George Padmore: A Caribbean revolutionary for Africa’s decolonization

On 28 June 2011, a blue plaque was unveiled at Padmore’s former London address, 22 Cranleigh Street in the Borough of Camden (inner London), in a ceremony attended by the High Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago, the High Commissioner of Ghana, the Mayor of Camden, and others. The importance attached to the blue plaque translates to the giant status of Padmore who was referred to, during that ceremony, as one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century. He was a patriot and defender of the Black cause who lived in Ghana and played a key role in the anti-colonial struggle after World War II. A blue plaque is known to be a permanent sign installed in a public place in the United Kingdom and elsewhere to commemorate a link between that location and a famous person, event, or former building on the site, serving as a historical marker.

The attribution of such distinction to a Black Trinidadian who devoted his life to the anti-colonial struggle can be regarded as the obviousness of the distinction of George Padmore and this gesture can also be interpreted as Britain being haunted, to some extent, by its colonial past,  and the respect that British imperialism and capitalism have developed, over time, for freedom fighters who were their enemies for decades. This blue plaque also represents the victory of liberal or leftist Great Britain, over their conservative capitalist counterparts. All this calls for more reflection in this era when statues and monuments are being judged and given a fate. Those deemed to represent domination, suppression and injustice are destroyed. The ones that are preserved or kept represent the pride of nations. Padmore has such a strong connection with Africa that his recognition as a giant certainly means a lot for Africans, especially Ghanaians, whose country was the abode of Padmore for several years. 

Early Days

Padmore is a well-known figure in Africa, especially in circles that have connections with anti-colonial, anti-imperialist and pan- African movements. He is known among both English-speaking and French-speaking people, although Anglophones find it easier to engage the ideas and achievements of Padmore. Among Anglophone countries, Ghana is one that can boast of the closeness that it had with Padmore who moved there in 1957 after the country attained independence. He then worked as advisor to Kwame Nkrumah, just like many other Black Diasporans who brought their contribution to the development of Ghana and the decolonization of West Africa and the ultimate unity of Africa.  The (initially) African-American W.E.B. DuBois, C. L. R. James from Trinidad and many others are mentioned any time this debate starts. DuBois took a step that mesmerized many observers; he renounced his US citizenship and naturalized as a Ghanaian until his death that same year. He was interred in Accra, the city that harbours the magnificent and historical DuBois Center, where the best documents on issues related to the Black world and also development are housed.

Communism, Pan-Africanism and Padmore’s legacy in Ghana

George Padmore who was born on 28 June 1903 in Trinidad, then part of the British West Indies, was baptized Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse. He later took the pseudonym, George Padmore, which compounds the Christian name of his father-in-law, George Semper, and the surname of the friend who had been his best man, Errol Padmore. This suggests that Padmore attached a special value to marriage and family life. His ties with Ghana are very strong. His paternal great-grandfather was known to be an Asante warrior who was taken prisoner and sold into slavery in Barbados, where his grandfather, James Hubert Alfonso Nurse was born. His father was a local schoolmaster who married a lady from Antigua, Anna Susanna Symister. Padmore was educated primarily in his native Trinidad, where he worked as a reporter once he graduated from high school. Padmore so cherished his African roots that he instructed that his daughter be named Blyden-Cowart, in honor of the African nationalist Edward Blyden of Liberia. 

Padmore travelled to the US to further his education and, during those years, he fell in love with communism, through the Workers’ Communist Party (CPUSA). As an energetic worker and prolific writer, he was so instrumental in the Communist Party in the US that he was chosen to deliver an important address to the Communist International in Moscow in 1929. He remained a socialist who worked for African independence. Garan Kouyaté, also a communist from Ségou (in today’s Mali) living in France, helped him to learn more about the condition of the Africans. In 1934, Padmore moved to London where he became ‘the center’ of a community of writers dedicated to Pan-Africanism and African independence. His boyhood friend C. L. R. James, also from Trinidad, was already there, writing and publishing. Through that circle, Padmore, Ras Makonnen from British Guiana, and Jomo Kenyatta from Kenya developed a solid friendship. Kenyatta and Peter Abrahams (from South Africa) became also ideologically inseparable.

Before World War II, James left for the United States, where he met Nkrumah and gave him a letter of introduction to Padmore. When Nkrumah arrived in London, Padmore met him, and it was the start of a long alliance. Padmore was then organizing the 1945 Manchester Pan-African Congress, attended also by DuBois, the American organizer of earlier Pan-African conferences. The Manchester Conference helped set the agenda for decolonization in the post-war period. Padmore’s alliance with Nkrumah held firm. When Nkrumah returned to the Gold Coast in 1947 to lead its independence movement, Padmore advised him in long detailed letters and also encouraged him to write an autobiography. Padmore, ultimately, accepted Nkrumah’s invitation to move to Ghana and to work as his advisor on African Affairs. Padmore died on 23 September 1959, aged 56 and after a funeral service at a London crematorium, his ashes were buried at Christiansborg Castle in Ghana on 4 October 1959.

The George Padmore Research Library, in  Ridge, Accra, Ghana, is named after him. According to the Ghanaian London-based broadcaster Cameron Duodu, “Many of the statements and pamphlets, as well as the correspondences with which leaders of the British colonies in Africa combated the policies of the Colonial Office in London, were drafted at the dining table of Padmore’s residence at 22 Cranleigh Street; that was also the venue of the 5th Pan-African Conference that Padmore organized in Manchester in 1945”. Other African countries hold Padmore dear. In Nairobi, Kenya, one finds George Padmore Road and George Padmore Lane. Padmore, unequivocally, epitomizes the international dimension of anticolonialism and Pan-Africanism.

Source: http://www.jamaicamonitor.com

Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.

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