Racist violence in 1950s London

This video from England says about itself:

Notting Hill Riots – London 1958

West Indians immigrate to England after WWII participating in the rebuilding effort. They are blamed for the economic depression and targeted by racists.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

A commie and his exploding car

Thursday 20 June 2013

Rising Islamophobia and racism in Britain are worrying for us all.

My first political memory was of the hot, sad summer of 1958.

This was the summer of the Notting Hill race riots. I was born and lived in Harlesden, north London, just a little less than four miles from Notting Hill itself.

I was just 12 and late one night I was awakened from my sleep by an incredible noise. A gang of people were attacking a house just two doors away from mine.

They had flaming torches and were intent in burning down the only house in our street occupied by a West Indian family. Their racist taunts and abuse made their motives very clear.

This horrendous gang was made up of some local Teddy boys, some members of Mosley‘s Union Movement and some White Defence League people who were active in the area and who held street meetings in Harlesden.

Their clear inspiration was the Ku Klux Klan actions they had seen reported from the US.

We’d all seen the burning crosses on the cinema newsreels.

The black family were driven out and their house gutted. I never saw my first black mate Winston again, although I still remember his demon bowling in our cricket matches against the chalked-up wicket on the bombsite wall.

What I saw that night filled me with horror and filled me with determination to do what I could to fight racial intolerance throughout my life.

The various racist groups held street corner meetings in the high street – and so did the local Communist Party, selling the Daily Worker which I bought and read sometimes.

My parents were non-active Labour people. They read the Daily Herald and always voted Labour in this safe Labour seat of West Willesden.

It still came as a bit of a shock when my Religious Instruction teacher at the local grammar school declared across the classroom: “Frost – you’re a communist!”

I think I’d been putting forward some atheist arguments when he had been trying to demonstrate the proof of the existence of God by taking the back off an old pocket watch.

Then came the 1959 general election. Oswald Mosley was standing just up the road in Kensington. Organising his campaign was his son Max – yes, that Max Mosley.

For me politics started to get more interesting.

The Willesden Chronicle carried an amazing front-page story about the local Communist candidate Les Burt. Communist Candidate Shot At In Willesden Street, screamed the headline.

The story explained how gunshots had damaged Burt’s car and stray bullets had smashed the windows of several shops, including Woolworths.

The candidate himself had been slightly injured and had been taken to the local hospital with a damaged ankle. You can just imagine the public uproar and my youthful indignation.

In fact the story what not quite what it seemed. Much later when I had got to know Les and his wife Sheila very well as friends and comrades, Les would enjoy recounting the true story.

His car was an old Singer, notorious for having a cast iron flywheel which if over-revved could fly apart. That is what had happened.

Les, hurrying home, had gunned it too hard and the flywheel had exploded with a noise like gunfire, scattering shrapnel all over the high street and into Les’s ankle.

Suddenly I was taking more and more interest in communists and their ideas. I thought about standing as a communist in the school’s mock election. I wasn’t the only one – another older pupil, Dave East, also put himself up as a communist candidate.

Our politically naive and rather reactionary headmaster decided to ban us both and of course that made the Willesden Chronicle very keen to publish our story. It was my first valuable lesson in politics.

Harold “you’ve never had it so good” Macmillan and the Tories went on to win the election.

I had a visit from two lads from the Young Communist League who convinced me that as I was now officially a banned communist I’d better join. I did and it changed my life forever.

Les Burt got 3 per cent of the vote. Much later he went on to be the Secretary of the People’s Press Printing Society, the co-op which owns and runs the Morning Star.

He never lost his communist principles or his love of old interesting cars but he always had trouble with that ankle.

For me all too soon it was the 1960s – but that’s another story for another day.

4 thoughts on “Racist violence in 1950s London

  1. Pingback: Corporate and workers’ sport history | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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  4. Pingback: London Notting Hill Carnival and anti-racism | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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