Saturday 22 November sees a day’s event on African History & Croydon. Organised by Kwaku of Black British Music it is a follow-up to the showing organised with him by Croydon Radical History Network in the Croydon Heritage Festival of the DVD Look How Far We’ve Come featuring the views of black and white activists on the degree to which racism has been dealt with since the 1950s.
The Continuing Problem of Racism
The Network also organised the showing of the US civil rights Freedom Riders film, and talks: 200 Years A Slave and Honouring Black people through plaques. As Convenor of the Network I wrote a piece in Croydon Citizen in May discussing the linkages between these four events: How far have we come? Slavery, civil rights and contemporary racism. http://thecroydoncitizen.com/history/far-come-slavery-civil-rights-contemporary-racism.
In the discussions at the these events it was clear that there was concern among those who attended about the continuing problems of racism, and the deep negative legacies from slavery. It should be borne in mind that it was the English who introduced slavery into America and that racism and the legacy of that experience are still strong influences in the United States as the events in Ferguson have shown.
Tackling racism needs to be back on the agenda in Croydon
This was a strong view coming out of the discussion at the Look How Far We’ve Come event on 2 July. Following this I wrote Is Racism Off The Croydon Agenda? http://historyandsocialaction.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/is-racism-off-croydon-agenda.html(3 July 2014). In it I said that racism: ‘was not an issue in the newly adopted Community Safety Strategy approved by the new Labour Cabinet on Monday 30 June. There does not appear to have been any urgent need for the adoption of the paper. It could have been subject to the new Scrutiny draft policy review approach. When the main Scrutiny and Overview Committee meets on 11 November it will be questioning Mark Watson, the Cabinet Member for Safety & Justice, on the Safer Croydon Partnership and Domestic Violence.’ I expressed the hope that BME and anti-racist organisations in the Borough would submit views on tackling racism to submit to the Committee.
For a further general discussion see the summary of my talk to the Ethical Society on 19 October at http://historyandsocialaction.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/how-far-have-we-come-slavery-civil.html.
Croydon Council is currently consulting on equalities and inclusion issues – see ei-http://www.croydon.gov.uk/community/equality/ei-policy. The consultation closes on 14 November.
Equalities issues can also be taken up at the public meetings to be held in the next few weeks on the Council’s new economic development Growth Plan, and in evidence to the Croydon Fairness Commission when it starts work.
Croydon Assembly 15 November
The issue of racism will be one of the themes of the workshops taking place in the Croydon Assembly being organised by Croydon Trades Union Council on 15 November. Croydon BME Forum is taking a leading role in that Workshop. Further details of the event can be seen at http://www.croydontuc.org.uk/page_3135608.html.
Africans in British History
Leaving aside the Roman period, people of the African diaspora have been in Britain since the late 15thC. Their histories have been worked on by academics, independent historians, enthusiasts, family historians, and community groups. Despite all this work the contribution of people of African (and South Asian and Chinese heritage) has not been properly integrated into the main stream accounts of British history. On the plus side more and more TV documentaries with a historic theme are portraying people of African heritage e.g. The Mill, Downton Abbey. There is a growing literature. The commemoration of the First World War is providing an opportunity to highlight the dependence of Britain on the contribution of troops and labour corps on the front lines, as shown in recent TV documentary and in the new book by Stephen Bourne Black Poppies.
Africans in Croydon
Here in Croydon a giant of the African diaspora is celebrated. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, perhaps the most publicly well known composer of his day has two plaques at his former homes and a year long Festival was held in 2012 to mark his early death a 100 years before. Building on earlier work commissioned by Croydon Council it is possible to build a fuller picture of the African diaspora in the areas now covered by the Borough of Croydon.
This is discussed by me in my piece in Croydon Citizen (October 2013) Reflections on Croydon’s Black History. http://thecroydoncitizen.com/history/reflections-croydons-black-history.
The British have a complex relationship with issues of slavery, black freedom, colonial independence and civil rights. It allowed the development of the apartheid system when South Africa was part of the Empire. Its cotton industry underpinned the Southern slave states in the decades leading up to the American Civil War. On the other hand many Britons campaigned against US slavery and then supported American civil rights, anti-apartheid and colonial freedom. Black artists were very popular, especially Paul Robeson – see my piece Remembering Paul Robeson’s musical activism (http://thecroydoncitizen.com/culture/politics-culture-remembering-paul-robeson. (October 2013.) Many have been inspired by Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela – see my piece Does Croydon need its own Martin Luther King? (http://thecroydoncitizen.com/history/relevance-martin-luther-king-todays-croydon. (October 2013.)
22 November Event
The African History event is being supported by the Radical History and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Networks, and History & Social Action Publications. I will be running a bookstall and speaking about John Archer (Battersea’s Black Mayor 1913/14). Further details at www.eventbrite.com/e/look-how-far-weve-come-african-british-history-racism-project-tickets-6118872713.
Convenor, Croydon Radical History Network
Convenor, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Network
Member, working group organising Croydon Assembly
Publisher, History & Social Action Publications
Author: Politicians & Culture: Paul Robeson in the UK; John Archer, Black Progressive & Labour Activist 1863-1932.
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Network https://sites.google.com/site/samuelcoleridgetaylornetwork
See also my discussion on Black History Month at: