Saturday, July 07, 2007

Windrush to Lewisham

I've been reading Windrush to Lewisham: Memoirs of 'Uncle George' by W.George Brown (London: Mango Publishing 1999), an interesting account of one of the earliest post-war migrants from Jamaica to South East London.

Brown came over on the famous SS Empire Windrush voyage in 1948, and like many other passengers initially lived in temporary accommodation in a deep shelter in Clapham. After several other temporary lodgings he bought a house in 1952 at 79 Lewisham Road and got involved in fighting racism in this part of the world.

As he describes it, ‘I discovered that there were a few pubs in South East London who deliberately refused to serve coloured people. Some were rudely abused by customers of these pubs… In some cases it was so bad that on many occasions the coloured man could only ask someone inside the pub to purchase drinks for him. That person would hand the drinks to him outside the door’. In 1953, Brown joined with others to set up the Anglo-Caribbean Association and Club to provide practical support and social activities for West Indians and their friends. He and colleagues went round to pubs operating a colour bar and demanded to be served, arguing their right to do so with landlords and threatening to publicly expose them in the press if they refused. A similar campaign was mounted in dance halls.

The Anglo-Caribbean Association held its first big meeting in 1954 at the Amersham Arms in New Cross, and held dances and social events at Laurie Grove Swimming Baths and Deptford Town Hall before it secured its own social club in 1959 at 113 Breakspears Road. The following year the club moved t0 229 Greenwich High Road, and later changed its name to the Commonwealth Association and Club. In its early days the Association faced organised racist opposition, its organisers received abusive phonecalls and notes, and in 1954 a sign with a fascist symbol was left outside the the Royal Albert in Blackheath Road where they were planning a meeting. It read 'Keep Briton White' (sic) - spelling was never the fascists' strong point. But thanks to the efforts of W.George Brown and others the overt colour bar was broken down in South East London.

The picture was taken in the Anglo-Caribbean club.

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