How far have we come? Slavery, civil rights and contemporary racism

By - Monday 19th May, 2014

Sean Creighton explains the linked Croydon Radical History events in Croydon Heritage Festival

Photot from the United States Library of Congress and in the public domain.

Back in 1971 the reggae group The Greyhound had a hit with ‘Black & White’. The song by David I Arkin, who wrote the lyrics, and Earl Robinson, who created the music, was inspired by the 1954 United States Supreme Court decision that outlawed racial segregation of public schools, an important milestone in the civil rights movement.

The song was published in 1956 and first recorded by Sammy Davis Jr in 1957. Arkin was a victim of the McCarthy witch hunt. Robinson’s music includes songs like ‘Joe Hill’, made famous by Paul Robeson. So a civil rights song was chosen by a group of Jamaican musicians in Britain.

We have yet to overcome racism in Britain and even more so in the US. Recent events have highlighted how the long fight for justice by the Lawrence and Groce families have been continually frustrated by institutional racism, especially in the Metropolitan Police. This racism towards people of African heritage is part of the continuing legacy of British initiated slavery in the West Indies and North America.

Croydon Radical History Network has four linked events on slavery, American civil rights and the experience of black people in Britain with racism and the lack of recognition.

Croydon’s links with slavery, which includes George Smith and George Robert Smith of Selsdon Park, James Trecothick of Addington Palace, Thomas, William and George Coles of Addington, Henry Bowyer Lane, and John Swindell of Lansdowne Road, will be included in a display at Fairfield Halls throughout the Festival. I discussed some of these issues in an earlier piece on the Croydon Citizen called ‘Does Croydon need its own Martin Luther King?‘.

As far as the presence of peoples of African heritage in Croydon is concerned the Radical History Network hopes to run events in the future. My discussion in this article has already triggered a Croydon resident to begin to research the detailed histories of Joyce Daniels from British Guyana, who was a student nurse and senior ward sister at Cane Hill Mental Hospital (1953-1957), and Dr Malcolm Joseph-Mitchell, a Trinidadian, who set up a home for mixed heritage children in Purley in the late 1940s.

Heritage Festival events

Honouring Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Other Black People Through Plaques
Illustrated talk by Jak Beula (Nubian Jak Community Trust)
Wednesday 25th June, 7pm
The Spread Eagle, 39-41 Katharine Street, Croydon, CR0 1NX

200 years a Slave: Croydon’s slavery connections
Talk by Nick Draper (Legacies of British Slave-ownership project)
Monday 30th June, 7pm-9pm
Fairfield Halls, Croydon

Look How Far We’ve Come: Commentaries On British Society and Racism
DVD film showing in association with Kwaku, history consultant and Look How Far We’ve Come project director, followed by discussion
Wednesday 2nd July, 7-9pm
Matthews Yard, off Surrey Street, Croydon, CR0 1FF

Freedom Riders
Showing of documentary film about the American Civil Rights Movement in the early 1960s in association with Nu-Urban Image International Pictures followed by discussion.
Thursday 3rd July, 7-10pm
Matthews Yard, off Surrey St, Croydon
The Radical History Network and South Croydon Community Association are jointly running

Croydon’s Darwin: Alfred Russel Wallace: scientist and social reformer Talk by Prof. David Stack
Thursday 26th June, 7pm

I will be giving two talks below:

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
As part of Norbury History Day orgnaised by David Clark, historian of Norbury with the support of the 4 Norbury residents Association.
Saturday 28th June. 2-5pm
Harlow Hall, Oakhill/Stamford Rds, SW16

Crystal Palace and the Edwardian Roller Skating Boom
Monday 23rd June, 7pm
The Spread Eagle, 39-41 Katharine Street, Croydon

The first three events are free. Freedom Riders costs £3 or £1.50 concessions (14-18, on benefits and 60+). Pay in advance by booking here or pay on the night. The full festival programme can be seen at the Croydon Heritage website. Further details from me at .


Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

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