Black 1919

Black 1919: Riots, Racism and Resistance in Imperial Britain

Jacqueline Jenkinson
Volume: 5
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Black 1919
    Book Description:

    The riots that broke out in various British port cities in 1919 were a dramatic manifestation of a wave of global unrest that affected Britain, parts of its empire, continental Europe and North America during and in the wake of the First World War. During the riots, crowds of white working-class people targeted black workers, their families and black-owned businesses and property. One of the chief sources of violent confrontation in the run-down port areas was the ‘colour’ bar implemented by the sailors’ trades unions campaigning to keep black, Arab and Asian sailors off British ships in a time of increasing job competition. Black 1919 sets out the economic and social causes of the riots and their impact on Britain’s relationship with its empire and its colonial subjects. The riots are also considered within the wider context of rioting elsewhere on the fringes of the Atlantic world as black people came in increased numbers into urban and metropolitan settings where they competed with working-class white people for jobs and housing during and after the First World War. The book details the events of the port riots in Britain, with chapters devoted to assessing the motivations and make-up of the rioting crowds, examining police procedures during the riots, considering the court cases that followed, and looking at the longer-term consequences for the black British workers and their families. Black 1919 is a stark and timely reminder of the violent racist conflict that emerged after the First World War and the shockwaves that reverberated around the Empire.

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-513-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of tables and figures
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. List of abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-37)

    The seaport riots of 1919 were part of a wave of global unrest that affected Britain, parts of its empire, continental Europe and North America during and in the wake of the First World War. The trigger for the violence in many of Britain’s seaports was dissatisfaction among sections of Britain’s working class at a range of unsatisfactory peacetime circumstances, the chief of which were severe post-war competition for jobs, especially in the merchant navy, and local housing shortages. In the course of the riots, crowds of white working-class people thousands strong targeted minority ethnic groups, including African, African-Caribbean, ‘Arab’,...

  7. CHAPTER 1 The wider context of the seaport riots
    (pp. 38-71)

    Numerous immediate and inter-locking factors contributed to the outbreak of the 1919 riots. Many of these were affected in some way by the experiences and consequences of war. For the British working class, war service was part of a bargain struck with the state. When the promised benefits (including better housing and more job opportunities) were not forthcoming in the postwar years, there was a flood of public demonstrations, often organized and led by associations of ex-combatants. Mass demobilization threw millions of returned war veterans unregulated into the job market. An influx of returning sailors occurred just as the merchant...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Chief events of the riots
    (pp. 72-102)

    The seaport riots began in January 1919 and continued around the country intermittently for most of the year. Glasgow saw the first riot, followed by South Shields in February, and there were disturbances in Salford in March and April. London witnessed serious, sporadic rioting between April and August 1919. There was disorder in Hull in May. June was the peak month of port violence, with the most severe riots of the year in Liverpool and Cardiff. There were also riots in Newport and Barry in June. Further riots occurred in 1920 and 1921; however, for the sake of clarity, these...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Who were the rioters?
    (pp. 103-130)

    This chapter focuses on the constitution of the rioting crowds: the national identity, gender, occupational backgrounds and age ranges of their members. The findings and figures discussed here have largely been obtained from interrogation of two datasets created by the author. The first dataset contains 196 black and Arab rioters, witnesses and others who were associated in some way with the port rioting, such as lawyers and clergy. Of these, 155 are rioters and 41 are ‘related persons’. The second dataset, for white rioters and related persons, such as trades unionists, contains 107 individuals: 89 rioters and 18 others. The...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Police and court responses
    (pp. 131-154)

    This chapter examines the actions of local police forces faced with riots in their ports and also evaluates the judgements handed down in the courts to white, black and Arab rioters. Police officers and sometimes entire police forces were on occasion overwhelmed by the size of the rioting crowds. Police tactics and arrest procedures during the seaport riots were often blatantly racist, although there is no substantial evidence of police collusion with white rioters. Nonetheless, officers who sought to restore order on occasion used excess force against black and Arab people and allowed white crowds of rioters undue latitude. At...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Repatriation to the colonies: the government solution to the riots and some Caribbean consequences
    (pp. 155-189)

    This chapter considers the history of the government’s post-war repatriation scheme as it was applied to black British colonial workers. Following the summer 1919 rioting, the scheme was enhanced, with voyage and resettlement allowances offered to black and Arab colonial workers. This chapter explains the mechanics of the scheme and examines the black colonial reaction to it. Government discussions on whether to allow British-born dependants to accompany black male colonial workers are also discussed. The repercussions of the repatriation of up to 2,000 black workers, particularly to Britain’s Caribbean colonies, are also analysed in this chapter.

    On the surface, post-war...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Aftermath: global reverberations, self-help, alien status and further riots
    (pp. 190-216)

    The cessation of rioting by August 1919 brought little improvement for Britain’s black and Arab seaport populations. The immediate aftermath of the riots saw many workers from these settlements continue to struggle to find employment, particularly in the face of the ongoing union ‘colour’ bar and increased long-term unemployment in the merchant shipping industry. The bleak job prospects in the merchant navy, as with the riots themselves, provoked a response as colonial workers protested their rights as British subjects, often via organized groups. When their pleas for intervention met with predictable government inaction, various attempts at self-help were mounted around...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 217-223)

    The riots in nine seaports during 1919 illustrated the deep sense of disquiet in British society in the immediate post-war period. Social and economic pressures came together in a way which made the resort to violence unsurprising. The four and a half years of total warfare on British society, while it did not ‘brutalize’ its millions of participants, played a crucial role in creating an atmosphere of mass protest. This element was present in many other instances of riot and violent demonstration during the year. Feelings of disappointment and unequal sacrifice came into play, not simply during the port riots,...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 224-235)
  15. Index
    (pp. 236-246)