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Windrush: 12 migration stories

To mark the 70th anniversary of the docking of the SS Empire Windrush, Peepal Tree have put together a collection of migration stories.

Marking the decline of its empire and the subsequent beginning of a postcolonial era, the Parliament of the United Kingdom created the Nationality Act in 1948. For (former) colonial subjects, this granted them the status of “Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies”, which allowed them to seek residency in Britain. Consequently, the mid-twentieth century is known for the high volume of migrants coming from the Caribbean to Britain. In 1947, the Ormonde which docked in Liverpool and the Almanzora which docked in Southampton, carried Caribbean ex-servicemen who had fought on Britain’s behalf during the Second World War to the shores of ‘the motherland’. These arrivals, however, were overshadowed by the S.S. Empire Windrush which docked in Tilbury, London, on 22nd June 1948. It carried 498 Caribbean passengers (plus stowaways) who travelled to Britain in the hope of better employment and living prospects, and to see if the streets of London really were paved with gold. Ships such as the S.S. Orbita also docked in 1948, but it was the Empire Windrush that garnered the most publicity.

Although Black presence in Britain dates back to the Roman epoch, the arrival of Caribbean migrants signified a shift in Britain’s social fabric. Many novels by Caribbean authors, such as Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners (1956) and Andrea Levy’s Small Island (2004), capture the personal turbulence and the cultural dislocation experienced by the Windrush generation. Touching on similar themes, Beryl Gilroy’s In Praise of Love and Children (1996) and Andrew Salkey’s Escape to an Autumn Pavement (1959, 2009) suggest that the migrant experience is bound up with a state of turmoil, and show how Britain’s hostile attitude exacerbates the confusion felt by new arrivals. In addition, texts such as Kitch (2018) by Anthony Joseph and Don’t Stop the Carnival (2018) by Kevin Le Gendre make a timely contribution to the representation of Black life and Black British culture at the Windrush’s 70th anniversary.

Beryl Gilroy In Praise of Love and Children (1996) 

Andrew Salkey Escape to an Autumn Pavement (1959, 2009) 

Anthony Joseph Kitch (2018)

Kevin Le Gendre Don’t Stop the Carnival (2018)

Jacqueline Crooks, The Ice Migration (2018)

Lakshmi Persaud, Daughters of Empire (2012)

E.A. Markham, Against the Grain: A 1950s Memoir (2008)

Manzu Islam, Burrow (2004)

Jan Lowe Shinebourne, The Godmother and Other Stories (2004)

Beryl Gilroy, The Green Grass Tango

Sam Selvon, Eldorado West One (1998)

Meiling Jin, Song of the Boatwoman (1996)

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