John Archer (British politician)

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John Richard Archer (8 June 1863 – 14 July 1932) was a British race and political activist. In November 1906, he was among the first people of African descent to be elected to public office in Britain as a councillor in Battersea, and in 1913, the first black mayor in London.

Life and career[edit]

Archer was born in Liverpool to Richard Archer, from Barbados, and Mary Theresa Burns, from Ireland.[1] He travelled the world as a seaman, living in the USA and Canada, then settled in Battersea with his wife, Bertha, a black Canadian. He ran a small photographic studio.

Archer became involved in local politics and friendly with London radicals. In 1906 he was elected as a Progressive (Liberal) to Battersea Borough Council for Latchmere ward; at the same time, Henry Sylvester-Williams won in Marylebone. He successfully campaigned for a minimum wage of 32 shillings a week for council workers but lost his seat in 1909 and was re-elected in 1912.

In 1913, he was nominated for the position of Mayor (at that time a position implying that he was the political leader of the Council, rather than the ceremonial role common in England from the 1920s). There were negative, even racist, aspects to the campaign, with allegations that he did not have British nationality. He won by 40 votes to 39 among his fellow councillors, and gave a notable victory speech:

"My election tonight means a new era. You have made history tonight. For the first time in the history of the English nation a man of colour has been elected as mayor of an English borough.
"That will go forth to the coloured nations of the world and they will look to Battersea and say Battersea has done many things in the past, but the greatest thing it has done has been to show that it has no racial prejudice and that it recognises a man for the work he has done."

Archer moved to the left during his years in Battersea and was re-elected to the Council as a Labour representative in 1919. He stood without success for parliament the same year. In 1918 he became President of the African Progress Union, working for black empowerment and equality. In 1919 he was a British delegate to the Pan-African Congress in Paris. Two years later he chaired the Pan-African Congress in London.

In 1922, he gave up his council seat to act as Labour Party election agent for Shapurji Saklatvala, a Communist activist standing for parliament in North Battersea. He convinced the Labour Party to endorse Saklatvala and he was duly elected one of the first black MPs in Britain. He and Saklatvala continued to work together, winning again in 1924 until the Communist and Labour parties split fully. In the 1929 general election, Archer was agent for the official Labour candidate who beat Saklatvala.

Archer served as a governor of Battersea Polytechnic, President of the Nine Elms Swimming Club, Chair of the Whitley Council Staff Committee and a member of the Wandsworth Board of Guardians.

He was again elected in 1931, now for Nine Elms ward. At the time of his death in 1932, he was deputy leader of Battersea council. He died on 14 July 1932, just a few weeks after his 69th birthday. His funeral was held at the Church of Our Lady of Carmel in Battersea Park Road on 19 July, and he was buried in the Council’s cemetery at Morden.

Until recently Archer was thought to be the first Black man to be elected Mayor in Britain. However the American Negro Year Book 1914 in reporting Archer's election also recorded that "In 1904 Mr Allen Glaisyer Minns, a col’d man from West Indies, was elected Mayor of borough of Thetford, Norfolk".

Legacy[edit]

Archer House - part of the Battersea Village residential complex - was also named after John Archer upon completion of its construction in the 1930s. A secondary school was renamed in his honour during the 1980s but it closed in 1991.

In 2004, John Archer was chosen for the 100 Great Black Britons list, coming 72nd in a public vote.

In 2011 John Archer was commemorated with a Blue Plaque from Nubian Jak.

In April 2013 Archer was honoured by Royal Mail in the UK, as one of six people selected as subjects for the “Great Britons” commemorative postage stamp issue.[2]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Archer, John Richard" in David Dabydeen, John Gilmore, Cecily Jones (eds), The Oxford Companion to Black British History, Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 33.
  2. ^ "Royal Mail celebrates 'Great Britons' with launch of latest special stamp collection". royalmailgroup.com. 17 April 2013. Retrieved 26 April 2013. 

External links[edit]

Other sources[edit]

  • Peter Fryer, entry "John Archer (1863-1932)" in Dictionary of National Biography,OUP, 2004-08.