“He helped change the fortunes of so many Black and Asian workers in this city. He was tireless in standing up forpeople around him, in fighting for justice and liberation. I want every child, every person in this city to know George's name and story. To know that his actions helped shape our city today - that Nottingham is a better place because of him"
Nadia Whittome, MP for Nottingham East, on unveiling a blue plaque in his memory.
For the most part this website has been organised chronologically, from birth to death, beginning to end. That function is upturned on this page, so that the newest examples of his legacy are added upfront.
His legacy continues to be celebrated, to a large extent by activities, events and publications involving Nottingham Black Archive. In his last two years George was in close collaboration with them. His contribution of documents relating predominantly to the early political struggles and campaigns remains their largest single donation. He was a member of their Council of Elders and a central figure in the lead up to their World War II project, ”No Tears for Me, My Mother” project, unfortunately dying before it was completed. The project was dedicated to his memory.
NBA continue to use the extensive archive of records they have of his life in further projects and events.
2022 The Antiques Roadshow
This BBC programme features people in various venuimes who have brought along antique possessions which are valued by experts. On each occasion there is a feature which gives a platform for a local issue. On September 4, 2022, the show was broadcast from Wollaton Hall, Nottingham, and it featured the Raleigh Cycles company, its history, its international prominence, and the struggle to turn round the policy in the 1950s of refusing to employ black people. This policy was challenged and overturned by a campaign led by George (see 'Former heart of Raleigh manufacturing empire becomes listed building'). Fiona Bruce interviewed Lloyd Dunwell and Bettina Wallace, both Jamaicans, who were beneficiaries of that campaign. They talked about their experiences and Bettina mentioned that without George’s efforts she would not have been able to work there, and her children would probably not have learned to ride a bike!
Ronnie Archer Morgan, a black American valuer on the roadshow, spoke at length with Panya Banjoko about the work of Nottingham Black Archive, and it was clear that he was emotionally engaged, and took great interest in NBA’s aims, objectives and activities. (See Nottingham Black Archive.)
Unfortunately the BBC’s copyright policy precludes us having any images of this event, but it is available until August 2023 on the BBC I-player (Series 45:2 Sefton Park Palm House 1, requires registration; only available in the UK.)
2022 Bus Naming
Nottingham can be proud of the local Nottingham City Transport (NCT) bus service, which, with its colour-coded routes, has been voted Bus Operator of the Year for the fifth time. They have a policy of naming buses after people who satisfy any of the following criteria:
In July 2021 I sent in a request to NCT for one of the buses on our local route to be named for George. COVID issues enforced a delay in this process, but by the summer of 2022 this became a reality. The chosen date for this was August 11, 2022, the 96th anniversary of his birth.
On August 4 a letter I had written, in response to the death of Roy Hackett, came to the notice of Nottingham City Council, who decided to send representatives to the bus naming.
Jill Westby and the bus named after her
credit: Nottingham Post
On August 11, 2022, a number 45 bus on the Sky-Blue Line of Nottingham City Transport, NCT, was driven up to the front of our house. (link to NCT announcement)
The NCT convention on such occasions is that the bus is driven by a trainee bus driver, accompanied by a trainer. Also in attendance were the Head of Marketing and a photographer from NCT, councillors from Nottingham City Council, Panya Banjoko from Nottingham Black Archive, a neighbour, and one of George’s daughters and her partner.
Left to right: Anthony Carver-Smith, NCT; Panya Banjoko, NBA; Councillor Audra Wynter; Cynthia Horton, George’s daughter; Jill Westby; Councillor Adele Williams, Deputy Leader of NCC; Councillor Leslie Ayoola; Linda Woodhouse, a neighbour; and Mark, Cynthia’s partner.
This panel, displayed inside the bus reads:
This bus is named after GEORGE POWE. George was born in Jamaica and volunteered to serve in the RAF in 1944, serving as a radar operator.
After being demobilized, he was an electrician, who retrained as a maths teacher in 1969-1972. He then taught in the maths departmnent at Robert Mellors School, retiring in 1983.
Amongst his many achievements were being elected as a Councillor on to Long Eaton Urban District Counil in the 1960s, probably becoming the second black person to achieve such a position, and being elected as a councillor in Manvers Ward for Nottinghamshire County Council in 1989.
He was a key founding member of the African Cariibbean National Artistic Centre in St.Ann’s, now one of the UK’s oldest Black community centres. Throuighout his working life, and when retired, George became a prominent voluntary community advocate for the rights of the African Caribbean Community, particularly in Nottingham. In 2011, Powe donated a substantial number of historical documents to the Nottingham Black Archive.
2022 Blue Plaque
Panya Banjoko and I had been planning for the past few years to celebrate his memory with a blue plaque. With very welcome and helpful assistance from Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature we were able to raise the necessary funding and to realise this dream in the summer of 2022. On July 28, 2022, the plaque, on the house where George lived for over thirty years, was unveiled by Nadia Whittome, MP for Nottingham East.
Thet date was significant, as it was seventy eight years to the day that he signed the Oath to the King on joining the RAF. Thirty invited people were present, including representatives from Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature, Nottingham City Council, Nottingham Black Archive, the Afro-Caribbean Centre, nine of George’s relatives and close friends, including some who were politically active alongside George in the 1960s. After the unveiling a lunch with Jamaican food was served outside.
George Powe plaque
The plaque, before unveling, concealed by the Jamaican flag
Arriving for the unveiling
Jill welcoming the gathering
Panya Banjoko's daughter Abii reading a tribute by Panya
Nadia Whittome MP speaking
Nadia's speech before she unveiled the plaque
I want to first say just how touched I am to have been invited to unveil George’s plaque.
Sadly I never had the chance to meet George - he died when I was still a teenager - and listening to everyone’s beautiful tributes make me appreciate even more just how much of a shame that was.
He was clearly a remarkable person and I know that so many people in Nottingham have fond memories of him and great admiration for the work that he did. It is only because of people like George that someone like me, a young socialist woman of colour, is even able to become an MP. He opened the doors that later generations were then able to walk through. Along with people like Diane Abbott and Bernie Grant, it’s George’s shoulders upon which I stand - I will be forever grateful for that.
But more than that, he helped change the fortunes of so many Black and Asian workers in this city. He was tireless in standing up for the people around him, in fighting for justice and liberation.
To truly understand our city and our society today requires that we understand the role that George and the people who struggled alongside him played. But the stories and achievements of Black people have been under-represented in the telling of our history. We have to put that right. We have to examine who we choose to celebrate and commemorate, and ensure that Black working-class people are part of that.
I want every child, every person in this city to know George’s name and story. To know that his actions helped shape our city today - that Nottingham is a better place because of him.
And I want people to be inspired by his example - because George proves that through standing up to oppression, through organising in our workplaces and in our communities, we too can make change.
Unveiling the plaque
Catching the flag
Plaque in situ
On the house
Lunchtime with Jamaican food
As a contribution to the blue plaque project Ross Bradshaw has reprinted, as a Five Leaves Publications occasional pamphlet, an edition of Don’t Blame the Blacks. It includes an introduction by Panya Banjoko and the poem Island Screams, by Nottingham-based poet Cara Thompson, with which she won the first prize in UNESCO Cities of Literature’s 2021 International Slamovision competition. Ross has made free copies available to the blue plaque’s crowd funding donors who donated more than a targeted amount.
Copies are available at £3.00 from Five Leaves Bookshop.
The importance of the blue plaque
While other projects marking his legacy refer in great detail to his achievements, the blue plaque will probably outlast them all. It is an iconic symbol which attracted much attention even before it was installed. Following the unveiling the publicity given to that by radio, television, and newspaper coverage has widened the audience considerably.
During the crowdfunding process which raised the necessary funding for the plaque many of the donors left their comments.
A selection of donors’ comments
"A fantastic campaign you have led and great to see pledges from such a number of people, fully in keeping with the motivating spirit."
"A wonderful initiative promoting a more inclusive society."
"So important to remember all of Nottingham’s history and the contributions of people from every community."
"George was an inspiration, great campaigner, trade union and political activist."
"What an inspiration. How come we don’t know more about this man and his fight for equality?"
"Yes, finally some recognition for a great role model."
"High time this amazing gentleman was commemorated."
"George’s work and life ought to be recognised, known & cherished. He was the best of us, It’s a privilege to be given an opportunity to make a contributio to this effort."
"Brilliant idea to commemorate such an important figure."
"A wonderful purpose to a wonderful man."
"What a man and what a legacy!"
2021 georgepowe.net launched
The impetus for this venture had its origin in a request, made in 2018, from the Committee of the Afro-Caribbean Centre, Nottingham, that I nominate George for a Windrush Legacy Award, launched by the Jamaican High Commission. His Excellency, Seth George Ramocon, High Commissioner of Jamaica, had announced in 2017 that he had a mission to record Jamaicans who had contributed significantly to advancement and development of Jamaica and the United Kingdom. The aim was to find 500 such people, and to publicise their lives and achievements in a commemorative book. In 2019 I was informed that George had been selected as one of the selected 500. Jamaicans in Britain, A Legacy of Leadership was published in March 2022 by Editions Media on behalf of the Jamaican High Commission, UK.
Having collected much more information than was needed for the nomination, and deciding that it was worthy of being put into the public domain, I widened my research, and decided to explore the possibility of making an on-line archive. I enlisted the help of my nephew, Tom Haythornthwaite, to build this website, and a friend, Kate Marsden, to give editorial assistance. I am grateful to all the other people who gave their time, gave information, or allowed us to include extracts, or in some cases whole items of information. We continue to update it as necessary.
2021 Don’t Blame the Blacks Exhibition
On June 2021, on the 73rd anniversary of the Empire Windrush’s arrival, Nottingham Castle hosted an exhibition called “Don’t Blame the Blacks”, created by Nottingham Black Archive. The title was taken from George’s pamphlet. The exhibition included material from NBA together with a video by Keith Fields and photography by Vanley Burke, which referred to the early struggles against racism and inequality, and featured the campaign to overturn Raleigh Cycles’ policy of not employing black people, which was led by George. (See Don’t Blame the Blacks Exhibition Highlights Extraordinary Activism of Oswald George Powe.)
This exhibition was the result of a Nottingham Black Archive project which had started in 2019, collecting the stories of people who had worked at Raleigh, using oral history techniques.
2021 When We Worked At Raleigh - Primary
On Windrush Day 2021 a pop-up version of the exhibition at the castle was displayed at Primary, an artist-led contemporary visual arts organisation, based in an an old primary school in Nottingham.
2018 Journeys to Nottingham
Cover artwork by Honey Williams
©Nottingham Black Archive
This NBA project started in 2012 by collecting oral histories from people who had travelled to Nottingham in the 1950s. An exhibition about their experiences toured to a number of community venues starting with Nottingham Playhouse in Black History Month, October 2012. In 2018 a book was published jointly by NBA and New Art Exchange. Journeys to Nottungham was published with the personal stories of 30 people, including George, from interviews given before he died.
2015 Powe Meets Africanus
source: University of Nottingham. A journey with George Africanus
In 2015 Panya Banjoko was commissioned by James 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. (See 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."
Both men are fitting choices to be included as inspirational figures for the final episode in the series. George Africanus provides a good historical figure, rooted in history, circa 1770. His legacy as a business man, entrepreneur and property owner has been documented and recorded and most recently honoured with a Blue Plaque from the City. And George Powe, perhaps a little less known, but just as awesome, was brave and loyal to the cause of justice and equality…...
2013 No Tears For Me, My Mother
©Nottingham Black Archive
This was the last Nottingham Black Archive project that George was involved with. It contains stories told through oral testimonies by black Ex-Servicemen, and one woman, who came to live in and around Nottingham. George was in his elements here, and in his interviews he talked about why he joined the RAF, life on a troopship which was dodging depth charges from nearby submarines, and how frightened he was on the first stint of guard duty at the dead of night. (See The RAF.)
Radio Nottingham broadcast one of these interviews, featuring George, in the evening of Saturday September 8, 2013. Unfortunately we were unaware of this, and so didn’t hear it. He died early the next morning. As a tribute to him, and giving more people (including me) the chance to hear it, it was rebroadcast the next weekend. This interview was also played at his funeral.
2011 Community Capsule
©Nottingham Black Archive
In 2011 Nottingham Black Archive collaborated with Nottingham Photographers Hub in a project to document information about World War II’ s black servicemen and their families from 1939 to 1955. George contributed a number of artefacts and documents which were included in the Resource Box made available to schools, organisations and community groups.
Stories from close friends
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, extracts of which are shown below.
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
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.
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.
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
Joe and Edith Maragh with their children
Joe 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."
Carmen Sibblies with her husband,Sylvester, known as Johnny: Sherwood, Nottingham
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
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.”
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.
He is a greatly missed, and a quiet pleasant man." © 2018
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 - 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."
A tribute from his daughter
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, 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."
(Extract: Oswald George Powe, Africans in Yorkshire Project)
George died on September 9, 2013, aged 87, and was buried at Wilford Hill Cemetery, Nottingham, on September 24. The funeral was attended by hundreds of people, some of whom were in an overflow room at the church.
"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
Extracts from tributes delivered 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 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.
Alan Simpson: Labour MP for Nottingham South (1992-2010) and friend for 40 years
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.
'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."
Obituaries were published by The Guardian (George Powe obituary), the Voice (Hundreds Pay Tribute To 'Outstanding' Nottingham Campaigner), Nottingham City Council (City Council minutes, 21 October 2013), and Nottingham Evening Post.
The Guardian: George Powe obituary
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."
(News and political views, September 24, 2013)
*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.
** Both Michael Edwards and the Nottingham City Council tribute refer to George representing St. Anns. He was actually elected to Manvers Ward, much of which had been part of, and designated as, St. Anns Ward before boundary changes. Even now, people in this area are likely to say they live in St. Anns.
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 Post billboard
Photo: Tom Haythornthwaite