Windrush Day, 22nd June 2020: A celebration and a history

Windrush Day 22nd June 2020: A celebration, a historical note too

On Tuesday 22nd of June 1948 the ship MV Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks in Essex bringing approximately 1000 Jamaican transplants to the UK. They were the first wave of immigrants that had been recruited by the British government to replenish a workforce and economy that had been decimated by World War II. These new Afro Caribbean migrants were tasked with regenerating and expanding tertiary industries such as the newly formed NHS, transportation but also the production of coal, steel, iron and food. From that day in 1948 and until 1971 many others left the Caribbean to begin new lives in England. The Caribbean Diasporas brought new cuisines, observances and forms of celebration. In 1966 the West Indian community established the Notting Hill Carnival which has grown to become a landmark event on the London calendar drawing international crowds and performances. It is now one of the largest street festivals in Europe and annually makes millions of pounds for the London economy.

However, despite the arguably essential contribution that was made by the Windrush generation and their descendants, their initial reception was not universally positive. Many experienced discrimination in housing and employment and were racially abused. In 1963 Paul Stephenson organised the Bristol Bus Boycott against Bristol Omnibus Company which had the discriminatory practise of excluding non-white people from employment as bus crew. For 60 days the whole bus network was boycotted, this colour bar policy was finally lifted on 28 August 1963 the same day that Martin Luther King Jr. made his much celebrated “I have a dream” speech. Some argue that this protest paved the way for the first Race Relations Act (1965) which made “racial discrimination unlawful in public places”.

2012 saw the introduction of new immigration rules that aligned with a focus on creating a “hostile environment” resulting in a targeted assault on the Windrush generation and their descendants. Many had been told that they had leave to remain in the UK but had acted on goodwill and did not have documentary proof of their residency status. In 2018 it was reported that 500, 000 people who had arrived during the Windrush era, many of them as children did not have all of the correct documentation. This lead to British citizens being deported “back” to Caribbean countries that they hadn’t seen since childhood, ripped apart from their families and their livelihoods, denied access to housing, benefits and healthcare. The burden of proof was placed on them to provide documentary evidence for each year of residence in the UK, many could not and therefore, were branded as illegal immigrants. They were detained in detention centres and forcibly removed from the country. One of these victims was Paulette Wilson who arrived in England at the age of 10, but was placed in detention and threatened with deportation nearly 50 years later after spending all of her adult life in the UK. Or Dexter Bristol who after living and working lawfully in England, as a British citizen, for more than 40 years was sacked from his job as he had no valid passport, he later died whilst in the process of trying to prove his status; Or Margaret O’Brien or; Sylvester Marshall or; countless other names of people who were unlawfully and wrongly denied their right to live freely in this country.

After recriminations and condemnation from within and outside the UK the government promised compensation for the victims. However, two years after the scandal was first disclosed many have not yet received compensation for the injustices that they endured.

Windrush day was first commemorated in 2019. Patrick Vernon first petitioned for Windrush day in 2013, but it wasn’t until 2018, the 70th anniversary of the Windrush ship arriving on our shores and the much publicised Windrush scandal that the then PM Theresa May made it a nationally observed day.

So on this Windrush day we celebrate and commemorate all that has been achieved by the Windrush generation. We thank them for their contributions and the sacrifices that they have made as key workers, on the frontline in train stations, on our buses and in our hospitals. We thank them as valued citizens working in all fields and in all walks of life during this pandemic. We thank them for also helping to enhance our cultural awareness and enrich our lives. We honour their right to live lives free of intolerance and discrimination. We celebrate with them; however, we do not forget the past and current injustices acted upon them. But, use this day to renew our vigour to continue to lobby the government to fully compensate all of those that were mistreated during the Windrush scandal because black lives matter.

For further details of what you can do to celebrate the contributions of the Windrush generation not only today but for the coming year and then thereafter, please refer to the following websites:

Source: Cllr Abena Akuffo-Kelly