Our story is set just after the first world war in Poplar, an east London borough with a population of 160,000 people crammed into the docklands in the bend of the River Thames (Poplar) and the area just north of it (Bow).
At the first opportunity, I dropped history -
lists of dates of kings, queens and gilded greats, handed
out from books by teachers who looked just as down
about it as we felt. It spelt boredom. But I like
it now. Dig, and history is more broad and big
than that. Now I seek out my sisters' and brothers'
stories, walk their streets and wear their clothes
A personal reflection from my dad, prompted by the last line of my poem, Bristol's Brilliant Bus Boycott (1963).
One hundred years ago, an arts movement was forming in a mainly-black district of New York City. Later known as the Harlem Renaissance, it was primarily cultural but also inescapably political. Literature, poetry, jazz, theatre, sculpture and more articulated the lives and demands of African-Americans no longer willing to be grateful that they were no longer enslaved.
O black and unknown bards of long ago.
How came your lips to touch the sacred fire?
How, in your darkness, did you come to know
The power and beauty of the minstrel’s lyre?
Who first from midst his bonds lifted his eyes?
Who first from out the still watch, lone and long.
Feeling the ancient faith of prophets rise
Within his dark-kept soul, burst into song?
James Weldon Johnson
Back before barring blacks became banned
Bristol buses blocked brown-skinned blokes becoming buscrew
But better Bristolians batted back
bit the bullet and boycotted the buses
Bent-backed, booted bipeds bicycled,
as bitter brushes blazed between bile and benevolence
Bands of brave, belligerent banner-bearers
branded the ban biased, barbarous balderdash
This story of colour bars in the UK railway and bus industries begins after the Second World War, when Britain had a labour shortage and people moved to Britain in increasing numbers from Caribbean countries and elsewhere.
NUR Opposes Racism