“On 22 June 2019, Theresa May, Britain’s acting Prime Minister, announced that London Waterloo Station had “been confirmed as the location for a permanent Windrush monument”. Using the word ‘confirmed’ she would like readers to assume that there has been discussion with the Caribbean community about the location. Mrs May has the audacity to dictate to our community and we must accept a monument where she says it should be? No! She is bullying a people who have a history of loyalty to Britain, as their ancestors did for nearly four hundred years. Her announcement about the location of a Windrush monument at Waterloo Railway Station is an insult to the Caribbean community.”
A year ago, Mrs May announced the establishment of a Windrush Commemoration Committee to consider how best to create a permanent, fitting tribute to the ‘Windrush generation and their descendants’. The committee was chaired by Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Floella Benjamin, and was supposed to be a community-led group that would explore a range of options.
After a year, the group has not consulted with the Caribbean community. Also, the committee did not speak with Windrush Foundation, the organisation that was the first to hold Windrush commemorative events in the UK from 1997. Its co-founders, the late Samuel B. King MBE and Arthur Torrington CBE were the ones who have kept the alive the contributions of Caribbean men and women who arrived in the UK at Tilbury Docks, Essex, on the ship Empire Windrush on 22 June 1948. Windrush Foundation is the organisation that holds the archives of the ‘Windrush pioneers’. Sam King was the first person who kept the names of dozens of men and women who travelled with him on the Empire Windrush in June 1948. Every Christmas since 1948 he sent postcards to each one of them and kept in touch until 1948. On 22 June 1988, Mr King worked with Lambeth Council to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Arrival. A Windrush plaque is on the wall in the Town Hall. In 1998, Lambeth was the only Council to provide funding for the 50th anniversary which Windrush Foundation led.
Baroness Benjamin has said, “Having a Windrush monument located at Waterloo Station where thousands of Windrush pioneers – including children like myself – first arrived in London, will be a symbolic link to our past as we celebrate our future”. She is absolutely wrong! Windrush passengers arrived at Tilbury Docks on 22 June 1948, and 236 of them spent their first night at Clapham South Deep Shelter (not via Waterloo Station). Within a few days, the Mayor of Lambeth held a Reception for them and this was the only welcome they received. The local Member of Parliament spoke up for them. They visited the local employment exchange in Brixton and soon found work, and set up home in the Brixton. Brixton was the first ‘Windrush community’ in 1948 and it is still going strong today.
Today, Windrush Square which is in the centre of Brixton, commemorates and celebrates the contributions of the Windrush passengers, and it is there that the monuments should be installed. They are the ones who laid the foundation for us who arrived later. Having the first Windrush monument in Windrush Square will be the symbolic link to ‘our past as we celebrate our future’. This would material Sam King’s dreams.
by Arthur Torrington
Windrush Foundation is a registered charity that designs and delivers heritage projects, programmes and initiatives which highlight African and Caribbean peoples’ contributions to UK public services, the Arts, commerce, and other areas of socio-economic and cultural life in Britain and the Commonwealth. The London-based organisation was established in 1996 to promote good race and community relations, build cohesion, eliminate discrimination and encourage equality of opportunity for all – placing particular emphasis on addressing issues of ‘race’/’ethnicity’, equalities and cultural diversity