People have been coming to London from the Caribbean for hundreds of years. The arrival of HMT Empire Windrush on 22 June 1948 was a huge moment in this. It has also helped to shape our open and diverse identity in London ever since and this is why it's worth celebrating! It's been 70 years since this momentous event and we’ve come a long way or so we’re told… We wanted to dispel some misconceptions about Windrush and also show more ways to get involved in the celebrations that go on after Windrush Day last weekend.
Of the 1,000-plus passengers the Empire Windrush had brought from the West Indies, over 300 would find their way to Lambeth, first staying in temporary accommodation in the Underground deep-shelter on Clapham Common and some then making their home in Brixton. One reason these young settlers were attracted to Brixton was because of Gus Leslie, a Jamaican landlord with accommodation to let in the streets around Coldharbour Lane. This area of Brixton quickly became the nucleus of the Jamaican community in London and, by the 1960s, two streets, in particular, Somerleyton Road and Geneva Road, had the highest levels of West Indian home occupation and ownership in the whole of the UK.
There are still many misconceptions about those who decided to move to the UK on the Windrush. Many saw them as immigrants from a foreign land but they were taught in British schools and had British passports. These were upwardly moving, educated people and the Caribbean feared that they were losing some of their best people to England. Caribbeans and South Asians arrived in this country as British citizens, many of them war veterans and in the case of Jamaica, they were from a territory that had been governed by England long before Britain was a political entity. They all paid for the own tickets across the Atlantic too, unlike the 1.5 million people from the UK moved over to the Caribbean, which was at the cost of the Commonwealth taxpayer. Those who came from Commonwealth countries were considered immigrants compared to the 1.6 million that came from Ireland and Europe after the war who are now considered part of the White working class, despite the fact that citizens from the Caribbean were culturally more English than the Europeans. They were under British rule and also celebrated the same Queen. It was a deliberate outcome of ruling class policy. It's easier to make people “British’ if they’re white, even if they don’t speak English. It was an obvious form of cultural hegemony, which identifies the groups that are excluded from a society's established institutions and thus denied the means by which people have a voice in their society. This was clear from what the current government at the time was thinking. Clement Attlee's government described the passengers on the Windrush as an incursion - despite the fact they had been invited - and that there were steps needed to be taken so there a no further influxes were encouraged.
This attitude has obviously trickled down to modern day. But it also shows that the hostile environment that Theresa May created and policed did not start with her, the UK has been hostile to immigrants for generations and we need to do so much more than simply not deporting people to make them feel like Britain is there home, because it is!
But the 70th anniversary of Windrush is about the celebrating the beginning of modern British multicultural society! Although we have a long way to go, we have come a decent distance. And this month the celebrations go beyond Windrush day in Brixton right up to City Hall. On Saturday 30 June, City Hall is giving people the chance to discover the story of ‘Arrival in London’. There’ll be talks, music, workshops, film screenings and installations about the stories of the Windrush generation and give other people hear the stories of the Windrush generation and share their own stories of arriving in London. There’ll be talks, music, workshops, film screenings and installations.
And there’s, of course, ways to get involved south of the river too. As part of the Empire Windrush 70th anniversary celebrations, Lambeth Council has partnered with the Windrush70 campaign to create ‘A Snapshot of Brixton’. From now to 6 July 2018, an exhibition showcases iconic 1960s photographs that depict members of the Windrush generation - which will be going on display at the Lambeth Town Hall, Brixton. The photographs, some of which have been provided by the Lambeth Archives and all taken by the portrait photographer of the time, Harry Jacobs in his south London studio, show a variety of individuals and families who had arrived in Britain and settled in the Brixton area.
Register for tickets for City Hall events here.
Find out more about A Snapshot of Brixton here.
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