History of the Pan-African Congress, George Padmore (editor) 1947

The Colour Problem in Britain.

October 15th, 1945. First Session

Chairman: Mrs. Amy Ashwood Garvey (Jamaica).

Rapporteurs: E. J. Duplan & E. A. Aki Emi (Gold Coast).

Dr. Peter Milliard, President Pan-African Federation welcomed the delegates warmly. He referred, in a brief history of the Fifth Pan-African Congress, to the assistance Dr. Du Bois had given in publicising it in America, and said that the Pan-African Congress was Dr. Du Bois’s child. Dr. Milliard pledged the determination of the Fifth Pan-African Congress to assist the child to grow to manhood. The lesson to be learned from the response to the Congress was that our people are ready for the call and only waiting for intelligent and honest leadership. We cannot and must not fail them. The Pan-African Federation had drawn up the Agenda, but it was for the delegates to express their views, as it was their Congress. He thanked those who had helped with the organisation, especially Councillor Harper of Manchester who had helped to secure the hall in which the Congress was held and promised to be of service to the Pan-African Federation and other African organisations in Manchester at any time if he was able.

Mr. John McNair brought fraternal greetings from the Independent Labour Party.

Mr. E. J. Duplan (Gold Coast) Negro Welfare Centre, reported on the position of coloured people in the British Isles. He said that in the war of 1914-18 coloured workers had taken a very major part in the defence of Britain, and were given all sorts of promises of employment and benefits, which were not fulfilled. In fact, they were in many instances the victims of riots. Despite any technical qualifications they had, it was impossible for them during the inter-war period to secure employment and the majority of them in Liverpool, Cardiff and Hull lived below the subsistence level on the dole and public assistance, when they received it. How they lived otherwise was difficult to describe. When war broke out in 1939, a number of Africans, because of the untrue picture they had been given of Britain, stowed away on ships and came to England. Owing to the scarcity of labour which was arising, they managed to become absorbed into factories and the forces, including the Air Force. But even though this began to give Africans a sense of belonging, yet they were still victims of the colour bar.

At the present moment there were many coloured people in Britain who had come to the country by various means during the war. Only those whose papers showed that they had been at sea for the past ten or fifteen years would be allowed to remain in the Mercantile Marine Pool. Those who had started since 1939, could not be guaranteed a job for longer than six months. They could take the alternative and go back to their own countries.

Then there was the question of illegitimate coloured children who had been born to white women whose husbands in many cases were in the U.S. forces. Homes were being broken up when the husbands came back, and the undesired coloured children were not received into homes for white children. It was a large problem, in which the Government was taking no hand to provide shelter or assistance for the mothers or children.

Mr. A. Aki-Emi (Gold Coast) Coloured Workers’ Association, supplemented Mr. Duplan’s report. One of the reasons why coloured people come to Britain is imperialism in our own countries, which is uncomfortable to live with. But in England there are obstacles to finding a livelihood. We have the right to jobs, but difficulty in get tin., them. He mentioned what the Colonial Office did in regard to seamen during the war who were brought over by the shipping companies and then abandoned until they were wanted to man ships going to the tropics. The struggle to gain a certain security from the shipping authorities had been going on for a number of years, and he asked that every support be given to the claims of the seamen.

Mr. A. E. Moselle, United Committee of Coloured Peoples’ Association (Cardiff): He came from an area which has the largest coloured population in Great Britain created by conditions governing the employment of coloured seamen. As a rule coloured seamen were given employment only on coal-carrying ships, those with clean cargoes carrying white seamen. Since Cardiff was the largest coal port, it became the centre where most coloured men went for employment. Inter-marriage had brought about it a community of coloured youths, and the question in Cardiff is: What are we going to do with them? The Juvenile Department of the Ministry of Labour had made a serious investigation, tabulating the number of children and noting the increase in those attending school over the age of ten years. Their report had been circulated to industrial undertakings in the area and certain suggestions were in made, the final one being that they must be got rid of. Employment must be distributed among them sparsely, with the result that the Labour Exchange was not at all anxious to place these youths.

Therefore, we are faced with a determination to exclude these coloured youths and it is strongly suggested that, though born in Britain with mothers and grandparents here, they should migrate to Africa Is there much employment for the youths in Africa and the West Indies? The authorities should train, educate and fit them for educational positions in Africa and the West Indies. We must take hold of the problem here, for here is the centre of the trouble.

Mr. De Graf Johnson, Coloured Peoples’ Association (Edinburgh) agreed that the student class in Great Britain had cut itself aloof from the general body of coloured people in Great Britain, and that this made the struggle more difficult. As a student he had from time to time taken an active interest in the coloured problem, and pointed out that students are sometimes treated with an air of suspicion. He said that this meeting was bringing together both the student and non-student sections, and hoped that out of it a new solidarity would be born. They must work together to put an end to the imperialists who are against us.

Mr. Peter Abrahams, International African Service Bureau (South Africa), spoke of the injustice suffered by coloured people in Britain, particularly those living in poorer quarters such as the East End of London. He told of cases where individuals had been unjustly treated by the police, one instance being where coloured and white men had been arrested for gambling together. The white men were dismissed and advised not to associate with coloured men, the latter being sentenced to fines or terms of imprisonment.

October 15th, 1945. Second Session

Owing to the fact that His Worship The Lord Mayor of Manchester was not able to attend in the morning, the official opening of the Fifth Pan-African Congress took place in the afternoon at Chorlton Town Hall. The hall was decorated with the flags of the Republics of Haiti and Liberia, and the flag of Ethiopia. Printed slogans were placed along the walls, with a map of Africa occupying an important place.

Mrs. Amy Ashwood Garvey announced that His Worship The Lord Mayor of Manchester, Alderman Jackson, had kindly consented to welcome the delegates, and called upon Dr. Peter Milliard to welcome him.

Dr. Milliard said he found special pleasure in the privilege of receiving His Worship The Lord Mayor. He had lived in Manchester for twenty-one years, and fell that it must be the most liberal city in England. He recalled how in the Civil War between the Northern and Southern States of America, the South was blockaded by the North. The cotton mills of Lancashire were largely dependent upon the South for their cotton and the mill-owners decided that the British Government would send warships to break the blockade to the Southern States. The cotton-workers stood up as a man against his decision and thus helped to destroy slavery. This assistance should never be forgotten. It illustrated the hospitality and human understanding of the Lancashire people. He hoped that Manchester would continue to merit this high opinion which held by the Negroes who have lived in the city. Therefore it was no surprise when the Lord Mayor agreed to come arid address the delegates today, for he was simply expressing that high liberalism which Manchester has always maintained throughout the world.

His Worship the Mayor expressed his pleasure at coming to the Congress and in welcoming the delegates to the city. He hoped they would carry away very pleasant recollections and that the Conference would be an important and profitable one.

Mr. I. T. A. Wallace-Johnson, Sierra Leone Trade Union Congress, seconded the vote of thanks to the Lord Mayor. That afternoon would go into history and Manchester was helping to make this history. We were there that day to demand equal status, equal rights, not merely to exist, but to live in the real sense of the word. He extended thanks to the Lord Mayor for honouring the Congress by his presence.

The Lord Mayor then left the meeting, which returned to the business of the report on conditions of coloured people in Britain.

Mr. S. O. J. Andrews (Grenada, B.W.I.) was highly pleased to see that we had at last decided to take up the challenge to night for our rights. The Negro problem is a heavy task, the journey long, but our shoulders are broad. As he looked round, he saw the strength and the will to succeed. We were here with one understanding, that the Colonial Office will have to realise the time has come when we no longer beg for what we deserve, but that we are demanding that which is ours. He had heard quite a lot about the Mother Country, and he was very pleased when he had the opportunity to come and see for himself. He had been in South Wales. There are a lot of coloured residents, and employment in many instances is very scarce. We want to tell the Colonial Office that the time has come when they must assist us to educate our children properly and to find homes. He meant homes, not shacks. He hoped that before the end of the week we would have a report to put before the leaders of the Government to say that we have this week joined hands from all over the British Empire to demand a proper place, justice and our share in the winning of the peace, because Negroes from all over the world have died for freedom and are prepared to die for peace.

Mr. E. P. Marke, Coloured Workers’ Association, London (West Africa), was glad that we are at last beginning to awaken from our long sleep. We have been kept down so long that if we had not begun to realise that we are members of the human race, we should have been kept permanently down. Negroes had fought in the two great wars, and he hoped that the things which happened in 1919 would not occur again in 1945. Our cooperation must prevent that.

Mr. A. Richardson (Barbados) said that it was the best moment of his life to see his brothers gathered together to demand their rights. We must support each other to the limit.

Miss Alma La Badie, Universal Negro Improvement Assn. (Jamaica), said she was interested in child welfare. One of the most vital problems that the Congress is asked to consider is that of the children left behind by coloured American troops. Many of these babies were born to married women whose husbands were serving overseas. Now that the husbands were returning the condition of forgiveness was that the children be sent elsewhere. Consequently it was imperative to form a. committee to look after these babies. There is a home actually in existence, but money is needed to help it to function. We cannot allow the children to suffer for the mistakes of their fathers and mothers.

Mr. C. D. Hyde, Negro Welfare Centre, Liverpool, said that in Liverpool there is an organisation which will look after the children born in Britain of Americans and West Indians. He thought we should have a central organisation, and was pleased to learn that there are people in America who are willing to lend a hand.

Mr. F. O. B. Blaize (Nigeria), said that the problem of the black seamen is a great one. So many sacrifices were made by these people, and many risked and lost their lives for England, but have not been well treated. We must see that these people get justice. Some people felt that the Labour Government would take notice, but we must not wait to see what they can do. We must demand that something be done at once. About the coloured children, those born in Britain have the right to stay here. If the British people think they have the right to live in Africa, then we have the right to stay here. We have the right to get together and see that something is done for us here.