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L. Chessum, ‘Race and Immigration in the Leicester Local Press 1945-62’

Chessum’s article ‘Race and Immigration in the Leicester Local Press 1945-62’ is a progressive piece of work that seeks to explore the development of radicalised identities. Through the use of 1950 and 60s Leicester newspapers as well as historians such as Trogna and Hartmann & Husband, Chessmun shows that there was a consciousness of empire in the discourse of the local Leicester newspapers during the 1950s  and 60s.  Chessum notes two forms to this consciousness. One, stories of white emigrants were portrayed positively, with them being defined as “us” in the press. However, Chessum shows aspects of society, such as the West Indian community, to be defined as “them”. This contrast ultimately shows a consciousness of whites as a radical ethnic group, as well as different contexts to immigration. Two, the multiple references to South Africa and the apartheid showed South Africa as a model for organising race relations. However, after the Sharpeville massacre, apartheid was no longer presented as a model for race relations, as the press showed, Britain became critical and disillusioned.

There was three important newspaper in Leicester according to Chessum, the Leicester Mercury, Leicester Evening Mail, and the Illustrated Leicester, with the Mercury being the most important. The newspapers, as Chessum, argues brought a voice to the racial discourse by the way white and Black and Asian British migrants were portrayed. For those white migrants emigrating further afield, they were often described positively in the paper, being noted as brave and adventurous. For example, in a 1959 edition of the Mercury, there were full pages dedicated to letters from white emigrants. This, in turn, showed the links between the Leicester whites and the commonwealth whites as well as represented continuing consciousness of the empire. For the Black and Asian British subjects, there was a negative portrayal that focused on issues such as crime and disease. These stories were few in comparison to those of white emigrants. Therefore, Chessum argues that this shows the different contexts of immigration, one being positive and one being negative. White British emigrants were still seen as part of Britain, or “ours”, while Black and Asian British emigrants were noted apart with the idea of “them” being prevalent.

Chessum points to Cyril Osborne to illustrate the racial discourse. Osborne, an early and prominent campaigner for immigration control, was frequently printed in the Leicester Mercury. His views contrasted dramatically to the sympathetic stories of white emigrants. In a full-page article, Osborne expressed his views for the newspaper to receive five opposition letters and only one in support. The Mercury and Chronicle supported Osborne by repeatedly printing his opinions and not providing any comments. For example, if Osborne received ‘rough treatment’ he would be noted to ‘expand his reasons’. There were few credible arguments against Osborne. There was no attempt to inform the local community of Britain’s imperial role nor its contribution to immigration. This reporting as Chessum argues showed Britain’s lack of acceptance in wanting to be a multi-racial society.

There was an increased amount of attention given to South Africa and the apartheid system as a legitimate way to organise radicalized relations in the Leicester press. The apartheid was a legitimate way to organize race relations with which to compare the laissez-faire approach in Britain according to Chessum. The apartheid was seen as a solution to the colour problem. Although the Mercury did offer some opposition, such as running the quote, “ I wouldn’t call Africans present attitude to race civilized’. While shortly after they published a report of the coloured population of Leicester, which featured the colour prejudice. The most revealing piece on South Africa came on 12th May 1959, noting how “Africans have too much control”. These proceedings went against Mercury’s content as it gave a voice to the perceived threat of white society. By the 1960s, the Mercury contained articles critical of  South Africa.

By the 1960s, the criticisms in the Mercury soon developed as seen by a headline on 4th February 1960, “no illiterate can doubt British disapproval of Apartheid”. These moral sentiments starkly contrasted with the subliminal references that had been written in the 1950s. The Sharpeville massacre in March 1960, whereby police fired upon a crowd of protesters in the village of Sharpeville South Africa, however, is where  Chessum cites a  change in the way papers approached South Africa. It was no longer a respectable model for Britain. The massacre was reported rather emotionally as it was a loss to Britain, as they released South Africa couldn’t be used as a model. By the 24th March 1960, the Mercury called for South Africa to be expelled from the commonwealth, and articles that followed only secured this idea. Therefore, by the 1960s there was disillusion and bitterness, towards the Empire and apartheid. By the 1970s South Africa had lost its role in the Leicester press.

Overall, Chessum’s argument is structured and concise. Largely focused on an area that is not often discussed, Chessum clearly shows a consciousness of empire to be present in the discourse of local Leicester newspapers from the 1950s to 1970s. Chessum has a clear focus on the Leicester area and the African population as seen in her work,  “Sit Down, You Haven’t Reached that Stage Yet”: African Caribbean Children in Leicester Schools, 1960 –74.’ Therefore, Chessum is a reliable source of information and overall provides a detailed framework for which to analyse the race relations of Leicester in the mid-twentieth century.

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