6 March 2003 releases

Records of the Colonial Office, Commonwealth and Foreign and Commonwealth Offices, and related bodies

Document reference: CO 968/121/4

This file is concerned with the emergence of the fledgling civil rights movement in the United States during the Second World War, and the perceived destabilising effect that this might have on the British colonies in the West Indies and West Africa. At the time (around 1943-44) there was a great deal of criticism coming from the Black rights movement about the administration of British colonies in Africa, as well as against the American establishment.

Black rights activists are reported on the file as commenting that it was hard to support the Allies' rhetoric that they were fighting a people's liberation war against fascist barbarism and repression when conditions of racial inequality still remained at home.

The file includes excerpts and articles from the American press, along with the covering letters. These had been sent over to British intelligence, and were written by or mentioned some of the leading figures and critics within the Black labour movement such as Paul Robeson, Max Yergan, and Benjamin J Davis Jr.

The press articles largely propound racial egalitarianism and the advancement of the African cause, but often with a communist tone that would have been considered threatening by the established powers. The Black labour leaders were trying to forge links between Africa and the Black communities in America and the West Indies through scholarship and education schemes. It is these links that came under scrutiny by the intelligence agencies anxious to prevent unrest during wartime.

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A letter from John Harrington, Administrative Officer at the Colonial Office, which was based in Downing Street during the War, to Colonel Valentine P T Vivian CBE, formerly of the Indian Police Service