Brixton’s Black Cultural Archives (BCA) have demanded to know why crucial evidence about the immigration status of the Windrush Generation was destroyed instead of being added to the archives’ unique collection of material about the history of Black immigrants to Britain.
On the eve of a planned demonstration today (20 April) in Windrush Square in Brixton – named for the ship that brought Caribbean immigrants to the UK in 1948 – the BCA said that the destruction of landing cards from the Windrush and other immigrant ships was a “travesty” that must never happen again.
Paul Reid, director of Black Cultural Archives, is among the speakers planned for today’s rally in solidarity with the Windrush Generation and their families. It is due to take place from 5 to 7pm.
The destruction of the landing cards made the plight of the children of Windrush Generation of immigrants even worse than the deliberate creation of a “hostile environment” by prime minister Theresa May when she was home secretary.
This has meant children who arrived on a parent’s passport 50 years or more ago being sacked, threatened with deportation and refused medical treatment.
The BCA said the fiasco showed “a shameful lack of appreciation” of courageous citizens and reflected a general lack of appreciation of the contribution the Black community has made to Britain throughout history.
“Thousands of people who travelled as British citizens between 1948 and 1973 were invited to this country to help rebuild post-war Britain.” it said in a statement. “The elders of the Britain’s Caribbean heritage community were a pioneering generation who laid solid foundations that rebuilt post-war Britain. This is not an immigration story, not a moment of migrant history, but is central to British history.”
The BCA said the fact that citizenship questions were being raised many decades later was “highly problematic”.
It said the questions of BCA co-founder Len Garrison: “Where are our monuments? Where are our martyrs?” were still being asked today in the face of institutions that were “still unable to value our contributions and heritage”.
Destruction of the landing cards was disheartening because the BCA existed to ensure the preservation of such history.
“Our archive differs from national or government archives, as our remit is to preserve the narratives of the people,” said the BCA.
“Materials that can no longer be held in central archives should be offered to alternative repositories such as ourselves.
“We have been entrusted by generations of individuals, families and organisations to safeguard these materials – our history, British history.”
The BCA called on the government to ensure that the travesty of the destruction of the archival materials never happened again.
“BCA must be the recognised home for such important archival material,” it said.
Public meeting and legal clinics
The BCA is inviting anybody worried about their documentation and right to remain to a public meeting on Saturday 28 April between 2 and 5pm. It will be followed by clinics run by legal professionals who are volunteering their time and expertise.