WILMOTH GEORGE BROWN

PIONEERS

After being refused drinks at his local watering hole, former MV Empire Windrush voyager George Brown helped set up an organisation to combat the colour bar

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Described as a bricklayer when he travelled to England on the MV Empire Windrush from Jamaica, Wimouth ‘George’ Brown’s first night in the Mother Country was spent at Clapham South Deep Shelter in south London.

The former air raid shelter, which had been converted into accommodation for the new arrivals by the Colonial Office, was only one level below the Northern Line underground train tracks, which made sleeping difficult once the Tube opened in the early morning.

George’s wife, Dellie, followed in November of that year and the couple found temporary lodgings in Lewisham, southeast London, before buying their own house in 1951 in the borough.

In his 1999 memoir, Windrush to Lewisham, George recalled the casual discrimination West Indian migrants often faced: “I discovered that there were a few pubs in southeast London that deliberately refused to serve coloured people. Some [of us] were rudely abused by customers … In some cases, it was so bad that on many occasions the coloured man had to ask someone inside the pub to purchase drinks for him. That person would hand the drinks to him outside the door.”

Experiences such as these prompted him to become a community activist, and he became such a familiar figure that people always referred to him as ‘Uncle George’. In 1953, he helped to set up the Anglo-Caribbean Association to provide practical support and social activities for West Indians and their friends.

Along with other members, he would visit pubs operating a colour bar and demand to be served, arguing with landlords about their rights and threatening to publicly expose them in the press if they refused. A similar campaign was mounted in dance halls.

The Anglo-Caribbean Association held its first meetings at the Amersham Arms in New Cross and regularly organised dances and social events at Laurie Grove Swimming Baths and Deptford Town Hall before it secured its own premises in 1959 in Breakspear Road.

The following year the association moved to Greenwich High Road and later changed its name to the Commonwealth Association and Club. In its early days it faced organised racist opposition, with its leading members receiving abusive phone calls and letters.

Uncle George and his wife returned to Jamaica in the early 1970s, where George later died.

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