about my life.” The book also contrasted his experience of race relations in Britain with those in the US, where he studied before joining the RAF. He wrote: “The rest of the world in general and Britain in particular are prone to point an angrily critical finger at American intolerance, forgetting that in its short history as a nation it has granted to its Negro citizens more opportunities for advancement and betterment, per capita, than any other nation in the world with an indigent Negro population.” [2] To Sir, With Love has been hailed as a seminal work for immigrants from the colonies to postwar Britain. In an introduction, Caryl Phillips wrote: “The author is keen for us to understand that the Ricky Braithwaites of this world cannot, by themselves, uproot prejudice, but they can point to its existence. And this, after all, is the beginning of change; one must first identity the location of the problem before one can set about addressing it.” [2] In 1958, after nine years of teaching, Braithwaite turned to social work. He founded foster homes for ethnic minority children for the London City Council and worked as a welfare consultant for immigrant families from the Caribbean. That work inspired his second book, Paid Servant: A Report About Welfare Work in London published in 1962. Braithwaite’s writings in both books explore his challenges as an educated Black man in a society with few places for such individuals. [3] After social work, he moved to Paris in 1960 to work for the World Veterans Foundation as a human rights officer. In 1962, he transitioned into a diplomatic career, after the United Nations appointed him as a lecturer and education consultant to UNESCO in Paris. Five years later, he became Guyana's Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York from 1967 to 1969. He was elected to the presidency of the United Nations Council for South West Africa in 1968. Later, he served as Guyana’s ambassador to Venezuela. In the 1960s, European colonies in Africa gained independence, and there was increasing pressure on South Africa to do the same with Namibia, which was then called South West Africa. When the International Court of Justice dismissed a complaint in 1966 from Ethiopia and Liberia about South Africa's continued presence in the territory, the UN General Assembly took over responsibility for Namibia and established a governing council for it. In response to international pressure, South Africa attempted to legitimize its control of Namibia by creating a commission to administer the territory under apartheid. Braithwaite was appointed as the president of the UN governing council and heard firsthand accounts of the suffering caused by apartheid from witnesses. In 1973, a friend in Guyana sent him a clipping from the South African Official Gazette announcing that the ban on Braithwaite’s ‘To Sir, With Love’ book had been lifted. On an impulse, he called the South African Consul General and asked if this meant he could travel South Africa. To his surprise, he was granted a visa to the country as an ‘honorary white’ which gave him far more privileges than allowed for the Indigenous Black South African majority population. A situation which he found detestable. During his six weeks in South Africa, he recorded his experiences and the horrors he witnessed in his third book, Honorary White (1975). In the early 1970s, Braithwaite retired from diplomatic work to move into academia. He taught English Studies at the universities of New York, Florida State and the renowned HBCU Howard University in Washington, where he also served as writer-in-residence. His last academic appointment was as a visiting professor at Manchester Community College in Connecticut during the 2005-6 academic year. He also served as the college’s commencement speaker for that year and received honorary degrees. Throughout his incredible life, Braithwaite continued to write novels and short stories well into his 90s! His other books included A Kind of Homecoming (1962), about searching for his ancestral roots; Choice of Straws (1965), a mystery novel set in London; and his first children’s book, Billingsly: The Bear With the Crinkled Ear (2014). In his book Reluctant Strangers (1972), which records the increasingly contentious conversation between Braithwaite and a white American businessman, who grudgingly took the last seat on a train next to him. As their conversation progresses, the American becomes more and more astonished by Braithwaite’s life story. “Evidently you’re an exceptional man,” he tells Braithwaite. “Funny thing is that inside myself I don’t feel exceptional. There are lots like me, strong in themselves, feeling they can do things. But perhaps they’re not as lucky as me. They’re denied the freedom, the opportunity and the right to give expression to what they feel.” Braithwaite was a remarkable man. He was a Black man that grew up under British colonial rule, he endured the prejudice and institutional racism of post-war Britain, but through his sheer tenacity he was able to live a long and varied life. He was a teacher, diplomat, professor, and social worker, all whilst writing 22 books – memoirs, novels, and academic texts. When Braithwaite turned 100 in 2012, he went back to his native Guyana to serve as the patron of the Inter-Guiana Cultural Festival. He was also awarded the Cacique Crown of Honour by the then President Donald Ramotar. The following year, at 101, Braithwaite returned to Britain to attend the first live performance of the stage version of To Sir, With Love. Eustace Edward Ricardo Braithwaite died on December 12, 2016, at the Adventist Healthcare Shady Grove Medical Centre in Rockville, Maryland at the age of one hundred and four. Source: (2) (1) ‘To Sir with Love Author’ E.R Braithwaite is a Special Person - Kaieteur News ( Eustace Edward Ricardo Braithwaite (1912–2016) • ( (3) E. R. Braithwaite: To Sir, With Love (1959) - Literary London Society

  • Sam King - From the Royal Air Force to Windrush pioneer

    Windrush Month 2024 'Celebrating the Caribbean pioneers of the 1940s & 1950s' - exploring the lives and stories of the the early Caribbean people who came to Britain after the 2WW. The impact of the Caribbean passengers on HMT Windrush can not be ignored or forgotten. These individuals and those who followed in their wings, now referred to as the Windrush generation, opened the door to the multicultural Britain that is taken for granted today. And Sam King is a true proponent of their fighting spirit. He first came to the UK to volunteer to fight in the Second World War and later as a Windrush pioneer who became the first Black mayor of the London borough of Southwark and helped pave the way for Britain’s first multicultural street festival – Notting Hill Carnival. Sam Beaver King was born in the small village of Priestman’s River in the rural parish of Portland in Jamaica on 20 February 1926. He was born into a traditional Christian family and was the second eldest of ten children. As a youngster he worked on his father’s banana farm with the intention of taking over after his dad retired. But the war in Europe meant that his life was going to take a different path. King was planning to go to the United States to work when he spotted an advert in the Daily Gleaner appealing for volunteers for the British army. After passing the RAF test, he and the other men received a month’s basic training at an army camp in Kingston before travelling to the UK. The new recruits arrived in Greenock, near Glasgow, in November 1944. King recalled: "I left Portland, Jamaica, in temperatures of 75F. I landed at Greenock, which was 39F. I thought I was going to die.” Then moved onto RAF Hunmanby Moor in Filey, Yorkshire for technical and combat training. After three months, the men were split up into categories for ground crew training – King was posted to the fighter station RAF Hawking near Folkestone and served as an engineer. “My mother said, ‘Sam, the mother country is at war, go’. Let us get this straight: the Germans wanted to rule the world, and if Hitler had won, they would have put us [black people] in ovens and lit the fire. We had to fight for our own salvation.” Within a few months, King was promoted, and then trained as an aircraft engineer at RAF Locking in Somerset. He had another four postings, finishing in Yorkshire, at RAF Dishforth in Ripon, maintaining transport planes. King said of his war efforts, that the locals were welcoming and the few incidents of racism he experienced were from the American GIs. Indeed, during one posting in Rivenhall in Essex, Fred Seagraves, a serviceman he befriended, took him home to Nottingham to meet his parents. Mr and Mrs Seagraves became Sam’s English ‘Mam and Pap’ with whom he kept in touch until their death’s decades later. (1) In 1947, King’s war service officially came to an end and Sam, then aged 21, succumbed to RAF pressure to return to Jamaica. He had contemplated staying on in Britain after the war but recalled that attitudes suddenly seem to change overnight. “When we were in the uniform, you’re reasonably respected,” he said. When the war was over, they said, ‘What are you doing here? You should go home. I came to help them and now that they have their freedom, they said I should go home." King returned to a colonial Jamaica struggling to recover from the 1944 hurricane – of which an estimated 90% of Jamaica’s banana trees and 41% coconut trees were lost – and high unemployment rates. His family’s banana farm was devastated, and he found it difficult to find work because of the discriminatory racial policies of the British colonial rulers. King said, “I could not see myself making a headway socially or financially at Priestman’s River or in Jamaica for that matter.” He had changed but Jamaica had remained the same. In Tony Sewell’s 1998 book, Keep on Moving – A Windrush Legacy, he elaborated further: “Having been in England and read a few books I decided I could not live in a colony. Everything was done by Westminster through the Governor. Only one man in 10 had the vote and 85 per cent of the land belonged to big English landowners.” (1) So, King – enticed by another Daily Gleaner advert – booked passage on the Empire Windrush to return to the UK and re-enlist. His family sold three cows to raise funds for a troop deck berth. On board, there was a bit of a holiday atmosphere, and special camaraderie among the RAF veterans. However, he noted in his memoir that there was also enough apprehension about the government turning the ship back that he organised two ex-RAF wireless operators to play dominoes outside the radio room – and monitor incoming messages. (2) King and his fellow West Indian passengers were met by officials from the Ministry of Labour and the Colonial Office. One was, the British civil servant Ivor Cummings – the first Black official in the British Colonial Office – and of course, a curious British press. The welcome he received on his return was hardly fitting for a British ex-serviceman. Black men who had risked their lives during the war now faced a second battle. In his 1998 autobiography, Climbing Up the Rough Side of the Mountain, King recalled: “The host nation saw the influx as an imposition and became hostile ... The acute shortage of accommodation was the biggest problem facing immigrants who were arriving from the new Commonwealth countries.” (1) King re-enlisted in the RAF in 1948 and served until 1953. While Black service personnel found they were respected and supported when they were in uniform, civvy street was far too often a different story. Racism restricted job opportunities: Mr King applied unsuccessfully to the Metropolitan Police in 1953 – it took them another 14 years to appoint its first Black officer. Racial discrimination also made it extremely difficult for many Black people to find housing — and thereby start putting down roots. (2) In 1950, Mr King, then an RAF corporal, and his brother Wilton attempted to buy a house in Sears Street, Camberwell, but bank officials responded to a mortgage request with a letter suggesting he return to Jamaica. Mr King took the letter to the owner of the house, who was so disgusted that he gave him a mortgage himself. He made him swear on the bible that he would repay the cost of the house – £1,000 – in ten years’ time. He managed to do so in five years with the help of a ‘pardner’, a traditional Caribbean saving scheme, and by renting rooms to other West Indians. The Kings were the second Black family in Southwark to own a home. For other black Caribbean residents, the only way to own a home was to join a ‘pardner’ and Mr King took an active role in setting up many pardners. King left the armed forces in 1953 and joined the post office. No doubt, his status as an army veteran helped ensure that his application was successful, but throughout his career he repeatedly experienced racism. In his autobiography, Climbing Up the Rough Side of the Mountain on his experiences at the South Eastern District Office: “I was not welcomed by some; not a smile crossed the faces of those who were too busy guarding the overtime. I spoke only when necessary. One week into the post, I asked for overtime on the Irish section sorting letters beyond Dublin to Limerick. There, my colleagues saw that I was not as green and naive as they thought. One fellow in particular was most obnoxious whenever I put in for overtime work. He made hurtful remarks and was not co-operative. Others joined in, but I was there to do a job and nothing was going to make me flounder or even show resentment. My performance was far above these petty non-entities. I held fast to my integrity’. King worked for the Royal mail for 34 years, beginning as a postman in Waterloo and ending as senior manager for the South Eastern postal district. (He recalled being greeted with a heckle from a resentful white worker who yelled: “Send ‘em back!” King’s quick-witted riposte was: “I’m all in favour of sending them back, as long as you start with the Mayflower.”). (1) He became involved with the Brixton-based newspapers the West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News, which had been founded in 1958 by the communist Trinidadian journalist Claudia Jones. He was among those who helped her to organise the first Caribbean-style indoor carnival at St Pancras town hall the following year, which laid the foundations for the Notting Hill carnival. (1) Faith played a significant role in his life, and like many African and Caribbean Christians in the 1940s and 1950s, he and his family had to hold their worship gatherings at home due to the racism they faced in British churches. When he and his first wife, Mae, moved to Herne Hill in south London in 1958, they didn't feel welcomed at the local Baptist church and never returned, although they allowed their children to attend Sunday school there. Years later, as the Mayor of Southwark, he was invited as a guest to the same church, and he made sure to be addressed as ‘Your Worship’ and wore his full regalia as Mayor, which he considered as 'poetic justice' for the church to give him the respect and recognition he deserved. He was involved in community activism on migrant welfare issues and was active in the post workers’ union. He joined the Labour party, too, seeing it as a political vehicle that could improve the life of black people. In 1982 he was elected the Labour member of Southwark council for Bellenden ward, Peckham, and a year later, when the Labour party Black Sections campaign for greater representation was formed, he was nominated to become mayor. At the time, the National Front was very active in the area. “[They] let it be known that if Sam King became the mayor of Southwark, they were going to slit my throat and burn down my house. My reply was ... I am not against them slitting my throat, but they must not burn down my house, because it is not a council house.” In 1983, King was elected as Mayor of the London Borough of Southwark, making history as the first Black mayor of Southwark, in the face of abuse and death threats. This milestone came seventy years after John Richard Archer became the first Black mayor of a London borough back in 1913. As Mayor of Southwark, he played an active role in pushing to get the pirate stations playing gospel music to become community radio stations. But this was rejected by the Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, but it didn’t deter him and others, and, in many ways laid the foundation for Premier Christian Radio to be awarded a license years later. Sam, alongside Diane Louise Jordan, was instrumental in organising the first gospel-inspired BBC 'Songs of Praise' at Southwark Cathedral in April 1985. This ground-breaking event allowed the British public to experience gospel music and Pentecostal fellowship on a BBC national show for the first time. The programme also served as a platform for Basil Meade and the London Gospel Community Choir, providing them with national exposure. As a result of the event's success, the BBC began incorporating more gospel music into their various shows. In his capacity as a local councillor, Sam presented several motions to the British Council of Churches to enable Black Majority Churches to rent or purchase church venues that were derelict or underutilized. This motion played a crucial role in facilitating the growth of Black-led church buildings and places of worship. After retiring from local politics, King focussed on preserving the experiences of his generation. He founded the Windrush Foundation with Arthur Torrington in 1996 to recognise and keep alive the memories of the young men and women who were among the first wave of post war settlers in the UK. In his later years, Sam King was best known for his efforts to establish the anniversary of the Empire Windrush's arrival as a holiday, earning him the nickname "Mr. Windrush." In 1998, he was awarded the MBE during the 50th anniversary celebrations for Windrush and also published his autobiography, "Climbing Up the Rough Side of the Mountain." In 2009, a public vote led to the installation of a Southwark blue plaque at his long-time home on Warmington Road. This was followed by the freedom of the borough of Southwark being granted to him in May 2016. Sam King MBE died on 17 June 2016, less than a week before the 68th anniversary of his arrival on the Empire Windrush: more than 500 people attended his funeral at Southwark Cathedral. Arthur Torrington, a close friend and colleague, paid a heartfelt tribute to Sam, describing him as: “a giant with a voice that commanded respect that provided a positive message to all about the contribution of the Caribbean community but the wider benefits of migration. We need to give our gratitude to men and women like Sam who made sacrifices and laid the foundations that we take for granted today in the community.” Two years after King's death, the UK government officially designated the 22 June as Windrush Day to recognise the contributions of the Windrush generation's contributions in helping to rebuild a post-war Britain. King paved the way for people such as Labour MP Diane Abbott, who aptly said after his death “[King] played a crucial role in breaking down barriers for Black people in politics. [For] someone like me, who was fortunate to become an MP, [I} stand on the shoulders of people like Sam King.” Sources: "Sam King 'Mr Windrush' Ebook". Windrush Foundation (1) (2),today's%20Notting%20Hill%20Carnival%20%E2%80%93%20and

  • Windrush Month 2024 - Celebrating the Caribbean pioneers of 1940s & 1950s Britain

    Every year on the 22nd June the UK commemorates the contributions of Caribbean people to the post-war economy on Windrush Day. We’ll not only recognise the day but celebrate the whole of the month as Windrush Month, and this year we’ll be exploring the lives and impact of the Windrush generation through our theme ‘Celebrating the Caribbean pioneers of 1940s and 1950s Britain.' ​ The HMT Empire Windrush is widely recognised today for bringing one of the first large groups of post-war West Indian immigrants to the United Kingdom. However, the Empire Windrush wasn't the only ship. In fact, there are two ships documented to have sailed from the Caribbean to the UK  before the Windrush’s arrival in June 1948. We'll be taking a closer look at this story and also examining the lives of some of the early Caribbean pioneers of the 1940s and 1950s such as: Sam King,  Sam King and Althea McNish. ​ Profiles Features Why did Caribbeans come to the UK after the 2nd World War? The Ships that came before Windrush. Why do we celebrate Windrush Day in the UK? Test your knowledge and play our specially themed Windrush 2024 Big Fat Quiz!

  • Ivor Cummings - the unsung 'gay' father of the Windrush Generation

    Black History Month UK 2023 'Before Windrush' - exploring the lives and stories of Black Britons who were living in the UK before the arrival of Empire Windrush in 1948. Ivor Gustavus Cummings was born on 10 December 1913 in West Hartlepool. His mother, Johanna Archer was a white English nurse and his father, Ismael Cummings, was a Black doctor from Sierra Leone. He had come to England to study to be a doctor and was one of several African professionals working on the Tyneside. The couple met whilst working together at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary. After a whirlwind romance they conceived a baby boy they named Ivor. At a young age Ivor and his mother moved to Addiscombe in Surrey, while his father returned to Sierra Leone. Ivor’s family befriended the widow of composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor to whom they were related by marriage, and he got to know his cousins Avril and Hiwatha Coleridge-Taylor who were following in their father’s musical footsteps. Growing up in Addiscombe, Ivor was most-often the only person-of-colour in his local environment. One can only imagine how difficult it was for the young Ivor dealing with the prejudice he faced and it certainly help shape the man he would become. Ivor was privately educated and was racially bullied at school. He told how when he was at the Whitgift School how, in one particularly traumatic incident, the boys set his curly hair on fire. After that terrible incident, his father stepped in, and arranged for Ivor to come to Sierra Leone to complete his education. He thought that he would have a better time in Africa, but Ivor also struggled to fit in at school there. He was packed back off back to England and enrolled in Dulwich College in South London. Here, he excelled, and his academic talents were nurtured, but, unlike his half-brothers and sisters in Sierra Leone, poverty prevented him from going further in his education and becoming a doctor. After graduating from Dulwich College, he moved back to Sierra Leone to work briefly as a clerk for the United Africa Company in Freetown. He returned to England to look for medical scholarships but was unsuccessful and then tried to join the British Army as an officer. His application was rejected due to a law stating that all British army officers had to be “of pure European descent”. There had been a colour bar on officers in the British armed forces since the First World War. Under the 1912 Short Guide to Obtaining a Commission in the Special Reserve of Officers to qualify for a commission, a candidate had to be of pure European descent, and a British born or naturalised British subject. This unambiguous regulation was not officially lifted until the Second World War when Harold Moody mobilised the League of Coloured Peoples, the International African Service Bureau and the West African Students Union (WASU) to campaign against the colour bar. By time the ‘colour bar’ had been lifted in 1940, Cummings had taken a job as warden of Aggrey House in Bloomsbury, London and started his career in the civil service. Aggrey House was opened by the Colonial Office in October 1934 as rival accommodation to the West African Student Union (WASU) run hostels. These places provided accommodation to African and Caribbean students who might otherwise have had to face the brutal reality of being barred from renting rooms. The hostels proved to be very successful, providing practical support and creating a sense of community. However, the Colonial Office viewed the WASU-run hostels as hotbeds of Anti-Colonial activism and opened Aggrey House to monitor and discourage political discussion against the then British Empire and Commonwealth. WASU lobbied against the hostel and successfully convinced African and Caribbean students to boycott it. Aggrey House remained empty for an entire year until a deal was brooked between WASU and the Colonial Office. In his role as warden, Ivor looked after student welfare, including organising meetings and lectures and arranging dances and social events to which he invited the small contingent of black British women in an attempt to make life more pleasant for his almost exclusively male charges. He was clearly politically engaged, with speakers at Aggrey House covering themes such as ‘Present day slavery and the problem of its abolition’ by Anglo-Irish anti-slavery activist Lady Simon and hosting esteemed pan-Africanists such as George Padmore. There continued to be competition between Aggrey House and the WASU run hostels. In August 1937 Cummings even informed the police that two Aggrey residents had taken girls to spend the night at the WASU hostel.  Aggrey House closed in 1940, after reports that communists had come to dominate the House Committee and that one student had brought a sex worker into the hostel. Despite the controversy connected to Aggrey House, this was one of many instances that showed Ivor’s interest in the welfare of Black individuals. Shaped by the racial discrimination he had experienced from his school days and beyond, he tirelessly advocated for Black Britons. Rallying against police brutality, after receiving reports that Black people were being “unduly molested” by officers in the 1930s. He was a prolific press correspondent. The merest hint of a slur against people of Black Britons caused him to lift his pen. He even had an indirect hotline to the monarchy through the good offices of Edwina Mountbatten, a supporter of the 'coloured cause' (a phrase used at the time), who would report back the King's ‘supposed’ displeasure at incidents of discrimination. In their book Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi-Racial Britain, authors Mike and Trevor Phillips describe Cummings as “a fastidious, elegant man, with a manner reminiscent of Noel Coward” who “chain-smoked with a long cigarette holder and addressed visitors as ‘dear boy’”. Ivor was gay and socialised in Black queer intellectual circles in the 1930s and 1940s. He enjoyed London’s night life, as a gay member of ‘the group,’ a set of African intellectuals in London which included the American singer John Payne and the British composer Reginald Foresythe, to whose Nigerian family Cummings's father was doctor in Lagos. Like these two and many others in the social and diplomatic circles in which he moved, Cummings was gay at a time when openness about homosexuality was illegal. Despite criminalisation, there was a significant underground gay community in interwar London. Individuals frequented private members clubs and other spaces. Particularly popular with the Black community was the Shim Sham club, a venue that championed jazz music from across the Atlantic. Though we don’t have evidence that Ivor visited such places, it’s entirely possible, as some of his acquaintances were known to. One of Ivor’s closest friends was the gay Guyanese dancer and bandleader Ken Johnson, a leading figure in Black British music in the 1930s. When Ken died in the 1941 bombing of the Café de Paris, Ivor led on the memorial arrangements through his position of influence at the Colonial Office and was able to obtain exemption from munitions work for band members injured in the bombing. Cummings never hid his gay friendships, according to the Conversation he provided emotional support to mixed heritage actor-turned-lawyer Paul Danquah. At Cummings’ memorial service, Paul recalled how Ivor advised him “You must not disparage your father. Your father is a very important person, and you have his heritage.” Which perfectly encapsulates his relationship with his own father and how he saw himself in the world, as a Black man living in Britain. At the onset of the Second World War, Cummings joined the Colonial Office in 1941 becoming the first Black person to obtain the position. Not surprisingly, the Colonial Office’s public relations team tried to spin his appointment as proof that there was no racial discrimination in Britain. He also served as a secretary of a new Advisory Committee on the Welfare of Colonial People in the United Kingdom, a Colonial Office initiative to assume direct responsibility for housing colonial students. And rapidly gained a reputation of someone who would help any person of colour, whatever their social standing. He used his position to fight the colour bar in boxing and and also prevented African and Caribbean merchant seamen from entering air raid shelters, as well as helping British Honduran foresters in Scotland. With the arrival of the first Caribbean RAF volunteers, his responsibilities grew, and he travelled widely to combat difficulties arising from racial prejudice. Initially minimal, these increased when the segregated US forces appeared. Although both Ivor Cummings and Learie Constantine were both members of the Welfare Office. We don’t know for sure if their paths ever crossed. In 1942, the League of Coloured Peoples commended the increasingly important and visible roles being taken up by Black individuals such as Cummings and Constantine. But they also received backlash for supporting government institutions which were perceived by many to be upholding systems of oppression at home and across the Colonies. After the war, when extra nurses were needed for the National Health Service, he recruited them via his family in Sierra Leone. He continued to work in the Colonial Office and was on close terms with many future political leaders. Like Constantine, he was recognised for his work with the Welfare Office. Ivor was awarded an OBE in the 1948 Birthday Honours. It was following this that Ivor became the official representative for West Indians immigrants arriving on the Empire Windrush. When the Colonial Office was informed of the imminent arrival of 492 job-seeking Caribbean migrants aboard the Empire Windrush via a delayed telegram from the governor of Jamaica. They became the responsibility of the second most senior officer in the Colonial Office – the 35-year-old Ivor Cummings. Cummings replied with apprehensive determination: “Although we shall do what we can for these fellows, the main problem is the complete lack of accommodation and being unable to put in hand any satisfactory reception arrangements.” Though Ivor Cummings’ involvement with Windrush was officially to greet the West Indian arrivals as an envoy of the crown and instruct them on how to find housing and jobs, he continued to support many for as long as they needed. For example, records document Cummings’ dogged efforts to help one Dudley Yapp, 30, secure employment, which Yapp finally did in Warwickshire in September 1948. It was Cummings who, after all other options were exhausted, negotiated the use of a former air raid shelter beneath Clapham Common as temporary accommodation for Windrush arrivals without any prearranged accommodation. The choice of location led to the nearby Brixton becoming a permanent centre for the African Caribbean community in Britain. Despite Cummings huge influence behind the scenes, his name is hardly ever mentioned in the Windrush story. Incredibly, the Independent newspaper revealed that he was omitted from a Brixton History Tour app. So why is Cummings’ name not remembered in the Windrush story? The answer probably lies in his sexuality. Cummings was an openly Black Gay man and consequently, over the years his story has deliberated erased. But activists within the LGBT+ community and people interested in UK Black history are reclaiming and telling his story. Cummings resigned from the Colonial Office in 1958. He’d been offered a high-ranking post in the Colonial Service in Trinidad, but he turned it down. Instead, he accepted an offer from Kwame Nkrumah, then prime minister of the newly independent Ghana, to train diplomats for foreign service. He was widely tipped to be the country’s first Black governor but was posted instead to the Ghana High Commission in London to recruit West Indian professionals, including Ulric Cross. He later worked as a training officer for Yengema Diamond Mines in Sierra Leone and then as a public relations adviser to the London-based distillers Duncan, Gilbey and Matheson. Cummings died of cancer in Westminster Hospital, on 17 October 1992, just shy of his 80th birthday. Sources:

  • Why do we celebrate Windrush Day in the UK?

    June 22nd marks a significant day in the United Kingdom - Windrush Day. It is a day dedicated to celebrating the rich heritage and invaluable contributions of the Windrush generation to British society. But why do we commemorate this day, and what is the significance behind it? A Journey of Resilience The Windrush generation refers to the Caribbean migrants who arrived in the UK between 1948 and 1971, primarily on the ship MV Empire Windrush. These individuals were invited to rebuild post-war Britain and fill labor shortages, contributing their skills and hard work to the country's development. Despite facing numerous challenges and discrimination, they persevered with resilience and determination. Cultural Enrichment and Diversity One of the key reasons why Windrush Day is celebrated is to honor the cultural enrichment brought by the Windrush generation. Their music, food, traditions, and customs have become integral parts of British culture, shaping the diverse and vibrant society we live in today. From reggae music to Caribbean cuisine, their influence is seen and felt across various aspects of British life. Recognition and Remembrance Windrush Day serves as a poignant reminder of the struggles and injustices faced by the Windrush generation. The scandal in 2018, where many Caribbean migrants were wrongly detained or deported, highlighted the need to acknowledge and rectify past mistakes. Celebrating Windrush Day is a way to recognize the contributions of these individuals and ensure that their legacy is remembered and honored. Educational Awareness Another important aspect of Windrush Day is its role in promoting education and awareness about the Windrush generation's history and impact. Through events, exhibitions, and educational initiatives, people are encouraged to learn about this significant chapter in British history and understand the challenges faced by the Windrush pioneers. By sharing their stories, we ensure that their experiences are not forgotten and that future generations appreciate their legacy. Unity and Solidarity Windrush Day also serves as a platform to promote unity, solidarity, and inclusivity within society. By celebrating the diversity and contributions of the Windrush generation, we emphasize the importance of respecting different cultures and backgrounds. It symbolizes a commitment to building a more inclusive and tolerant society where everyone is valued and celebrated for their unique heritage. Conclusion: Honoring a Legacy In conclusion, Windrush Day is a time to reflect on the remarkable journey of the Windrush generation and pay tribute to their enduring legacy. It is a day to celebrate resilience, diversity, and cultural heritage while acknowledging the struggles and challenges they faced. By commemorating this day, we reaffirm our commitment to recognizing the contributions of all communities in shaping the multicultural tapestry of modern Britain. So, let us come together on Windrush Day to honor the past, celebrate the present, and pave the way for a more inclusive and harmonious future. Celebrating Windrush Day is not just about remembering the past; it is an opportunity to embrace diversity, acknowledge the contributions of the Windrush generation, and commit to building a more inclusive society. Let's stand together in unity and celebrate the legacy of resilience, culture, and community that the Windrush pioneers have left behind.

  • Why did Caribbeans come to the UK after the 2nd World War?

    Caribbean Migration to the UK Post-World War II: A Story of Resilience and Opportunity After the end of World War II, a significant wave of Caribbean immigrants made their way to the United Kingdom, a journey that marked a pivotal moment in history and paved the way for diverse cultural influences in the UK. But what motivated Caribbeans to embark on this journey across the Atlantic? Let's explore the reasons behind this migration and the impact it had on both the immigrants and the UK society. The aftermath of World War II left the UK in need of labor to help rebuild the country and support its post-war economic recovery. At the same time, many Caribbean nations, former British colonies, were facing economic hardships and political instability. This intersection of needs and circumstances set the stage for the mass migration of Caribbeans to the UK in search of better opportunities and a chance at a brighter future. The Promise of Employment One of the primary driving forces behind Caribbean migration to the UK was the promise of employment opportunities. With industries in the UK facing a labor shortage post-war, Caribbean immigrants were recruited to fill essential roles in sectors such as transportation, healthcare, and manufacturing. The prospect of steady work and the ability to support their families back home motivated many Caribbeans to make the long journey to a new land. Seeking a Better Life Beyond economic reasons, many Caribbean immigrants saw the UK as a land of opportunity, where they could build a better life for themselves and future generations. The promise of access to education, healthcare, and a higher standard of living fueled the aspirations of those who sought to escape the limitations and challenges they faced in their home countries. The UK represented a beacon of hope and possibility for these individuals and their families. Facing Challenges and Overcoming Adversity Despite the allure of new opportunities, Caribbean immigrants encountered numerous challenges upon their arrival in the UK. From experiencing discrimination and prejudice to navigating unfamiliar social norms and cultural differences, the journey to integration was fraught with obstacles. However, the resilience and determination of the Caribbean community enabled them to overcome these adversities, forge strong bonds within their communities, and contribute positively to the fabric of British society. Cultural Enrichment and Diversity The influx of Caribbean immigrants profoundly influenced the cultural landscape of the UK, bringing with them vibrant traditions, music, cuisine, and languages that enriched the multicultural tapestry of British society. Their contributions to art, music, literature, and sports left an indelible mark on the cultural identity of the UK, fostering a spirit of diversity and inclusivity that continues to shape the nation to this day. Legacy and Impact The legacy of Caribbean migration to the UK is one of resilience, perseverance, and cultural exchange. The journey undertaken by these individuals in the aftermath of World War II paved the way for future generations of Caribbeans to thrive and succeed in a new homeland. Their experiences serve as a testament to the power of human resilience in the face of adversity and the enduring bond between nations forged through shared history and shared aspirations. In conclusion, the migration of Caribbeans to the UK post-World War II was a transformative moment that brought together diverse cultures and narratives, shaping the identity of both the immigrants and the UK society. The stories of these individuals serve as a reminder of the enduring spirit of perseverance and hope that transcends borders and generations, leaving a lasting impact on the fabric of British society. Embark on a journey through history and discover the motivations behind Caribbean migration to the UK after World War II. Explore the resilience, challenges, and cultural contributions of these individuals as they forged a new path in a foreign land and left a lasting impact on the UK society.

  • The forgotten migrant ships that came before Windrush in 1947

    By Dr Hannah Lowe Wind back the hours, the days and months, a year –and out of fog, Ormonde sails like a rumour,or a tale about how what’s too soon forgottenwill rise again – light up, awaken engines,swing her bow through half a century,return a hundred drifters, lost-at-sea. From Ormonde by Hannah Lowe The Empire Windrush is commonly believed to be the first boat to have brought post-war migrants from the Caribbean to Britain in 1948. This moment was captured by the Pathé newsreel of the famous calypsonian Lord Kitchener tentatively singing, London is the Place for Me. Since 1998 – the 50th anniversary – the ship’s arrival has been commemorated in hundreds of public accounts, and the name Windrush has become symbolic of the generation of Caribbean people who arrived during this period. It is the first moment of black British experience to become mainstream British history. But far less is known about the two ships that arrived before the Windrush, carrying smaller but still significant numbers of migrants: the SS Ormonde, which docked in Liverpool in March 1947, carrying 108 passengers, and the Almanzora, carrying around 200 passengers, which arrived in December of the same year. My father Ralph Lowe, a clerk by trade, was on the Ormonde, which led me in 2014 to publish a book about it, containing a series of poems about “the other ship” that has largely been forgotten, along with the Almanzora. Forgotten voyages Like the Windrush, these ships were returning troopships. And like the Windrush, passage on these ships was advertised in Jamaica’s national newspaper, the Kingston Gleaner. Ormonde’s arrival is mentioned briefly in the Evening Standard on April 1 1947, and in the Times on April 2 1947, concerning the trial in Liverpool of its 11 stowaways. But the Almanzora was not mentioned at all in the press at the time, a fact bemoaned in 2008 by one of its passengers, Alan Wilmot: … [Our arrival] wasn’t like the Windrush – there was no publicity for us. It was a case of every man for himself. The Jamaican poet James Berry, who became a voice of the Windrush generation, also arrived in Britain on board the Almanzora. In his poem, Beginning in a City, from 1948, he wrote: Stirred by restlessness, pushed by history, I found myself in the centre of Empire. A young man’s journey My father Ralph kept a notebook about his early life and wrote of his plans for travelling to England: I soon found out that you could book a passage on ships bringing back servicemen who had fought in the second world war. So I duly booked my passage on the SS Ormonde paying the princely sum of £28 to get to England. Before his death in 2001, he told me that he had travelled to London from Liverpool with two boxers he had befriended on the boat. It was quite wonderful, many years later, to find both his name (R. Lowe), and the names of the boxers (Thompson) on the Ormonde’s passenger list. A few recent accounts that do discuss these earlier voyages include Robert Winder’s Bloody Foreigners which acknowledges that the Windrush was not “the first ship in this story”. American author Tony Kushner’s study of migrant journeys also includes a discussion of these two ships, considering whether it is London’s dominance in migration history that might account in part for the sustained focus on the Windrush over the Ormonde or Almanzora. The Ormonde docked at Liverpool and the Almanzora at Southampton – both ports of equal or more significance than London in terms of the numbers of ships that docked there. And they are also equal regarding their importance to migration history, but certainly less discussed. Why Windrush? If the arrival of Windrush close to London might account for its fame, so too do numerous other historical factors. Windrush carried 492 passengers, a spike in numbers commonly attributed to the newly passed 1948 Nationality Act, which awarded colonial subjects a new status: “citizen of the United Kingdom and colonies”. The boat was met at Tilbury Docks by officials from the Ministry of Labour and the Colonial Office. One, called Ivor Cummings, was the son of an English mother and Sierra Leonan father. Cummings helped to organise accommodation for many of the passengers in the former air-raid shelter beneath Clapham Common South underground station. Also present were journalists and photographers, resulting in numerous newspaper accounts, the Pathé newsreel and the small, but now iconic, number of photographs of the ship. Unlike the Windrush, the Ormonde and the Almanzora arrived without ceremony to their respective ports. There was no meeting committee, no press and no assistance for their passengers. In fact, the story of the Empire Windrush was atypical of voyages made at this time, and quite different to the ships that came before or immediately after, which carried far fewer migrants. In the 1950s, at the height of this period of migration when ships regularly sailed a direct route from the Caribbean to Britain, passengers were left to fend for themselves on arrival. Many ships of this period are intricately tied to the machinations of the British empire and the second world war. The SS Ormonde went on to transport British orphans to Australia under the controversial child migration programme, while the Windrush (a German warship until it was seized by the British in 1947) later sank in the Mediterranean, bringing home servicemen from Asia. Both the Ormonde and the Almanzora were eventually scrapped in Scotland (the Ormonde had been built on the Clyde in 1917), but their post-war migration legacy has begun to feature more often in recent discussions of this period. The stories of these ships are evidence of how “history” is so often a complicated and nuanced process of selection – and omission. They tore the Ormonde up in ’52for scrap. I google what I can. If youwere here, you’d ask me why I care so much.I’d say it’s what we do these days Dad, clutchat history. I find old prints – three orphanson a deckchair squinting at the sun; a crewmanwith his arm around a girl, both smiling, windswept;a stark compartment where you might have slept… From Shipbreaking by Hannah Lowe This article which is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original.

  • What is the theme for Black History Month UK 2023?

    Angela M explains Black History Month UK and how to celebrate this October. October marks the start of Black History Month UK – a time to celebrate and remember African and Caribbean heritage peoples' achievements and contributions to the British economy, culture, and history. It's a chance to tell the stories of those lesser well-known Black Britons who we will forget if we don't showcase them. What is Black History Month UK? Black History Month UK began in October 1987 by Akyaaba Sebo, a special projects coordinator of the Ethnic Minorities Unit at the now defunct Great London Council. He wanted to boost the self-esteem of Black British children and young adults by educating them on the long history and achievements of Black people living in the UK. Taking inspiration from Black History Month (also known as African American History Month) in the United States. The first event was held on 1 October 1987 at County Hall and was attended by American historian Dr. Maulana Karenga, who founded the African American holiday of Kwanzaa; and Kenyan women’s activist Wanjiru Kihoro. It has since evolved into a national movement recognised by the British government and observed throughout the UK. It is also recognised in other parts of the world during October in Ireland and the Netherlands. In the US, where Black History Month originated, the awareness month is held in February. It is also celebrated in Canada in February too when it was officially recognised in 1995. Since the 1990s, the significance of Black History Month has gradually increased throughout continental Europe and it is now observed in Germany, Belgium, and Italy in February. What are the origins of Black History Month? In 1926, African-American historian Carter G Woodson started national Negro History Week to advocate for the inclusion of American Black History in the US national public education system. Over time, and with the momentum and support of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, the week gradually morphed into the month it is today. In 1976, US Black History Month (or African American Month as it’s now regularly referred to) was officially recognised by President Gerald Ford. Why is it celebrated at different times across the globe? After visiting America in the 1970s, Addai-Sebo created a British version of Black History Month in 1987, but they are not officially linked. In the United States, Black History Month takes place in February to coincide with the births of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. Addai-Sebo choose to celebrate Black History Month UK in October because of the month's importance in the African calendar. More importantly, it was the start of the British academic year. Why should we separate Black History Month celebrations in the US and UK? When Black History Month UK started in the UK, there was a big emphasis on African American history. Over time the focus has moved to celebrating and recognising Black British history and key Black figures in the UK. It’s important also that we focus only on British Black history as the Black British community is a composite of peoples with different cultures and identities. Some individuals with a lineage beginning long before the Windrush generation and others with distinct and very different cultures rooted in the African and Caribbean continents. Why do we celebrate Black History Month UK 2023? In 2021, the National Census revealed that the overall Black population makes up 2.4 million (4%) people living in England and Wales, a steep rise from the 1.9 million (3.3.%) recorded a decade earlier. This growth was powered by a growing Black African population (nearly 3%) while the Black Caribbean population slowed to just 1%. As Britain’s Black population changes, we need to make sure that the stories of the previous generations are not lost and are remembered and honoured by the new generations of Black Britons. ‘[UK] Black history is a series of missing chapters from British history’ said David Olusoga, historian, and we must be involved in the telling of these stories. Black History Month exists to tell these stories in our own voices. It’s our chance to shine a light on individuals who aren’t featured in the mainstream and whose contributions would be forgotten without Black History Month UK. It's a time to celebrate Black Britons who are making history now too. It also provides us with a space to tackle racial discrimination head-on within our society by encouraging government, institutions, and corporations to advocate for diversity, equality, and inclusion. Do we really need Black History Month UK? Some campaigners argue against the existence and usefulness of the month as they believe it marginalizes UK Black history and that it should, rightly, be remembered all year round. Organisations such as The Black Curriculum are working hard to address the lack of Black British history in the UK curriculum through campaigning, training teachers, and delivering Black history programmes. But Black History Month UK, like many other national and international events, provides us with an opportunity to remember individuals and events that would never be included in a racially inclusive national curriculum and would remain forgotten to the annals of time. What are the aims of Black History Month in the UK? Celebrate and recognise the achievements of African and Caribbean heritage people's role in helping to shape UK culture, history, and economic development. Educating the UK population on how the relationships between Britain, Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States helped create modern Britain. To encourage government, institutions, and corporations to embrace and adopt equality and diversity policies. What is the theme of Black History Month UK 2023? The theme of Black History Month UK 2023 is ‘Before Windrush’. This October we’ll be exploring the lives and stories of Black Britons who were living in the UK before the arrival of Empire Windrush in 1948. Throughout the month we’ll be shining a spotlight on notable Black Britons such as Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Kofoworola Abeni Pratt, Learie Constantine and Princess Ademola. We’ll also exploring Black doctors and nurses working in healthcare before the NHS and the 18th century Black prisoners of war at Portchester Castle in 1796. Not forgetting that Black History Month is also about documenting history in the making. We'll be asking the UK Black Community to commemorate the month by sharing their own family histories using the hashtag #bhmfamilies How can I celebrate Black History Month UK 2023? Black History Month is an excellent opportunity for people from all backgrounds to educate themselves on Black Britain’s history and familiarise themselves with the lesser-known Black Britons who have made a difference to the country. There are a variety of ways you can observe the month: Attend any of the hundreds of events taking place up and down the country to commemorate Black History Month. Check out our Events page for more information. Take on the #BHMFamilies selfie challenge Attend the #BHMUK23 launch event and Play our Big Fat Black History online quiz Why not watch our '10 ways to celebrate Black History Month UK' video for more ideas? How should educational organisations and business corporations recognise the month? The theme of Black History Month UK 2023 is ‘Before Windrush,' and we advise any schools and colleges interested in exploring the topic in greater detail to visit The Black Curriculum website, which has an extensive range of educational resources relating to the theme. We encourage business corporations to provide a safe space for all individuals who wish to commemorate the month in which stories can be shared – personal experiences and/or inspiring stories. But to also remember that not everybody may want to be involved in your Black History Month UK planning simply because of their ethnic background. Such assumptions place the burden of responsibility on them, and if they’re a visible minority in your workplace, they might feel tokenized about their role in your workplace. Remember, for best results, you should be recognizing all your employees, all year round! Companies are also advised to run a DEI (diversity, equality, and inclusion) audit of their business. Surveys make it easier to understand the current state of DEI at your company, pinpoint focus areas, and run intersectional analyses that can guide companies towards meaningful action. Who is the International Black History Month UK (IBHM-UK) organisation? The International Black History Month UK (IBHM-UK) was created in June 2020 by a group of Black Britons with a passion for investigating and curating the hidden and forgotten stories of Britain’s black past. We’re committed to raising the profile of the month amongst the African, Caribbean and Black British community in the UK. As one of our young volunteer interns explains: “Neither my primary or secondary schools celebrated Black History Month UK and I had to learn about UK Black History myself. So, I think it’s important that an organisation like this exists to fill the gaps in knowledge that many people in the UK’s African and Caribbean community may have about Britain’s black past. Our community is not a monolith, and we all have different lived experiences. BHMUK allows us all to reflect and celebrate on all the different aspects of British Black history from finding out about awe inspiring individuals like Dr Harold Moody and John Blanke to the legislative changes in UK law championed by the Windrush generation." For too long, Black History Month UK has lacked direction and focus. We decided to step into that space to ensure that this important month has a clear message and theme. Our CEO, Angela says: “I have a young son who was tasked with choosing a notable Black Briton for a school assignment and I was shocked to learn that the only resources available was a listings website with poorly researched articles and filled to the brim with job adverts. We set up this organisation to ensure that quality information and free resources are available to everyone who wants to learn about UK Black History. And more importantly, that the stories of Black Britons are told in an authentic voice that belongs to us and not someone masquerading as one of us!“ We are a local community group that provides free resources on UK Black History and hope to run themed Black UK history events in 2023 and beyond.

  • 6 activities to celebrate Black History Month UK at school

    There are lots of creative ways your school can recognise Black History Month UK beyond school assemblies and we've come up with a few ideas. Black History Month UK is an opportunity to ensure that all young people, no matter their background, learn about the contributions of Black Britons to UK History. As David Olusoga said:“this is our national story, this is British history, it belongs to all of us.” 1. Here's how your school can participate in this year's Black History Month UK Take part in our Celebrating our Changemakers campaign by getting your classes to research and create a visual installation using the eight individuals from this year's campaign: Olaudah Equiano, Diane Abbott, Len Garrison, Stella Thomas, Henry Sylvester Williams, Marion Patrick Jones, Obi Egbuna and Connie Mark. For young children, you may want to look at Black Britons from time periods and we suggest you check out our Black to the Past and Before Windrush campaigns or inspiration. We’re encouraging all schools and colleges to send us a picture or video of your installations by tagging us on any of our social media sites. 2. Try our #BHMFamilies selfie challenge Get your pupils to bring in a picture or item that reflects a family tradition and use this as a talking point to discuss the contributions of Black Britons to UK history and culture. You could explore cultural events such as the Notting Hill Carnival and why it started; explore how the British diet has changed over the years with the introduction of new foods like Jollof Rice and Jerk Chicken; and the British music scene by exploring new musical genres such as Lovers Rock, Jungle, and Grime. 3. Take part in our #BHMLandmarks challenge You could organise a class trip to explore your locality to take a picture of statues and plaques that recognise the achievements of African and Caribbean heritage people in the UK. You can find information on the whereabouts of statues and plaques on the websites of Nubian Jak and the English Heritage or the Black London: History, Arts & Culture book. Post your pictures with the hashtag #bhmlandmarks and tag us on any of our social media accounts. 4. Virtually visit the Black Cultural Archives (BCA) and explore key events in British History The Black Cultural Archives has lots of resources covering different time periods in British history including Black Abolitionists in Georgian London, Victorian Britons of African heritage whose work significantly impacted the arts, science and technology, and the Windrush generations who campaigned for legislative change that transformed the lives of all British migrants. 5. Turn your classroom into a living museum to celebrate the lives of past and living Black Britons Have your students choose a notable Black British pioneer they'd like to know more about, such as Georgian writer Ignatius Sancho, Victorian circus owner Pablo Fanque, Henry VIII's trumpeteer John Blanke, or Dr Harold Moody who campaigned against racism in Edwardian Britain and provided free medical care to the poorer members of his local community before the establishment of NHS. Then using their research, have them create a living museum in your classroom. They can create posters and do presentations to show what they've learnt through their research. Our website is great way to start your research or you can review resources from the Black Curriculm, Young Historians Project, BCA, Museum of London, BBC bitesize, The National Archives and Yorkshire Museum. 6. Remember that UK Black History isn't confined to a month At its core, Black History Month UK is about celebrating and recognising the contributions of Britons left out of mainstream UK history. We advise that you avoid emotive subjects like the Atlantic Slave Trade (perhaps tackle the topic during August when International Slavery Remembrance Day is marked) and focus on British rather than African American History during the month. We hope that you choose to participate in any of the activities we've suggested for your school to carry out during Black History Month UK. But do remember this month is also an opportunity for educators to start diversifying the curriculum for the rest of the academic year. Teachers can make sure that all disabilities, ethnicities and social classes are represented in reading materials and artwork in all subjects all year round. Happy Black History Month UK!

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