When the steamship Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury 70 years ago, the West Indians on board had answered adverts placed in West Indian newspapers for jobs in British hospitals, for London Transport and other local public transport companies and several more similar institutions.
They came to help Britain out of its immediate post-war difficulties with a real shortage of workers and had expected a warm welcome.
In fact the welcome Britain actually offered was as cold and unwelcoming as they found the British climate.
As we know the treatment we gave what become known as the Windrush generation was atrocious then and we know that Theresa May, the departed Amber Rudd and the rest of the racist Tory gang have made it just as bad today.
Today Notting Hill Gate is one of the poshest places to live in London where properties sell for multi-million pound prices to Hollywood stars, Russian oligarchs and anyone else with a spare five million-plus looking for a nice address in London.
Sixty years ago, in 1958, it was much less desirable. Poor working-class housing and many slum streets made it a place where some of London’s new black citizens who arrived on the Empire Windrush and other ships since were forced into sub-standard housing.
I lived just a few miles away in Harlesden. I had grown up among many houses with landlords’ signs like — No Blacks! No Dogs! all over north-west London. I had learnt what racism was like.
Oswald Mosley had briefly returned to Britain and was doing what he could to stir up racial hatred. He would fight the 1959 general election in Kensington North which covered Notting Hill.
His son Max — yes that Max Mosley — served as an election agent for his father’s Union Movement campaign.
I was just 12 in the summer of 1958 and late one night I was awakened from my sleep by an incredible noise.
A gang of people were attacking a house just two doors away from mine. They had flaming torches and they were intent on burning down the only house in our street occupied by a West Indian family.
Their racist taunts and abuse made their motives very clear.
This horrendous gang was made up of local Teddy boys, members of Mosley’s Union Movement and White Defence League people who were active in the area and who held street meetings in Harlesden.
Their clear inspiration were the Klu Klux Klan actions they had seen reported from US. We’d all seen the burning crosses on the cinema newsreels.
Our only black neighbours were driven out and their house gutted and I never saw my first black mate Winston again although I still remember his demon bowling in our cricket matches against the chalked-up wicket on the bombsite wall.
Just up the road, in Notting Hill itself, violence and riots were making the headlines. The main riot started on Friday August 29 when a gang of white youths attacked a Swedish woman, Majbritt Morrison, who had a Jamaican husband, Raymond.
Majbritt and her husband were attacked by a gang of white Teddy Boys at Latimer Road tube station.
They had shouted racial insults at the couple and but rather than be intimidated Majbritt had given as good as she got. The next night, the same youths came across her again. This time they pelted her with bottles and stones. One hit her with an iron bar. At last the police arrived and she was escorted home.
That same night a mob of 300 to 400 white people, including Mosley’s bully boys, some still in black shirts, Teddy Boys and other racists, attacked the houses of West Indian residents in a local street, Bramley Road.
The disturbances, rioting and attacks continued every night for some days, spreading across the area. The police arrested over 140 people during the two weeks of the disturbances. Some were white youths but a third were black people defending their homes and communities.
Of the 108 people charged with violent crimes, 72 were white and 36 were black. Predictably both the police and the government declared the violence had no racial content. In reality it was one of the most shameful times in Britain’s history of race relations.
One good thing came out of the riots — the Notting Hill Carnival. Claudia Jones, a Trinidad-born US communist, had been expelled from the US and come to London to live.
Jones bought together members of the black British community, as well as various international leaders including Cheddi Jagan of British Guyana, Norman Manley of Jamaica and Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago.
As a result, Jones identified the need to “wash the taste of Notting Hill... out of our mouths.” She suggested that the British black community should have its own Caribbean carnival.
The first was held in St Pancras town hall in January 1959. Jazz guitarist Fitzroy Coleman and singer Cleo Laine performed and the event was televised nationally by the BBC.
Funds raised from the event were used to pay the court fees and fines of young black men convicted in the riots.
Today Notting Hill is far more famous for its huge street carnival than for those obscene racist riots in that hot summer of 1958.
But the insulting way we treated the Windrush generation West Indians still continues.
Former home secretary Rudd fell on her sword to save the reputation of Prime Minister May who was herself the longest serving home secretary since the second world war.
Both of them supported a tough stance on setting immigration targets from the West Indies and other Commonwealth nations, particularly those with black populations. Both May and Rudd lied about it.
May has survived so far but only because it seems no other Tory wants the poisoned chalice that is her job.
She and other top Tories are generous with their cheap apologies for past racist actions but not much is happening to make up for the repatriations, imprisonments, loss of jobs and other humiliations that we have heaped on the Windrush generation.
Racism it seems is still one of the Tory’s top tactics.
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