Making Windrush Day a national event is an excellent proposal
Yesterday marked the 74th anniversary of HMT Empire Windrush arriving at Tilbury docks at the end of its historic voyage from Kingston, Jamaica. Around 800 passengers from various Caribbean islands disembarked to begin a new life in what some still called “the mother country”. As two of those passengers, Alford Gardner and John Richards, both 96, helped the Duke of Cambridge unveil a statue at Waterloo station celebrating the Windrush generation, a message from the Queen hailed “the profound contribution” to British life made over the decades by those courageous pioneers. Well said, Your Majesty.
In 1948, when the first Caribbean immigrants arrived, many to take up jobs in the newly created National Health Service, there were perhaps 20,000 black people living in the UK. There are now close to 2 million British citizens who identify as black. In the month that the Windrush arrived, some MPs complained about excessive immigration. The ambitious, smartly dressed, optimistic young men in the newsreels, having been invited to make the journey, then had to overcome discrimination in employment, housing and the criminal justice system. Some of their descendants face the same prejudices.
Many Windrush citizens were wrongly deported, while others faced bureaucratic mistreatment. That shameful episode, to which the duke referred in his remarks at the unveiling, illustrated the need for greater education on the origins of Britain’s multicultural society. To that end, our letters page yesterday carried an appeal from scores of prominent black Britons to make next year’s 75th anniversary a national event. “This is not only black history,” the letter says, “it is British history. It should be something we all know and commemorate.” Quite so. June 22, 2023 should be marked as a significant date in the calendar.