Remembering Britain’s Post-War Social and Racial Tensions: The Archives of the George Padmore Institute

Book launch for The Poetry of Nicolas Guillen in the New Beacon Bookshop, March 1976. (© Julian Stapleton / held in the Personal Archives of John La Rose collection at the George Padmore Institute.)

The George Padmore Institute is an archive and community centre with a rich collection chronicling the literary, cultural and political history of black Britain. The Institute was founded in 1991 by Caribbean activist, poet and publisher John La Rose (1927-2006).

La Rose was also the founder and chairman of Britain’s first black publishing house and bookshop called New Beacon Books. It was established in the 1960s in the orbit of activist groups who fought for the rights of Britain’s black population, such as the Caribbean Artists Movement, the Notting Hill Carnival Movement or the Black Education Movement. In this activist network numerous pamphlets and books were written and eventually published by New Beacon Books. The George Padmore Institue contains around 11,000 documents dedicated “predominantly to the experience of the black community in Britain”, with a focus on the period from the 1960s onwards (although some documents reach back to the 1940s).[1] It constitutes a critical depository for the black cultural and political activity in the times of social tensions in post-war Britain. Especially the large photographic collection represents a unique source for the history of black activism in Britain in the second half of the 20th century. The George Padmore Institute also regularly, educational and cultural events such as lectures, readings and film screenings.

The premises are named after the Trinidadian Pan-African activist, intellectual and writer George Padmore to honour his life-long dedication to anticolonial and antiracist struggles, but does not house any archival collections relating to him. Padmore himself was a major figure of London’s activist scene in the 1930s and 1940s, especially as one of the main organisers of the 1945 5th Pan-African congress. He was connected to several black activist groups during the “London Moment” such as the West African Students Union (WASU), about which this blog has featured an article as well.

The archive is located in Finsbury Park, North London, on the 1st floor above the New Beacon Bookshop. Since 2003 the archive has employed a part-time archivist, who knows the archive extremely well and is very helpful with research. It is open to the public, but visitors must make an appointment in advance. The archive is currently attempting to digitise its content and deepen its collaboration with the London Metropolitan Archive and the Black Cultural Archives. For academics studying the history of black activism in Britain, the George Padmore Institute represents an invaluable and under-researched source.

The New Beacon Bookshop in Finsburay, above which the George Padmore Institute is located. © George Padmore Institute

 

[1] “The George Padmore Institute Archive Catalogue”, Catalogue Home, George Padmore Institute Website. https://www.georgepadmoreinstitute.org/archive (Accessed on 11.06.2019)


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