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“Little Rock” in Britain: Jim Crow's Transatlantic Topographies

  • Kennetta Hammond Perry
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1 “Race Riots Terrorise a City,” Daily Express, 25 August 1958.

2 “New Race Riots in UK: Mostly Whites Held,” Daily Gleaner, 1 September 1958; “New Riot Terror,” Daily Herald, 1 September 1958; Pilkington, Edward, Beyond the Mother Country: West Indians and the Notting Hill White Riots (London, 1988), 114; “Further Racial Incidents,” The Times, 3 September 1958; “Renewed Racial Disturbances in London,” The Times, 2 September 1958; “London Racial Outburst Due to Many Factors,” The Times, 3 September 1958; “‘Lynch Him!’ Heard in London,” Manchester Guardian Weekly, 4 September 1958.

3 “Racial Fights in London,” The Times, 1 September 1958.

4 “‘Lynch Him!’ Heard in London,” Manchester Guardian Weekly, 4 September 1958. In another report on this particular incident appearing in the Daily Mirror, Manning is described as Jamaican. This discrepancy is indicative of the ways in which categories of race, ethnicity, nationality, and, more precisely, blackness were in part matters of perception. However, it is important to note that demographically speaking, the largest populations of nonwhite constituencies in the British Isles during this period were composed of Afro-Caribbean migrants. See “Riot Gangs Go by Car to Join the Mob,” Daily Mirror, 2 September 1958.

5 “‘Lynch Him!’ Heard in London,” Manchester Guardian Weekly, 4 September 1958.

6 For a comprehensive discussion of the Little Rock case and its significance to the larger movement against federally mandated school desegregation in the South, see Baer, Frances, Resistance to Public School Desegregation: Little Rock, Arkansas and Beyond (New York, 2008). For more on massive resistance throughout the South during the 1950s, see Bartley, Numan V., The Rise of Massive Resistance: Race and Politics in the South During the 1950s (Baton Rouge, LA, 1999).

7 It is important to note that Eisenhower's decision to intervene in Little Rock was not necessarily grounded in a defense of the civil rights of African Americans or support for desegregation. Rather, he was acting out of an obligation to respect the rule of federal law. See Fraser, Cary, “Crossing the Color Line in Little Rock: The Eisenhower Administration and the Dilemma of Race for U.S. Foreign Policy,” Diplomatic History 24, no. 2 (Spring 2000): 233–64.

8 Baer, Resistance to Public School Desegregation, 170–73; Dudziak, Mary, Cold War Civil Rights (Princeton, NJ, 2000), 119–23. The transatlantic antilynching campaigns of Ida B. Wells that brought her to Britain in the 1890s were critical in cultivating British interest in the racial politics associated with American lynching narratives during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. See Silkey, Sarah, “Redirecting the Tide of White Imperialism: The Impact of Ida B. Wells's Transatlantic Antilynching Campaign on British Conceptions of American Race Relations,” in Women Shaping the South: Creating and Confronting Change, ed. Boswell, Angela and McArthur, Judith (Columbia, MO, 2006), 97119.

9 “Guard Withdrawn from Little Rock School,” The Times, 23 September 1957.

10 “Arkansas Crisis Engineered,” Manchester Guardian, 12 September 1957; “Defiance of U.S. Law Renewed,” The Times, 5 September 1957; “U.S. Racial Tension Grows,” The Times, 11 September 1957; “‘Federal ‘Occupation’ of Little Rock,” The Times, 26 September 1957; “The Blackboard Jungle,” Daily Mirror, 12 September 1957.

11 It is important to note that the desegregation campaigns that climaxed in the 1950s and 1960s were one facet of a broader movement for civil rights and social justice waged by African Americans throughout the twentieth century that connected U.S. foreign affairs and domestic race politics. See Gilmore, Glenda, Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919–1950 (New York, 2008), 610.

12 Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights, 115–51; Fraser, “Crossing the Color Line in Little Rock,” 234, 245–64.

13 As will be demonstrated throughout this article, invocations of “Little Rock” simultaneously referred to a geographic place and a particular discourse about what that place had come to represent for white and black Britons; however, from here forward in the body of the article, quotation marks around the term will not be used to denote this point.

14 Some of the more recent works on the international dimensions of the African American freedom movement in the twentieth century include Von Eschen, Penny, Race against Empire: Black Americans and Anti-Colonialism, 1937–1957 (Ithaca, NY, 1997); Anderson, Carol, Eyes Off the Prize: The United Nations and the African American Struggle for Human Rights, 1944–1955 (Cambridge, 2003); Borstelmann, Thomas, The Cold War and the Color Line: American Race Relations in the Global Arena (Cambridge, 2003); Joseph, Peniel, Waiting ’Til the Midnight Hour (New York, 2006); and Gilmore, Defying Dixie. For ground-breaking work examining the impact of American racial narratives internationally, particularly in Britain during the twentieth century, see Brown, Jacqueline Nassy, “Black Liverpool, Black America and the Gendering of Diasporic Space,” Cultural Anthropology 13, no. 3 (August 1998): 291325; Street, Joe, “Malcolm X, Smethwick and the Influence of the African American Freedom Struggle on British Race Relations in the 1960s,” Journal of Black Studies 38, no. 6 (July 2008): 932–50; Angelo, Ann Marie, “The Black Panthers in London, 1967–1972: A Diasporic Struggle Navigates the Black Atlantic,” Radical History Review 103 (Winter 2009): 1739; and Pennybacker, Susan, From Scottsboro to Munich: Race and Political Culture in 1930s Britain (Princeton, NJ, 2009).

15 In a compelling critique of Civil Rights–era scholarship, Charles Payne notes that the media played a powerful role in shaping popular narratives about the movement and consequently the history of the African American freedom struggle during the 1950s and 1960s. See Payne, Charles, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (Berkeley, CA, 1995), 403–4, 413.

16 Much of the historical scholarship on early postwar race politics takes a state-centered approach and examines how policy makers reacted to shifting racial dynamics prompted by nonwhite Commonwealth migration. Examples include Layton-Henry, Zig, The Politics of Immigration: “Race” and “Race Relations” in Postwar Britain (Oxford, 1992); Paul, Kathleen, Whitewashing Britain: Race and Citizenship in the Postwar Era (Ithaca, NY, 1997); and Hansen, Randall, Citizenship and Immigration in Post-war Britain: The Institutional Origins of a Multicultural Nation (Oxford, 2000). Alternatively, interdisciplinary work on the social and cultural politics of race has produced scholarship with a more inclusive cast of historical actors including the migrant populations shaping the British society during this era. See Webster, Wendy, Imagining Home: Gender Race and National Identity, 1945–1964 (London, 1998); and Schwarz, Bill, “Claudia Jones and the West Indian Gazette: Reflections on the Emergence of Post-colonial Britain,” Twentieth Century British History 14, no. 3 (2003): 264–85.

17 Examples of a more island-oriented focus include Foot, Paul, Immigration and Race in British Politics (Harmondsworth, 1965); Holmes, Colin, John Bull's Island: Immigration and British Society, 1871–1971 (Houndsmill, 1988); Paul, Whitewashing Britain; and Hampshire, James, Citizenship and Belonging: Immigration and the Politics of Demographic Governance in Postwar Britain (London, 2005). A notable exception to more insular histories of Afro-Caribbean migration, citizenship, and racial politics in postwar Britain includes James, Winston and Harris, Clive, eds., Inside Babylon: The Caribbean Diaspora in Britain (London, 1993). Likewise, work in the field of black British cultural studies aims to foreground the voices and perspectives of black Britons as diasporic, transnational subjects shaped by the experience of empire. See Gilroy, Paul, “There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack”: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation (Chicago, 1987), and The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge, 1993); Baker, Houston and Diawara, Manthia, eds., Black British Cultural Studies: A Reader (Chicago, 1996); and Hesse, Barnor, “Diasporicity: Black Britain's Post-colonial Formations,” in Unsettled Multiculturalisms, ed. Hesse, Barnor (London, 2000), 96120.

18 Susan Pennybacker's recent work, From Scottsboro to Munich, is a notable exception.

19 “Riots: World Uproar,” Daily Herald, 4 September 1958. See also memo, “Ghana and the Racial Riots,” from A. Snelling to Sir H. Lintott, 4 September 1958, Dominions Office (DO) 35/7992, The National Archives (TNA). According to the memo, this characterization was also reproduced in Ghanian papers.

20 Telegram from Foreign Office to HMG Representatives, 3 September 1958, DO 35/9506, TNA.

21 Lauren's, Paul GordonPower and Prejudice: The Politics and Diplomacy of Racial Discrimination (Boulder, CO, 1996) remains one of the best comprehensive surveys of the ways in which questions of race have affected international politics in the twentieth century and especially in the aftermath of World War II. See also Anderson, , Eyes Off the Prize; Plummer, Brenda Gayle, Rising Wind: Black Americans and U.S. Foreign Affairs, 1935–1960 (Chapel Hill, NC, 1996); Dudziak, , Cold War Civil Rights; and Borstelmann, The Cold War and the Color Line.

22 Webster, Wendy, Englishness and Empire, 1939–1965 (Oxford, 2005), chaps. 3, 4.

23 Lauren, , Power and Prejudice, 186218.

24 “Four-Year Terms for Nine ‘Nigger-Hunting’ Youths,” The Times, 16 September 1958; “Race War in Britain,” Trinidad Guardian, 25 August 1958; “‘Keep Britain White’ Call in Notting Hill Area,” The Times, 10 September 1958.

25 Telegram from Paris, France, to the Foreign Office, 6 September 1958, DO 35/7992, TNA.

26 Telegram from Wellington, New Zealand, to Commonwealth Relations Office, 8 September 1958, DO 35/7992, TNA. According to the telegram, this characterization appeared in the Wellington Dominion.

27 Telegram from Washington, DC, to Foreign Office, 4 September 1958, DO 35/7992, TNA.

28 Wemyss, Georgie, The Invisible Empire: White Discourse, Tolerance and Belonging (London, 2009), 12, 124–25; Webster, Englishness and Empire, chap. 5.

29 Telegram from Paris, France, to the Foreign Office, 6 September 1958, DO 35/7992, TNA. On the political legacy of British abolitionism, see Christopher Brown, Leslie, Moral Capital: Foundations of British Abolitionism (Chapel Hill, NC, 2006), 451–62.

30 Telegram from Bonn, Germany, to the Foreign Office, 25 September 1958, DO 35/7992, TNA; Telegram from Paris, France, to the Foreign Office, 6 September 1958, DO 35/7992, TNA. Placed in context, the term “anti-racial” is mostly suggestive of antiblack or anti-nonwhite. See also “Law Needed to End Colour War,” Daily Herald, 2 September 1958.

31 Dick Hebdige notes that the cultural trope of the “Teddy boy” was prominently featured in popular imagery about the whites involved in the attacks on West Indians during the racial violence of 1958. Hebdige notes that this figure became the focus of a subculture that reflected working-class “anxieties about the effects of black immigration, of employment, housing and the ‘quality of life’” in postwar Britain. See Hebdige, Dick, Subcultures: The Meaning of Style (London, 2002), 5051, 73, 81.

32 “Britain's Racial Problems: S. Africans Now Expect Greater Sympathy,” The Times, 29 August 1958. The cartoon appeared unaccompanied by an article in the Daily Express on 27 August 1958. The caption under the article read, “Now, perhaps, the English will stop giving us that ‘more anti-colour bar than thou’ stuff.” Presumably, the figure labeled “South Africa” is a reference to Nationalist Party leader Charles Robberts Swarts, who became active prime minister of the Union of South Africa in 1958 and vehemently worked to suppress antiapartheid activity during the 1950s.

33 “Britain's Racial Problems: S. Africans Now Expect Greater Sympathy,” The Times, 29 August 1958.

34 Hyam, Ronald and Henshaw, Peter, The Lion and the Springbok: Britain and South Africa since the Boer War (Cambridge, 2003), 146–67, 307–20.

35 The comment was reportedly uttered to Ronald Singleton of the Daily Express. “Faubus on Nottingham,” New Statesman, 30 August 1958.

37 “Faubus Wins His Vote,” Daily Express, 28 August 1958; Pilkington, Beyond the Mother Country, 126–27.

38 “Defiance of U.S. Law Renewed,” The Times, 5 September 1957; “U.S. Racial Tension Grows,” The Times, 11 September 1957; “President Eisenhower Acts,” The Times, 26 September 1957; “Federal ‘Occupation’ of Little Rock,” The Times, 26 September 1957.

39 “The Observer Profile: Governor Faubus,” Observer, 7 September 1958. Similar descriptions of Faubus can also be found in “Guard Withdrawn from Little Rock School,” The Times, 23 September 1957.

40 “Dear Governor Faubus … ,” Daily Mail, 6 September 1958.

42 Ibid. For more on the Till case, see Till-Mobley, MamieBenson, Christopher, Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America (New York, 2003).

43 “Dear Governor Faubus … ,” Daily Mail, 6 September 1958.

45 “Renewed Call for Changes in Immigration Law,” The Times, 28 August 1958. Most Caribbean migrants entering Britain during the postwar era were part of a labor migration and came to Britain in search of jobs and economic opportunities rather than to strictly pursue education.

46 Baucom, Ian, Out of Place: Englishness, Empire and the Locations of Identity (Princeton, NJ, 1999), 340; Webster, Englishness and Empire, chap. 6; Chris Waters, “Dark Strangers in Our Midst: Discourses of Race and Nation in Britain, 1947–1963,” Journal of British Studies 36, no. 2 (April 1997): 207–38; Bill Schwarz “‘The Only White Man in There’: The Re-Racialisation of England, 1956–1968,” Race and Class 38, no. 1 (July 1996): 65–78.

47 Paul, Whitewashing Britain, 10–24; Hansen, Citizenship and Immigration in Post-war Britain, 35–49; Spencer, Ian, British Immigration Policy since 1939 (London, 1997), 5355.

48 James, Winston, “Black Experience in Twentieth Century Britain,” in Black Experience and the Empire, ed. Morgan, Philip D. and Hawkins, Sean (Oxford, 2006), 349.

49 Kathleen Paul notes that the violence of 1958 was particularly important in creating a public discourse that conflated “immigrant” and “coloured,” reflecting what she describes as the “separate spheres” of a racialized vision Britishness imagined by policy makers throughout the late 1940s and 1950s. See Paul, Whitewashing Britain, 124–25, 158.

50 Although conservatives may have been more publicly vocal about the problem of “immigration” in the aftermath of the violence, scholars have documented that successive Labor and Conservative governments throughout the 1950s used racialized logics of citizenship and belonging to craft agendas for curtailing a largely Afro-Caribbean Commonwealth migration. Bob Harris, Clive Harris, and Shirley Joshi, “The 1951–55 Conservative Government and the Racialization of Black Immigration,” in James and Harris, Inside Babylon, 55–72; Paul, Whitewashing Britain, 131–69.

51 Telegram from Commonwealth Relations Office to Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Ghana, and other Commonwealth countries, 26 August 1958, DO 35/7992, TNA.

52 “Renewed Call for Changes in Immigration Law,” The Times, 28 August 1958.

53 “Faubus on Nottingham,” New Statesman, 30 August 1958.

55 “Little Rock Negroes Stay Away,” Manchester Guardian, 6 September 1957.

56 For coverage of Norman Manley's visit, see “West Indian Ministers May Ask to See Mr. McMillan,” The Times, 5 September 1958; “West Indian Ministers Arrive in London,” The Times, 6 September 1958; “West Indian Give Mr. Manley Enthusiastic Reception,” The Times, 8 September 1958; “West Indies Unlikely to Apply Voluntary Limits on Emigrants,” The Times, 11 September 1958.

57 Roberts, G. W. and Mills, D. O., Study of External Migration Affecting Jamaica, 1953–55 (Kingston, 1958), 24; Peach, Ceri, West Indian Migration to Britain (London, 1968), 24; Paul, Whitewashing Britain, 64–89. According to one article covering Manley's press conference, unemployment in Jamaica in the previous two decades ranged between 18 and 25 percent. “No Stopping Migrants at the Source,” Manchester Guardian, 11 September 1958.

58 “West Indies Unlikely to Apply Voluntary Limit on Emigrants,” The Times, 11 September 1958.

59 “No Stopping Migrants at the Source,” Manchester Guardian, 11 September 1958.

60 This cartoon appeared in the Daily Mirror, 5 September 1958, unaccompanied by an article.

61 Marcus Collins, “Pride and Prejudice: West Indian Men in Mid-Twentieth-Century Britain,” Journal of British Studies 40, no. 3 (July 2001): 391–418.

62 Hebdige, Subcultures, 50–51. Alienated from the routines of school, skilled work, and a sense of home life, Hebdige notes that the figure of the Teddy boy was a counterpoint to notions of a respectable working class in 1950s Britain.

63 “This Puts Us All on Trial,” Daily Mail, 3 September 1958. For more on Huddleston, see Denniston, Robin, Trevor Huddleston: A Life (New York, 1999).

64 “This Puts Us All on Trial,” Daily Mail, 3 September 1958.

65 Ibid. “Hooligan” was commonly used to stereotype the white male perpetrators of violence and was oftentimes interchangeable with the term “Teddy boys.” See “The Hooligan Age,” The Times, 3 September 1958.

66 “This Puts Us All on Trial,” Daily Mail, 3 September 1958.

67 “Little Rock Dilemma Resolved,” Manchester Guardian, 26 September 1957.

68 “This Puts Us All on Trial,” Daily Mail, 3 September 1958.

69 “Jamaican Is Stabbed to Death in Fight at Notting Hill,” News Chronicle and Daily Dispatch, 18 May 1959; “Coloured Man Stabbed to Death,” The Times, 18 May 1959; “WI Groom-to-Be Dies after Attack,” Trinidad Guardian, 18 May 1959.

70 “‘The South’ in North Kensington,” Kensington Post, 22 May 1959.

71 Letter from Alao Bashorn to Harold MacMillan, 18 May 1959, CO 1028/50, TNA; “Coloured People ‘Have Lost Confidence’ in Police: Open Letter to the Prime Minister,” Manchester Guardian, 19 May 1959; “Coloured Folk Have Lost Confidence,” Kensington Post, 22 May 1959; “Race Tensions Increased By Murder,” The Times, 19 May 1959; “2 Detained in Notting Hill Murder Probe,” Trinidad Guardian, 20 May 1959. While being held in a Poplarville, Mississippi, jail, Mack Parker was abducted by a lynch mob, beaten, shot, and eventually carried across state lines. His body was later found in the Pearl River, and his murder refueled campaigns for federal antilynching legislation in the United States. See “Anti-Lynching Law,” The Times, 28 May 1959; and Smead, Howard, Blood Justice: The Lynching of Mack Charles Parker (New York, 1986).

72 Phillips, TrevorPhillips, Mike, Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi-Racial Britain (London, 1998), 187.

73 Brown, “Black Liverpool, Black America and the Gendering of Diasporic Space,” 298.

74 Matthew Lassiter and Joseph Crespino have persuasively argued that popular narratives about American racial politics during the twentieth century reflect a “selective historical consciousness” that manufactures a “retrograde,” mythical South to shore up the image of an otherwise progressive, liberal nation. While Lassiter and Crespino's work tends to focus on this portrayal of the South in an American context, this work demonstrates the salience of this vision of the American South internationally. See Lassiter, Matthew and Crespino, Joseph, The Myth of Southern Exceptionalism (Oxford, 2010), 324.

75 “Coloured People ‘Have Lost Confidence’ in Police: Open Letter to the Prime Minister,” Manchester Guardian, 19 May 1959.

76 Brent Hayes Edwards, “Uses of Diaspora,” Social Text 19, no. 1 (Spring 2001): 64–66.

77 Winston James makes critical distinctions between a more inclusive “logic of Empire” and an exclusive “logic of the metropole,” which collided as black migrants entered Britain. See James, “Black Experience in Twentieth-Century Britain,” 378–79. However, this point has been made in a number of different articulations. See also Gikandi, Simon, Maps of Englishness (New York, 1996), 5052; and Cooper, Frederick and Stoler, Ann, eds., Tensions of Empire (Berkeley, CA, 1997), 3.

78 Christopher Leslie Brown, “From Slaves to Subjects: Envisioning an Empire without Slavery, 1772–1834,” in Morgan and Hawkins, Black Experience and the Empire, 139.

79 For a comprehensive discussion of the racial politics in the Caribbean during the postemancipation era with particular attention to Jamaica, see Holt, Thomas, The Problem of Freedom: Race, Labor and Politics in Jamaica and Britain, 1832–1938 (Baltimore, 1992).

80 For a discussion of the ways in which Afro-Caribbean communities cultivated and adapted British identities in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, see Moore, Brian L. and Johnson, Michele, Neither Led Nor Driven: Contesting British Cultural Imperialism in Jamaica, 1865–1920 (Kingston, 2004), chaps. 7, 9, 10.

81 Glass, Ruth, Newcomers: The West Indians in London (London, 1960), 5859. Glass found that between November 1958 and January 1959 the Kensington Post contained over three hundred housing ads barring person from tenancy on the basis of race or national origin. Clive Harris, “Post-war Migration and the Industrial Reserve Army,” in James and Harris, Inside Babylon: The Caribbean Diaspora in Britain, 9–54; Lydia Lindsey, “The Split-Labor Phenomenon: Its Impact on West Indian Workers as a Marginal Working Class in Birmingham England, 1948–1962,” Journal of African American History 87 (Winter 2002): 119–45.

82 Fryer, Peter, Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain (London, 1984), 298–315, 367–80.

83 Editorial Commentary, Flamingo, September 1961, Black History Collection, 01/04/03/02/081, Box 1, Institute of Race Relations Archives, London.

84 Teddy Schwarz, “Little Rock, Germany …” Flamingo, November, 1961, 9–10, Black History Collection, 01/04/03/02/081, Box 1, Institute of Race Relations Archives, London.

85 Woodward, C. Vann, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (Oxford, 2002); Hall, Jacqueline, “The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past,” Journal of American History 91, no. 4 (March 2005): 1233–63. While Hall focuses on extending the temporal boundaries of U.S. civil rights histories, Angelo urges historians to think about a wider, transnational geography of the civil rights movement. Angelo, “The Black Panthers in London, 1967–1972,” 30.

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