Sophie's posts

Immigration, race and local media: Smethwick and the 1964 general election, Rachel Yemm

The article begins with an introduction to the topics at hand, stating that in 1964, a previously unknown small town on the outskirts of Birmingham became famous worldwide due to “the anti-immigrant election campaign and subsequent victory of Conservative candidate and local man, Peter Griffiths”. The drastic 7.2 % swing to Conservatives as well as Patrick Gordon Walker’s loss of the seat he had held in Smethwick since 1945 demonstrate the extent of the racial tension within this town. Yemm argues that this was as a result “of strong links between local politics and local and regional media, which, working together, could successfully exploit local concerns about the impact of immigration on neighbourhoods and streets”.

The second section of the article deals with the town of Smethwick. Yemm mentions that the town was a popular place post-war for immigrant who were in search of employment in the manufacturing industry, and by 1964, the immigrant population was approximately 4,000 out of a population of 68,000. Competition within the area was focused on housing, with 4,000 people on the waiting list for a council house in 1961. It was within this context that Griffiths stood for election in 1964, gaining 16,690 votes against Labour’s 14,916. Yemm argues that it was the local and regional press, such as The Telephone, that led to this result. The Telephone created the impression that the rise in disease within Smethwick was due to the lack of sanitation of immigrants. Although the national press was also contributing to this narrative, however they emphasised the need for medical inspection upon entry to Britain, whereas The Telephone focused on the unsanitary living conditions of the immigrants.

As stated previously, housing was a notable issue in relation to race in Smethwick, as locals were concerned that immigrants were being offered council houses before British people, and often had a sense of entitlement in terms of who deserved a house more. In 1961, a rent strike led by local council tenants occurred, following the event of a Pakistani family being awarded a council house after their house was demolished as part of the slum clearance which took place in Smethwick. While reporting, ATV opened with shots of rundown houses, which was then compared to the clean council houses. Yemm argues that there was a fear that the tidy and respectful Englishness of the area was under threat from immigrants.

Yemm then turns her attention to the 1964 election. All candidates running in the election featured in The Telephone, with Peter Griffiths continuously focusing on immigration and placing emphasis on the housing crisis. Additionally, newspapers such as the Birmingham Post showed support towards Griffiths campaign. The attitude of Smethwick also gained national attention from press outlets such as ITV. Following the election, racial hostility heightened in Smethwick, as many of the myths portrayed by the press were represented through resident’s interviews and social studies.

The article then moves on to discuss the Marshall street plan; a campaign by Griffiths for the council to purchase all available houses on Marshall Street, resulting from fears of it becoming a ‘black ghetto’. The plan received support within Smethwick, with The Telephone continuing to fuel these concerns.

The article lastly discusses the 1966 election, in which there saw a swing back to Labour, with Andrew Faulds winning with a majority of 3,490. Yemm attributes this partially due to the negative attention Smethwick received, leading to many wanting to distance themselves from the racist views. Immigration as a political campaign had also lost some novelty in Smethwick.


Jennifer's posts

P.M. Garrett, “The Hidden History of the PFIs: The repatriation of unmarried mothers and their children from England to Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s

This article starts by discussing the law of settlement and removal act of 1847 that was introduced after a large number of Irish came here during the famine. This law did not disappear until 1948. However, the removal of Irish citizens continued into the 20th century and may also have helped define the cultural and institutional responses of English welfare agencies to pregnant Irish women travelling to England to give birth and put their child up for adoption.

In the 1950s and 1960s the initials PFI (pregnant from Ireland) were part of everyday vocabulary for social workers who dealt with unmarried mothers from Ireland. The article details of a Dublin based agency called the Catholic protection and rescue society of Ireland (CPRSI) that would bring Irish girls that had travelled to England back home in the 1960s. When they brought them home, they would send them to an area where nobody knew them, they would have their baby and the agency would keep it all quiet and confidential.

The article also discussed the English catholic rescue society (ECRS). In the mid 1950s the registered ‘cases’ of the ECRS indicated that 61% of almost 800 expectant mothers referred to the agency originated in the Irish Republic. The Article notes many unmarried women that fled to England to give birth were in fear of the incarceration they would face in Ireland. In Ireland the mother and baby home stay was 2 years or longer but the say at and English mother and baby home was as little as 4 months. In most cases the mother would enter the home, the baby would be adopted, and she would leave the home like nothing had ever happened. However, this had some negative effects on the mothers.

The Article also notes the absence of Women and children from Irish historiography partly because of the secrecy of child adoption that many unmarried mothers and expectant children were involved in. However, some historians question what Irish history is.

The article ends by noting that no interviews of the women in these situations were conducted but it could be a subject for future research.

Abbie's posts

‘The white essential subject: race, ethnicity, and the Irish in post-war Britain.’ Gavin Schaffer and Saima Nasar.

The article seeks to challenge the slippage between the Occidental usage of ‘whiteness’ as a unifying, hegemonic, totalizing category, which inevitably serves to essentialise the white subject, and ‘whiteness’ as an explanatory enterprise used to analyse multiple racial and ethnic identities.

Scholars have argued that ‘whiteness’ was the essential racial marker into which immigrants (Jews, Irish, Italians, East Europeans) pulled themselves, securing preferential status in the process, or what Gramsci has referred to as ‘consensual control’. The scholarship premise rests on the idea that ‘whiteness’ was a subjective category, malleable and ultimately lacking in objective meaning, just like the concept of race itself.

The article chooses to analyse Irish immigrants’ experience in Birmingham through two relevant case studies: Maurice Foley and the Birmingham Pub Bombings. Repeatedly, throughout the article, one is reminded that the experience of Irish in Britain, in terms of racial discrimination, was incomparable with those of black and Asian people. However, it existed, and the Irish were viewed as somewhat ‘favourable inferiors’. Foley believed that looking at America would help assimilate immigrants of color, as the challenges posed by colour were already being addressed. He visited the state eight times before taking on his new role, ‘to look at the problem of race relations’. It was clear to Foley that many more Britons were concerned with race than he was led to believe, ‘coloured people stand out as the most obvious newcomers.’ He aimed to help Irish immigrants assimilate as best as possible and erect several schemes to do so. He was largely successful.

Furthermore, the Birmingham Pub Bombings in 1971 was described as a significant topic to analyse the ‘whiteness’ of race. It was later confirmed that the bombings were the IRA. The bombing killed 21 people and injured over 200. The bombings caused shock and outrage due to the scale of death and injury mixed with the civilian casualties. On the streets of Birmingham, violence immediately erupted, targeting Irish people and places. Anti-Irish slogans were chanted, and the Irish Centre was repeatedly firebombed, and Irish businesses, schools, and pubs were attacked. In the meantime, six Irish men living in Birmingham were arrested and charged with carrying out the attacks. The Prevention of Terrorism Act was specifically intended to focus only on Irish terrorists. Its aim: ‘influence public opinion or government policy concerning affairs in Northern Ireland, and not ‘terrorists of other persuasions.’

The growing anti-Irish sentiment led to many Irish choosing when to be Irish in public; they could easily pass as British if they tried. The ability to choose where or when to be Irish, limited as it was by accent and other signifiers, seems to differentiate the Irish from black and Asian immigrants who could not decide when they wanted their blackness to be noticed as ascribed with meaning, a reality which led to contemporary observers and some subsequent scholars to observe better outcomes for Irish migrants. Yet passing as white British, and negotiating safe spaces to perform Irishness, took their own toll on Irish lives in Britain, shaping the consciousness of shame and silence.

In Conclusion, telling the story of white Irish migrants has the potential to clarify the significance of colour in migration history and improve historical understanding of the multiple processes by which constructions of racial difference have shaped Britain.

Emily's posts

“Middlesbrough 1961: A British race riot of the 1960s?”-Panikos Panayi

Panayi begins the article by stating that certain parts of the commonwealth immigrant experience in Britain are understudied. Since the end of the 1800s, all major immigrant groups in Britain have sustained physical attacks, but since the 1960s violence has not been carried out on a large scale, as it was for example during the First World War against German migrants. However small-scale attacks took place, including arson, physical violence and even murders.

Panayi starts the article by giving some detail of the movement of Asian migrants to Britain. The migration of Indians to Britain before the 1950s was on a small scale. Some servicemen stayed in the country after the wars, and usually stayed around ports such as London, Cardiff and Liverpool. Large scale Pakistani migration in Britain began in the late 1950s and early 1960s. By 1961 the Pakistani-born population of Britain was around 24,900, according to the census of that year, although it was thought to be more. In the Pakistani population of Britain in the 1960s, men outnumbered women on a scale of about 5,380 men to every 1000 women. This unequal ratio was due to many Pakistani men only intending to stay in Britain for a short time in order to earn money for their families, who they intended to return to.

This article looks at how hostilities developed towards Pakistani migrants and other immigrants, which led to the Commonwealth immigrants act of 1962 being passed. Panayi explained that in the years running up to 1962, British Xenophobia began to see its main targets as black immigrants, Indians and Pakistanis, rather than Jewish immigrants.

The main focus of the article is the attacks on Pakistani property in Middlesbrough in August 1961. Middlesbrough had many immigrant groups in the 1960s. Disorder in Middlesborough broke out on the 19th August 1961 and lasted until the 21st August. Crowds attacked the Taj Mahal café on Cannon Street, which belonged to an English woman and her Pakistani husband. This violence spread and rioters even turned on police. The disorder resulted in £1,200 worth of damage and 55 court prosecutions.

The Middlesborough disturbance was one of the last major incidents of whites attacking immigrant property on a large scale. Panayi describes these attacks in Middlesbrough as a race riot, and says they are an example of anti-immigrant violence in recent British history.

Heather's posts

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.