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.