George Padmore

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George Padmore
George Padmore.jpg
Born Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse
(1903-06-28)June 28, 1903
Arouca, Trinidad
Died September 23, 1959(1959-09-23) (aged 56)
London, England
Nationality Trinidadian

George Padmore (28 June 1903 – 23 September 1959), born Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse in Trinidad, was a leading Pan-Africanist, journalist, and author who left Trinidad in 1924 to study in the United States and from there moved to the Soviet Union, Germany, and France, before settling in London and, toward the end of his life, Accra, Ghana.

Biography[edit]

Early years[edit]

Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse, better known by his pseudonym George Padmore, was born on 28 June 1903 in Arouca District, Tacarigua,[1] Trinidad, then part of the British West Indies. His paternal great-grandfather was an Asante warrior who was taken prisoner and sold into slavery at Barbados, where his grandfather was born.[2] His father, James Hubert Alfonso Nurse, was a local schoolmaster who had married Anna Susanna Symister of Antigua, a naturalist.[1]

Nurse attended Tranquillity School in Port of Spain, before going to St Mary's College for two years (1914 and 1915). He then transferred to the Pamphylian High School, graduating from there in 1918, after which he worked as a reporter with the Trinidad Publishing Company.[3] In 1924, he travelled to the USA to take up medical studies at Fisk University in Tennessee. He had married earlier that year and his wife Julia Semper would later join him in America, leaving behind their daughter Blyden, who was born in 1925 and according to Nurse's instruction was named in honour of the African nationalist Edward Blyden.[4] Nurse subsequently registered at New York University but soon transferred to Howard University.

Communist[edit]

During his college years Nurse became involved with the Workers (Communist) Party and when engaged in party business adopted the name George Padmore (compounding the Christian name of his father-in-law, Constabulary Sergeant-Major George Semper, and the surname of the friend who had been his best man, Errol Padmore).[5] Padmore officially joined the Communist Party in 1927 and was active in its mass organization targeted to black Americans, the American Negro Labor Congress.[6] In March 1929 Padmore was a fraternal (non-voting) delegate to the 6th National Convention of the CPUSA, held in New York City.[7]

Padmore, an energetic worker and prolific writer, was tapped by Communist Party trade union leader William Z. Foster as a rising star and was taken to Moscow to deliver a report on the formation of the Trade Union Unity League to the Communist International later in 1929.[6] Following the delivery of his report, Padmore was asked to stay on in Moscow to head the Negro Bureau of the Red International of Labour Unions (Profintern).[6] He was even elected to the Moscow City Soviet,[6] an institution roughly equivalent to city councils in the west.

As head of the Profintern's Negro Bureau Padmore helped to produce pamphlet literature and contributed articles to Moscow's English-language newspaper, the Moscow Daily News.[8] He was also used periodically as a courier of funds from Moscow to various foreign Communist Parties.[9]

In July 1930, Padmore was instrumental in organizing an international conference in Hamburg, Germany which launched a Comintern-backed international organization of black labour organizations called the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW).[9] Padmore lived in Vienna, Austria during this time, where he edited the monthly publication of the new group, The Negro Worker.[9]

In 1931, Padmore moved to Hamburg and accelerated his writing output, continuing to produce the ITUCNW magazine and writing more than 20 pamphlets in a single year.[9] This German interlude came to an abrupt close by the middle of 1933, however, as the offices of the Negro Worker were ransacked by ultra-nationalist gangs following the Nazi seizure of power.[10] Padmore was deported to England by the German government, while the Comintern placed the ITUCNW and its Negro Worker on hiatus in August 1933.[10]

Disillusioned by what he perceived as the Comintern's flagging support for the cause of the liberation of colonial peoples in favor of the Soviet Union's pursuit of diplomatic alliances with the colonial powers themselves, Padmore abruptly severed his connection with the ITUCNW late in the summer of 1933.[10][11] He was called upon by the Comintern's disciplinary body, the International Control Commission (ICC), to explain his unauthorized action. When he refused to do so, the ICC expelled him from the Communist movement on 23 February 1934.[10] A phase of Padmore's political journey was at an end.

One consequence of the time Padmore spent in the Soviet Union was an end of his time as a resident of the United States. As a non-citizen[7] and a communist, Padmore was effectively barred from reentry to America once he had departed.[12]

Pan-Africanist[edit]

Alienated from Stalinism, Padmore nevertheless remained a socialist and sought new ways to work for African freedom from imperial rule. Relocating in France where he had an ally from his Comintern days, Garan Kouyaté, Padmore set to work on a book -- How Britain Rules Africa. With the help of former heiress Nancy Cunard, he found a London agent and, eventually, a publisher (Wishart), which brought the book out in 1936, the year the publisher became Communist publishers Lawrence and Wishart. It was a time when publication of books by black men was rare in the United Kingdom. A Swiss publisher distributed a German translation in Germany.[13]

In 1934 Padmore moved to London, where he became the centre of a community of writers dedicated to pan-Africanism and African independence. His boyhood friend C. L. R. James was already there, writing and publishing, and had started International African Friends of Ethiopia in response to Italy's invasion of Ethiopia. That organization morphed into the International African Service Bureau (IASB), which became a centre for African and Caribbean intellectuals' anti-colonial activity. Padmore was chair, the Barbadian trade unionist Chris Braithwaite was its organising secretary, and James edited its periodical, International African Opinion, while an energetic British Guianese named Ras Makonnen handled the business end.[14] Other key members included Jomo Kenyatta from Kenya and Amy Ashwood Garvey.

As Carol Polsgrove has shown in Ending British Rule in Africa: Writers in a Common Cause, Padmore and his allies in the 1930s and 1940s—among them C. L. R. James, Kenya's Jomo Kenyatta, the Gold Coast's Kwame Nkrumah and South Africa's Peter Abrahams—saw publishing as a strategy for political change. They published small periodicals, which were sometimes seized by authorities when they reached the colonies. They published articles in other people's periodicals, for instance, the Independent Labour Party's New Leader. They published pamphlets. They wrote letters to the editor; and, thanks to the support of publisher Fredric Warburg (of Secker & Warburg), they published books. Warburg brought out Padmore's Africa and World Peace (1937), as well as books by both Kenyatta and James.[15] In a Foreword to Africa and World Peace, Labour politician Sir Stafford Cripps wrote: "George Padmore has performed another great service of enlightenment in this book. The facts he discloses so ruthlessly are undoubtedly unpleasant facts, the story which he tells of the colonization of Africa is sordid in the extreme, but both the facts and the story are true. We have, so many of us, been brought up in the atmosphere of 'the white man's burden', and have had our minds clouded and confused by the continued propaganda for imperialism that we may be almost shocked by this bare and courageous exposure of the great myth of the civilizing mission of western democracies in Africa."[16] The Biographical Note on the cover describes Padmore as European correspondent for the Pittsburgh Courier, Gold Coast Spectator, African Morning Post, Panama Tribune, Belize Independent and Bantu World.

Before World War II, James left for the United States, where he met Kwame Nkrumah, a student from the Gold Coast who studied at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. James gave Nkrumah a letter of introduction to Padmore.[17] When Nkrumah arrived in London in May 1945 intending to study law, Padmore met him at the station. It was the start of a long alliance. Padmore was then organizing the 1945 Manchester Pan-African Congress, attended not only the inner circle of the IASB but also by W. E. B. Du Bois, the American organizer of earlier Pan-African conferences. The Manchester conference helped set the agenda for decolonisation in the post-war period.[18]

Padmore used London as his base for over two decades, the flat he shared with his white English domestic partner and co-worker Dorothy Pizer becoming a crossroads for African nationalists. He was an energetic networker, sending articles out to newspapers across the world and maintaining a correspondence with both W. E. B. Du Bois and African-American novelist Richard Wright, then living in Paris. It was at Padmore's urging that Wright travelled to the Gold Coast in 1953 and wrote his book Black Power (1954). Before Wright left the Gold Coast, he gave a confidential report on Nkrumah to the American consul and later reported on Padmore himself to the American Embassy in Paris. According to the embassy's account, Wright said that Nkrumah was relying heavily on Padmore as he made plans for independence.[19] Indeed, the year Black Power came out Padmore was finishing a book that he hoped would be both a history and blueprint for African independence: Pan-Africanism or Communism?—an attempt to counter Cold War ideas of African independence movements as communist-inspired.[20]

As independence neared for the Gold Coast, the London community had splintered. In 1956 James had returned from the United States but Padmore and Pizer spoke of him with condescension in letters to Wright.[21] Meanwhile, former Padmore ally Peter Abrahams published a roman à clef entitled A Wreath for Udomo (1956), which contained unflattering portrayals of the members of the London political community of which Abrahams had been a part, among them George Padmore (as the character "Tom Lanwood").[22]

But Padmore's alliance with Nkrumah held firm. From the time of Nkrumah's return to the Gold Coast in 1947 to lead the independence movement there, Padmore advised him in long detailed letters, wrote dozens of articles for Nkrumah's newspaper, the Accra Evening News, wrote a history of The Gold Coast Revolution (1953), and, with Dorothy Pizer (herself a writer and secretary) encouraged Nkrumah to write his own autobiography, which he did, publishing it in 1957, the year the Gold Coast became independent Ghana.[23] Padmore accepted Nkrumah's invitation to move to Ghana, but his time there as Nkrumah's advisor on African affairs was difficult, and he was talking about leaving Ghana to settle elsewhere when he returned to London for treatment of cirrhosis of the liver. He died on 23 September 1959. A few days later, responding to rumours that he had been poisoned, Pizer typed out a detailed statement about his death, asserting that his liver condition had worsened in the previous nine months, before he sought London treatment from an old physician friend there, and had become serious enough to provoke the haemorrhages that led to his death.[24]

Legacy[edit]

After Padmore's death, Nkrumah paid tribute to him in a radio broadcast. "One day, the whole of Africa will surely be free and united and when the final tale is told, the significance of George Padmore's work will be revealed." In the Pittsburgh Courier, George Schuyler said Padmore's writings had been "an inspiration to the men who dreamed of a free Africa". Padmore's physician friend, Cedric Belfield Clarke, wrote the obituary that ran in The Times, describing Padmore as a writer who wrote books and studied them. After a funeral service at a London crematorium, Padmore's ashes were interred at Christiansborg Castle in Ghana. The ceremony was broadcast in America by NBC television.[24]

Staying on in Accra, Dorothy Pizer wrote a preface for a French edition of Pan-Africanism or Communism and began research for a biography of Padmore. However, as she told Nancy Cunard, she was frustrated by his habit of destroying his personal papers and not talking about his past. James, relocated in Port of Spain, Trinidad, wrote a series of articles on Padmore for The Nation and began collecting material for a biography but eventually produced only a slim manuscript, "Notes on the Life of George Padmore.".[25] For years he tried to publish his book Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution; it finally emerged in 1977 (London: Allison and Busby). In it, James omitted any reference to Padmore's own book on the Gold Coast Revolution and in correspondence made clear that he thought Padmore did not understand it.[26] Ras Makonnen, who understood so well the importance of publishing for the movement, brought out his own intimate account of the London-based community around Padmore, Pan-Africanism from Within, in 1973. James R. Hooker's biography of Padmore, Black Revolutionary, appeared in 1967, and Padmore is the central figure of Carol Polsgrove's Ending British Rule in Africa: Writers in a Common Cause, published in 2009.

In 1991, John La Rose founded the George Padmore Institute (GPI), based in North London, where educational and cultural activities, including talks and readings, take place. The GPI occasionally publishes relevant materials and is an archive, educational resource and research centre housing materials relating to the black community of Caribbean, African and Asian descent in Britain and continental Europe. La Rose also founded the George Padmore Supplementary School in 1969.[27]

On 28 June 2011, the Nubian Jak Community Trust unveiled a blue plaque at Padmore's former address, 22 Cranleigh Street in the London Borough of Camden, in a ceremony addressed by the High Commissioner of Trinidad & Tobago, the High Commissioner of Ghana, the Mayor of Camden, Selma James, Nina Baden-Semper, and others.[28][29]

The George Padmore Research Library, in the upscale neighborhood of Ridge, Accra, Ghana is named after him.

George Padmore Road, situated in a residential area of Nairobi, Kenya, is named after him.

Works[edit]

  • The Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers (London: Red International of Labour of Unions Magazine for the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers, 1931)
  • Haiti, an American slave colony (Centrizdat, 1931)
  • The Negro Workers and the Imperialist War Intervention in the USSR (1931)
  • How Britain Rules Africa (London: Wishart Books, 1936)
  • Africa and World Peace (Foreword by Sir Stafford Cripps; London: Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd, 1937)
  • Hands Off the Protectorates (London: International African Service Bureau, 1938)
  • The White Man's Duty: An Analysis of the Colonial Question in the Light of the Atlantic Charter (with Nancy Cunard) (London: W. H. Allen, 1942)
  • The Voice of Coloured Labour (Speeches and Reports of Colonial Delegates to the World Trade Union Conference, 1945) (editor) (Manchester: Panaf Service, 1945)
  • How Russia Transformed her Colonial Empire: a challenge to the imperialist powers (in collaboration with Dorothy Pizer) (London: Dennis Dobson Ltd, 1946)
  • "History of the Pan-African Congress (Colonial and coloured unity: a programme of action)" (editor) (1947). Reprinted in Hakim Adi and Marika Sherwood, The 1945 Manchester Pan-African Congress Revisited (London: New Beacon Books, 1995)
  • Africa: Britain's Third Empire (London: Dennis Dobson, 1949)
  • The Gold Coast Revolution: The Struggle of an African People from Slavery to Freedom (London: Dennis Dobson, 1953)
  • Pan-Africanism or Communism? The Coming Struggle for Africa (Foreword by Richard Wright. London, Dennis Dobson, 1956)

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b James R. Hooker, Black Revolutionary (1967), p. 2.
  2. ^ Kevin Kelly Gaines, American Africans in Ghana: Black Expatriates and the Civil Rights Era. UNC Press Books, 2006; p. 27.
  3. ^ Hooker, Black Revolutionary (1967), p. 3.
  4. ^ Hooker, Black Revolutionary (1967), pp. 4-5.
  5. ^ Hooker, Black Revolutionary (1967), p. 6.
  6. ^ a b c d Mark Salomon, The Cry was Freedom: Communists and African-Americans, 1917-36, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998; p. 60.
  7. ^ a b Russian State Archive for Socio-Political History (RGASPI), Moscow, fond 515, opis 1, delo 1600, list 33. Available on microfilm as "Files of the Communist Party of the USA in the Comintern Archives," IDC Publishers, reel 122.
  8. ^ Salomon, The Cry was Freedom, pp. 177-78.
  9. ^ a b c d Salomon, The Cry was Freedom, p. 178.
  10. ^ a b c d Salomon, The Cry was Freedom, p. 179.
  11. ^ George Padmore, "An Open Letter to Earl Browder", The Crisis, October 1935, p. 302.
  12. ^ Salomon, The Cry was Freedom, p. 177.
  13. ^ Carol Polsgrove, Ending British Rule in Africa: Writers in a Common Cause (2009), pp. 1-15.
  14. ^ Polsgrove, Ending British Rule, pp. 25, 29-37.
  15. ^ Polsgrove, Ending British Rule, pp. 23-42.
  16. ^ Sir Stafford Cripps KC, MP, "Foreword", Africa and World Peace (1937), p. ix.
  17. ^ Ken Lawrence, "Padmore and CLR James".
  18. ^ Polsgrove, Ending British Rule, pp. 45, 70, 75.
  19. ^ Polsgrove, Ending British Rule, pp. 125-27.
  20. ^ Polsgrove, Ending British Rule, p. 145.
  21. ^ Polsgrove, Ending British Rule, p. 130.
  22. ^ Polsgrove, Ending British Rule, pp. 132-36.
  23. ^ Polsgrove, Ending British Rule, pp. 151-54.
  24. ^ a b Polsgrove, Ending British Rule, pp. 162-63.
  25. ^ Polsgrove, Ending British Rule, pp 163-65.
  26. ^ Polsgrove, Ending British Rule, pp. 155-56.
  27. ^ John La Rose, "Life experience with Britain", Chronicle World - Changing Black Britain.
  28. ^ John Gulliver, "Toast to slayer of empires", Camden New Journal, 30 June 2011.
  29. ^ "Anti-colonial campaigner commemorated with plaque", BBC News London, 28 June 2011.

Further reading[edit]

  • Baptiste, Fitzroy and Rupert Lewis (eds.), George Padmore: Pan-African Revolutionary. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 2009. —Essays on Padmore.
  • Edwards, Brent Hayes. The Practice of Diaspora: Literature, Translation, and the Rise of Black Internationalism. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2003.
  • Høgsbjerg, Christian."A forgotten fighter," International Socialism, no. 124 (2009).
  • Hooker, James Ralph. Black Revolutionary: George Padmore's Path from Communism to Pan-Africanism. London: Pall Mall Press, 1967. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1967.
  • Makonnen, Ras. Pan-Africanism from Within. Kenneth King (ed.), Nairobi, London, New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.
  • Polsgrove, Carol.Ending British Rule in Africa: Writers in a Common Cause. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009.
  • Weiss, Holger."The Road to Hamburg and Beyond: African American Agency and the Making of a Radical African Atlantic, 1922-1930." Part One. | Part Two. | Part Three. Comintern Working Papers, Åbo Akademi University, 2007.
  • Weiss, Holger. "The Hamburg Committee, Moscow and the Making of a Radical African Atlantic, 1930-1933." Part One: The RILU and the ITUCNW. | Part Two: The ISH, the IRH and the ITUCNW. | Part Three: The LAI and the ITUCNW. Comintern Working Papers, Åbo Akademi University, 2010.

External links[edit]