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Basil Watson's National Windrush Monument - London

Nov 02 – Nov 15, 2023
Praising the Past

windrush monument

great black migration

Basil Watson, sculptor of the National Windrush Monument, is under consideration for The Marsh Award for Excellence in Public Sculpture, an annual award for public sculpture in the United Kingdom or Ireland (UK).  The sculpture marks the 75th anniversary of the first vessel bringing hundreds of West Indians, who became known as the Windrush Generation, to the UK. While the monument commemorates the immigrants who came on board the HMT Empire Windrush in 1948, the commemoration extends to those who came to the UK until 1971.

The British Great Migration began when the government needed workers to help fill post-War labor shortages and rebuild the economy. Hence, the British Nationality Act of 1948 gave people from the British colonies the right to live and work in Britain, the “mother” country.
Similar to rural Blacks moving from the warmer South to urban, northern neighborhoods, these children of Africa living in the warmth of the Caribbean found themselves in the cold and sterile environs and confines of London, Birmingham and Manchester.
Barrington Salmon, a former Kingston (Jamaica) College high school classmate of Basil, says Windrush differs from its American counterpart because those living in the Caribbean, Africa, and India were officially invited via the British Nationality Act. While not officially invited North, African Americans were invited to similarly shore up the White labor shortage in booming Northern industries by advertisements in newspapers such as the Chicago Daily Defender, company agents, and family members who had moved “Up North,” as depicted in artist Jacob Lawrence’s The Migration Series.

When accepting the nomination, Watson said, "My parents were early Windrush generation pioneers, meeting on the ship to London in about 1952, spending a decade in the pursuit of betterment then returning to a newly independent Jamaica in 1962. My father would say that he is a ‘ship with a set rudder’ and this monument has helped me to plot the course he and others traversed as they embarked on a mission of self-advancement, while rebuilding a Britain that they somewhat regarded as their motherland, and you recognize the challenges they faced. Decked in their special attire along with their bulging suitcases, it clearly demonstrates that this was a special journey and a seismic moment in history.”

The British monument beckons historically to the Monument to the Great Northern Migration in Bronzeville, Chicago. Alison Saar’s bronze figure pays homage to the thousands of African Americans who migrated to Chicago starting in the early 1900s. The solo figure is carrying a tattered suitcase.

With an official British act in mind, Salmon’s s parents, Stephen Lloyd and Enid Salmon, boarded ships and headed to an uncertain life in 1950 and 1951. “My mom was a seamstress, while my father was a master carpenter. However, he was hired by British Railway as a carriage cleaner before being promoted to a shunter and then a conductor.”

His parents and others saved Britain by taking jobs as manual laborers, teachers, nurses, cleaners, drivers, and other jobs the British didn’t want to do. “Most Caribbean island-nations were also being battered economically and the prospects of jobs in the United Kingdom offered opportunity unlikely to manifest back home,” he said.

Similar to rural Blacks moving from the warmer South to urban, northern neighborhoods, these children of Africa living in the warmth of the Caribbean found themselves in the cold and sterile environs and confines of London, Birmingham and Manchester. “Our parents, aunts and uncles and other family members, experienced conditions that challenged them daily with those like my mother left wondering why they were there in the first place,” Salmon continued.  

Comparable to African Americans, the newly arrived Black Brits met northern hostility. “They struggled to secure decent housing because of the unwritten policy of “No Blacks, no Irish, no dogs” but through all this, our family and wider community held fast, bonded together and fashioned a rich and varied life for themselves and their children,” explained Salmon.

In the years since, successive British governments, particularly the Tories (conservatives) have used legislation and policies to deny members of the Windrush generation citizenship and the right to remain in the country. And even as the UK celebrated Windrush’s 75th anniversary, the British government continues to fight against Black Windrushers and their descendants which deportations has become a common oppressive tool these days, observe journalist Salmon.
See Also:Immigration Is a Black Issue, Too: A Look at Gambians Who Send Big Money Home by Modou Joof.
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