George Padmore was a leading Pan-African activist, journalist, and author. His Pan-African organising helped to build the struggle against colonialism in the West – and to push for the independence of African countries.
He left his native Trinidad in 1924 to initially study medicine in the US, but instead became seriously involved in radical political activism and joined the Communist Party. After a few years in Moscow working as an activist and journalist, he travelled round Europe before settling in London in 1935.
In his many years in Britain Padmore campaigned against imperialism and wrote several important books and pamphlets. He also co-founded an organisation to help organise Pan-African and anti-imperial activists, and in 1945 organised a large conference in Manchester called the Fifth Pan-African Congress, an important moment in British history.
Padmore’s international journalism and other writings linked African American struggles with liberation movements in Africa and with African Diasporic peoples around the world and thus had a profound effect on the contours of black political thought.
George Padmore spent his final years in newly independent Ghana as an advisor and mentor to Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah. He died during a trip to London in 1959.
What was the time period like?:
During the time Padmore spent in Britain, roughly 20 years from 1935-1955, he encountered a lot of racism and segregation. Britain and London was a difficult place for Black activists and anyone from the British colonies was seen as a second-class citizen. With this excellent writing and smart presentation, Padmore aimed to showed an ignorant British public that Black people were just as clever and should be treated equally.
London at the time was home to many anti-imperial activists such as Jomo Kenyatta (future President of Kenya), C.L.R. James (important Black historian and writer), and V.K. Krishna Menon (future Defence Minister of India), as well as many others. These activists stuck together and worked to educate the British public so that they might think for themselves and see how unfair and wrong colonialism and racism was, rather than believe just what their government told them.
It was also in this time that the Second World War took place, an event that shook the world over. However, for many Black people the War did not change people’s opinions on them and racism and segregation were as common as ever. Writing and organising was harder during the War but activists still did so, knowing how important their work was to Black and other People of Colour around the world.
What influence have they had on Modern Day UK?:
George Padmore helped many realise how bad colonialism and the British Empire could be and kept organising to make people aware. As a result many people realised that the British Empire was not a force for good, and that colonies should be independent and allowed to make their own rules and run their own country.
Padmore also worked closely with several people who went on to lead those countries, such as Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria, and his politics partially shaped how these new nations were run.
His impact as a Pan-Africanist is also important, as Pan-Africanism would not have been so large had he not started to lead it. When he took over the movement was in decline, but after his work it was an important and influential project. An iteration of the movement, the Organisation for African Unity (OAU), is still going today. The OAU is made up of many African nations and holds a lot of influence.