Conservative-controlled Wandsworth starts campaign to erect statue of London’s first black mayor – a Liberal

By Sian Bayley

 

London’s first Black Mayor could soon be commemorated in Battersea.

The leader of Wandsworth Council, councillor Ravi Govindia, has launched a campaign to erect a statue of John Archer in the Battersea or Clapham Junction area following calls by community group Love Battersea for the local trailblazer to be commemorated.

John Archer, whose father was from Barbados, moved to Battersea the 1890s with his wife Bertha, and initially served as a councillor in the Latchmere ward, successfully campaigning for a minimum wage of 32 shillings a week for council workers.

He was elected as Mayor of Battersea in 1913, giving a rousing speech in which he declared: “You have made history tonight. For the first time in the history of the English nation a man of colour has been elected as mayor of an English borough. That will go forth to the coloured nations of the world and they will look to Battersea and say Battersea has done many things in the past, but the greatest thing it has done has been to show that it has no racial prejudice and that it recognises a man for the work he has done.”

In 1918 he became the first president of the African Progress Union and chaired the Pan-African Congress in London. He was re-elected to the council, this time for Labour, in 1919

He was again elected for Labour in 1931, for the Nine Elms ward, before becoming deputy leader of Battersea Council.

He died while in the role in 1932 aged 69.

Cllr Govindia said: “Now seems the right time to look for positive role models and to celebrate the achievements of John Archer who remains an inspiration for so many people.

“I know many people in Battersea and Wandsworth are very proud of John Archer’s contribution to Battersea and London;  he was a true pioneer and in time has become one of the earliest role models of black achievement in London.

“With racial equality and justice at the forefront of the news agenda I feel that this is the perfect way to celebrate black achievement and a man who paved the way for future generations of politicians from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.”

The council plans to contribute an initial donation towards the statue and then seek further contributions from the wider community to help get it built.

It is still early days yet, but it is thought the statue will be built around the Battersea or Clapham Junction area, with some sort of crowd funding set up for public donations.

Cllr Govindia added: “There is a motto attributed to Battersea  that reads ‘Not for me, not for thee, but for us’. This seems more fitting than ever and it will be a fantastic achievement for all of us to help raise a public statue for this famous son of Battersea built to mark his achievements forever.”

Leader of the Labour Opposition, cllr Simon Hogg, tweeted his support: “John Archer is a hero in Battersea’s radical Labour history. It’ll be fantastic to remember him with a statue. But let’s honour his legacy with more than just a statue. A century on, we still need action so all can enjoy good health, quality education and equal access to justice.”

In 1922, Archer gave up his council seat to act as Labour Party election agent for Shapurji Saklatvala, a Communist, standing for parliament in North Battersea. He convinced the Labour Party to endorse Saklatvala and he was duly elected one of the first Indian MPs in Britain. He and Saklatvala continued to work together, winning again in 1924 until the Communist and Labour parties split fully. In the 1929 general election, Archer was agent for the official Labour candidate who beat Saklatvala.

Archer was the second black man to be elected a mayor in Britain, after Allen Glaisyer Minns, who was voted into the office in Thetford, Norfolk, in 1904.

Pictured, top, the former Battersea town hall, now Battersea Arts Centre.


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