South London’s Black Sections and the 1921 Pan-African Congress In London

This year marks 100 years since the 1921 second Pan-African Congress in London, Paris and Brussels. Organised to address the issues facing Africa as a result of European colonisation of most of the continent, the congress gained a reputation as a peace-maker for the Pan-African cause. Here South London-based historical musicologist and history consultant Kwaku looks at two key political players – both based south of the Thames.

It’s a century since the 1921 Pan-African Congress took place in London, Brussels and Paris.

Among the Africans from the UK, the US, the Caribbean and Africa, and the liberal Europeans, who attended the London Sessions at the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, was the unlikely figure of Shapurji Saklatvala, the Bombay-born emerging left-wing politician.

Mr Saklatvala’s entry to the Congress was no doubt facilitated by his friend John Archer, the Liverpool-born former mayor of Battersea and recently resigned President of the London-based African Progress Union (APU).

The comradeship of these two South London politicians pre-dated by some 60 years the African and Asian grouping known as Labour Party Black Sections, which was formed in 1983.

Shapurji Saklatvala and (right) John Archer

Battersea Labour councillor Mr Archer was the election agent for Mr Saklatvala when he successfully stood in Battersea North as a Labour-backed Communist Party candidate in the 1922 general election. He would go on to also win in the 1924 general election.

Mr Saklatvala was not a passive attendee. Although his name is mis-spelt as Satkalavara of India, he was one of those singled out for their contributions in a report in the November 1921 edition of The Crisis, the journal edited by the historian and Congress organiser Dr W.E.B. Du Bois.

As an executive of the African Association, which organised the 1900 Pan-African Conference, Mr Archer had met Du Bois 20 years prior and had kept up a professional relationship with the man touted as the father of modern pan-Africanism.

Mr Archer attended the 1919 Pan-African Congress organised by Mr Du Bois in Paris, strategically located in France in an attempt to provide an African voice during the post-First World War Treaty of Versailles discussions.

Mr Archer actually co-presided with Mr Du Bois over the second day sitting of the London Sessions.

And his organisation, the APU, provided contacts and did some of the leg work, while Du Bois remotely organised the 1921 Congress from New York.

A session from the 1919 Pan-African Congress in France

The APU at the time was going through a re-structural process, and no doubt its members’ engagement with the Congress re-invigorated their organisation, which is perhaps where the APU threw a post-Congress thank-you party for Mr Du Bois.

In 2015 there were a number of events that commemorated the 70th anniversary of the 1945 Pan-African Congress in Manchester. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the 100th anniversary of the 1921 Congress.

However, I’ll be doing my bit, by leading a BTWSC/African Histories Revisited Zoom meeting on Monday, November 22 entitled Marking The Centenary Of 1921 Pan-African Congress In London.

Interestingly, the ‘black sections’ comradeship started by Mr Archer and Mr Saklatvala continues.

Thirty years after co-founding the Anti-Racist Alliance, Croydon resident, anti-racism and political activist and former black Sections chairman Marc Wadsworth has formed the new African and Asian politically black-led anti-racist organisation called The Liberation Movement.

Main Picture: NARM RM Kwaku seminar organiser

 

 


 

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