The Fifth Pan-African Congress

The moment history turned

GMT 11:27 Friday ,14 August 2015

 Migrant Voice - The moment history turned

John Deakin, Jomo Kenyatta, 1945. Courtesy Getty Images. © John Deakin/Picture Post/Getty Images
Daniel Nelson
The Fifth Pan-African Congress is a quiet, unobtrusive London exhibition that relatively few people will bother to see, but a visit reveals hidden delights.   The 1945 meeting in Manchester was historic – a year that US civil rights activist described as “decisive… in determining the freedom of Africa”; coming after the Second World War, which colonial troops helped win, but before independence movements caught fire; and at which some of the 87 participants (such as Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta) went on to become national and global leaders.   Black activists living in Manchester also took part, including boxer and Communist Party member Len Johnson; Guyana’s Dr Peter Milliard of the Negro Association and president of the Pan African federation; Ras Makonnen of the International African Service Bureau; James Taylor of the Negro Welfare Centre.   It was largely ignored by the British press, but Picture Post magazine sent Soho photographer John Deakin. His black and white pictures, published under the headline ‘Africa Speaks in Manchester’, are deceptively simple but evocative, capturing the quiet dignity and confidence of the gathering.   It’s very much of its time. One caption reads: “A Mixed Marriage That Is A Success: Mr John Teah Brown with his white wife, Mrs May Brown, in their Manchester home. He says the negro must earn the respect of the white man to merit full citizenship.”   The accompanying story wonderingly describes a dance as “above all… it was mixed in colour, from the blonde white to the midnight black”.   But behind the nervous treading-on-eggshells reporting and the self-controlled civility of the activists lie resolve and ability. It may look quaint, but virtually all the Congress’ aims were met in the ensuing years: “To secure equal opportunities for all Colonial and Coloured People in Great Britain, the Congress demand that discrimination on account of race, creed or colour be made a criminal offence by law.   “That all employments and occupations shall be opened to all qualified Africans  and that to bar such applicants because of race, creed or colour shall be deemed an offence against the law.”   There are more delights in the second half of the exhibition, which consists of five films: two talks by Trinidadian historian C. L. j. James; a film on the 1966 First World Festival of Negro Arts in Senegal; a biography of Du Bois; and part of a documentary on poet Aime Cesaire, co-architect of the Negritude movement.   * The Fifth Pan-African Congress: An Autograph ABP Exhibition, free, Rivington Place, EC2, until 12 September. Info: 7749 1240 Photo: John Deakin, Jomo Kenyatta, 1945. Courtesy Getty Images. © John Deakin/Picture Post/Getty Images

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