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Britain’s Rush to Profit

Eugenics

Eugenics is a now widely discredited method of selection of “highly-rated” or “desirable” genetic qualities in an attempt to speed up the evolution of the human race. The term was coined by explorer and natural scientist Francis Galton in 1883, but the concept can be seen as early as 1853 in Charles Darwin’s On The Origin of the Species.

Racism has been alive and well in society since long before the arrival of eugenics, but it was this concept that allowed for the rampant structural, institutional and “scientific” oppression of what were considered to be inferior races. Historically, this injustice has led to Black bodies being brutalised in numerous ways, from forced sterilisations, to using Black people for medical experimentation and drug trials.

During the second world war, the Nazis used eugenics as a foundation for many of their beliefs and to justify the genocide of millions of people. Since then it has been widely discredited and considered a non-science. But before this point it was the basis of numerous laws, policies, abuses of power and prejudiced mindsets in the U.K. and in the United States. The greater implication of this is some strong ideological similarities between the U.K., the U.S.A., and Nazi Germany. Both countries have since worked hard to erase and ignore this upsetting likeness.  

Today, we can see the effect of eugenics in the fact that most of the media we consume presents white, European features as the most desirable. Typically Black features, like full lips, and curvy bodies are seen as undesirable or ridiculed, unless worn by white people. It’s also visible in lingering stereotypes that Black people are uneducated and unintelligent, as well as in medical settings in which Black patients are dehumanised, seen as less sensitive to pain, and experience greater brutalisation in encounters with authorities. 

 

Britain’s Rush to Profit

Labbezanga in Mali

Constructed in Labbezanga in modern day Mali is a village, which when viewed from above reveals a pattern indiscernible from the ground.  

From an aerial photograph taken of the village it was noted that the aspect of fractal geometry called self-similarity- circles of circles of circles and so on was present, used by those who constructed it to illustrate ‘the idea that the house is a union of people and the village is a union of houses and so on. ‘(Duly, 1979)

We see that in Labbezanga residential compounds are formed around outdoor courtyards. Circular granaries and dwellings wind, beadlike, through the village, enclosing narrow streets and courtyards in what appears to be mixed public-private space. Older circular houses with conical roofs contrast with newer, larger rectangular houses with flat roofs. If Labbezanga's older curved dwellings respond to its location on an island in the Niger River, the rectangular compounds suggest recent social and religious developments and the presence of competing cultural forces. We see that in Labbezanga residential compounds are formed around outdoor courtyards. Circular granaries and dwellings wind, beadlike, through the village, enclosing narrow streets and courtyards in what appears to be mixed public-private space. Labbezanga does not present, however, a uniform urban order. Older circular houses with conical roofs contrast with newer, larger rectangular houses with flat roofs. If Labbezanga's older curved dwellings respond to its location on an island in the Niger River, the rectangular compounds suggest recent social and religious developments and the presence of competing cultural forces. Bounding these villages there is a sandy beach rather than a Euclidean fortified wall: no inside and no outside, no separation of city from nature. 

 

Britain’s Rush to Profit

Disproportionate Compensation Payments

The 1833 Slavery Abolition Act, which took effect on 1 August 1834, marked a formal end to the practice of enslavement in Britain; but it came at great cost.

A combination of dwindling sugar markets, the cost of quelling enslaved rebellions and pressure from the domestic abolitionist movement forced the government to finally produce effective legislation. However, since the enslaved were seen as property and because their free labour was used to generate profit, enslavers demanded compensation for the loss of assets and profits. The Slave Compensation Commission was set up to organise the fair distribution of a £20 million compensation package. The previously enslaved received no such compensation.

Whilst the package did much to appease British plantation owners in Britain and its colonial outposts, neither the Abolition Act nor the compensation package did much for the enslaved or enslavers of British North America. The legislation resulted in the liberation of less than 50 enslaved people, whilst the rest had to suffer a further four to six years as apprentices. Only children under six were granted full emancipation under the bill. Enslaved owners in this part of the world received none of the compensation package.

Of the 47,000 people who received compensation from the £20 million, only around 3000 of them lived in Britain. The proportion of the money this small number of people received was significantly disproportionate. Enslavers in Britain received around 40 to 50% of the total amount of the pay out.

 

Britain’s Rush to Profit

Redistribution of Wealth Through Diamonds and Gold

From the 1860s, advances in technology opened up the possibility of unfathomable wealth. Once only obtainable by sifting the alluvial soils of river deltas, gold and diamonds were now accessible from deep within the African earth. The possibilities sparked gold rushes and diamond fever in the 1870s. Thousands flocked to make their fortunes. However, an opportunity for Blacks and whites to stake their claim to riches, quickly became a story of segregation and monopoly. 

Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902) arrived from England in present-day South Africa in 1870. In 1880 Rhodes formed the De Beers Mining Company. By 1891, a spree of aggressive acquisitions meant Rhodes controlled 90% of the globe's diamond production and a great amount of its gold production. Rhodes went on to become prime minister of Cape Colony (now the Cape of Good Hope). Although, arguably a gifted political strategist, some of his policies paved the way for apartheid.

Though Rhodes died in 1902, De Beers continued to dominate the diamond industry for over a century. The profits of which, have never remained in South Africa. Even today, De Beers is owned by Anglo American PLC, a British multinational. In 2021 alone, De Beers made US$5.6 billion.

Perhaps the greatest symbol of this recurring redistribution of wealth from colonies to their ruling powers is the Cullinan diamond. Extracted from the South African earth, it is the biggest diamond ever found. The British-ruling government of Transvaal gave the diamond to King Edward VII to ease tensions after the Second Boer War. The diamond was cut into 9 large stones, which are now privately owned by Queen Elizabeth II. The jewels grace the Sovereign's Sceptre and Cross and the Imperial State Crown. The estimated worth of the diamonds is up to US$2 billion.

 

Britain’s Rush to Profit

The Financial Impact of Depopulation

The transatlantic trade of enslaved people was responsible for the loss of nearly 20 million people from the continent of Africa. One calculation estimates that by 1800, the interruption of mass enslavement of Africa's population meant their population was, in effect, halved. This drain on native inhabitants had drastic effects on the development of countries across the African continent. 

In a 2008 study by Nathan Nunn, Professor of Economics at Harvard University, the records of the numbers enslaved from different regions were set against GDP per capita in the year 2000, it was found that there was a strong relationship between where the most people were taken from and the poverty in that part of Africa. In short, the areas where most people were taken from between 1600-1900 were the poorest per capita in 2000.

The financial implications of this are vast. Nunn went on to measure the difference in average income per capita Africa would have had if the effects of enslavement had not disturbed development. The figures in 2010 showed that the average African per capita income, in comparison to the rest of the world, was US$1,843 compared to US$8,809. Even developing countries had an average per capita income of US$4,868. His findings reported that if Africa has not been subjected to the transatlantic trade of enslaved people, 'then 72% of the average income gap between Africa and the rest of the world would not exist today, and 99% of the income gap between Africa and other developing countries would not exist.'

 

Britain’s Rush to Profit

Walter Rodney: A Revolutionary Scholar

Walter Rodney was a scholar, writer, lecturer and political activist from British Guyana. His life ended in 1980 when, at age 38, he was assassinated with a car bomb. A 2014 Commission of Inquiry found that Linden Forbes Burnham, the president of Guyana at the time, must have had knowledge about the assassination. Some believe that since Walter Rodney's influence and his views on uniting groups against the ruling class may have made him appear dangerous, Burnham organised his assassination. 

What Rodney left behind was a revolutionary body of work that challenged conventional wisdom and changed the way scholars engage with the subjects of colonialism and the development of countries in Africa.

The impact and scope of Rodney's writing are immense. Throughout numerous books and essays, including his most famous, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Rodney displayed an intellectual aptitude for looking beyond the systems and institutions surrounding him. In seeing beyond these systems, including the universities where he learnt and lectured, Rodney presented a powerful rethinking of how colonialist history shaped the present. This, coupled with a strong resitance to oppression led to an affinity with Socialist ideologies, and made Rodney a champion amongst the working class. His aim was to empower the masses towards self-emancipation from the shackles of capitalism. 

Known as a radical scholar because of how he challenged the status quo within academia, Walter Rodney still garners high praise today. The University of Dar-es-Salaam, in Tanzania, at which he taught, credits Rodney with influencing the direction of thought within the university. They state: 'Walter Rodney's Legacy is to be found in his work and his placing at the centre of his concern (a) the humanisation of the environment, (b) the dignity of labour and (c) the self-emancipation of the toiling masses.'

 

Britain’s Rush to Profit

Henry Tate and the Sugar Trade

Fortunes were made from the sugar trade, of which a sickly by-product was enslavement and labour exploitation. One company that gained wealth through this dark trade and still does to this day is Tate & Lyle Sugars.

Interestingly, many people would not immediately make the link between the Tates of Tate and Lyle and the famous Tate Gallery, yet they were founded by the same man: Henry Tate.

Born in Chorley, Lancashire in 1819,  his father, William Tate, was a Unitarian clergyman and a schoolmaster. One of twelve to his father and mother, Agnes Booth, Henry spent his early years on the benches of his father's school in Chorley.

At the age of 13, he was sent to Liverpool to become an apprentice for his brother who owned a grocer's business there. In 1839, at the age of 20, things had begun to change as he was in the process of buying out Aaron Wedgewood in the Old Haymarket in Liverpool.

For 20 years, Henry Tate carried out a thriving business as a grocer, starting or buying out businesses before finally moving into the wholesale trade. In 1870, he built a sugar refinery in Love Lane, Liverpool, which opened in 1872, at a time when the British sugar refining industry was in crisis. The rivalry between cane sugar grown in the West Indies and Mauritius, and beet sugar produced in Europe was affecting the world's principal consumer market, Great Britain. 

Henry Tate’s Love Lane refinery, sourcing sugar from Peru, the West Indies and Mauritius, and subsequent merger with Scottish shipowner Abram Lyle changed this. In 1914, Tate and Lyle were the largest and the most prosperous in the business. It has been argued that he was perhaps one of the first to understand that the “sugar battle” could only be fought - and won - on the British side with a large-scale production of high quality sugar.

 

Mother Country - Visions vs. Reality

Jeremiah Anderson: A Face Through Time

Jeremiah Anderson has a face you do not forget easily. It is striking, serious and experienced. You have to wonder at the things he would have seen in the course of his life. His face accompanies various documents that demonstrate his merchant seaman career, being involved in WWI, being a prisoner of war in WWII and working right up until 1950. 

Born in Jamaica in 1889, he was living in Liverpool by the end of the First World War and had married Margaret Ann O’Shaughnessy there in May 1918.

His work as a merchant seaman would have taken him round the world. During the war years, he joined the Richard de Larrinaga on 29 November 1939. This should have qualified him for some medals, such as the the War Medal (1939-1945) which only requires a minimum 28 days at sea. However, he was never received any such medals. 

Records show he joined the ship Duquesa on 8 June 1940 and was captured on 18 December 1940. During the second world war, the Germans preferred to exchange civilian merchant seamen rather than military men, in return for their own captured men. Jeremiah Anderson was repatriated to the United Kingdom in January 1945, based in part on the heart condition he was struggling with. 

The National Archive information reveals Jeremiah’s peace-time service ended at his request in October 1955 following a period in Sefton General Hospital. He died in 1957.

These records, and Jeremiah’s striking photographs, illustrate how people of African Caribbean heritage contributed to the UK in various ways we may have forgotten, if not for these records.

 

The National Archives

The National Archives

Mother Country - Visions vs. Reality

Keep Britain White

During the 1950s, white nationalist ideals ran high throughout much of Britain. The rise of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists and the White working-class “Teddy Boys”, created a hostile atmosphere for those arriving from Commonwealth countries.

Those who were opposed to the settlement of Caribbean people in North Kensington after World War II united behind the idea of wanting to “Keep Britain White”. It wasn’t uncommon to see this slogan spray-painted outside homes and businesses. 

At the time, Notting Hill, part of Kensington, was not the expensive, upper-class place it is today. It was a deprived area where many immigrants moved for cheaper rent and where people lived in poor conditions.

Today, Notting Hill is one of the most expensive areas to live in London. Although the graffiti slogans are no longer there, there has also been a drop in the number of Caribbean people in the community. Due to the increase in housing prices in the area, many have been displaced to different areas of London, which are more affordable.

Although the Caribbean community has been dispersed, on one bank holiday weekend every year in August, Notting Hill Carnival celebrates the diverse Caribbean diaspora on those same streets.

 

Mother Country - Visions vs. Reality

Sam King: the first Black Mayor of Southwark

When Sam Beaver King was born in Jamaica in 1926, he would have considered himself British. Due to colonial education, a belief that England was the “mother country” was prevalent in Jamaica. 

During the Second World War, King served his country - England - as a member of the RAF. When he returned to Jamaica, like many others after the war, he was unable to find meaningful work and returned to London on the Empire Windrush in 1948. 

King rejoined the RAF and then moved to the Post Office, where he worked for over 30 years. Highly active in the Caribbean community, King was involved in the beginnings of the Notting Hill Carnival, the founding of the West Indian Gazette newspaper, and served as a local councillor for six months. He was then elected as the first Black mayor of the London Borough of Southwark in 1983. 

In almost every aspect of their lives, Black migrants like King faced discrimination. Sam King felt that a ‘third of people in Britain still had imperialist ideas.’ He added that some British people believed ‘people from the colonies should be planting bananas and chocolate.’ Another third, he believed, were mildly hostile to Black migration. The final third were what he called ‘nice, ordinary people’ who did not hold racist views.

Sam King’s accomplishments illustrate the linked histories of England and the Caribbean, specifically, Jamaica. Perhaps in time, King’s wish that Windrush Day, 22 June, be turned into a national holiday to acknowledge the contributions of Caribbean migrants, will become reality.

 

Mother Country - Visions vs. Reality

The Windrush Scandal

The Windrush Scandal broke in 2018 when it was revealed that dozens of British citizens were being wrongly detained or deported by the Home Office.

Victims of the scandal were people who had arrived in the UK from Caribbean countries between 1948 and 1973, in response to the UK’s post-war labour shortages. They became known as the “Windrush generation", named after the first ship that brought citizens to British shores, the HMT Empire Windrush. Many children also came to the UK in this period on their parents’ passports. They grew up in the UK as British citizens.

Issues began in 2012, when then Home Secretary Theresa May, introduced the ‘hostile environment’ policy, aiming to decrease illegal immigration by making the UK unliveable for illegal immigrants. The policies ensured that people without leave to remain would lose their jobs, housing, and health benefits. Some were detained and deported to countries that they had not set foot in since they were children. These policies disproportionately affected members of the Windrush generation as they lacked the official documentation to prove that they were British.

In 2017, the media began to publish the accounts of people affected by the policy change. This included Albert Thompson who, after living in the UK for over 40 years, was denied NHS cancer care when labelled an illegal immigrant.

The government was scrutinised for its handling of the scandal. Theresa May, who was then Prime Minister, apologised on behalf of the government whilst the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, resigned. An inquiry into the scandal found that it was avoidable and foreseeable. To this day, many victims of the Home Office’s mishandling of information and hostile environment policies are yet to be compensated.

 

Mother Country - Visions vs. Reality

1919 Race Riots

People were promised prosperity after the First World War. Instead, there was mass unemployment, housing shortages and social upheaval. Street protests, riots and strikes broke out across Britain as anger bubbled over.  

In 1919, a series of violent riots in Glasgow, South Shields, Salford, London, Hull, Newport, Barry, Liverpool and Cardiff saw five people killed, vandalised properties and street fights. Thousands-strong white working-class crowds in these port towns directed their anger at Black and minority ethnic communities, blaming colonial workers – whose numbers had increased to meet war time shipping needs – for post-war job shortages.

The 1919 riots were one of the most severe incidents of unrest in 20th century Britain. Known as “race riots”, they came to national prominence via the newspapers of the day. Many white communities were not aware of a minority ethnic presence in the UK until they read reports in the papers. The coverage was often hostile and racist in tone, suggesting that the problem of communities unable to mix was long-standing.

However, census records from 1911 provide a more complex picture. While there were occasional incidents of racial tension, reports testify to a spirit of cohabitation as mariners of many different races and cultures settled with white British women to bring up their families. 

In February 1919, the Home Office responded to concerns about rising levels of unemployment in British seaports by launching a repatriation scheme to return Black and Arab colonial workers to their countries of origin. Local repatriation committees were established in port towns that had experienced riots to promote the scheme. 

Despite penalties for not taking part, many refused to participate, feeling Britain was their home. The continuing crisis led the government to offer £5 plus £1 voyage allowances to anyone who participated. The Colonial Office, however, was keen that married couples, where the husband was Black and the wife white, should not be repatriated, fearing it would upset the existing social order in the colonies if they were removed too - unlike single Black or Arab men even though they may have lived and worked in Britain for years. 

 

The National Archives

The National Archives

Mother Country - Visions vs. Reality

The History of Windrush

At 11pm on 21 June 1948, the Empire Windrush arrived at the Tilbury Docks, Essex, carrying hundreds of passengers from British colonies in the Caribbean including Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad, Bermuda, and Belize.

 The ship had set sail a few weeks earlier, picking up British troops for service in Essex and Southampton, before travelling to the Caribbean. It docked at Port of Spain inTrinidad, and a fare of £28.10s was announced for those who wished to travel to Britain. This was also done at the next stop in Kingston, Jamaica. The ship also visited Cuba, Mexico, and Bermuda.

She arrived in Essex at 11pm on 21 June 1948, but it was not until the following morning that more than 1027 passengers disembarked.

The Empire Windrush has become the symbol of post-war mass migration and her Caribbean passengers are regarded as the “pioneers” who laid the foundation for the generation of settlers in the years that followed. Many of those who landed in June 1948 were RAF servicemen who returned to help rebuild Britain after World War II. Other passengers later enrolled for public service; some of the women were recruited by the National Health Service. Together, these people became known as the “Windrush Generation”.

Today, we celebrate the Windrush Generation’s contributions to British society and prosperity on Windrush Day.

 

Windrush Foundation

Windrush Foundation

Mother Country - Visions vs. Reality

Paulette Wilson: At the heart of the Windrush scandal

Paulette Wilson changed the trajectory of British politics when, in 2017, she published her story of mistreatment in The Guardian, igniting what would become known as the Windrush Scandal.

Though born in Jamaica, at age 10 Paulette was sent to the UK by her mother to live with her grandparents. She would remain there for the rest of her life, attending British schools and later working in kitchens such as the House of Commons staff restaurant. 

In 2015, after 50 years in the UK, Paulette received a letter from the Home Office declaring her an illegal immigrant. She was told to prepare to move back to Jamaica, a country where she had no surviving relatives and had never revisited. Shortly after, Paulette lost access to her housing and health benefits. She became homeless and financially dependent on her daughter.

In 2017, Paulette was detained and set to be deported were it not for a last-minute intervention from her local MP and the Refugee and Migrant Centre of Wolverhampton. Shortly after, Paulette’s story went public, inspiring others to come forward with similar experiences. It became clear that the government’s new “hostile environment” policy, which aimed to reduce immigration by making the UK unliveable for illegal immigrants, was targeting people who had legally come to the UK as children of the Windrush generation between 1948-1973. They were legally British but lacked the documentation to prove it.

By 2018, Paulette was cleared of any wrongdoing, but the damage had been done. Like other victims, her life had been derailed by the scandal. Paulette spent the rest of her life campaigning for compensation before passing away in 2020. Today, a plaque honours Paulette at the Wolverhampton Heritage Centre and Windrush descendants are continuing the fight for justice.

 

Mother Country - Visions vs. Reality

Wilmoth George Brown aka "Uncle George"

After being refused drinks at his local watering hole, former MV Empire Windrush voyager George Brown helped set up an organisation to combat the colour bar.

Described as a bricklayer when he travelled to England on the MV Empire Windrush from Jamaica, Wimouth ‘George’ Brown’s first night in England was spent at Clapham South Deep Shelter in south London. His wife followed later that year, and the couple found temporary lodgings before buying a house in 1951 in Lewisham, South London.

In his 1999 memoir, Windrush to Lewisham, George recalled the casual discrimination West Indian migrants often faced: ‘I discovered that there were a few pubs in southeast London that deliberately refused to serve coloured people. Some [of us] were rudely abused by customers ... In some cases, it was so bad that on many occasions the coloured man had to ask someone inside the pub to purchase drinks for him. That person would hand the drinks to him outside the door.’

These experiences prompted him to become a community activist, and he became such a familiar figure that people always referred to him as “Uncle George”.

In 1953, he helped to set up the Anglo-Caribbean Association to provide practical support and social activities for West-Indians and their friends. George and other members would visit pubs operating a colour bar and demand to be served, arguing with landlords about their rights and threatening to publicly expose them in the press.

The Association also organised dances and social events at Laurie Grove Swimming Baths and Deptford Town Hall before it secured its own premises in 1959 in Breakspear Road. In 1960, the Association moved again and changed its name to the Commonwealth Association and Club.

Uncle George and his wife returned to Jamaica in the early 1970s, where George later died.

 

Mother Country - Visions vs. Reality

Teddy Boys and the Notting Hill Race Riots

One summer night in 1958, married couple Majbritt and Raymond had an argument outside Latimer Road Station in London. This argument didn’t go unnoticed. 

Majbritt was Swedish and her partner Raymond was Jamaican. The following day, Majbritt was attacked by a group of white nationalists who called themselves the Teddy Boys. They attacked her because she had chosen to be with a Black man. 

By that evening, a mob of 300-400 Teddy Boys had gathered in Bramley Road and began attacking homes they thought belonged to Caribbean diaspora families. This was the beginning of the Notting Hill Race Riots, a series of racially motivated attacks on the homes and businesses of the Caribbean community which led to around 100 arrests. 

At the time, the riots were reported as being the result of racial tensions on all sides, but really, it was a clear result of white supremacist ideals. In direct response to this discrimination, Notting Hill residents from across the Caribbean community came together to create a celebration of Caribbean culture. Today, it is the largest street party in Europe - we call it Notting Hill Carnival! 

The Race Riots of the 1950s also paved the way for the 1965 Race Relations Act which outlawed racial discrimination in the UK.

 

Your Country Needs You

Alford Gardner

Aged 92, Alford Gardner is one of the MV Empire Windrush’s few surviving passengers, as well as being among the many former RAF servicemen on board. After experiencing a hostile reception, Alford displayed the pluck and determination typical of his generation, working as an engineer, raising a family, and founding the first Caribbean cricket club in the country.

When Alford Gardner arrived at the Tilbury Docks, aged 22, it was not his first time on those shores. At the height of WW2, he had travelled to Britain to serve as ground crew in the Royal Air Force, leaving Jamaica in June 1944.

He was among the 4,000 Caribbean volunteers stationed at RAF Hunmanby Moor in Filey, Yorkshire. But once the war was over, the RAF insisted that he return to Jamaica.

Times were hard back home so when Alford heard in March 1948 that the MV Empire Windrush was on its way to the UK via Jamaica, he jumped at the opportunity of returning to England.  Remembering the journey fondly, Alford said: ‘We had a happy time. The [calypsonians] Lord Kitchener and Lord Beginner were on board and everything that happened, they sang about it. We had a happy, a very happy time.’

Upon arrival, Alford headed straight for Leeds but he found that he was not as welcome as before and it took him a while to find accommodation and work. Eventually, he was able to put his skills as an engineer to use at local plants. Once settled, he bought a house and married, raising a family of eight. He founded the Leeds Caribbean Cricket Club, not only for the sport but also as a gathering place for new arrivals. The club was the first of its kind in the UK and, like Alford, it’s still going strong.

 

Windrush Foundation 

Windrush Foundation 

Your Country Needs You

Africa battlefield in World War II

World War II was a battle fought between European, American and Asian powers. Nevertheless, the colonisation of African countries meant that Africa was drawn in as well, both as a theatre of battle and a source of soldiers.

At the outbreak of the war, much of Africa was under the colonial control of Allied nations including France and Britain, while Axis power Italy had control of Libya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. While there was fighting between mainly British and Italian forces in East Africa, the most significant and important battles took place in North Africa between 1940 and 1943. 

The British Army recruited over 200,000 West Africans and 325,000 East Africans into their forces; while many of these fought in Asian battles, a great number saw action in Africa. It has been suggested that the liberation of Ethiopia – considered the African country that had remained freest of colonial rule – was a rallying point for African soldiers. However, although the British asserted that the African contingent of the army was almost entirely volunteers, this has been brought into question. More than half of the soldiers from Kenya, for example, are thought to have been “volunteered” by chiefs, teachers or (European) employers.

Meanwhile, racist stereotypes affected African soldiers in the army. Britain recruited primarily from tribes that it considered to be courageous and martial. African soldiers, viewed as less intelligent and capable, faced limits on the ranks to which they could rise; senior officers were drafted in from abroad. 

The tide turned decisively in the Allies’ favour at the notorious second Battle of El Alamein in Egypt, where the British Army inflicted a clear defeat on Axis forces. Building on this, the Allies pushed Axis powers further west, eventually forcing their surrender in 1942 and setting the stage for victory in Europe.

 

Your Country Needs You

Connie Mark MBE

The daughter of a railway clerk, Constance (‘Connie’) Mark was 19 when she decided to contribute to the war effort by joining the women’s wing of the British Army, the Auxiliary Territorial Service, in Kingston, Jamaica.

The Caribbean was a theatre of war with German U-boats regularly torpedoing British ships. As a medical secretary in the British Military Hospital, Connie’s duties included typing reports of combat injuries. After six months, she was promoted to lance corporal and six months after that to corporal, but was denied a pay increase, a situation she protested about in no uncertain terms.

Connie married Jamaican fast bowler Stanley Goodridge in 1952. He won a contract to play cricket for Durham, England, and she joined him in November 1954 with their baby daughter. The couple later separated, and she married Michael Mark in London in 1977.

In Britain, Connie became known for her contributions to charitable, community and educational projects, including the Mary Seacole Memorial Association, which she helped to found. She joined the West Indian Ex-Services Association to highlight the part played by Caribbeans in the war effort.

Voice newspaper listed Connie among eight Black women who have contributed most to the development of Britain in 2018. London’s Evening Standard named her as one of the 14  ‘inspirational Black British women throughout history.’

Connie’s pride in her Caribbean heritage was reflected in her poetry and storytelling, which she saw as a way of inspiring young people. She became a patron of Descendants, an organisation aimed at supporting youngsters of African and Caribbean descent.

In 1993, she was awarded the British Empire Medal for meritorious service during the war and was awarded an MBE in the 2000 for her service to the community. Connie died in 2007 at the age of 83.

 

The Windrush Foundation

The Windrush Foundation

Your Country Needs You

Cy Grant

A former German prisoner of war, Flight Lieutenant Cy Grant would become the first Black person to appear regularly on TV in the 1950s as a singer before becoming a cultural activist, poet, musicologist, and author.

When Guyanese-born Cy Grant volunteered for the Royal Air Force in 1941, he saw it as a chance to escape the confines of a sleepy colonial backwater.

He wanted to be a pilot, but instead was a navigator in the RAF’s elite Bomber Command. It was dangerous work and during the Battle of the Ruhr in 1943, he was shot down and captured by the Germans.

After the war, he studied law, qualifying for the Bar in 1950, but was unable to find work. He then decided to try acting. Charming and good looking, he quickly appeared in film and TV dramas. In 1957, he was asked to be in the BBC’s daily current affairs programme, Tonight. His job was to sing the news in calypso. The show was a huge success and Cy became a household name. He went on to record several albums.

By the early ‘70s, Cy established the Drum Arts Centre in London to promote Black theatre. In the 1980s, he became director of Concord, a series of festivals championing multi-culturalism.

Cy continued to act and, in 1977, performed his one-man show of Césaire’s epic poem, Return to My Native Land.

He authored several books, including his 2007 autobiography, Blackness and the Dreaming Soul.

Dismayed at the lack of official information on Caribbean air crew during World War II, Cy set up an online archive ‘to trace and commemorate for all time, all those whose services have not been acknowledged.’ In 2016, the Cy Grant Trust, Windrush Foundation and London Metropolitan Archives jointly set up a project to promote his legacy.

 

Windrush Foundation

Windrush Foundation

Your Country Needs You

Laurie Phillpotts

When Laurie Phillpotts set sail for England from Jamaica after enlisting for the Royal Air Force in 1943, he knew the importance of his mission. It was at the height of the U-boat menace in the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic where German torpedoes sank many British ships, killing hundreds.

He trained as a teleprinter operator at a Coastal Command airfield in Norfolk, before spending two years at No 16 (Polish) Flying Training School near Nottingham.

After being demobbed in 1947, Laurie remained in England and continued his education at Leeds College of Technology. He then joined a commercial printing firm in Nottingham as a Linotype operator.

When the Empire Windrush arrived, Laurie wanted to help the new arrivals. He set to work helping them obtain housing, reach further education, and find employment. He also set up the Nottingham Consultative Committee for the Welfare of Coloured People, which lobbied for Black people to be employed on the city’s transport system.

He later moved to London and joined the Mirror newspaper as a compositor. His printing expertise and community activism led him to publish the weekly paper, Colonial News, in 1956, to provide information about life in the Caribbean and Britain.

Laurie has many other notable achievements. He helped establish the West Indian Ex-Services Association in 1972 and remained its public relations chief until 1995. He was a committee member of the Memorial Gate Trust, which was unveiled by The Queen in 2002 at Hyde Park Corner in London to commemorate the armed forces of the British Empire. Lastly, as a pioneer of the Mary Seacole Memorial Association, he campaigned for a statue to be erected in her honour on the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital. This was unveiled not long after his death in 2016 aged 93.

 

Windrush Foundation

Windrush Foundation

Your Country Needs You

Why 10,000 people from Caribbean volunteered to fight in WWII

With much of the Caribbean being under British rule at the outbreak of WWII, it also served as a recruitment opportunity for the armed forces. It’s estimated that around 10,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen came from these islands. But what drove them to sign up?

At first, it was not so easy. There was a so-called “colour bar” – a block on non-white people joining the armed forces – at the start of the war. However, by 1941, it was clear that greater numbers were needed, and the authorities relaxed this restriction in order to allow people in Caribbean countries – who after all were British subjects – to sign up.

Naturally, each person had different reasons for joining the war effort. Many were young and idealistic, and had never gone far from home, so there was a romantic draw to travelling and fighting for the country. Notable Caribbean service people, including Connie Mark and Billy Strachan, spoke of how they were raised as British patriots, taught to respect the nation and the Royal Family. 

There may also have been a sense of self-preservation. With British officers keen to sell the idea of serving, they emphasised to people living in the Caribbean that Germany had an eye on these islands; if German forces could be stationed in the Caribbean, they would be a short hop from American shores.

Despite the numbers of servicepeople from these shores, the Caribbean contribution to the war effort has often been forgotten or suppressed. A memorial was unveiled in Brixton in 2014, but it was later moved to storage; a permanent home has yet to be found.

 

Your Country Needs You

World War II and the Civil Rights Movement

When the United States entered World War II, there was a clear contradiction: on the one hand, the country was fighting against fascism and Nazism and for ideals of freedom and democracy; on the other, within its borders there was still a great deal of legal oppression and discrimination against some of its own citizens, namely African Americans. 

In 1941, with the possibility on the horizon many businesses in industries that would be required for a war effort were mobilising. Black workers feared they would be shut off from the employment opportunities that were arising.

So, Black labour leader A. Philip Randolph got to organising. He threatened a mass march on Washington to protest unequal hiring practices. Fearing race riots, President Franklin Roosevelt met with Randolph and issued Executive Order 8802. The order declared the duty of employers ‘to provide for the full and equitable participation of all workers in defense industries, without discrimination because of race, creed, color or national origin.’

The order was controversial among activists at the time because it was limited to defence industries. But Randolph wasn’t finished. In 1942, he launched a campaign against discrimination in other sectors. In 1947, he and Grant Reynolds formed the Committee against Jim Crow in Military Service, and in 1948 discrimination was finally banned in the armed forced. In 1950, he founded the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

Randolph’s idea of a march on Washington was eventually realised in 1963, with the famous rally that ended with Martin Luther King Junior’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech. While the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s is what is most remembered today, it was perhaps all made possible by that Executive Order spurred by what happened during World War II.

 

Your Country Needs You

Caribbean Women and World War II

Although women were barred from joining the armed forces during World War II, many served the war effort in vital other ways by joining the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), the British Army’s women’s division. This included a number of women from the Caribbean, but they faced significant barriers in doing so.

At the outbreak of the war, the British Army had a “colour bar” to its recruitment. This effectively prevented Black people from volunteering to serve, including those living in British colonies in the Caribbean. By 1941, however, encouraged by the need to draw on greater resources, this bar was dropped.

While this meant that around 10,000 Caribbean men signed up to fight, women were still presented with hurdles. Officials considered it too difficult for them to adjust to British climate and culture to perform properly.

Under pressure from the government, the armed forces dropped this line in 1943. From that year, women from the Caribbean were able to sign up for the ATS and WAAF. Although initially the roles of the ATS were limited to cooks, clerks, orderlies, storekeepers and drivers, by 1943 this remit had been expanded to include work including intelligence and mechanical duties. 

The numbers of Caribbean women serving remained relatively small throughout the war – estimates vary but it was probably no more than 600 in the ATS and fewer in the WAAF. However, they included notable figures such as Lilian Bader, a WAAF corporal and one of the first Black women to serve in British forces, and Connie Mark who went on to campaign for the recognition of Caribbean women’s contributions to the war effort. 

These few hundred women stood as symbols of the capability of their nations, and their capacity for the independence that was to come.

 

Your Country Needs You

Ulric Cross

Early in World War II, many Black volunteers from Africa and the Caribbean were rejected outright by the RAF. After the Battle of Britain, that changed, and a wave of people from what were then British colonies signed up to support the war effort. One of those – and perhaps the most decorated – was Ulric Cross.

Cross was born in Trinidad in 1917. His intelligence was clear from a young age: he won a scholarship from the Trinidadian government at the age of 11, and went on to work jobs in newspapers, law offices and the civil service before the war broke out.

In 1941, Cross was one of around 250 Trinidadians who travelled to the UK to join the RAF. Although his ambition was to be a pilot, he was trained instead as a navigator – a crucial and skilled role that meant bombers would stay on track, in times long before satellite navigation. He was involved in almost 80 operations and he crash landed several times, including once in a quarry after his plane’s engines were shot out.

By the end of the war, Cross had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Distinguished Service Order for bravery, devotion to duty, and skill. He then pursued a legal career, lecturing and practising in Trinidad and Tobago, Ghana and Cameroon, eventually becoming a High Court judge in Tanzania and later in his home country. 

Cross died in 2013 at the age of 96. He himself recognised his fortune in reaching such an age; of those 250 Trinidadians who volunteered, 52 died in action.

 

Complex Legacies

Colonial Effects on Judicial Systems

The legacy Britain left on the islands it colonised between the 17th century and the 1960s runs far deeper than language. In what is now known as the English-Speaking Caribbean (ESC),  Britain enacted common law whilst occupying these islands. It was a judicial system designed to keep order amongst an enslaved population. 

This self-mandated power allowed British lawmakers to control the populace through corporal and capital punishment. The law covered both the enslaved and enslavers but the guiding principle was to provide a stable framework, which would ensure steady profits from an obedient workforce and protect property rights. 

For nearly every country which was subjected to British colonialist rule, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC), run by British jurists in London, is still the highest court of appeal. This means the highest level of legal decisions for countries are still being made from a place with completely different cultural landscape. However, this is changing, with some interesting effects.

Desiring greater control over their own legal affairs and less expensive legal procedures, Caribbean governments created the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in 2005. Currently, only Barbados, Belize and Guyana have given the CCJ the power to have the final say on matters. One of the driving issues was the death penalty. Having culturally absorbed the practice of capital punishment, countries like Jamaica, where drug trafficking leads to high levels of violence, see the death penalty as a just punishment.

The JCPC is reluctant to support capital punishment. This evolution in stance puts the JCPC and the CCJ at odds with one another even though the death penalty was a method of control the JCPC first introduced. 

 

Complex Legacies

A Changing View of Homosexuality

In over 20 countries on the African continent, same-sex relations is a criminal act, which can carry a life sentence. Three of these countries still enforce the death penalty. People who are found guilty of homosexuality can be legally stoned to death. There is strong evidence that these attitudes and laws developed via the influence of Christian colonial powers and Islamic conditioning.

Before the influx of colonisation, there was a culture of much greater acceptance and openness surrounding same-sex relations, across many of the diverse kingdoms and societies throughout Africa. Different ethnic communities in Angola, Madagascar, Congo, Ghana, South Africa and Egypt, all had unique social etiquette surrounding a range of orientations and practices.

One example is, 'Among the Pangwe people of present-day Cameroon and Gabon, homosexual intercourse was practised between males of all ages. It was believed to be a way to transmit wealth.' Explains Bernadine Evaristo, the British Booker prize winner.

Successive campaigns by Christian missionaries and Islamic powers changed the social and religious structures across the face of Africa. From around the 1500s, these influences reframed the way societies saw homosexuality. Portuguese explorers reflected the pervasive European view of male same-sex relations as an 'unnatural damnation'.

Although African countries now run independent of their colonial rulers, the remnants of oppressive worldviews still permeate their cultures and laws, with deadly consequences. 

 

Complex Legacies

Inequitable Wealth Distribution: Profits for the Few

Throughout colonisation of the Caribbean and the Americas, European countries made astronomical profits through mercantile trade and the production of sugar and tobacco. This led many to state that countries which returned great profits at the time, such as Jamaica in the 1750s, were rich. However, this completely ignores the majority of the population of Jamaica and other colonies, who were an enslaved or indentured workforce.

The Gini coefficient is a metric used to measure the inequality of wealth within a populace. A Gini coefficient of 0 indicates a perfect distribution of wealth throughout a society. A coefficient of 1 on the other hand, communicates that a single person within the population has all the wealth whilst the rest of the population has nothing.

Calculating the value for Jamaica in 1774, researchers Trevor Burnard, Laura Panza, and Jeffrey Williamson, found Jamaica had a Gini coefficient of 0.75. Surprisingly, even when they removed enslaved people from the equation, the value only dropped slightly to 0.73. Within this latter figure, White free labourers were included, offering insight into how profits were generated and retained by an elite class. 

Around this time, enslaved-based planting from Britain's colonies brought in commercial profits of £3.8 million (£450 million in today's money).

It is important to remember that enslaved people were also a form of wealth for their enslavers. The 1,428,000 enslaved Africans traded between 1761 and 1808 generated wealth of £60 million (around £8 billion in today's money).

Enslavers used the enslaved as security for loans, to purchase additional land or more enslaved workers. The enslaved were used to pay off debts and were accounted for when calculating the worth of estates. This amassing of wealth, without any distribution amongst the people doing the work, kept profits within the hands of enslavers.

 

Complex Legacies

Place Names: A Root to Lost Languages

Prior to colonisation, the Caribbean and the Americas were inhabited by a diverse range of peoples, each with their own traditions, cultures, spiritual practices and languages. Some of these people no longer exist, their ancestral lines lost, as casualties of colonisation. Others are scattered diaspora, who fight to keep the remnants of their traditions alive through community and campaigns. Some of the languages spoken by indigenous people are present in the names of islands and countries.

The Taíno, who are indigenous to modern-day Jamaican and Haiti along with many other islands, speak Arawak. These islands still bear their indigenous names. The Taíno called Jamaica, Xaymaca, which translates from Arawak as 'isle of springs'. Haiti was derived from another Arawak word: Ay-ti, which gives us, 'land of mountains'.

Many countries throughout the Caribbean also bear names from their European colonisers. The whole island which is home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic is known as Hispaniola. This developed from when Christopher Columbus first named the island, La Isla Española ('The Spanish Island'), in 1492. 

The range of language origins throughout the Caribbean, South and Central America, reflects the diverse origins of the indigenous populations and their unfortunate relationships with colonisers. 

 

Complex Legacies

Stolen Mineral Wealth

Despite having 30% of the globe's mineral wealth, the African continent does not always prosper from its natural abundance. From tin to tantalum, the soil, gas and minerals found across teh continent offer major potential for the generation of wealth for developing countries.

Tantalum for instance is an elemental metal which mobile phone manufacturers use for components. With annual sales of smartphones hitting US $1.5 billion in 2021, vast amounts of money are being made. However, the profits these extracted resources create do not always stay in Africa. Other countries own many mining companies or tax incentives governments have been pressured into providing drastically reduced state income. 

The top five mineral-producing countries, South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria, Angola and Libya in descending order from most to least, made a combined US $276 billion in revenue. A 2017 analysis estimated that the mineral wealth in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone was worth US $24 trillion. The same report also expressed a concern that this potential wealth was exploited by private corporations in foreign countries.

Commenting on the situation, a Global Justice Now campaigner, Aisha Dodwell said:

‘There’s such a powerful narrative in western societies that Africa is poor and that it needs our help. This research shows that what African countries really need is for the rest of the world to stop systematically looting them. While the form of colonial plunder may have changed over time, its basic nature remains unchanged.’

Recent progress has begun to enact change. Not only are African countries working towards holding a greater claim to the money produced by extracting minerals from the earth. There is also a great push towards improving the environmental impact, conditions for workers and the effect on mining communities.

 

Complex Legacies

Windrush and the Healthcare “Brain-drain”

The "Windrush" began the first mass exodus from countries within the British Commonwealth to the UK, compounding a phenomenon known as "brain-drain" in the countries which medical professionals left behind. Brain-drain describes the effect caused by medical staff leaving a country (usually of lower economic status) to pursue a more prosperous career elsewhere. 

During the Windrush, between 1948 and 1973, the United Kingdom recruited large groups of people from the Commonwealth to fill the labour vacuum created after the casualties of World War II. In the Caribbean and beyond, this meant the loss of highly-skilled medical professionals who went to follow opportunities in institutions such as the NHS.

But brain-drain was not just isolated to the Windrush generation. Today, countries globally, especially Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, suffer from brain-drain through a combination of recruitment (from the USA, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and Australia) and emigration by medical personnel in search of better working conditions, training and salaries. An estimation from The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) places the figure invested in training by low-income countries, who then lose their medical professionals to high-income countries, at $500 million per year.

The social and economic problems of "brain-drain" are myriad but the solutions are not simple. The issue is a self-perpetuating one. For instance, Jamaica, in a bid to replace health workers recruited by Europe, in turn, recruits from Nigeria, Ghana and Guyana. Still, slow progress is being made. Jamaica and Ghana have worked together to limit how many nurses can be recruited. Similarly, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has put forward the WHO Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel, which offers guidelines for ethical recruitment. However, there are currently no laws enforcing these guidelines.

 

To Honour or for Liberty

Commonwealth Connections: A Complicated Relationship

The evolved relationship Britain has with its former colonies is often celebrated as an engine for democracy, diplomacy and peace. However, the realities of the relationship are more nuanced. The modern Commonwealth was established on 26 April 1949, when countries which were once part of the British Empire could voluntarily enter into "free association". The terms of membership are acceptance of the London Declaration and of the Commonwealth Charter, which sets out 16 principles on issues such as human rights, freedom of expression and gender equality. 

Currently, the Commonwealth is comprised of 54 independent countries. These countries span the globe and have a combined population of 2.5 billion people. The combined gross domestic product of these countries was US$13.1 trillion in 2021. The members of the Commonwealth meet once every two years at a summit to discuss the challenges that the countries share and offer solutions which might be mutually beneficial. One defining factor of these summits is that every country has an equal voice in discussions regardless of their size or economic status.

However, the relationship is more complex than it first appears. For instance, a lot of African resources are controlled by British companies. Over US$1 trillion worth of gold, diamonds, gas and oil, alongside ownership of land, which equates to around four times the size of the UK. When balanced against the amount received in loans and aid, Africa ends up with a loss of over £30 billion every year. This is due to multinational corporations protecting profits by moving their money into tax havens and through the incurred cost from other nations relating to climate solutions and migration. 

Although the stated values of the Commonwealth are noble, some argue that the diverting of Africa's mineral-rich resources may be a new evolution of colonial exploitation.

 

To Honour or for Liberty

Reparations Committees and Commissions

The discussions around reparations for racial injustice and the long-term global effects of enslavement have been taking place through a multitude of committees across several continents. Along with monetary compensation, the groups look toward equity by seeking reparations in numerous ways. These include affirmative action, settlements, scholarships, systematic initiatives to offset injustices, acknowledgement of injustices, land-based compensation and legislation which works toward equity.

Calls for reparations have been taking place since as early as 1783, when a formerly enslaved woman named Belinda called for an annual pension, to support her during her old age after manumission. Today, huge efforts are being made by leading organisations such as NAARC (North African American Reparations Committee) and CRC (Caricom Reparations Commission), who both outline ten-point plans that look to achieve racial equilibrium through systematic change. An example of this is NAARC’s 8th point of their plan, Strengthening Black America’s Information and Communications Infrastructure. This places demands on the American federal government to allocate a budget for more Black-owned media outlets.

There are those that still oppose reparations, believing that there are no historical debts to be paid. In 2014, Kevin D. Williamson (a conservative American journalist) said in a publication that ‘the people to whom reparations were owed are long dead’. 

In the same year, a YouGov poll shows that 59% of people in the UK aged 60 and above believe, 'present-day European countries do not owe a debt to Caribbean nations whose ancestors experienced slavery.’ However, this view was only held by 45% of people aged 18-24. This indicates that ongoing efforts are having a steady impact on the way society views their nation's responsibility towards reparations.

 

To Honour or for Liberty

Anguilla moves towards freedom

The state of St Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla was legally formed by the British Government in 1967. In this new arrangement, the British government ruled that state law (the law of a federated state) would be administered by the island of St Kitts. Anguillan residents were not pleased with this as they wanted to have a say in how the island was run. They believed that - due to tensions between the islands - they would not be treated fairly. The Anguillan islanders wanted to primarily be a self-governing territory, without being under the power of another Caribbean island.

Two years later, British forces invaded Anguilla in an attempt to quieten social and political tensions between Anguilla, Britain and Saint Kitts. Around 6000 Anguillans had rebelled against the new state administrative arrangement with St Kitts and declared their political independence. This 1969 photograph of the Anguillan uprising shows how citizens of Anguilla rose up to challenge the influence of the British Government on their everyday lives.

With slogans such as “shame on Britain”, citizens took to the streets exclaiming why they should have a say in who governed them, ruled politically, and formed part of their governing bodies. The message communicated was clear - that some colonial communities no longer felt aligned to all of Britain’s societal and legal values. According to Montague Kobbe's article in the Caribbean Beat magazine, "British government experts were expelled, political rallies sabotaged, and there was violent disruption at the State Queen Show. This was an event organised by the government of St Kitts to celebrate the creation of the new state. Anguillians – mostly young ones, led by two enthusiastic spirits, Ronald Webster and Atlin Harrigan – did everything in their power to make it clear to the British and to Anguillian Premier Robert Bradshaw that they would not accept another grouping with their sister island. Given the world’s general unwillingness to listen, Anguillians took things into their own hands."

Despite attempts at diplomacy led by William Whitlock, a British MP at the time, the British invaded on March 19, 1969 and met no resistance despite claiming there was widespread civil unrest on the island at the time.

What was the impact of this fiasco on the tiny island of Anguilla? Kobbe tells us, "The British troops had arrived prepared to find armed people ready to fight. It is to the credit of Anguillians that this was precisely what they did not find. Then again, the Brits were not the enemies: the government of St Kitts was. The invasion of Anguilla was a public-relations disaster for the British. The world’s press dubbed it the “Bay of Piglets”. Six months after it had started, the operation had already cost the British taxpayer at least £600,000 (over £7million in today’s money). It cost William Whitlock his job and ended his ministerial career. It contributed to Harold Wilson’s defeat in the 1970 general elections in the UK; and it certainly cost the crumbling British Empire some of the little face it had left."

Finally, in 1980 Anguilla became an internally self-governing overseas territory of the United Kingdom. Still supported financially by Britain, it now has autonomy over all its operations.