Windrush75 is an opportunity to remember British Caribbean men and women who arrived on 22 June 1948 at Tilbury Docks, having travelled on the ship Empire Windrush. Commemorative events should mark the iconic event with thoughtfulness and soberness. The first 20 years of their lives in the UK were the worst two decades of their lives in the sense that many of them struggled to settle down. Many emigrated to North America because of overt racism in the UK. We know this from a special edition of The Sunday Times magazine in June 1968. Ex-RAF WWII serviceman and a Windrush passenger Sam King organised the feature which commemorated the 20th anniversary of Windrush Day.
Housing was the major drawback from day one, 22 June 1948. More than 236 male passengers were obliged to live in the Clapham South Deep Shelter, in Lambeth, for at least 3 weeks. They visited a Labour Exchange in Brixton, from where jobs were obtained. It was in Lambeth that many found more suitable accommodation. Lambeth, in particular Brixton, became the first home of the Windrush generation.
As we mark the 75th anniversary of Empire Windrush’s arrival, it is important that we celebrate, among other, Windrush pioneers like Oswald ‘Columbus’ Denniston and Lucilda Harris who made Brixton their first homes in 1948, or Vincent Reid, a Black history lecturer at Brixton College. This could be done by holding heritage events to tell their inspiring stories and help young people to better Windrush heritage.
I was born in Lambeth and made in Brixton. I’m the daughter of Windrush Generation members and have become an award winning social entrepreneur, community activist/organiser and I am also the chairperson of the Friends of Windrush Square.
I am looking forward to Windrush 75 because it provides a great opportunity to widen the ongoing conversation about the Windrush Generation’s past, present and the future of modern Britain. I’m looking forward to hearing people’s stories, joining celebrations and commemorations, and using this opportunity to highlight the serious social issues that the experience of the Windrush Generation highlights.
The Windrush Generation were met with hostility and discrimination meaning often they didn’t feel they belonged, despite responding to an invitation to come and help rebuild post-war Britain. I am the first generation born in this country, and that hostility and discrimination resulted in me feeling like an outsider who was treated differently, it was alienating. It was frustrating and caused me anger for many years, particularly when I was younger.
The anger and frustration continued through my schooling, people from my community felt constant harassment, they were over-policed and underserved. I witnessed how that anger spilt out into the streets. That experience is a huge part of Brixton’s history, and also the Windrush Generation’s history, and it’s important that we don’t lose sight of this.
To this end, to work through that and become a force for good, my experience becomes a lesson. I’m no longer a slave to my fears and focus on working with the community to find solutions, and find ways forward for the greater good. Windrush 75 is an opportunity to reflect on that journey.
A big turning point for me was when President Nelson Mandela came to Brixton in 1996, and reminded us all that we our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. I think that resonated with many members of the Windrush Generation. It encouraged me to focus on creating positive change in our community and find solutions to lead to a better future for the next generation.
Since the dark days of the ‘80s when Brixton was burnt to the ground, and the worlds eyes were on us, we’ve moved to a more open, community dialogue, there’s more acceptance of difference and now it’s a place where multiculturalism flourishes, it’s rich with culture, people are able to be heard. It’s become a famous place since that moment of reconning.
We must learn lesson from the Windrush Generation who paved the way for people like me. They had great work ethics, they were determined and so resilient. They have passed on those qualities to their descendants who have become leaders. It was such a resilient generation that has taught us all so many admirable qualities, they are unbelievable. I’ve learnt so much.