By the end of the 20th century, the Black Caribbean community had become one of London's largest ethnic groups. By 2001, it numbered around 345,000 people, representing 7% of all Londoners and 61% of all people of Caribbean descent living in the United Kingdom.
Many of today's community are the second or third generations of Caribbean families who came to London after the Second World War. But the links with London go back much further. Africans were brought to London from the Caribbean in the late 16th century because of Britain's role in the slave trade. There were Africans (free and enslaved) in London at this time, but few in number. Those who came via the Caribbean had been transported from Africa to work on the Caribbean plantations as slave labour. After slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire in 1833, Caribbeans continued to come to London, chiefly as students, professionals and government officials.
By the early 20th century, London's prominent Caribbean citizens included John Archer, who pioneered African and Caribbean involvement in local politics when he became Mayor of Battersea in 1913. In 1931, Dr Harold Moody founded the League of Coloured Peoples, the first Black pressure group.
George Padmore and C L R James, from Trinidad and Jamaica respectively, were central figures in the fight for African independence. The Jamaican pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey ended his days in London.
Over 15,000 Caribbean men fought in the British West Indies Regiment in the First World War. This number doubled during the Second World War, while many others carried out essential work in Britain.
The 1948 British Nationality Act gave British citizenship to all people living in Commonwealth countries with full rights of entry and settlement in Britain. At the same time, the call went out that Britain needed skilled men to help post-war reconstruction. Among the first to respond was a group of 500 Jamaicans who arrived in London on board the ship the Empire Windrush. They settled in various areas of London, particularly Brixton.
By 1950, only a few hundred West Indians were living in London, but this was soon to change. The continuing labour shortage led the National Health Service and London Transport to actively recruit in the West Indian islands. Many men and women came, planning to find work on their arrival.
Notting Hill Gate became another area of settlement, particularly for people from Trinidad and Barbados. Housing problems in this already poor district, coupled with racial prejudice, meant that many of the new arrivals found it difficult to find somewhere decent to live. In 1958, serious attacks on West Indian residents by white youths culminated in riots that shocked public opinion. The Notting Hill Carnival sprang from the riots as a way of asserting community pride.
During the 1960s, London's West Indian community absorbed the new ideas about 'Black' identity emerging from the American civil rights movement. During the 1970s a new sense of pride in African heritage made itself felt, particularly among the young. Reggae music and the Rastafarian religion both became important cultural movements.
Young Afro-Caribbean Londoners became more assertive than their parents when faced with prejudice and hostility, particularly from the authorities. 'Sus' laws, which allowed the police to stop and search large numbers of Black citizens, were greatly resented. Violence broke out in Brixton in 1981 and 1985 in protest against police injustice.
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