Politics and community

 

“George was a key part of the glue that linked Afro-Caribbean and Asian communities into the mainstream of politics.  George already had a decade of anti-nuclear CND campaigns 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."  Alan Simpson

 

Political affiliations

 

Organisations he belonged to, supported, or in some cases founded

 

Afro-Asian West Indian Union

Anti-Apartheid Movement

Anti-Colour Bar Campaign

Black People’s Freedom Movement

Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Commonwealth Citizens Consultative Committee

Communist Party

Electrical Trades Union, later the Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications and Plumbing Union

International Marxist Group

Joint Afro-Caribbean, Indian and Pakistani Community Project

Labour Party

Movement for Colonial Freedom

National Association for Coloured Development

National Union of Teachers

Nottingham and District Trades Council

Nottingham and District Community Relations Council, later Racial Equality Commission

Nottingham and District Ex-Servicemen’s Association

Solidarity for Protection against Deprivation and Exploitation (SPADE)

Socialist Education Association

Stop the Seventy’s Tour

Vietnam Solidarity Campaign

West Indian Nationals Association

 

 

Combatting racial tension

 

I have taken part in political and industrial activities, supported the anti-colour bar campaigns and anti-colonial groups formed to fight for the independence of colonies and dependent countries of the British Empire (later the British Commonwealth).  I joined the Labour movement to fight for equal opportunities for ethnic groups.  I have been an Urban District Councillor and a County Councillor, and worked in industry and as a teacher.  I have also been instrumental as a founder member of a number of organisations for ethnic minority groups, notably for the Afro-Caribbean National Artistic Centre (Nottingham) Ltd., which has been a thriving facility since 1971.  I am now retired but maintain an active interest in the well-being of my local community.

 

George Powe July 3, 2008

 

 

Notices collected by the Race Relations Board (1969)

(link)

 

Notices such as these were all too prevalent in the 50s and 60s.

 

"Black immigrants who arrived in Britain from the Caribbean in the 1950s faced significant amounts of racism.  For many Caribbean immigrants, their first experience of discrimination came when trying to find private accommodation.  They were generally ineligible for council housing because only people who had been resident in the UK for a minimum of five years qualified for it.  At the time, there was no anti-discrimination legislation to prevent landlords from refusing to accept black tenants.  A survey undertaken in Birmingham in 1956 found that only 15 of a total of 1,000 white people surveyed would let a room to a black tenant.  As a result, many black immigrants were forced to live in slum areas of cities, where the housing was of poor quality and there were problems of crime, violence and prostitution.  One of the most notorious slum landlords was Peter Rachman, who owned around 100 properties in the Notting Hill area of London.  Black tenants typically paid twice the rent of white tenants, and lived in conditions of extreme overcrowding."

(link)

 

The Afro-Asian West Indian Union

Clarion newspaper

 

 

Don't Blame the Blacks

 

In the 1950s in conjunction with the AAWIU George published a seminal pamphlet, Don’t Blame the Blacks, (DBTB). It was circulated widely at the time, but in recent years tracking it down has become extremely difficult.  Most of his old political friends had owned a copy, but had at some time mislaid it, passed it on to someone else, or had donated it to an organisation, details of which were long forgotten.  We have to thank The Sparrow’s Nest, a Nottingham based Library and Archive for Anarchist and Radical History for discovering a copy which was archived not far away, in the Rare Documents Department of the University of Nottingham.

 

It has been difficult to nail down the date of publication.  Was it 1956, as suggested by information found in political records of the activity of the AAWIU which George had donated to Nottingham Black Archive, or 1958, the date stamped on a copy of the original pamphlet lodged in the Trades Union Congress’s Library?

 

Recently Roger Tanner, an ex-headteacher, has been researching material for an article on DBTB for the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Labour History Society’s journal.  He has highlighted evidence which proves it could not have been published in 1956.  

 

The pamphlet includes statistical information about wages and hours worked in a 1956 Report on Jamaica published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.  But there is also reference to forecasts of unemployment figures in the USA and Britain for 1958-1959.

 

More conclusive evidence lies in the original Introduction of DBTB.  This states that “a well-known MP has had swastikas and similar slogans painted on his house as a punishment for introducing a Bill in the House of Commons to make colour discrimination illegal in public places.”  This MP was Fenner Brockway, Labour MP for Eton and Slough, and the chairman of the Movement for Colonial Freedom.  Racist graffiti was painted on his house on May 11, 1958.  (See photo.)

 

There is also recent anecdotal evidence given to Roger in a 2018 interview with Richard Skyers, a member of the AAWUI from 1957, and its Chair when DBTB was published, and Sylvia Riley.  They were both, in the late 50s, members of the International Marxist Group, based at the International Bookshop in Dane Street, St. Anns, Nottingham, the main distributor of the pamphlet.  They remember it being published after the “race riots” in Nottingham which started on August 23, 1958.  Richard remembers at that time Pat Jordan, owner of the bookshop, saying, in a conversation which also included George, “we should get a pamphlet out”.  

 

Roger continues to research this issue but meanwhile it seems reasonable to suggest either that:

  • Work on the pamphlet could have been started in 1956, but it was not published until 1958. 

  • It was not conceived before 1958, and the statistical information the 1956 HMSO report was used because there was no update in 1958.

 

However, what is most important is that the pamphlet was distributed widely after the 1958 riots, nationally and internationally, and that it had a significant impact within the labour movement as well as in Black and Asian communities.

 

It deserves another reading today as its message remains relevant.

 

These scans from the original pamphlet are available at (link)

 

 

Changing employment policy at Raleigh Cycle Co. Ltd. in the 1950s

 

In the 1950s racial tension was rife, with slogans such as “Keep Britain White” and “Blacks go home”. Black people were often unable to seek employment on blatantly racial grounds. While George was working as an electrician at the Ordnance Depot in Chilwell, he initiated a campaign to secure the right of black people to be employed by Raleigh. George’s intervention dates back to 1956, as the following letter sent to him, dated April 20th, 1956, shows. As the original is nearly illegible it has been transcribed here.

 

 

RALEIGH INDUSTRIES LIMITED

NOTTINGHAM

CONTROLLING

 

The Raleigh Cycle Co. Ltd

 

WJR/DB              

 

RUDGE-WHITWORTH LIMITED                 THE ROBIN HOOD CYCLE CO. LTD

HUMBER LTD (CYCLE DEPT.)                 THE GAZELLE CYCLE CO. LTD

TRIUMPH CYCLE COMPANY LTD.               STURMEY-ARCHER GEARS LTD

RALEIGH INDUSTRIES(GRADUAL PAYMENTS)LTD.

 

20th April 1956

 

Mr. O.G.Powe

40 Portland Road,

Sawley,

Derbys.

 

Dear Sir,

 

     We thank you for your letter of 18th April addressed to our Works Manager and shall be pleased to receive a small delegation to discuss your problems, on Wednesday next, April 25th at 3pm.

              

Will you please report at our Faraday Road Entrance and asked for the undersigned.

 

Yours faithfully,

RALEIGH INDUSTRIES LIMITED

[SIGNED]

 

W.J. Richards

Personnel Manager

 

Unfortunately there are no known existing letters which George wrote to Raleigh, but this one does show that the campaign lasted for over three years.

 

The background to, and process of, this action has been encapsulated in an article by Roger Tanner, “Breaking the Colour Bar at Raleigh”, which appeared in the March 2021 Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Labour History Society’s Newsletter. It sheds a welcome light on the national and international implication of the struggle, bringing apartheid into the equation through the company’s connections with South Africa as well as the overt racial tension within the UK in the 1950s.

 

 

Breaking the Colour Bar at Raleigh, article by Roger Tanner

 

The Afro West Indian Union (AAWIU) was set up by George Powe and others in 1957 to represent ‘colonial workers’ to fight racial discrimination and to support anti-colonial struggles. AAWIU stood for ‘complete unity with the trade unions, co-operatives and labour movements’ and argued that ‘(o)nly by organising can we overcome the imperialist oppression in the colonies, and our own difficulties here in Britain’.

 

As observers at Nottingham Trades Council (NTUC) from January 1958, the AAWIU reported on anti-colonial struggles like the Nassau General Strike, called to opposed a colour bar in the Bahamas capital. However when bringing forward a case of racial discrimination at British Railways they made little progress, the Secretary advising that it be referred to a councillor. Previously a complaint against British Celanese had also got nowhere after the company issued a denial despite clear evidence. There were clearly limitations to how far NTUC could or would take up such cases.

 

A new challenge for the Trades Council was then set by events over two weekends of August 1958 in the streets of St. Ann’s.  West Indians were blamed for the stabbing of four people in a brawl outside The Chase pub.  A thousand or more gathered in the streets, with hostility shown to any black people that were seen.  On the following Saturday, 30th August, an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 white people gathered, drawn by publicity given to the previous week’s disturbances. It included a large crowd of teddy boys and members of far-right organisations. Members of the black community stayed at home as advised by the police and community leaders. As a result many in the frustrated crowd turned on the police. No one was seriously hurt but a number were arrested.

 

The far right had tried to stir up street violence and local Tory M.P.s called for immigration controls. The NTUC issued a statement which put the blame for “the shortage of work and house building on Government Policy” and condemned “the reactionary elements who deliberately seek to make the coloured worker the scapegoat for these failures”. By condemning the “actions of a tiny minority of both Black and white people who are making the colour problem an excuse for lawlessness and criminal behaviour”, they also ignored the evidence of growing pressures on the black community.

 

“As a West Indian, you could not walk on your own in certain places or at certain times. You had to walk in threes and fours. The ‘Teddy Boys’ went around with bicycle chains. When they saw three or four Jamaicans together they would not attack us as we were in a group.”

 

Nor did the NTUC use this opportunity to highlight continuing colour bars in city workplaces, including at one of the largest employers, Raleigh Industries.

 

The AAWIU had made representations to the firm without success but an opportunity was presented by one outcome of the riots in Nottingham and in Notting Hill. 

 

The West Indian Gazette had been set up in London by Claudia Jones earlier in 1958 and her reports ensured that the point of view of Jamaicans in Nottingham were being heard in the West Indies as well as that of the British press.  The impact of these reports was clear. Norman Manley, the Prime Minister of Jamaica visited Jones when he came to London later in August.

 

“While “normally liberal” national dailies analysed the situation in Nottingham and Notting Hill as an inevitable clash between white hooligans and Black criminals…. This brought home the shallow depth at which racism lurked under the social fabric.”

 

Within three weeks politicians from the West Indies visited Nottingham and St Ann’s and met West Indians living in the area.  Norman Manley, the Prime Minister of the West Indian Federation, Grantly Adams, Prime Minister of Barbados and Hugh Foot, Governor of Jamaica, came to Nottingham.  Norman Manley “toured St Ann’s and vowed to bring about better relations between coloured and white people, both in Nottingham and throughout the country.”

 

George Powe and Dick Skyers of AAWIU were among those who met with the politicians above the Co-op grocery store at 279, Alfred Street Central, in a room rented by the Commonwealth Citizen’s Association.  They told Manley about the colour bar at Raleigh and asked for his support. The AAWIU’s intervention at the meeting came at an opportune time.

 

Manley’s party, the Jamaican Peoples National Party (PNP), with the active support of dockers in Kingston who refused to unload goods, supported an embargo on trade with South Africa in protest at the racial policies of South Africa’s National Party government. This would now include Raleigh bicycles.

 

Raleigh had been proud of its global market, especially in the colonies and former colonies. As well as its European factories it had established another in South Africa in 1951 at Vereeniging. This was four years after the National Party had come to power with its racial policies.  However a slump in trade had been developing since 1957, hitting export markets even more seriously than the home one.   At the end of 1958, George Wilson, Chairman of Raleigh, wrote in the Raligram: “We have sustained a serious fall of 50% in our profits. The principal cause of this is that for the first time in our experience we have faced during one year a sharp and unforeseeable recession both in our home and export markets.”

 

In response Raleigh went into talks to merge with British Cycle Corporation/Tube Investments, which also had a plant in South Africa, at Springs. Threat of boycott could not have come at a worse time for the Raleigh Company.

 

The refusal of dockers in Kingston, and in other ports in the West Indies, to unload Raleigh bicycles while colour bar was practiced in their Nottingham factories became caught up in this growing movement.

 

A recent writer sees “a highly visual image of rebellion” in the “container loads of Nottingham-made Raleigh bicycles sent back to Britain from all parts of the Caribbean.”

 

Back in Nottingham “Raleigh management was soon to call together their employees’ unions, and said they had to employ black people because if they didn't there was going to be terrible redundancies because people would refuse to buy bicycles.”

 

Dick Skyers remembers “meeting with a Metal Mechanics shop steward at the Union Stewards Club on Gordon Road”. When telling him that Raleigh management had blamed the unions for insisting on a colour bar, he responded “I don’t know why they told us that because we have never objected to the employment of black people. Management was using the Union as an excuse to discriminate.”

 

Raleigh management had not previously taken on black employees and did not do so even when representations were made to them by members of the black community. Nor had the Raleigh trade unions taken a stand on this and pressed for an end to the colour bar.  Both had questions to answer.

 

By 1960 Milton Crossdale, recently arrived from Jamaica, could get a job at Raleigh.  When Pushka Lail began working at Raleigh in 1962 he joined the Metal Mechanics Union. He remembers joining a strike on wages and conditions.  He went to join the picket line and was told by picketing white workers that they had thought that he was coming to break the strike not to join them. In fact, he encouraged other Asian workers not to break the strike.  Black and Asian workers were still seen as a threat not as equal partners in the union.

 

“Don’t Blame the Blacks” had argued: “The first and most elementary step is to ensure the unionisation of all the workers, white and coloured. The same gang of useless profiteers live off the labour of white and coloured workers alike, in Britain and in the Colonies.”  It also stated; “We can show them that as workers of the world we can unite! The way to do this is to help the coloured workers fight in their own country for a better standard of living. The English workers should join in the struggle because the colonial struggle is part of the whole working-class struggle.”

 

The dockers in Jamaica and the other colonies of the West Indies had dramatically demonstrated this in the effect of their boycott and now such unity of purpose was to be expected of the unions in the U.K.

 

Raleigh became one of the largest employers of black people in Nottingham. It was commonly

thought that there were very few black families in Nottingham who did not have at least one relative working there.

 

The success of the campaign was also recorded in the following three extracts.

 

Former heart of Raleigh manufacturing empire becomes a listed building

 

The former Raleigh building

(image:  Historic England)

 

Nottinghamshire Life, in a report dated August 22 2018, referring to the listing of the Raleigh building said:

 

Oswald George Powe, a leading member of Nottingham's African Caribbean community and an activist for racial equality, campaigned for change to Raleigh's employment policy.  Having failed in negotiations with the company, Powe sought the assistance of Jamaica's first premier, Norman Manley, who promptly placed an embargo upon bicycle imports from England.  This action helped change the company's policy and led to Raleigh becoming one of the largest employers of African Caribbean workers in Nottingham.

 

Extract:  NottinghamshireLive - Former heart of Raleigh manufacturing empire becomes listed building)

 

 

Nottingham Black Archive:  Don’t Blame the Blacks Exhibition

 

Nottingham Black Archive embarked on a project called 'When we were at Raleigh' in May 2019.  Although the changes in employment policy took place around 50 years ago, NBA found 25 people who worked at the factory, were involved in the campaign, or knew about it from people who had been there in the early days. NBA’s tried and trusted record of interview-based research has produced a rich tapestry of oral history of that troubled time. 

 

This issue was given more exposure in an exhibition at Nottingham Castle which opened on Windrush Day, June 22, 2021 entitled Don't Blame the Blacks.  It also forms part of The Politics of Poetry in Nottingham: Nottingham Black Archive and African Caribbean Writers and Networks in the 1950s and 1980s, a Ph.D. thesis by Panya Banjoko at Nottingham Trent University.  (link)

 

Image featured in Nottingham

Black Achive project

 

When we worked at Raleigh

 

Raleigh would become one of the largest employers of Black people in Nottingham; however, this privilege would be one that the Black Community would need to mobilise for politically.  Oswald George Powe was one individual who challenged systematic racism in relation to employment. He was a World War II radar operator and lifelong community activist, having founded a number of Black political organisations in the city.  He arrived in Nottingham prior to taking up residence there in the 1970s.  While he advocated for Black people to work at Raleigh he never worked at Raleigh himself; however it was a series of events initiated by him, beginning with a letter to Raleigh, that would change the employment status of many of the Black community.

 

The image and extract above were included in the exhibition mounted in Nottingham Castle under the title of “Don’t Blame the Blacks” from June to August 2021.  It is included here with kind permission from Panya Banjoko.

 

 

LeftLion Review

 

As Nottingham Castle reopens its gates to the public after three long years of closure, it is home to a significant exhibition.  Curated by Nottingham Black Archive founder Panya Banjoko, Don’t Blame the Blacks explores the history of Nottingham’s black communities since the 1950s.  The title of the exhibition comes from a seminal text written by Oswald George Powe, a labour unionist, activist, and politician whose life and work is the focus of the collection.  Using archival material to build a rich picture of the activist streak in Nottingham’s black communities, the exhibition sheds light on the importance of Powe and his fight against racial discrimination at Raleigh Industries.

(link)

 

 

Two examples of further racial discrimination

 

Although the campaign appeared to have been successful by 1959, instances of racially discriminative behaviour by Raleigh continued for a number of years. In conversations with Dick Skyers and Burnett Anderson, I found they had interesting tales to tell.  Dick tried at least three times to gain employment with Raleigh in the 1960s. The first time he was rejected out of hand. The second time he was told that there was a job available to him, but on the day before he was due to start he received a letter saying that this was no longer the case.  Later on, whilst studying at Leicester University to become a Maths teacher he tried again, hoping to work at Raleigh during the summer holiday, although he did not disclose the fact that he intended to work for a short period. History repeated itself – the job was offered, and a starting date agreed, but the day before that a similar letter was delivered.  It is not clear whether these rejections were on racial grounds. Dick’s theory is that the company had done some background research and discovered his political activity including attending a sit-in at a pub which was serving black and white customers in separate rooms!  The irony is that he became a successful maths teacher, and went on the achieve a Masters Degree and a PhD.

 

Burnett Anderson was employed at Raleigh, also in the 1960s, when the company recommended that he should go on a Management Training Course. This he did and returned to his former job. When a vacancy for a management post came up, he applied for it. He was interviewed, but not appointed,  only to find that the job had been given to someone with no experience or training in management. And… he was white!

 

There were many more stories in this vein, some of which were included in a Nottingham Black Archive exhibition at Nottingham Castle, from June to August 2021, given the title “Don’t Blame the Blacks”, featuring interviews with ex-Raleigh workers.

 

The connection with George’s involvement in the Raleigh campaign is still a live issue because, as Panya Banjoko, of Nottingham Black Archive says, “You can’t go near the Raleigh situation without including George Powe’s involvement.”

 

 

Race riots in Nottingham 1958

 

Alan Simpson, Labour MP for Nottingham South from 1992 to 2010, said in his tribute at George’s funeral “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.”  Michael Edwards, Nottingham City Councillor, wrote in The Voice that he “played a role in dissipating St. Anns race riot of August 23rd, 1958.”  I am not sure if he was there.  At the time he was living over eleven miles away from St Anns, and the disturbances started well into the evening.  What I can be sure of is that he would have played a part in trying to de-escalate the violence and to work towards a better understanding of why this took place in an area of Nottingham whose population was to a very large extent, transitory and disadvantaged.  He was, as Alan said “part of the solution”.

 

I do remember that there were endless conversations, which went on for a few decades, as to what the root cause was.  Was this solely a racially-motivated incident?  Was it a more extreme example of street fights which were common in that area, particularly at weekends, when the pubs were closing, which escalated into racial rivalry.

 

The reaction from the police at the time is epitomised by the following statement:

 

“The events were downplayed by Nottingham City Police's Chief Constable at the time Capt. Athelstan Popkess who claimed they were not racially motivated.”  (link)

 

Poverty: The Forgotten Englishmen By Ken Coates and William Silburn, Penguin 1970

 

 

 

 

Based to a large extent on a considerable amount of detailed door to door research by a group of volunteers, of whom I was one, the book exposes the nature of and the reasons for the disadvantages experienced in St. Anns,  an area of deprivation facing wholescale demolition which was followed by inadequate renewal.

 

A 2018 BBC article looks back at these events.

 

 

St Anns riot: the changing face of race relations, 60 years on

 

"Sixty years ago, hundreds of people clashed on the streets of the Nottingham neighbourhood of St. Anns, divided along lines of black and white [...]  At first, 23 August 1958 was like any other summery Saturday [...]  But in St. Anns, the easy weekend atmosphere soon soured, and for months afterwards local communities we repicking through the wreckage of what was described at the time as “one of Britain’s most bitter and ugly black-versus-white battles” [.…]  Some accounts cited a mixed-race couple being turned away from a pub on St. Anns Well Road as a trigger, while other accounts featured a staged fight spiralling out of control [...]  It ended in a scene described by the Nottingham Evening Post as “a slaughterhouse”, with dozens of men and women injured and one man requiring 37 stitches to a throat wound [...]  The newspaper said more than 1,000 people were crowded in the area by the time police arrived […]"

 

(Extract:  BBC - St Ann's riot: The changing face of race relations, 60 years on)

 

 

The Anti-Colour Bar Campaign, 1967

 

George and Jill at home

Photo:  Jo Metson Scott

 

This photo was used as part of an exhibition in Nottingham Castle of local people with stories to tell.  Our story was about a pub which, in 1967, served black and white people in separate rooms.  Below is an extract from my contribution to a meeting held in June 2018, when those of us around in the 60s talked about our experiences.  It was a nostalgic look at the events of 1968, and there was a little leeway for our story.

 

 

The Story

 

“Having met George in the early sixties through CND and the Labour Party, I became involved in various struggles against what was then called the Colour Bar.  We formed the Anti-Colour Bar Campaign particularly to deal with the practice of a local pub, the Mechanics Arms, where black and white people were served in separate rooms.  Can you believe this? Were we living under Apartheid?

 

We distributed leaflets to people who might join in a protest sit-in at the pub, including members of Anti-Apartheid, CND and various left-wing organisations of black and white people.  We wanted people to order half pints of beer, staying as long as possible sipping and nursing a single drink, to minimise sales, and to gain publicity for the racial practice.  The idea was to go to the pub in mixed groups.

 

The landlord and landlady were expecting us – one of our leaflets must have been leaked. The bar was full. I ordered beers for George and myself. The landlady, just about to give them to me, realised one was for George.  Snatching the drinks back, she said she would sell drinks to Asians, Indians or Chinese, but not to dirty black ******.  (Fill that word in for yourselves.)  Some people did get drinks.  Eventually tempers rose.  A Nigerian called Steve, in response to a racial remark, emptied a glass of beer onto the bar.  The police were called, and we all left quietly.

 

A court case ensued and I was one of the witnesses giving evidence of the racially discriminatory remarks and behaviour of the landlady.  Both Steve and the landlady were bound over to keep the peace.  Months after this the landlady successfully appealed against her order, but by that time the pub had been closed down.  We had succeeded in gaining publicity and reducing the pub’s takings, and the pub was closed.  It was one of many contributions to the ever-growing fight against racial discrimination.”

 

Jill Westby

 

 

Crepe Sizes Dispute, 1972

 

photo:  Stanley Wilson

Lenton Times.  Friar Street - Lendon

 

 

Crepe Sizes Ltd. was a textile company based in Friar Street, Lenton, Nottingham, from 1924 until early 1983, when the building was demolished.  The site had previously housed the Midland Orphanage for Girls from 1863 until 1922. It was probably never a happy place.

 

In 1972 an industrial dispute errupted at Crepe Sizes.  This was recorded in Brian Simister’s report:  on Crepe Sizes, Pakistani Workers Win Lenton Strike.

 

Crepe Sizes employed 44 Pakistanis and 16 white English workers.  The Pakistanis were subject to exploitation in terms of wages, and working conditions which paid scant heed to the health and safety of the workers.  They had to share one toilet.  This was often filthy and the workers asked for it to be cleaned, even offering to pay for this service out of their wages, but the management refused.  There was a history of accidents, particularly to fingers caught in the machinery, including three cases of the loss of a finger or of part of a finger.  There was no compensation for these accidents, and the workers were accused of causing them.

 

The Nottingham Branch of the International Marxist Group, of which George was a member, organised a Solidarity Committee under the banner of Nottingham Worker, to support these workers.  The workers managed to join the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU), despite there being little or no union sympathy for their plight.  The company reacted to this by declaring some workers redundant.  These redundancies were challenged, and the workers even offered to accept lower wages in order to reverse the decision.  The management rejected all suggestions and the workers went on strike.  The picket lines were successful in preventing would-be newly employed workers from entering the building.

 

The Solidarity Committee then organised a well-attended public meeting to publicise the dispute.  Although there had been no prior support from the TGWU, given this public exposure of the situation, the union reversed its position and set up negotiations with the management.  The redundant workers were re-instated, the union recognised, as was the status of shop stewards and the working hours were cut from 84 hours to 60 hours a week.

 

Such exploitation was not uncommon in the textile industry at that time.  The last page of Brian Simister’s report includes a leaflet issued by the Black People’s Freedom Movement.  It announced a public meeting to fight for better working conditions at Jones Stroud Company Limited, in Long Eaton, to be chaired by George.

 

Abbreviations

 

T&GWU:  Transport and General Workers Union,

NUGMW:  National Union of General and Municipal Workers

EEPTU:  Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications and Plumbing Union

BPFM:  Black Peoples Freedom Movement

IMG:  International Marxist Group

 

(link)

 

Public service

 

Long Eaton District Council 1963 to 1966

 

In May 1963 George was elected as a Councillor in the Long Eaton and District Council, representing Sawley Ward, in the area where he lived.  News of this achievement was recorded in the June 1963 edition of the Windward Islands Opinion, a weekly periodical, which was published in Philipsburg, Netherlands Antilles, and is held at the University of Florida.

 

 

 

It also featured in a 1965 edition of Ebony, published in the United States, which describes itself as ”Since 1945 EBONY magazine has shined a spotlight on the worlds of Black people in America and worldwide.”

 

Race Problems in Britain

 

Politics:  No colored man holds a really significant politcal position.  There is not one colored member of Parliament.  In London, a West Indian physician, Dr. David Pitt, is a member of the Greater London Council, a sort of "elder statesmen" group which "advises" on metropolitan London affairs.  In Nottingham, another West Indian, Eric Irons, is a lay magistrate, which is rather like a U. S. Justice of the Peace.  Also in Nottingham, George Powe, also a West Indian, is an urban district councillor, and represents a nearly all-white suburban area.  There are three other West Indians sitting as boroguh councilors in other towns.  Thought they are able to vote after only six months in britain, only about half the colored poeple are registered, and only 30 per cent actually vote.  Like many U. S. Negroes, they feel their vote is "too insignificant to matter, and white people will run things any way."

 

It is in these significant areas that one finds reasons why Britan's "Dark Million" now have to spend their leasure time, not on cricket fileds, but in community halls and church basements, organizing "movements" and "campaigns" with such names as Council for Racial Harmony, Committee Against Racial Discrimination, Camapaign for Racial Equality, Indian Workers Association, West IOndian Standing Conference, and Michael X's RAAS.

EBONY 1965 Vol 21 page 155 (Johnson Publishing Company US)

(link)

 

 

Until recently we felt able to suggest that George might have been the first black councillor elected in the United Kingdom. How wrong we were!  In the autumn of 2022 we were alerted by a message sent to our Visitors’ page about a black councillor, Henry Sylvester Williams, elected in 1906.

 

HENRY SYLVESTER WILLIAMS, 1867/9 to 1911

Born in 1867 or 1869, this black barrister, writer, and activist came to England from Trinidad in 1985. Elected to Marylebone Borough Council in 1906, his council attendances became infrequent and after two years of public service he tendered his resignation, returning to Port of Spain, Trinidad, where he died, in 1911.

(link)

 

Further research has revealed three more black councillors, two of whom were elected prior to the First World War, and one in the late 1920s.

 

ALLAN GLAISYER MINNS, 1858 to 1930

Born in Barbados in 1858, Allan Glaisyer Minns migrated to England in the early 1880s.  Elected in 1903 to the town council in Thetford, in 1904 became its mayor, serving two one-year terms.

(link

He was largely responsible for organising the first Pan-African Conference held in WestminsterTown Hall in July 1900.

(link)

 

JOHN ARCHER, 1863 to 1932

Born in England 1863 to a Barbadian father and an Irish mother, he was elected to Battersea Borough Council in 1906, and again in 1912. In 1913 he was elected as Battersea’s mayor, and in1918 he was re-elected as a Battersea councillor. His final stint as a councillor for Battersea began in 1931. He became the deputy leader of the council, but died in 1932.

(link)

 

JAMES ARTHUR HARLEY, 1873 to 1943

Born in Antigua in 1873, the son a of a white father and a black mother, he qualified as a student at no less than four universities - Howard, Yale, and Harvard in the United States and eventually in 1907, Oxford, England (as a Rhodes scholar). In 1927 he was elected as an Urban District Councillor for Shepshed, Leicestershire. He was elected to Leicestershire County Council in March 1937, retaining this position until he died in 1943.

(link)

 

His life and achievements are the subject of “The Adventures of a Black Edwardian Intellectual” written by Pamela Roberts and published in 2022 by Signal Books Oxford. (link)

 

It is heartening know of these early trail-blazers, and while the findings show that George was not the first elected councillor in the UK, they do indicate that he was one of a very small number, and possibly the first in the post-Second World War period. The Ebony article below, published in 1965, mentions that as well as George “there are three other West Indians sitting as borough councillors in other towns”.  If readers have any information about any other black councillors elected before 1963 they are welcome to contact us using our Visitors’ Page.

 

 

Nottinghamshire County Council, 1989 to1992

 

In the May 1989 Nottinghamshire County Council elections George was elected as the Labour Councillor for Manvers, an inner-city ward, which was, traditionally, and still is, held by the Labour Party.

 

The winner's rosette

(link)

 

Twenty-five years after George’s first position as an Urban District Councillor in 1963-1966, and his election as a Nottinghamshire County Councillor in1989-1992, there was a definite and substantial increase in the numbers of people of Black and Asian heritage to achieve such positions.

 

 

1967 to 1972 – a time of change

 

Having worked in the electrical engineering industry since 1948, when he became resident in this country, he decided, in 1967, to retrain as a teacher.  His education in Jamaica had been interrupted when he volunteered to join the RAF, and he had no leaving qualifications.  Even if he had they would not have been recognised in the UK.  He enrolled at Fircroft College, Selly Oak, Birmingham, and achieved the required qualifications.  In 1969, aged 43, he began a three-year teacher training course at Nottingham Trent Polytechnic (now Nottingham Trent University).  He was awarded Qualified Teacher status in 1972 and worked as a mathematics teacher at Robert Mellors Secondary School Arnold, Nottingham until 1982, when he took early retirement.

 

These life changes had an effect on the time available for political activity.  The work of a teacher was in many ways more onerous than that of an electrical engineer, which was definitely a 9-5 situation.  After years of campaigning for international and national causes, which often necessitated considerable travel, George concentrated more on voluntary work in the community centred on the black organisations he had founded earlier in Nottingham, the local Labour Party, and ad hoc socialist campaigns.

 

During his first year of teaching he became involved in an industrial dispute which was exploiting its workers in a blatantly racialist way.  This was the Crepe Sizes dispute, referred to above.

 

 

The Afro-Caribbean National Artistic Centre (ACNA)

 

 

 

For years George had dreamed of setting up a community centre where African-Caribbean people would feel welcome.  They were often the object of racial discrimination in situations such as pubs, clubs, restaurants and workplaces.  George set up a company with a couple of friends and called it The Sugar Cane Club.  They were careful to determine what this would entail, especially the cost of acquiring premises.  While this research was useful, there was little or no progress towards satisfying the dream.  In 1969 there was a glimmer of hope.  The old Bluecoat School on Mansfield Road, close to the city centre, was closing down, and its possible use as an International Community Centre was to be discussed.  There was meeting of black groups in the city which was attended by NACD (National Association for Coloured Development) and SPADE (Solidarity for Protection against Deprivation and Exploitation).  When it became clear that the proposed centre was to house a number of different ethnic and cultural groups, and its management would almost certainly be dictated by the local authority or its agents, NACD and SPADE decided that their vision of an African-Caribbean Centre would not be met by these conditions.  They then came together as the Black Peoples Freedom Movement and continued planning for the outcome they wanted.  Finally, in 1977, premises were found, and in 1978 the ACNA Centre was opened.  At long last they had achieved their aim.  They now had their own venue giving greater the opportunity to socialise and organise in order to combat racial discrimination and work towards social cohesion.

 

This is described in the two articles below.

 

 

History of ACNA Centre

 

"ACNA Centre was set up to improve the quality of life for African Caribbean people living or working in Nottingham.

 

During the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s racial discrimination affected black people in housing, education, employment and social interaction.  It was difficult for African Caribbean people to hire premises for social functions or activities.

 

Black groups formed to challenge this discrimination and promote social cohesion.  These groups included the West Indian Nationals Association (WINA), NACD, SPADE, and the West Indian Students Association (WISA).

 

The most pressing need at that time was to acquire premises to house the various activities organised by African Caribbean people [...]  SPADE and the NACD, amalgamated and formed the Black People’s Freedom Movement. It was agreed that this organisation would incorporate and acquire premises where African Caribbean people could develop recreational, social and educational activities for all age groups in the community [...]

 

Later, it was agreed that the organisation would be called the “Afro-Caribbean National Artistic Centre (Nottingham) Ltd.”, and that it should be referred to as the ‘ACNA Centre’ [...]

 

ACNA soon outgrew the premises.  Its activities included: a Supplementary School, a surgery to advise members of the black community about welfare rights and other related issues, camping trips for the black youth, political meetings, recreational activities, and a Senior Citizens Luncheon Club [...] 

 

Initially it proved difficult to find suitable premises and by late 1977 the Grant Aid had reduced, however, ACNA acquired an old school, which is a listed building, on Hungerhill Road, secured a fifty-year lease and ACNA moved into the Centre 13th September 1978 [...]

 

Due to changes in funding ACNA had to discontinue the valuable activity and joined forces with the Indian and the Pakistani Centres, to create the Joint Indian, Pakistani and Afro- Caribbean Community Project (JIPAC).  After some years, financial constraints forced the closure of this project.  Because of the support given by members of ACNA and the Club, the Centre was able to house the Afro-Caribbean Senior Citizens Luncheon Club, ACNA Women’s Group, WINA, the Robin Hood Domino Club, and the Women’s Keep Fit Group."

(link)

 

 

ACNA Centre reflections

 

 

George and Junior “Berranga” Forbes were pioneers for improving race relations in the city and two founders of ACNA.  The following reflections are taken from interviews with Norma Gregory found in her book Jamaicans in Nottingham:  Narratives and Reflections.

 

My name is George Powe and I was born on the 11th August 1926 in Kingston, Jamaica.  I am of Chinese and African descent.  During the latter part of 1944, I arrived in the UK aged seventeen, not knowing that I would become a resident of the country for over sixty-nine years.  After leaving high school in Jamaica I joined the Royal Air Force where I was taught a history of the British Empire as the ethos of British culture.  I had already been entrenched in our education system. I moved to Nottingham in 1951.

 

The Afro-Caribbean National Artistic Centre (ACNA) is a registered company; it is not a sole ownership.  The name for ACNA came about through Louis Morgan.  He wanted a centre to house ‘coconut art’ that is produced using the shells of coconuts.  He had the idea that we, Jamaicans, could set up a centre for artwork… The people who formed ACNA formed it for semi-political reasons and not for profit.  The founders were myself, George Leigh, Charles Washington, Louis Morgan, Milton Crosdale, and Junior ‘Berranga’ Forbes amongst others.  ACNA was set up to fight racism, industrial and racial inequality and all the bad things that affected our community.  ACNA was first housed in the old Bluecoat School off Mansfield Road, Nottingham.  When it was about to be closed down Nottingham City Council did not know what to do with it.  There was a suggestion that it should be set up as an International Community Centre so members of the community could rent rooms and carry out social activities.

 

Dorothy Wood, a community worker with Nottingham City Council, took an interest in securing better co-operation between blacks and whites.  She asked Milton Crosdale to call a meeting to invite black organisations to find out how best to utilise the building.  At this time it was very difficult for non-white groups to get a room to rent, to carry out social activities, as ironically it was just as difficult to get a room to live in.  At the time, the Black Power Movement was in vogue in America and it seemed to influence black culture and politics in England.  At this time we also had the Afro-Caribbean Union. Surprisingly, in the 1950s to the 1970s, there were many black organisations in Nottingham and across the UK.

 

At first we rented premises on Derby Road in 1971/1972 and set up a trust in 1973.  We wanted to build our own community centre but when we calculated the cost, it was about £30,000.  When we decided to get premises, we could not.  We looked around for premises and were pleasantly surprised to discover a school building on Hungerhill Road, the former Sycamore Primary School, closed down and dilapidated.

 

Urban Aid, a European funding initiative, was created and in 1975/1976 it became an important opportunity for inner city communities to apply for grants.  I think the UK received about £90 million.  ACNA was then floated as a limited liability company.  We applied for and received a grant, which was supposed to be spent by 1977.  However… we asked for a dispensation to allow us an extra year to spend the grant.

 

The rent for the Sycamore Primary School building was set at £20,000 a year and we had no experience of running or managing a large organisation.  The building was finally leased by the Council to ACNA for fifty years and we received a grant of £60,000.  However, the grant was not enough to refurbish it because of the extent of vandalism.  The city council believed we could not fix the building, (but we did) and only contributed 26% of the grant.

 

Regular members have recently thought about buying the building through the committee but this decision has never been followed through.  I resigned from the ACNA Management Committee but was recently co-opted back, in 2012.  So far I have undertaken over forty years’ work supporting and helping to manage the ACNA Centre.  The ACNA Centre now needs organisation and effective financial leadership for the future.

 

During the 1980s George continued to support various political campaigns which had international connections, such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the campaign against participation in the Iraq War.  There were also national issues such as support for the National Union of Teachers’ campaign against disadvantageous changes to teachers’ pension rights, and local activity including a demonstration which was successful in preventing the National Front from opening a bookshop in Nottingham which would have been used as a local rallying point for their discriminatory policies and practices.

 

 

Casework in the community

 

 

 

 

George’s life as an adult could be said to be “book-ended” by Windrush-related events.  He stepped back onto Jamaican soil on the very day, May 24, 1948, that the Empire Windrush set sail from Kingston to Tilbury Dock, London.  He was still an RAF serviceman and waiting to be demobbed.
 
Two months later, on July 28, he was discharged from the service, in Kingston.  Had the dates of his arrival and discharge been earlier I think it likely that he would have travelled back on the Empire Windrush.  As it was, he came on the SS Orbita, which arrived at Liverpool on October 2, 1948, approximately four months later.
 
So he was part of the “Windrush generation” but did not sail on the ship of that name.  He rarely used the term “Windrush generation”.  That is, until the status of many of the people was concerned was put in jeopardy by the “hostile environment” introduced by the UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, in 2012.

 

Punitive immigration laws, particularly the 1971 Act, affected the status of Afro-Caribbean residents in the UK and their relatives and friends in the Caribbean.

 

George became a self-taught expert in all things to do with immigration law.  He became well-versed in the pitfalls into which his countrymen and women could fall if they did not keep up with the necessary legislation.  They often did not know exactly what information, documentation and records were needed for their relatives to obtain a visa to come to the UK to attend christenings, weddings or funerals, or simply for a reunion with their families.  Commonwealth students who gained places at colleges or universities in the UK also had to find their way through procedures which they did not always understand, and the slightest mistake could jeopardise their educational opportunity.
 
George helped thousands of Jamaicans in and around Nottingham to achieve their rights, usually starting with a meeting round our kitchen table and sometimes ending with accompanying them to a court hearing.  He extended this assistance to other ethnic minority people such as Indians and Pakistanis, and from time to time helped white English people to take advantage of opportunities they were entitled to.  He would never allow people to pay him for such services.
 
Even when George was in full-time employment or in further or higher education, he was unstinting in terms of the time and effort he put into advising and assisting his countrymen and women.  This was not only in matters of immigration, visas, etc., but also with divorce, tax returns, debt, and in any situation where it was clear that racial discrimination stood in the way of employment, educational, or social opportunities.