“His importance and influence is now much greater than we can imagine... He was in many respects a pioneer, an inventor and a builder. His vision was to create an environment for change and to leave the world a better place than he found it.” Milton Crosdale
photo: Daljit Phuller
George has been, and still is, remembered in a number of different ways. Traditionally, at and after a funeral, a eulogy, several tributes and obituaries are delivered, and several examples are included below. They generally are from his funeral on September 24, 2013.
Initial research for this archive was based on material already in my possession, including various documents and images which George had filed away. I expanded the brief with many internet searches, and by talking with a number of people who had known him, or knew of him, with political or social connections. When I wanted to look more closely at his legacy, I met with some of his friends who could give me specific information about how he had guided them through difficult challenges.
Recently a document has come my way which is from a much closer source. Gifty Burrows, curator of the project, Africans in Yorkshire: West Indian Ground Crew, featured in The RAF, included in her reports the names of RAF volunteers, including George, about whom she needed further information. Through a contact in Nottingham, Gifty contacted Cynthia Horton (nee Powe), George’s younger daughter, who has written the article below, which now appears in the Africans in Yorkshire website.
Oswald George Powe, remembered by Cynthia Horton (daughter)
"Oswald George Powe, affectionally known as George, was born on 11th August 1926 in Spanish Town, Kingston, Jamaica. His father, Richard Pow, was Cantonese, having migrated to Jamaica and married Dad’s mother, Leonora Sinclair.
Dad attended a Chinese school at the age of five in Kingston for three years and then attended St Ann's Elementary School in Kingston, he then attended Kingston Technical School where he was undertaking a course in Electrical Engineering until he left to volunteer for the RAF.
Dad joined the RAF in Jamaica in 1944 having lied about his age (he was only 17 when he joined). He first came to the UK on a troop ship, arriving in Scotland. He trained as a radar operator in Wiltshire. His first posting was Filey in Yorkshire.
His first impression of the UK was of the rain and the houses were somewhat strange to him with so many chimneys. He was also struck by the different coloured hair that people had.
After the war Dad had to stay in the RAF until 1948 when he returned to Jamaica to be demobbed. He then chose to come back to England on the SS Orbita landing in Liverpool on the 2nd October 1948. He moved to Birmingham for his first job as an electrician’s mate and subsequently met our mum Barbara Florence Pool at a dance hall. They married and had five children (one, Terrence, died at a young age). They moved from Birmingham to Long Eaton in 1950 and then onto Sawley, a neighbouring small village.
Dad was politically aware and involved himself in local and national politics, trade unionism and actively fought racial discrimination. In 1956 he wrote and had published an important political pamphlet in conjunction with the Afro-Asian West Indian Union (of which he was the secretary). It was called “Don’t Blame The Blacks”. He had been inspired to act following the Race Riots in 1958 and campaigned to change the employment policy at Raleigh Cycles Nottingham, but with negotiations failing he sought the assistance of Norman Manley, Jamaica’s first Premier, leading to an embargo of bicycle imports from England. This action helped change the company’s policy, Raleigh subsequently becoming one of the largest employers of African Caribbean workers in Nottingham.
In 1960 he joined the Labour Party and was an active member. Between 1963 and 1966 he served as a local councillor for the Labour Party in Sawley Ward for the Long Eaton Urban District Council. He was the first Black Councillor in Greater Nottingham.
In 1969 he was given a place at Nottingham Trent Polytechnic to train as a teacher. He went on to teach Maths at Robert Mellors School, Nottingham.
Mum and Dad separated in 1970 and divorced in 1977. He later went on to marry Jill Westby.
Dad was a founding member for the Afro Caribbean National Artistic Centre (ACNA) in Nottingham which was housed at a former school building in Nottingham. He was involved with the setting up and running of the centre and was the secretary for many years.
He went on to represent St Anns (Nottingham) on the County Council in 1989.
He continued to be prominent in local community affairs even up to his death. Dad’s door was always open to anyone who needed help or had a problem. Racial Equality Chairman of Nottingham, Milton Crossdale, said at Dad’s funeral: “His vision was to create an environment for change and to leave the world a better place than he found it.”
Dad regularly visited Jamaica, and along with my partner Mark, I was able to visit him there - which enabled me to meet up with family giving me lasting memories of our heritage and culture.
When Dad died on 9th September 2013, he left a lasting legacy that we, as a family, are proud of.
George's service number was 714779."
"My husband, Oswald George Powe, always known as George, was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1926. He had a happy childhood in a family with high aspirations for its children. His father was a Chinese conjuror, from Canton, China, who emigrated to Jamaica and became a merchant, along with his brothers. George’s parents made sure that he had a good education and he was part-way through college, studying to become an electrical engineer when he volunteered, in 1944, to join the Royal Air Force. Trained in radar, he spent much of the time stationed in Devon and Cornwall.
He went back to Jamaica a couple of years after the war ended, and was demobbed, but decided to return to England within a few months. He stayed here for the rest of his life. In the 40s he was very aware that there was widespread racial discrimination in the forces and in the civilian world. He saw horrific treatment of black people in London, was on the receiving end of much of it, and was soon fighting to attempt to turn this situation around. He joined the Communist Party, which at that time was probably the most active group promoting the rights of disadvantaged and exploited people. At some point in the 50s he wrote a pamphlet called “Don’t Blame the Blacks”. He moved to Birmingham and later to Long Eaton, Derbyshire. He eventually left the Communist Party and joined the Labour Party, retaining his Labour Party membership for the rest of his life. In the early 60s he was elected as a Labour Party Councillor in Long Eaton, and was, I believe, the first black man to achieve such a position in this country. He moved to Nottingham in 1970 and after a few years was elected, again as a Labour Councillor, on Nottinghamshire County Council.
I first met him just over 50 years ago, shortly after Cuba Crisis Week. We were pushing leaflets about the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament through letterboxes on opposite sides of a road on a snowy evening . I remember thinking that he must have been feeling very cold, as I assumed he had just arrived in this country after a long journey in a boat. Little did I know that he had been over here for 20 years!
In the 60s black people were still being treated very badly in public places such as pubs, clubs, schools, shops and in courts of law. He and I started a campaign against a Nottingham pub where black people were not welcomed in the same room as whites. A large number of people, black and white came along to try to be served and then stay there as long as they could, drinking very slowly indeed, in order to make it a bad night for the pub’s profits. I ordered two half pints of bitter, and was about to be served when the landlady realised that one of them was for George. She said “I’ll serve an Indian or a Pakistani but not one of those black *******.” She snatched the beer back and we were unable to get a drink. It began to turn a bit nasty, and at one point a glass of beer was emptied over the bar, but we all left peacefully. The pub was closed down a few weeks later. Thankfully over the years such direct action became less necessary and more black and Asian people started to become active in local and international politics, many of them joining the Labour Party, with some involved in smaller and more hard-line groups.
George always spent part of his spare time in strictly political campaigns. He devoted just as much time in assisting individual people to gain the treatment they were entitled to expect from the police, the education system, and in their places of work. Although the majority of these people were from Jamaica and the wider Caribbean, India, Pakistan or Africa, he was also instrumental in assisting many white people to gain their rights. He was the prime founder member of the Afro-Caribbean Centre (ACNA), formed in 1971 by a number of black organisations, eventually securing permanent premises in Hungerhill Road, Nottingham, opening as a community centre and social club in 1978. He acted as Company Secretary until few years ago, and was an active Director until he died. The ACNA Centre stands as part of his legacy.
When British Governments passed various Immigration Acts, it was clear that many people would need help in dealing with all the problems they caused. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people have been helped by him to resist this new type of discrimination. Whenever a Jamaican had a relative who was refused a visa to come to Britain, and came to George for help, just as long as he knew they were telling him the truth about their circumstances, he would advise them about any grounds on which they could appeal. I cannot remember a time when any of these cases which went to appeal with his help were turned down.
I am proud to have been married to a man who was so generous with his time, and who fought hard for the rights of all communities. He had both Jamaican and British citizenship, and could move freely and successfully in both societies. I went to Jamaica with him four times over the past thirty years. To see the respect he was afforded when in Jamaica was amazing. So many people in Spanish Town, Kingston and beyond knew him, and those who didn’t would never guess from the way he walked and talked, spoke and listened, that during his life he had so spent much more time in England than he did in Jamaica. Wherever he went people treated him in line with one of his favourite expressions – respect and dignity.
He was not a religious man, but he had a strong moral compass. He never forgot his roots. It was a privilege to be part of his life."
Jill Westby September 24, 2013
Photos: Tom Haythornthwaite
Tributes at the funeral
Milton Crosdale: ex-Chair of ACNA Centre
"Friends and colleagues, we are here today to say farewell and to celebrate the life of a father, a husband, a politician, one of the founder members of BPFM, of the long standing secretary of the ACNA centre, a community worker, and a friend. His importance and influence are now much greater than we can imagine. He was in many respects a pioneer, an inventor and a builder. George could not be contained or confined to a box. He wanted to get out. He wanted everyone else to know he was out. His vision was to create an environment for change and to leave the world a better place than he found it. Having heard about George when he became a councillor in Long Eaton, our paths crossed. We worked most closely when I was a student leader, and became the youngest vice-chair of the Commonwealth Citizens’ Consultative Committee. I was fortunate to have George both on the management committee and as an adviser to go to and we could talk with about matters in a close and constructive way.
George was ex-Service personnel, and history tells us that many of those young men who volunteered for the RAF didn’t have a wonderful time. They were not treated with the same dignity as their white counterparts. But people like George survived and pioneered valuable work and took opportunities for others wishing to settle in during the 50s and later. Their capacity to overcome challenges and to succeed far outstretched the limitations that others wanted to place on them. George was not going to allow discrimination to deter the achievements for himself and for others what he passionately believed to be right. George knew the political scene and became involved in the Trades Council very early on, and it was the Trades Council, with churches and others, who helped to set up inclusive race relations organisations like the Community Relations Committee.
I am here to remember George’s valiant work in actually making a difference to our lives here. The problem of socialisation remained a problem. That’s how we brought together a number of organisations, BPFM, the West Indian Nationals’ Association, the West Indian Ex-Servicemen’s Association and the Women’s Group to talk about what kind of social situation would be appropriate. The Community Relations Council was one of them and he acted as an adviser in the background We settled on the concept of a Community Centre, which we felt was able to meet the broadest needs of our community. We tested this with organisations and with people in their own homes. There were very few objections apart from those who wanted to continue with the shebeens. From then, George was very clear that we should form a company limited by guarantee. Most of us didn’t know anything about this, but he did and he was tasked with leading the research to prepare original drafts and, to work with solicitors. Then there were applications for planning the business, and George, Mohammed Aslam, Doctor Bathia had a heavy load because they managed to convince local councillors that it was necessary for the Afro-Caribbean people to have the facilities that were there for the Indian community. George was an astute politician and he was able to help people without anger to take them through the processes. At the last minute we were able to find an old school at the top of Hungerhill Road.
George commented at the time that he wanted to leave a lasting monument and we talked about that. We had arguments about the word monument and I found that he was not thinking about some piece of concrete or marble. He was talking about the ACNA brand. He was talking about this for he could foresee the need for nursing homes when families were in stressful situations. We even talked about a camp where young people could go and enjoy themselves. I welcomed George for the ideas he had, and more closely in those years when he and I were Secretary and Chair of the ACNA Centre. I got to know the man, and to respect him and his capacity for service, and that’s the difference between the business of serving without rancour and seeking power. He was not a power seeker. And I always found him to be a gentleman, a man with compassion whose concern for others transcended his own personal needs, and perhaps to the annoyance of his family. I’m sure his children would tell you, “Where’s daddy? He isn’t always here.” But that’s the nature of the man who liked to serve and got joy and pleasure from serving. So I want the family to know that he’s left a legacy bigger than our immediate understanding . And that includes devotion to a cause he believed in. It means commitment and it means service.
May he rest in peace."
Alan Simpson: Labour MP for Nottingham South (1992-2010) and friend for 40 years
"It was never clear whether George Powe was on St. Anns Well Road or not, when Nottingham's ‘race riots' took place in that late August of 1958. It didn't really matter. George knew that if he was not to be defined as 'the riot' he had better be part of the solution. And that's what his life was about. Although George was probably Britain's first black Labour councillor, most of Nottingham knew him for his community work.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica on August 11, 1926, he volunteered to fight for Britain in the Second World War. He returned to Britain after the war, and in the late 70s helped found the Afro-Caribbean National Artistic centre (ACNA) in Nottingham. He continued as its Secretary for all but his final years. More than this, George was a key part of the glue that linked Afro Caribbean and Asian communities into the mainstream of city politics. George already had a decade of anti-nuclear/CND campaigning tucked under his belt by the time we met in the early 70s. We were part of a movement that easily spilled over into education, anti-apartheid and anti-poverty campaigns. George never lost sight of the importance of connecting big picture and small picture politics into a single vision. Always doing 'casework' for people, it never mattered whether he was 'in office' or not, he just got on with it.
George would smile at today's burgeoning number of community food co-operatives. He had been in the vanguard of these, almost 40 years earlier. Knee-deep in the laughter and confusion of setting up the first St Anns food coop, I recall George quietly saying "And no South African produce, right?" It was just about getting the ground rules right. Of course, families could supply ourselves with cheaper, better food. But we didn't have to do so off the back of a greater evil. George didn't strut any of this. He was content to be the engine that kept things running. 'Tie your ropes together', was the maxim George lived his life by. He did so within the Labour Party, within the peace movement, in education, and in the community.
What he brought as a young man, volunteering to fight in a war against racism and fascism, he continued to bring as part of his own post-war settlement. With or without the St Anns race riots, George would have lived a life that was focused on building the peace, rather than just winning a war. Those who shared some of this with him will be eternally grateful for his company, his consistency and his comradeship."
The Guardian: George Powe obituary
photo: Daljit Phuller
"My husband George Powe, born in Kingston, Jamaica, volunteered to join the RAF in 1944, when he was only 17. Trained in radar, he was stationed mainly in Devon and Cornwall. George, who has died aged 87, went back to Jamaica in 1948 when he was demobbed, but returned to Britain within a few months and stayed for the rest of his life.
In the 40s he experienced widespread racial discrimination, initially in London, and fought against it, joining the Communist party, probably the most active group promoting the rights of disadvantaged and exploited people at that time. He later joined the Labour party, and in 1963 was elected as a Labour district councillor in Long Eaton, Derbyshire. He moved to Nottingham in 1971, and was later elected as a Labour member of Nottinghamshire county council.
For most of his working life George was an electrician; but in the 70s he retrained and became a maths teacher, taking early retirement in 1983. He divided his spare time between political campaigns and in helping people to be treated as they were entitled to be by the police, education system and in places of work. He played a leading role in setting up the Afro-Caribbean Centre (ACNA), Nottingham, opened in 1978 as a community centre and social club, and until a few years ago acted as its company secretary.
The Immigration Acts of the 1980s threw up many problems for those from ethnic minorities. George helped many hundreds of people, often when a relative was refused a visa to visit Britain. I cannot remember when any cases that went to appeal with his help were turned down. Having both Jamaican and British citizenship, he moved freely and successfully in both societies. He never forgot his roots. He was not religious, but had a strong morality.
I met him in 1962, through the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and we married in 1982. He is survived by me; by four children, Malcolm, Daphne, Desmond and Cynthia, from his first marriage, to Barbara Poole, which ended in divorce; and by seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. His daughter Susan, from an earlier relationship with Lilian Willis, died in 1982."
Councillor Michael Edwards:
This article appeared in September 2013 in News and Political Views, a photo-journal of news and views from The Meadows, Nottingham and the Labour Party, posted by Councillor M. Edwards.
"Born in Spanish Town*, Jamaica, in 1926. Joined RAF under age in WWII to fight fascism. Taught maths at secondary school. Service experience and socialist convictions turned him into a strong campaigner. Played a role in dissipating St. Anns race riot of August 23rd, 1958. Met his wife, Jill, whilst campaigning for CND. They challenged race segregation in Nottingham pubs in practical ways. First black councillor in greater Nottingham when elected in Long Eaton in the sixties. Helped people. His concern for others could often transcend his own needs. Helped set up ACNA, in the old school at the top of Hungerhill Road. He represented a city ward on the County Council (St. Anns, 1989-1993). Major concern there was education and equal opportunities for black children, picking up on concerns raised by parents. Jill asked for support for Nottinghamshire Black Archive, which has a web-site, images from which are re-posted here, including the magnificent newspaper advert. Died 9th September, 2013, aged 87."
*George was born in Kingston, not Spanish Town.
Tribute from Nottingham City Council: October 2013 Meeting
"George Powe, who was elected as the UK’s first black councillor whilst living in Long Eaton, sadly passed away on 9 September. Born in Jamaica in 1926, George served with the RAF during the Second World War before going on to teach maths at [Robert Mellors] Secondary School in Nottingham.
He went on to represent St Anns** in 1989 on the County Council. George’s lasting legacy was his campaign against segregation and he was instrumental in the foundation of the Afro-Caribbean National Artistic Centre in St Anns, having been inspired to act following the St Anns race riots in August 1958.
Councillors Campbell and Edwards spoke in tribute to George Powe. The Council stood in silent tribute to (his) memory."
Nottingham City Council. Minutes of 21 October 2013 meeting.
The Voice online
Dignified and generous: George Powe
"Mourners turned out in their hundreds last week to pay their respects to a man who played a key role in fighting discrimination and inequality in Nottingham. George Powe, 87, of Mapperley, who passed away on September 9, was described as a bridge who linked the community together. His funeral was held at Mansfield Road Baptist Church, in Sherwood Rise last week. As pallbearers carried Powe’s coffin into the church draped in a Jamaican flag, Bob Marley’s One Love was played.
Powe was a key player in the formation of the Afro-Caribbean National Artistic (ACNA) Centre in St Anns, which he was inspired to create following race riots in the city in August 1958. His widow, Jill Westby, led the tributes during the service by delivering the eulogy. She told the congregation they first met over 50 years ago while campaigning for nuclear disarmament. “He was very aware of widespread racial discrimination in the forces and civilian world. He fought to turn the situation around,” she said. “Some of you might remember a time when black people were treated very badly in pubs. He and I started a campaign inside a Nottingham pub where black people were not welcome in the same room as whites. It turned nasty and we went away peacefully, and the pub was closed down a few weeks later.” She added: “I’m proud to have been married to a man who was so generous with his time and fought hard for all communities. He had a strong moral compass. He was respectful and dignified and it was a privilege to be part of his life.”
Powe was born in Kingston, Jamaica on August 11, 1926. At the age of 17 he left the island to spend four years serving with the RAF during the Second World War. Through his years of active service he also encountered racism. He went on to become the UK’s first black councillor while living in Long Eaton, and also served with Notts County Council.
Another of the city’s leading race equality campaigners, Milton Crosdale, chairman of the Nottingham and District Racial Equality Council, also gave his tributes to Powe during the service. He said: “His vision was to create an environment for change and to leave the world a better place than he found it. I worked with George for nearly 50 years but more closely during those 12 years when we were chairman and secretary at the ACNA Centre. I got to know the man and respect him and his capability to serve.” He added: “I’ve always found him to be a gentleman, a man with compassion whose concern for others outweighed his own personal needs.” The service also heard other tributes from friends and relatives from across the UK and Jamaica. A representative of the Jamaican High Commissioner also spoke, describing Powe as having been 'an outstanding ambassador for Jamaica.' Former Nottingham South MP Alan Simpson, who had known Powe since the 1970s, shared his own tributes. He said: 'He was a really important bridge that stretched across the community and pulled it together.'
The funeral was followed by a burial at Wilford Hill Cemetery and a reception at the ACNA Centre. Donations in memory of Powe were collected at the service and are to be given to the Nottingham Black Archive at a later date."
Nottingham Evening Post
"We must ensure George Powe’s work continues
St. Anns riots of 1958, which happened a week before the more widely remembered riots in Notting Hill, jolted George Powe. They spurred him to a life’s work that helped make Nottingham a better place. The story of Mr. Powe, who left Jamaica and settled in the East Midlands after a stint in the RAF, is part of that well known narrative of mid-20th Century Caribbean migration to Britain. People came in their thousands, enticed by promises of ready work and a better life. They found a land of cold winters and cold stares. When Mr. Powe arrived in Britain it was common for people of colour to find themselves barred from everything from jobs to pubs. We must remember that the situation did not change by happy accident. It changed because people such as Mr. Powe demanded change and worked for it. Nottingham, like the rest of Britain, is different today. It is not a perfect place; ethnic minority areas are more likely to face poverty and associate problems. A racist, nationalist far right remains a presence. But if the journey remains incomplete, the distance covered is impressive. Today we stop to look back and remember George Powe. And we look forward, renewed in the resolve to continue the work he started."
Nottingham Evening Post, September 25, 2013
Jill with a Nottingham Evening
Photo: Tom Haythornthwaite
After George died, many of the people he had helped were, and are, cherishing his memory, whether he had simply changed a lightbulb or guided them through the process of challenging an unfair legal decision. Many told me that they really missed him, and I visited seven of his friends, asking them to tell me some of their memories of him. These took the form of informal and open-ended conversations, which resulted in the stores below. The first four are transcribed from my notes and the others were written by the contributors.
Lloyd Ferron, Bestwood, Nottingham
photo: Jill Westby
I was born in Jamaica. My father went to England when I was six years old. I didn’t see him again until I was sent for in 1967, when I was 15. I had two years in a secondary school in Nottingham, where there were only a few other black kids.
These experiences were very challenging. I was in and out of work in the next few years, but I got a job on the Raleigh assembly line, and eventually did an apprenticeship in mechanical engineering there. I didn’t know until recently that it was down to George that black people could get jobs at Raleigh.
I met George a short while before the ACNA Centre was opened. I and my closest friends were so glad that there was to be a place where we could meet up instead of roaming the streets. I saw him as a very active man who was capable of making change.
When he saw the need he would always help people. He showed them how to get visas, or Indefinite Leave To Remain stamped in their passports, and how to get British Citizenship. Some of these people didn’t know they had to do these things until they found that they couldn’t travel back to Jamaica to visit their relatives. I often saw him in his favourite chair in the Centre, nursing a half of bitter, with people around him and a pile of papers on the table.
A short while before he died, he asked me to consider taking on his position as Company Secretary. He started mentoring me about the procedures, but unfortunately, he passed before we got very far with this.
Roy Chambers: Lenton, Nottingham
Roy and George
"George and I were on very good speaking terms and friendship. I came in 1962 and lived in a house in the Meadows, Nottingham with a Jamaican friend who was already here. I worked for a company called ABM in Newark at first. Then I was working on machines at the Raleigh cycle factory, and afterward at Boots, making chemicals, products for babies, and sweets. I met George in the 60s through the Black People’s Freedom Movement which had an office on Derby Road. A friend took me up there. I remember a man called Tenny. I can’t remember his other name, and Milton Crosdale being up there for meetings. George and I were also in the Nottingham Jamaican Friendship Society.
I sent for my fiancée to come over in 1966, and George helped me to sort out the right paperwork, such as a bank statement, and a letter of invitation. George would suggest what I needed to put in the letter and then I would write it in my own way. She got through all right and we were married here.
When the ACNA Centre opened in 1978 I was always going there. George would call me and say “Wha happen? Wha ya doin’? Come up fi a chat.” So we would do that over a drink. He was almost a father figure to me. If I had a problem I’d always go to him. He helped me when I was renewing my passport, and had to write to the Jamaican High Commission. He suggested a solicitor who could sign the papers for me. This was very useful as I travelled back to Jamaica many times to see my family. He helped me again when I and my wife wanted British citizenship and British passports. One problem was that on my original birth certificate my given name was written as Alonsa, but when I got the new-style Jamaican Birth Certificate, the one which was printed, not written by hand, this was down as Alonso. Luckily I was in Jamaica on holiday then and went to sort this out at the registration place in Spanish Town.
In the 80s I decided that I’d like to open a shop, and George said I should speak to the Council about empty properties. We found one on Botany Avenue, and we called it Enid’s Store, after my partner’s name. George was always there to help with paperwork to do with the rent and to help with tax returns. It was a beer-off and grocery store and we did quite well for a time, but after a few years the shop wasn’t carrying itself, and we had ‘colour problems’ like break-ins, and dog excrement put in the locks. The black and white people weren’t getting on well, so we shut the shop. For times like this George was always in the background and he would push you forward. Around that time there were three pubs which wouldn’t serve black and white people in the same room. They were The Towers, Deadman Pub and the Mechanics.
In 2013 I was in Jamaica at the same time as George, and this was his last trip there. We met up in Spanish Town a few times for a drink and chat, just like we did at the ACNA Centre."
Edith Maragh: Thorneycliffe, Nottingham
The Maragh family
"George was more than a friend; he was like a brother. Many years before I met him I married my husband, Joe Maragh, in Jamaica. We were both from Clarendon. He was from Portland Cottage and I was from Racecourse. Joe came to Britain in the 1950s when I was pregnant with my first child. After she was born I joined Joe here, and his mother looked after our daughter, although I wished that my mother had done this. We were living in one room in Nottingham, and were able to move to a house before we sent for our daughter. But just as we were doing this we had a telegram to say she had died just before she was two years old. At that time we could not afford to go back to Jamaica even for her funeral. J oe worked at British Gypsum and I worked all over the place. I packed cigarettes at Players cigarette factory, was a school dinner lady, and did some cleaning at the Nottingham City Council House. I had five more children born here, and it wasn’t easy to be working and looking after them.
We met George in the 70s around the time that the ACNA Centre opened, and he helped us with all the forms to do with British citizenship. After the forms were filled in George told us where to go to get them signed. He did Joe’s first, and then mine. When we did this citizenship was free. When our first daughter was married Joe didn’t know what to say at her wedding, so George helped him to make some notes and give his speech. This happened at the next daughter’s wedding, but after that I think Joe got the hang of it.
When Joe died George helped me with his headstone. We talked about what words to put on it. He gave me some ideas to note down. I put them together and asked him to check it out. He said that was perfectly all right.
I do miss him."
Sylvester, known as Johnny, and Carmen Sibblies: Sherwood, Nottingham
"Johnny came here from Harry Watch, Manchester, in 1955 to work as a fork-lift driver at the Chilwell Ordnance Depot. I came later in 1962. I was born in Waterford, on the border between St. Catherine and St. Mary. At first I worked in a laundrette, and then went to Players, working on machines that made cigarettes and then on a packing machine. Joe went on to work at British Gypsum, again with fork-lift trucks. We were introduced to each other by a friend. Eventually we were married here, and had four children.
We met George in the early days of the ACNA Centre, and became good friends with him. He was a very good man, and he helped us very well. He helped us get British citizenship in the 1908s, and when we got British passports he countersigned the papers. He would never take any money for things like this. He would often come to our house, sometimes just for a chat and sometimes to do something for us. I remember he fixed an electric plug for us – he was an electrician.
Whenever we went back to Jamaica to meet up with our relatives George would help us with getting plane tickets and travel insurance. In early 2013 we travelled to Jamaica together with George and Jill. It was good to have company on the flight. That was the last time George went back, and he died later that year.
We miss George for everything he did, and we haven’t been back to Jamaica."
Tryphena Anderson: Sherwood, Nottingham
"I have known George Powe from the 1950s. I heard of him before I met him. “There is this half Chinese guy from Jamaica.” It was at a time when the people and the police, meaning English people, were wary of black people.
Black people needed someone with a steady head to act for them, listen to them, and, without confrontations, sort out little injustices. Soon George became the man who can, and if he couldn’t he would know a man who could. He also gave encouragement, because of being in England during the war. People looked up to him. He would spend hours sorting people’s applications, writing and signing references.
When he was a teacher he gave private lessons to children whose parents requested this, especially when he saw that they had potential. He didn’t really want any money for this, but if people insisted, he would not charge them the right price. Most of the time he did it for nothing. I remember the dismay shown when one of his students, then grown up, was away, and did not know that he had died. She said “That man he helped me with my maths and he was so kind.”
As for me and others like me, meaning black people, he was someone to call on to discuss any hurts suffered, like racial abuse, and we would cry a tear or two. He did not wipe them away, but just knowing he understood and would do whatever he could was like a balm. If anyone who wanted to know anything that I did not know, I would send them to George. When we met he would say “I sorted out that one the other day.” He was just happy to help others.
When my husband died, and we did not have many black people dying than, he was one of the first people to offer help and comfort.
When a centre for the welfare of black people was in conception, George was one of the founder members. Nothing was too great or small for George to exert himself and help others, and, above all, George never discussed other people’s affairs, which is a paramount must among black people. He would help running errands for the elderly, picking up their prescriptions, delivering them and buying small necessary items from the shop.
He is a greatly missed, and a quiet pleasant man."
Madge and George at the Council House
"I met Mr. George Powe when I came to Nottingham. He was a very helpful person in the community. He help me with my education through college and also to get me a job. George was a peaceful, loyal, kind and friendly man. You could go to him for advice and if he cannot help you he would send you to someone who can help. He never turned you away or let you down. George help a lot of people including me with their papers, mostly Jamaican, to remain in this country. Whatever problem you got and you speak to George about it, he always tried and solved it for you. George was our backbone in this community and not just for black people, for any nationals who would seek help from him. I believe he truly and honestly deserves an award for all the work and contribution he has done in this community."
Photo: Tom Haythornth-waite
"I knew George in his later years, largely through the Labour Party, but also as a near neighbour and friend. He seemed to me to take people as he found them, regardless of race. I know his first language was Chinese - there were many Chinese in Jamaica (hence his Anglicised last name) - but his commitment was to the Nottingham African-Caribbean community.
I'd often be round at the house he shared with Jill Westby and see him patiently working his way through forms with local West Indian people. Often, it seemed, they really didn't need his help, but he was able to provide reassurance to those of the migrant generations who were rightly nervous of authorities in Britain, a country that had wanted their labour but, we know more clearly now, had not really wanted them as citizens.
George was also an honest broker, trusted within the Labour Party which had a fair share of people interested more in their own careers or factions or their own ethnic group. He had no time for those sort of shenanigans, but would hold his ground if he needed to. I was pleased to meet other West Indian ex-servicemen, also through George, at a memorable meeting to launch a book telling their story. How hard it must have been to come here, to build families and to get by, and to build their own organisations like the ACNA centre. The Nottingham African-Caribbean community - and the wider city - owes people like George Powe, and especially George, so much."
Nottingham Black Archive
A further strand in keeping his memory alive is the work of Nottingham Black Archive (NBA). In his later years George was a member of their Council of Elders. He was contributing to their project about World War II ex-servicemen and women, No Tears for Me, My Mother, when he died, and the project was dedicated to his memory. They continue to make reference to him in further projects.
Panya Banjoko, who had worked in museums, founded Nottingham Black Archive in 2009. It was acknowledged that there was a need to develop an archive that documented black history, heritage and culture in the city of Nottingham. In an article for LeftLion published in 2015, James Walker, of the School of Arts & Humanities, University of Nottingham, wrote about the influence of Nottingham Black Archive’s work and the influence of George’s activism. He has given permission for this article, written for LeftLion, as well as the Introduction to Powe Meets Africanus, and the graphic novel of the same name, which are part of the Dawn of the UnRead project, to be included here in full.
photo: Nigel King
UNESCO City of Literature: Nottingham Black Archive
"NBA was founded in 2009 by Panya Banjoko and Laura Summers, two heritage professionals who, at the time, had a combined 26 years of museum experience. They both recognised a gap in local museums’ provision relating to the formation of the BME communities’ cultural identity. This gap was further highlighted after the commemoration of the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 2007, when a lack of knowledge and information on the black presence was realised.
In 2008 Panya conducted research into the Attitudes and Perceptions of the African Caribbean Community at Nottingham Castle Museum, finding that African-Caribbean people did not feel as though their history or culture was being represented in Nottingham’s museums and that black history was only viewed through the prism of slavery. Panya set out to rectify this imbalance and NBA was born with the remit of “researching, collecting and preserving black history, heritage and culture in Nottingham, from the earliest time to the present day.”
The archive includes some of the earliest documents relating to the formation of black community organisations in the city, including full transcripts from the first generation of Caribbean elders to reside in Nottingham, transcripts from WWII RAF ex-servicemen, photographs, articles, newsletters and political letters dating back to the sixties, and a growing collection of books by local authors. In 2011 local filmmaker and Mouthy Poet Ioney Smallhorne joined the team, bringing in an audio-visual dimension to the archive […]
One person in particular is worth a mention: Oswald George Powe (1926 – 2013), who, incidentally, features as the last literary figure in the Dawn of the Unread [...] In 2011, Powe became the first person to donate newsletters, letters and pamphlets to NBA. Born of Chinese and African descent, he arrived in the UK in 1943, aged seventeen.
In the forties, Powe experienced widespread racial discrimination and fought against it by joining the Communist party. He later joined the Labour party and in 1963 was elected as a Labour District Councillor in Long Eaton, Derbyshire. He divided his time between political campaigns and helping people with immigration problems. He also played a leading role in setting up the Afro Caribbean National Artistic (ACNA) Centre, created to give a home to ‘coconut art’ and to fight racism, industrial and racial inequality, and all of the other various malaises that affected his community. It aroused a tremendous response from African-Caribbeans, with people taking time out of paid work to volunteer at the centre, recognising that the community finally had something they could call their own.
In between his political campaigning and community activism, he wrote Don’t Blame the Blacks, about the racial discrimination people from the Caribbean and Africa were experiencing in post-war Britain and warned against simplistic narratives of divide and rule. But it was his willingness to share his story as a radar operator during WWII that acted as a catalyst for others to come forward and share their experiences of fighting in the war which is the jewel of the archive.
“It is through narratives like George’s that we know that the ‘British’ did not stand alone against the might of Hitler’s Germany,” explains Panya. “During the war thousands of Commonwealth troops died, and many more were wounded or spent years as POWs. Yet for the past century, their sacrifice has been largely ignored and it still remains difficult to find out about the contribution black people made during the war. These narratives are now being recorded and made accessible in my book No More Tears for Me My Mother. Hopefully this will begin to correct this imbalance and promote multiple stories.”
NBA’s Community Capsule World War II Project
The idea for The Community Capsule – World War II Project came about through NBA’s work with the Nottingham community and in particular Mr. Oswald George Powe, a World War II ex-serviceman. George, as he was affectionately known. He kept safe and secure document relating to the formation of a number of black organisations in the City and was the first person to make a donation to the archive in 2011. He was an advocate for the work that NBA has tasked itself and he was also highly instrumental in making links and contacts with a range of ex-servicemen in the City."
source: University of Nottingham. A journey with George Africanus
In 2015 Panya Banjoko was commissioned by Jame Walker to write a graphic novel to be illustrated by Conor Boyle. She chose to imagine a meeting between George Powe and another George with the surname of Africanus, 1763-1834, who, as a black entrepreneur, spent much of his adult life in Nottingham. This was published as part of Dawn of the Unread.
"Powe Meets Africanus brings together two influential figures in a fight to give voice to Black history. George Africanus was a slave who gained his freedom and became a property owner and entrepreneur. Oswald George Powe was a WWII Radar Operator, activist and author of Don’t Blame The Blacks. When Africanus comes by a poster advertising the Dawn of the Unread series he is saddened by the fact that there are no back historical literary figures and sets out on a quest not only to address this issue but to ensure that there is somewhere for black history to be stored and preserved."
I felt that this graphic novel would be a fitting way in which to end the archive.