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The Race Riots of 1919

Part Two: Aftermath and retrospect

Died some, pro patria,

non 'dulce' non 'et décor' ... Walked eye-deep in hell

believing old men's lies, then unbelieving

came home, home to a lie,

home to many deceits,

home to old lies and new infamy.

– Ezra Pound

IN the first part of this article we traced the outbreak and course of the race riots that occurred in Liverpool, South Wales and London in the summer of 1919. In this second part we trace the immediate aftermath and place the riots in their historical perspective.

What was the reaction of the authorities?

In Liverpool the police rounded up the Negroes for their own protection. By Tuesday 10th June 500 had been placed in the Bridewell [1]. The internment was voluntary, however, and those who chose to leave did so [2]. This was obviously no long term solution.

Repatriation

It was reported on Wednesday 11th June that "the police have communicated with the Home Secretary on the subject of repatriation, and also on the situation generally, and now await the reply" [3]

The possibility of repatriation had already been broached before the outbreak of the riots: "Quite recently the discharged soldiers' and sailors' organisation appealed to the Lord Mayor with the object of ascertaining if something could not be done to repatriate the negroes who by retaining the war jobs they held were preventing white men from getting employment.

"The Lord Mayor, in reply to the appeal, stated that he had already been in communication with the Colonial Office on the subject of the repatriation of the coloured men" [4].

A representative of Liverpool's Coloured population had also tried to arrange terms for the repatriation of his fellow Blacks. In a later statement to the Liverpool Echo [5] he said: "On May 13 I visited the Lord Mayor with a view to the repatriation of some coloured men, to find if it was possible for a bounty to be given to these men through the Colonial Office ..."

Home Office reaction was not encouraging: "In reply to the request of the Liverpool police for the internment or repatriation of the negroes, the Home Office has stated that it has no power to intern them, as they are British subjects" [6].

On the same day as this report, however, a conference was held at Liverpool between a Labour Ministry official, the Lord Mayor, and the Head Constable, where "It was decided that coloured men should be quickly removed from the Bridewell and other places in the city and placed in an internment camp pending repatriation, which will be expedited" [7].

A similar reponse seems to have occurred in relation to South Wales [8]:

"It is understood that the Government will, in view of the colour riots at Cardiff and Barry, institute investigations on the same lines as those conducted at Liverpool ... with the result that the black men were interned. The War Cabinet has not yet deliberated in the matter, and are leaving it for the present to the Departments concerned, but, in conversation with a high Government official to-night, he intimated that negroes would be repatriated as soon as possible. The difficulty was that they would not go when offered passages, but they would have to go now."

Aliens and "British subjects"

The seeming conflict between these reports did not reflect quite the change of attitude it might first suggest. The explanation lies in the fact that the Immigrant population fell into two categories: those who held foreign nationality, and those who were, if only technically, British subjects. The Government was willing to repatriate compulsorily the former, whether Black or White, but was willing only to try to bribe the latter to leave:

"In consequence of the recent colour riots against negroes and Chinese at Cardiff and Liverpool the Government have decided to repatriate as soon as possible aliens who came to England during the war. Powers already in their possession enable them to do this, and will be put in force as soon as shipping is available.

"The Ministry of Shipping is stated to be making every effort to assist the civic authorities in Liverpool and other areas where racial riots have taken place by arranging for the repatriation of as many negroes as possible.

"The people, principally affected, who will be dealt with first, are the Chinese, of whom there are huge numbers at seaport towns, mainly London, Liverpool and Cardiff. Permission to stay will be accorded only in very exceptional cases to Chinese who have acquired businesses in Great Britain.

"Other aliens affected include the large number of Norwegians, Danish and Swedish subjects who were brought to England by the Government during the war to work at agriculture and munitions.

"Many of the negroes are in a different position, being British subjects, and as such cannot be deported against their will. But an attempt is to be made to solve this difficulty by offering an inducement to them to depart. It is expected that on the offer of a free passage and a small sum of money to each the majority will be willing to leave" [9].

Despite this encouraging declaration of intent there were two problems. First, most of the Negroes were British subjects. Secondly, these British subjects were disinclined to leave despite being paid to go. So much for the modern day advocates of voluntary repatriation!

The failure of the Government to come to terms with the question of who should and who should not be a British citizen is a problem with which we are all too familiar today. In 1919 the question was clouded by a sentimental view of the multiracial Empire: today it is clouded by a sentimental view of multiracialism per se.

Mulatto element

Some immigrants did go.

It was reported [10] on Wednesday 18th June that a steamer was to leave Liverpool that day with 200 Negroes bound for their homes in West Africa. The authorities hoped "in this way to alleviate substantially, if not end, the racial troubles in that city." The report continued:

"Should the men be embarked without trouble and the experiment otherwise prove successful, another steamer will follow to the same part of the world within a few days. Arrangements have been made already for transport for such negroes as desire to return to the West Indies at the end of this month."

A report on Monday 14th July stated: "Two hundred and one East Indians and Arabs were taken from Cardiff to Plymouth on Thursday last under police escort. They were shipped on a Government vessel for conveyance to their homes" [11].

This writer has not so far been able to find out exactly what proportion of the Immigrant population was repatriated, whether compulsorily or voluntarily. Perhaps it is impossible to establish with any certainty. Perhaps, in view of the situation we have now, it is rather academic.

It is certainly true and well known that the Coloured Immigrant influx of that era left indelible marks on the genetic pool. The populations of Liverpool and Cardiff still have a mulatto element whose origin predates the Second World War. (Cardiff's "Nigger-town" is now better known as Tiger Bay).

Negro arrogance

What were the underlying causes of the race riots of 1919? Turning to contemporary newspaper explanations we find mention of competition for jobs, dislike of Immigrant character, and Immigrant relations with White women.

The Liverpool Echo explained [12]: "The labour shortage during the war led to a big influx of blacks, both West Africans and West Indians. These men, who were at the time able to find plenty of employment, have remained, with the result that they have helped to glut the labour market."

A tradesman and "well-known social worker" who lived in the affected area of Cardiff, and who was an eye-witness to most of the scenes, gave an interview to the South Wales Echo in which he stated [13]: "During the war the Government imported a large number of the black race from various parts of the world. Presumably they 'did their bit' satisfactorily, and the Government should have sent them back or placed them in a suitable camp when their service was done, instead of throwing them on the labour market in the British ports. There are at Cardiff over 1,000 of such men at the present time."

The Daily Mail [14] blamed Negro arro­gance: "The coloured men in Cardiff ... seem to have grown more arrogant of late. They have earned good wages and have been able to give free rein to their love of display and ostentation and to make themselves more attractive in the eyes of a class of women who infest seaports.

"Some of the Negroes in Cardiff own their own houses, and demobilised Cardiff men who are lucky if they get a back room feel aggrieved at the black man's flourishing-state. The fact that the Negroes are nearly all armed and fire on the slightest provocation intensifies the swiftness with which isolated encounters swell into street battles."

The Daily Express [15] also noted that: "Most of the negroes have been found in possession of weapons ... 'Ah 'as to carry a razzer, boss, 'cause no barber'll shave dis cullud-man!' is the usual reason for carrying so deadly a weapon."

In the conclusion to his report the Head Constable stated: "There is a readiness on the part of the coloured race to use firearms, razors and knives immediately a brawl commences, and that unlawful and highly dangerous practice unquestionably generated the intense anger of a section of the white population against the coloured men which culminated in the riots" [16].

Miscegenation

The Cardiff social worker quoted earlier with regard to competition for jobs also cited White fears that the Blacks were "bent on seducing girls" [17].

The Liverpool Echo noted [18]: "The profound difficulty of the problem as it affects white women is obvious. This moral trouble is the principal cause of most of the racial conflicts, which recently have become more frequent."

The question of miscegenation was dealt with succinctly in a contemporary article written by an Australian correspondent [19]:

"Dominion citizens of the Empire see one benefit in the troubles which the Mother Country has at present with a small negro population, brought into the country by the war. Great Britain will now understand better the 'White Australia policy' and Western Canada's objection to unrestricted Asiatic immigration ... you cannot give full privileges as 'a man and a brother' to other racial types without accepting them also as brothers- in-law; and that path leads to racial degradation.

"It is the sex question ... that is the marrow of the matter. The coloured man so soon as he is treated as an equal aspires to be the mate of the white woman. That is the real test of equality for him, and it is a logical enough test. But all the instincts of our white race refuse that. Thus we come to the practical conclusion that coloured immigrants cannot be accepted as citizens of a white country on terms of full equality."

As at Notting Hill in 1958 the White revolt against the imposition of a multiracial society was spearheaded by young men, and the flashpoint for their anger was above all the question of miscegenation. This, together with competition for jobs and simple dislike of the racial character of the aliens, are universal causes of racial friction and obvious to us today.

Nothing unusual

What is a little harder for us to understand is the scale and intensity of White reaction. In 1919 Coloured Immigration was a relatively minor problem compared to today, but it excited such strong feelings in the areas affected that Literally thousands of ordinary local people took to the streets at a moment's notice, and pressed their cause with such violence that the authorities were on the verge of committing the army.

This reaction was probably aided by the heightened sense of Nationalism and the desperation bred by the war, and the fact that it occurred before the destruction of street life by urban redevelopment and the replacement of reality by television.

But it would be wrong to place too much emphasis on seeking an explanation for the outbreak. When placed in historical perspective there was nothing unusual about the events of 1919. They form part of a pattern showing that instead of having a long tradition of tolerating multiracialism, the British People have had a long tradition of opposing it.

It is our present apathy and hopelessness that is out of character, the result, no doubt, of years of multiracial propaganda pumped out by a relatively unrepresentative but powerful and influential clique of committed multiracialists who dominate the mass media and other positions of power in and behind the British Establishment.

Jewish immigration

Alien immigration and the status of aliens in Britain had been an important issue before the First World War, though at that time it had mainly concerned the Jews. But if public reaction to immigration was consistently hostile, then so was the absence of effective government response.

Public opposition to Jewish immigration had culminated in 1905 in the passing of the Aliens Act, which has been described by one Jewish writer as "intended more to assuage popular feeling than to halt the flow" [20]. The same writer added: "Even during the blackest period of the First World War, with Britons going hungry, Jews continued to stream out of the docks at Tilbury" [21].

The possible implications of the race riots of 1919 were not lost on the Jewish Chronicle which declared in an editorial that: "As Jews, we naturally have a special interest in this matter" [22].

With a complete inversion of the truth and a supreme example of disinformation the editorial went on to argue that the Government was responsible for "fostering race-hatred by anti-alien legislation".

By shutting the door, but not shutting it tightly, the governments of this century have steered a 'middle course' between the advocates of relaxing restrictions (such as the Jewish Chronicle of 1919) and the advocates of tightening restrictions. Although the exponents of unrestricted immigration may feel that this 'middle course' has been racialist by involving any restrictions at all, it is they rather than us who have benefited in the long-term.

One cannot help wondering to what extent the advocates of allowing immigration have lobbied behind the scenes, not just since the Second World War, but since the turn of the century? [23]

Effective political organisation

When governments have acted to deal with the problem they have only done so in reponse to White pressure, and the measures taken have been half-hearted, characterised more by their failure than their success.

Today's Establishment is the same, only worse. It is positively committed to the creation of a multiracial society, and looks with favour on the degree of immigration and miscegenation that is now afflicting Britain. White apathy is at its worst, and yet, the multiracialists have cause for concern.

The British people do not have a very intellectual Nationalist tradition, in the way that some other European nations have. Our memory is short. Very few people know anything about the events of 1919.

The multiracialists are different. They undoubtedly have much better records, and see things in much more perspective. They are fond of referring to our 'history of multi-racialism', but they must know that there is little in that history to comfort them. Their position is undoubtedly stronger than it was in 1919. They may feel that they have now swamped this country so much that it is beyond saving. They may feel in reach of total victory. But I am sure they are also worried, worried that they are sitting on a volcano about to erupt, and fearing that the eruption will be far worse than in 1919.

There are times in the history of nations when they have risen up to drive out invaders, just as our Celtic ancestors did in the First Century AD. We would not think of dissociating ourselves from the revolt of Boudicca and the Iceni, even though it involved the massacre of thousands of Romans and their collaborators. We should not, likewise, think of dissociating ourselves from the White rioters of 1919.

Their action was an inevitable consequence of the introduction of racially unassimilable elements into our society. Such riots will happen again and again until such elements are totally and permanently removed.

But rioting alone cannot achieve this result, and can only invite Establishment repression. Only effective political organisation, aimed at getting rid not only of the Immigrants but of the System which imported them, can achieve this end.

Notes

  1. Liverpool Echo 11th June 1919.
  2. Ibid 12th June 1919.
  3. Ibid 11th June 1919.
  4. Ibid 6th June 1919.
  5. Ibid 10th June 1919.
  6. South Wales Echo 12th June 1919.
  7. The Times 13th June 1919.
  8. South Wales Echo 13th June 1919.
  9. Liverpool Echo 17th June 1919.
  10. MorningPost 18th June 1919.
  11. South Wales Echo 14th July 1919.
  12. Liverpool Echo 6th June 1919.
  13. South Wales Echo 12th June 1919.
  14. Daily Mail 14th June 1919.
  15. Daily Express 12th June. 1919.
  16. South Wales Echo 10th July 1919.
  17. Ibid 12th June 1919.
  18. Liverpool Echo 6th June 1919.
  19. Morning Post 13th June 1919.
  20. A Peculiar People by Barnet Litvinoff (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969) page 165.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Jewish Chronicle 20th June 1919.
  23. In her book, Surrender of an Empire (Boswell Publishing Co, 1933), Nesta Webster cites two examples, in 1924 and 1925, of deputations from the Board of Deputies of British Jews visiting the Home Secretaries of those years to remonstrate about the restrictions on aliens. In the post World War Two period deputations from the Board of Deputies have concentrated on pressuring for 'Race Relations' legislation to silence the opponents of multiracialism. Part of that story is told in The Nation Wreckers by Sandra Ross (Britain First Press, 1975)