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The forgotten history of the Windrush

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A Newcastle University academic has uncovered material which sheds new light on the history of the Windrush generation.

Their famous story of immigration hinges on the Empire Windrush, the ship which docked at Tilbury, in Essex, on a foggy day in June 1948. It was carrying several hundred Caribbean settlers and is said to herald the beginning of post-war mass migration to Britain.

But a previously uncatalogued radio report buried in the BBC’s archives and discovered by James Procter, Professor of Modern and Contemporary Literature from Newcastle University UK, reveals the Windrush story actually began, not as a journey to the UK but as a voyage out.

Broadcast from London to the Caribbean in April 1948, the BBC script read by West Indian cricketer Bertie Clarke opens:

“The Colonial Office have announced that the last big draft of airmen for repatriation will sail from Tilbury on May 8th on the Empire Windrush.” The transmission continues: “The Officers-in-Charge will be Flight Lieutenant Johnny Smythe, a West African who still carries around several bits of shrapnel in his lungs and side from his war service and Flight Lieutenant J.J. Blair of Jamaica who won the DFC.” The DFC is the Distinguished Flying Cross which is awarded to Royal Air Force personnel for acts of valour, courage or devotion.

The 500 airmen on board had fought in World War II and according to the broadcast, were “anxious” to get home to Jamaica, British Guiana, Trinidad, Barbados, British Honduras and Antigua.

The ship stopped at Jamaica, Trinidad and Bermuda before heading back to England on the famous journey to Tilbury which has entered history.

“The war wounds and war medals of this other Windrush generation are also, of course, the same generation that subsequently arrived in Britain shortly after,” says Professor Procter, who uncovered the report while carrying out research for his new book at the BBC’s archive in Caversham. “So why is it that we have chosen to remember the Windrush as a story of arrival, and not a story of departure?”

He suggests part of the reason is that the broadcast was never aired in Britain: “The BBC’s Overseas Services, were just that, and part of the tragedy our imperial past is connected to its mediation, which was typically a one-way exchange of information. As a result, West Indians knew everything about us but we knew little about them.”

Another reason, he suggests, is that the story of arrival is far more palatable than the neglected story of departure overlooked in the BBC archives. “If the legend of the Windrush’s arrival involves a narrative of colonial dependency in which the Caribbean is a grateful beneficiary,” he says. “The story of its departure points to Britain’s dependence on its empire during the darkest days of World War II.

“This story is just one small example of a much more pervasive and deep-seated amnesia that is, paradoxically, central to our national memory. Tragically, it is a story which the recent treatment of the Windrush generation shows, is still being forgotten.”

What the radio report reveals is the extent to which the story of the Windrush is in fact grounded in the internal history of those Caribbean men and women, who contributed to Britain’s Finest Hour.

The academic adds: “While scholars have long recognised the ship’s historical relationship to World War II – it was a German troopship – the Windrush continues to be remembered as an unprecedented story of arrival, or what the late Jamaican intellectual Stuart Hall would have called ‘the outside history that is inside the history of the English’.

“Lost narratives like this one in the BBC archive remind us that the history of the empire and Commonwealth is a domestic, and not just an overseas, history.”

Professor Procter is currently working with Caribbean poets whose work is being showcased at the British Library’s exhibition: ‘Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land’. Produced in collaboration with the AHRC-funded ‘Out of Bounds’ project, it uses place-based poetry to explore Windrush narratives of belonging.

Written by James Procter Professor of Modern and Contemporary Literature, Newcastle University

Professor Procter’s research on Windrush will be included in Scripting Empire, his forthcoming book on West and West African Writers at the BBC with Oxford University Press.

Professor Procter’s research on Windrush will be included in Scripting Empire, his forthcoming book on West and West African Writers at the BBC with Oxford University Press.

They duly and loyally responded to the “mother country”, many having served in the allied forces during that war.

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As the rebuilding of Britain, following the end of World War 2, gathered pace, the need for skilled workers and personnel prompted the British government to reach out to places like the West Indies to invite citizens from its British colonies to come and help.

They duly and loyally responded to the “mother country”, many having served in the allied forces during that war. Thus they came, they saw, they served, overcame most obstacles, they stayed and along with their descendants and dependants over the next seven decades, contributed to the change that is now modern Britain in 2019.

The Windrush 500+ arrivees could not have been aware of the welcome in store for them as they stepped on to the shores at Tilbury Docks on 22nd June 1948. For a start, there was no accommodation available until the last minute of negotiations to enable many to settle in air raid shelters in Clapham Common in South London. One occupant of that accommodation, Rene Webb, a former RAF service person, became active in community and social work for deprived young people during the 1970s in Brixton. He was a skilled engineer but had to take what was on offer and spent the rest of his time helping others, a pattern reflected among the lives of many others who settled in the UK from the Carribean .

They had to experience the colour bar, which formally existed until the mid-1960s, when it became unlawful to display signs such as “Job Vacancies: No Blacks, No Coloureds, No Irish need apply” and “Rooms to let, No Blacks, No Coloureds, No Irish, No dogs”! Ruthless landlords offered access to slum housing in the private accommodation on extortionate terms and public housing was a no go area for “Immigrants from the New Commonwealth”, notwithstanding their classification as British subjects from the colonies.

Having to face up to racism was not an unfamiliar experience for the new Black presence in Britain, as they had to cope with racism and exploitation in the colonies of the former British Empire. What was difficult for the indigenous population in responding to the arrival of Black families in their streets and neighbourhoods, was how to overcome their own bias and prejudices inculcated by the hierarchy in a society that denied them the truth and the knowledge they needed to overcome their ignorance about Black people and their historical contribution to Britain.

The Black presence could be traced back to Roman times when, for instance, Hadrian’s Wall was guarded by a Garrison led by African Septimius Serverus.

In Tudor England, towards the end of the 16tht century, it was estimated that there were some 10,000 Africans resident in London. Even though they were largely successful self-contained and self-sufficient African communities, they drew the ire of Queen Elizabeth II, who proclaimed that there were too many “Blackamoors” resident here and should be rid from these shores.

Nowadays we are better informed with facts and recently were enlightened to learn that “Cheddar Man”, from 10,000 years ago, was very dark-skinned, suggesting that the Black presence in Britain may have an even greater significance than previously understood. The obsession with dark skinned immigration therefore was as evident centuries ago as it is today. Coupled with that has been the journey for the Windrush settlers in having to deal with the race hatred and violence on the streets, discrimination in the workplace, biased and oppressive policing, institutional racism, and an unjust criminal justice system.

The challenge to defeat racism and fascism required exceptional leadership from among the Black and Asian communities and necessitated the coming together of progressive white people with the power, influence and the political will to pursue justice for all. While recognising that racism was the main focus of injustices, it was necessary for the race, sex and class struggles to be intertwined to achieve equal access to opportunities for all and especially for those people who are most disadvantaged in society.

The Windrush legacy, as we look forward to life in Britain beyond 2020, is of progressive and better educated multi–ethnic and multi-cultural communities facing up to prejudice, bigotry and ignorance; challenging inequalities and exclusion; and helping Britain to be an inclusive and fair society in which every person is able to live their lives without the fear of harassment, discrimination and exclusion and be able to see ethnic and cultural diversity reflected in all aspects of a modern cohesive society.

St Andrew’s Healthcare

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We celebrate the diversity of our workforce and our patients, and value the enrichment that a diverse workforce brings to our patients’ care. We promote inclusion and equality of opportunity in all aspects of employment, irrespective of disability, gender, race, religion or belief, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or civil partnership status. 

We are a Business in the Community (BITC) Race Champion, and in 2017 we were awarded Gold status – demonstrating our commitment to improving employment opportunities for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff across the Charity.  

We are proud of the progress we have made and are dedicated to continually developing our approach and practice. We asked a colleague from the BAME community to share their experience of working for St Andrew’s. 

Karen Graves is a Senior Lecturer in Clinical Practice within our Academic Department, and by background a Registered Mental Health Nurse.  

As a lecturer she “supports all students and staff equally, offering them all the same opportunities to learn and development themselves, sign posting opportunities available to regardless of their cultural background or race.” 

Her experience at St Andrew’s has been “one of inclusion, and I have had equal opportunities to grow and develop myself.” 

The BITC Mental Health at Work Report 2017 recently shared that BAME employees are equally likely to have experienced the symptoms of poor mental health as white employees, however BAME employees with a mental health condition are significantly less likely than white employees to consult a GP (20%, compared to 29%).  

As a member of this community, Karen’s advice would be that “we need to be mindful that each culture identifies with mental health differently and can have contrasting views to how this should be treated. We need to respect this and be sensitive to cultural and racial beliefs when caring for our patients.” 

As the Windrush Anniversary approaches, Karen feels “it’s important to remember the openness with which the British Colonies responded to the UK’s labour shortage and helped establish great institutions such as the NHS.” This openness has contributed to the heart of society we are all part of today. She hopes that communities continue to embrace inclusion and remain open to diversty. 

If you’d like to find out more about St Andrew’s and the work we do around BAME inclusion please visit: >www.stah.org or email DiversityAndInclusion@standrew.co.uk 

Windrush By Joshua Street

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To the older generations above me, it’s what made “Britain Great” and to the younger generations, they think “it’s when the wind rushes at you” (and there’s absolutely no shame in not knowing).

To those that don’t know, the HMT Empire Windrush (aka the MV Monte Rosa) brought the first wave of mass Caribbean migration to the UK after World War II, these people are referred to as the Windrush Generation. What is rarely told to the public (but known in the community) is that the main reason for the mass migration is because Britain was so damaged, broken and in need of repair after WWII that they had to depend on the help from the countries they colonised; inviting them to do the jobs that no-one else wanted to do such as cleaning, construction, nursing, manual labour, agriculture and more. This was achieved by marketing the UK as the land of “Milk and Honey” where the roads were “Paved with Gold” especially as the Caribbean was so pillaged, damaged and run down through said colonialism that it made the choice seemingly obvious. Regardless of the fact that the Caribbean Windrush migrants were invited to the UK, they were still subject to abuse, discrimination and racism as they were seen as nothing more than uninvited illegal immigrants, despite perceiving themselves to be citizens of empire. Never before in History has Britain urgently needed help like this, especially from a region that it perceived as “lesser” than itself. However this, as well as the contributions of people of colour during the war, is widely overlooked in society, often avoided in history lessons and mysteriously absent during Remembrance Day and other WWII memorial events. 

On 22nd June 2017, the first ever memorial to Black Afro-Caribbean armed services personnel, the “Windrush Memorial” (WM), was unveiled in Brixton. When I first went to the memorial next to the “Black Cultural Archives”, I met a black veteran who spoke of how disgusting it was that every other community has a plaque in and around London, yet it took 70 years for this small amount of recognition. Worse still is its position and location which is afforded little respect from young skater boys who are often seen skating off the memorial when the gates are opened. To further prove the point, the animals of war have their own memorial plaque in the middle of Park Lane next to Hyde Park which was erected in 2004 (an incredible 13 years before the WM), but where then are the memorials for the black commonwealth contributors prior to the WM? This is not only disgraceful but also dangerous as we are on the verge of forgetting the contribution of our ancestors to history; many Black Britains, descendants of these people, as I mentioned previously, are unaware of what the Windrush actually is, it’s not too late as there is always time to learn but we must act quickly.  

Throughout history, the feats and achievements of the black community have been constantly overlooked and disregarded (recently the British public was shocked being shown evidence confirming that the first Britain, known as the Cheddar Man, who was previously perceived to be white is black), so to progress as a people we need acknowledgement, not only from external forces privy to our community but our community itself.  

With the Windrush Generation still living amongst (including my own grandmother) it gives us the perfect opportunity to document, enjoy, archive, analyse, and learn from their experiences, lives and stories for future generations to use to strategize for the future. 

The Brexit vote has confirmed to various ethnic communities of what many already knew; the main reason the country voted to leave the EU was because of immigration and wanting to “protect the borders”, which in other words means keep Britain white and immigrant free. Many voted not out of economic reasons but for racial cleansing, keeping the borders up and other discriminatory reasons. I dare you to ask any Brexit voter their opinion on the pros and cons of the various issues including the Single Market or European Human Rights laws as many will be clueless and were led not by their minds, but their hearts, through tactical unethical propaganda and scaremongering similar to the Windrush, which speaks volumes for Britain. On the week of the Brexit vote a young relative of mine was told to “Go back to African now we voted Brexit” on three separate occasions at school, no child should be told that, especially by another child, which shows that not much has changed regarding racism in schools through the generations. 

When looking at immigration today, compared to immigration during the Windrush Era, immigrants today although not invited to do so, still play a pivotal part of holding up the infrastructure of the UK in key jobs such as cleaning, construction, nursing, manual labour, agriculture and more (sounding familiar?). Filling many of the positions previously held by the Windrush Generation, due to this it is very clear to see why certain members of the community voted to leave in the Brexit vote. 

My biggest fear for Brexit internationally is that Britain will again rely on the “Commonwealth” they previously enslaved and colonised without supporting, repaying or acknowledging their contribution to Britain’s wealth and prosperity. I hope the countries in the current and former Commonwealth don’t fall for what can only be described as a new wave of Colonialism by taking lessons from the past and learning to negotiate on equal terms. By again relying on external support from the UK or accepting detrimental trade deals for their nation will come at a cost to the countries progression, this could take the individual countries back decades as well as leaving those nation’s future generations “indebted” to Britain AGAIN! 

Regarding Brexit nationally, I have no fear of racism and discrimination rising because it has never stopped! As a wise woman once told me, “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” and history has already shown me the hand of those leaning on the right, the only difference between pre and post Brexit is that the cards are laid out on the table, plain for everyone to see. As the grandson of Windrush Caribbean migrants, I am proud of the contributions that our ancestors made in changing this country, we as a community need to embody the courage and bravery of our ancestors to venture towards a brighter future for the community with their same spirit… 

…as a “Black Britain” I have “no country to go back to” as this IS my country as my ancestors built up this land (unlike migrating communities today) and we will be acknowledged. 

As I put the final touches writing this article the nationally known “Brixton Market”, home of the bustling cultural hub for Afro-Caribbean goods and services since the Windrush era in the 1960’s (slowly killed off by “regeneration”), was just sold onto an Irish Property Tycoon on the 22nd Feb 2018. This symbolizes not only the death of Brixton, the historic cultural hub, but the ushering away of the Windrush Generation in London. This also shows how much this country truly appreciates the toil and hard work of our ancestors. So I turn to the community on the anniversary of the Windrush, coinciding with the rise of in-your-face racism from Brexit, alongside widespread gentrification removing the BME community from the cityscape; to demand and campaign for acknowledgement of the Afro-Caribbean contribution to Britain. Whilst it is important to campaign are we really going to wait for our community to be acknowledged? It is crucial that we acknowledge ourselves and teach the next generations about the collective experience so we can plan for tomorrow. Remember, as the next move is up to us. 

Perspectives on the Windrush generation scandal: A response from David Lammy MP

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In 2018, on the 70th anniversary of the arrival the Empire Windrush, the 50th anniversary of Enoch Powell’s abhorrent ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, and the 25th anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, the tragic but incontestable reality is that Britain still has huge progress to make with race relations and migration. The Windrush scandal was more than a unique mistake caused by officials – it was a disgraceful and as yet unresolved display of a toxic and racist undercurrent driven by public alarm over immigration.

The relationship between Britain and the Caribbean runs back all the way to 1623, and despite slavery and colonisation 25,000 Caribbeans volunteered to serve in the First World War and Second World War alongside British troops. When my ancestors arrived in this country under the Nationality Act of 1948, they arrived as British citizens. They were British subjects not because they came to Britain, but because Britain came to them, took their ancestors across the Atlantic, colonised them, sold them into slavery, profited from their labour and made them British subjects. The connection between Britain and colonised countries was created by the former, which makes it all the more appalling to see individuals who helped rebuild this shattered nation in the post-war period be rejected, caged, turned into prisoners by their own country and disqualified as British.

The campaign for justice for the Windrush generation is not just about politics. It is about a burning injustice that stretches from 10 Downing Street into the lives of thousands of British citizens. At its heart is a ‘hostile environment policy’ designed by Theresa May to reduce immigration figures and appeal to the right-wing of the electorate. The effect was to dehumanise, demonise and victimise British citizens in a race to the bottom. It is this policy that barred British citizens from accessing the public services and benefits from a welfare system that they themselves built with their own hands, and that they staffed and paid for through tax and National Insurance contributions. This policy turned employers, doctors, landlords and social workers into border guards. It is the same policy that makes people effectively guilty unless proven innocent – an inhumane treatment which blurs the lines and denies thousands of Commonwealth British men and women their rights. To lose your job, have your driving licence revoked and lose your right to housing is to systematically lose your identity. When we place targets over people we can expect nothing less. Desperate attempts to bring down the immigration figures led the government to endanger some of the most vulnerable people, families and communities in this country.

As a campaigner, on 15 April I coordinated a letter to Theresa May co-signed by 140 MPs calling for the PM to take urgent action. On 16 April, I secured an Urgent Question in the House of Commons calling on the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, to make a statement on the status of Windrush citizens in this country. On 28 April, I coordinated another letter to the Prime Minister alongside Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, which was co-signed by 200 MPs. This called on the government to enshrine the rights of the Windrush generation in law. With the government still failing to resolve the issue adequately, on 11 May I wrote to the Home Secretary, demanding that all submissions to the Windrush compensation scheme consultation should be treated as anonymous and not passed to immigration enforcement.

Since bringing the issue onto the public agenda, I have continued to be outspoken on the treatment of the Windrush generation, urging the Home Secretary to offer a hardship fund for victims and a comprehensive compensation scheme. Moving forward, I will continue to fight for the British men and women who are under attack from this policy, which was fuelled by a toxic, anti-immigrant rhetoric and panders to cowards that blame immigrants for government failures. We’re all British – this is a multi-ethnic country with a long history. I will continue to assert the rights of British citizens because no one should be disqualified from owning their identity no matter what their skin colour.

Written by David Lammy

David Lammy has been the Labour Member of Parliament for his home constituency of Tottenham since 2000. David was born in Tottenham in 1972, one of five children raised by a single mother. David was called to the Bar of England and Wales in 1994, practised as a barrister in England and the United States and became the first black Briton to study a Masters in Law at Harvard Law School, graduating in 1997. David served for 8 years (2002-10) as a Minister in the last Labour government, including as Culture Minister and Higher Education Minister, and was appointed to the Privy Council in 2008. David is one of Parliament’s most prominent campaigners for social justice. David is also a regular contributor to national newspapers and publications including The Guardian, The Times, The Independent, New Statesman and others, and appears regularly on television and radio.

Windrush70

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Arthur Torrington, Director and Co-founder of ‘Windrush Foundation’ Photo: Courtesy of Arthur Torrington

In 1996, Sam King MBE and Arthur Torrington CBE established Windrush Foundation ‘to keep alive the memories of the young men and women who were among the first wave of post-war settlers in Britain’.

2018 marked the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush that brought to the UK nearly a thousand Caribbean passengers who disembarked on 22 June 1948 at Tilbury Docks, Essex. The ship has become an iconic symbol of ‘post-war Caribbean settlement’ in Britain. Windrush70, a project led by the Windrush Foundation, has highlighted the contributions that these individuals have made and continue to make to British society and the cultural landscape since the 1940s.

During World War Two, thousands of Caribbean men and women volunteered for the British armed forces, with some 6000 serving in the RAF. Many of the men on the Empire Windrush were RAF servicemen who were returning to their jobs in the UK, or who were taking the opportunity to settle in Britain knowing that the country needed workers with the skills they had acquired both during and prior to the war. The other passengers were new to the country and relied on the ex-servicemen for advice, companionship and support. They all sought a better future and standard of life.

It has been estimated that about 4,000 Caribbean servicemen made their homes in the UK after the war. They included Laurent Phillpotts and Hubert ‘Baron’ Baker, who were both living in Britain when the Windrush arrived and helped passengers with accommodation, employment and further education, as well as Gilbert Clarke and Sam King, who both travelled on the Windrush. Sam King became involved in the pioneering West Indian Gazette and later became the first black mayor of the London Borough of Southwark. Connie Mark, who served with the Auxiliary Territorial Service in Jamaica, arrived in Britain in 1954 and became a formidable community organiser and activist.

Windrush Foundation has discovered that those post-war settlers became the nucleus of the Caribbean community. As pioneers, their voices are important for a better understanding of the lives and experiences of Caribbean people in the UK. The 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush, in particular, commemorates and celebrates their journey and contribution to the rebuilding of Britain after World War Two. In parallel, the 70th anniversary has brought attention to the presence and contributions of the wider ‘Windrush generation’, a term used today to describe Caribbean people who settled in the UK from the 1940s to 1972. Those who arrived in the UK after the war stand on the shoulders of the earlier settlers in terms of the sharing of advice, providing practical necessities such as accommodation, and the building of companionship and community.

To discover more, explore the biographies in the Windrush Foundation’s publication, ‘70 Windrush Pioneers and Champions’.

Written by Arthur Torrington

Arthur Torrington CBE is a co-founder and director of the Windrush Foundation, a registered charity that designs and delivers heritage projects, programmes and initiatives which highlight African and Caribbean peoples’ contributions to UK public services, the Arts, commerce, and other areas of socio-economic and cultural life in Britain and the Commonwealth. In 1996, the same year as the Windrush Foundation was founded, Arthur Torrington also established the Equiano Society. The society’s main objective is to publicise and celebrate the life and work of Olaudah Equiano, as well as of Equiano’s contemporaries who made outstanding contributions to African literary and cultural heritage.

The Windrush Legacy in Lambeth:  Cllr Lib Peck, Leader of Lambeth Council 

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Lambeth is a borough rightly proud of its openness and diversity with a pivotal role in the Windrush story .  It was to Lambeth that the majority of the passengers from the Caribbean headed when they disembarked the MVWindrush at Tilbury 70 years ago.  It was in Lambeth Town Hall that so much of a new musical heritage was heard  and of course, where the famous No Colour Bar Dance was held in 1955.  So, it was very fitting and a great privilege for me to be in the refurbished Town Hall in March  for the launch of the Windrush70 logo and website designed by young people from  the Brixton based social enterprise Champion Design.  

Alongside  Communities Minister Lord Bourne, my fellow councillors Sonia Winfred and Donatus Anywanu  were representatives from The Voice, Brixton Design Trail, the Windrush Foundation and Young Lambeth Cooperative. It was the inter-generational mix that was so inspiring and I know that Young Lambeth Coop are working with the Windrush Foundation on a series of workshops and talks to commemorate Windrush70. The enthusiasm of both, despite the decades of age difference is remarkable and it is clear that young people have a real thirst for knowledge and understanding about the Windrush Generation and the massive impact on Britain. How very fitting that the tag line for Windrush70, created by Champion’s young designers  is ‘Part of Great Britain’s DNA’ . 

Over the last few years we have all witnessed  and been appalled by shocking  acts of violence , borne out of intolerance and ignorance. Social media has become a space for misogyny, racism, homophobia and bullying . Siren voices fuelling xenophobia and antipathy towards ‘other people’ have grown louder  since Brexit which is why it is so important that Windrush70 is not just a commemoration of  a voyage made by several hundred people but how their legacy has changed all our lives – culturally, socially, economically and politically. 

Lambeth has been and continues to be enriched by people who come and make their homes here. I am proud that we have welcomed more Syrian refugee families than any other borough in London and I know, admire and appreciate  the contribution made by Portugese, Somalian and Ethiopian communities. 

Phrases like ‘diversity’ and ‘melting pot’ don’t do justice to what migration means and brings. How many of us could imagine uprooting and making a new life in a different country, whether by choice or out of desperation ?  Regardless of any material possessions, what people bring are treasured  memories and knowledge from their lives and other lands – recipes passed down from great , great grandmothers, songs and stories from distant childhood, music, art, literature, skills, imagination and ideas.  

Lambeth is marking Windrush70 with a range of events, exhibitions, debates, performances , talks and tours  and I’m delighted that after extensive refurbishment the Town Hall will host many of those – including a tea party for older residents, a special performance by the Phoenix Dance Theatre and an exhibition of Harry Jacobs’s photographs.     

Politicians, governments, experts and academics the world over argue and debate the importance and very notion of integration.  While that dance in Lambeth Town Hall over 60 years ago might now seem a rather clumsy attempt at managing integration, the intention  was to  show that Lambeth was a borough that would not tolerate the racism faced by many of  its new residents.  And that holds true today.  Lambeth is open, tolerant and proud of its diversity  – as the Windrush70 logo says, it’s part of our DNA. 

As we mark the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the MV Windrush, I truly hope we  embed that tolerance and openness  even more in Lambeth . To paraphrase Barak Obama , we are a borough of immigrants.  We were strangers once, too. 

We are working with our partners to build a #BetterLambeth – find out more at http://love.lambeth.gov.uk/bett

Spirit of Windrush: Contributions to Multicultural Britain – a service of thanksgiving in Westminster Abbey, 12 noon 22 June 2018 to mark Windrush@70

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In the midst of life’s mundane, there comes the occasional moment to treasure. Such a moment is what 12 noon on Friday 22 June 2018 promises to be.  It marks the 70th anniversary of the docking of MV Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks on 22 June 1948 with its significant passenger list of over 500 people from the Caribbean, mostly Jamaica.  These were young adventurers grasping the opportunity to sail into what they hoped would be an economically bright future for them and their families – even as they left all-year-round sunshine and real heat behind.  Most dreamt of returning richer after five years. 

This was not the first presence of African people in Britain, but the Windrush’s significant numbers at once sent tremors through the British political establishment and cultural police, leading inexorably to that evocative ‘Rivers of blood’ speech by the late Enoch Powell MP. Somehow, that African people contributed to building Hadrian’s Wall in the 3rd century, that many had lived in Britain as a result of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, that some made the ultimate sacrifice defending Britain and its Empire in World Wars 1 and 2, meant little or nothing to those who believed in white supremacy and could only imagine black and white coexistence if white privilege was guaranteed.  Powell was to later imply that if migration as that represented by Windrush persisted, in a short while ‘the black man would have the whip-hand over the white man.’ 

The 70 years since the docking of the Windrush have been in many ways similar to what went before in one significant sense.  W. E. B. Du Bois the American sociologists described it as a problem of the ‘colour–line’.  This has manifested itself in many different ways including: enduring inequalities based on race/ethnicity in social, economic and political spheres; riots, deaths and maiming particularly in former industrialized inner cities; with the occasional glimpses of what could happen if we learned to love all of God’s creation and embrace fellow human being as made by and in the image of Creator God – just like me.  

Out of a background of opportunities denied, futures blighted, hopes dashed and faith challenged has emerged a major cause for rejoicing: the emergence of the Black Church Movement in Britain, a movement that permeates the entire Christian community and beyond.  At its core is the Black (mostly Pentecostal) Church.  Proving doubters wrong, the Black Church in Britain has shown that a key response to a hostile socio-economic and political environment is self-reliance and self-determination.  As the Black Church has shown itself strong, resilient and self-assured – those who once called it a ‘sect’ now call it ‘partner’, fellow travelers on the journey of faith in a troubled world.   

Alongside the Black Church are those Black Christians who refused to bow to the racism that sought to exclude them from their traditional belonging to European-initiated denominations like Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, et al. Choosing to remain because ‘this is my church’, they continue to wage spiritual warfare on persistent racism and inequalities – principalities and powers in high and holy places.  In the face of experience to the contrary their faith leads to an embrace of a vision of a church and world in which all live in justice and peace.   

The Church therefore continues to strive to be the best example of what the late Dr martin Luther King called, the beloved community.  To that end we to pray to God: ‘Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.’ 

On 22 June 2018 in Westminster Abbey 2,200 people will gather to mark Windrush@70. We will be giving thanks to God for the Godstances that have brought us here.  In the words of a song: ‘Look where God has brought us, he has brought us from a mighty log way’.  The storyof that journey of the Windrush Generation will be told through three lenses: invitation, mixed welcome, resilience/overcoming.  These will take the forms of narration, images, displays, music and a sermon by The Rev’d Joel Edwards, and specially commissioned musical piece by renown composer Shirley Thompson, MBE. 

Against the background of the recent ‘Windrush Generation’ citizenship controversy this service will be a mark of how far we have come while making it plain there is yet some way to go. For the sake of future generations we put our trust in God and hope for a brighter tomorrow based on hard work, ingenuity, a commitment to love self and other, and a relentless resistance against the forces of evil.   

We believe God has and will always have the ‘whip-hand’ over evil.  

Bishop Dr Joe Aldred 

Written By Bishop Dr Joe Aldred Chair of Windrush”70National Service Planning Group Churches Together in England 

 

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