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Henry Gunter and the Afro-Caribbean Organisation
Another of Birmingham's first groups set up to represent the city's growing black community was the Afro-Caribbean Organisation. Formed in the 1940s by Dr. Clarence Piliso, originally from South Africa, the Organisation worked closely with the Trade Union movement in Birmingham, through which it also had some links to the Indian Workers Association.
Whilst no records relating to the Afro-Caribbean Organisation itself have survived, the Archive is fortunate to include material and reminiscences donated by Henry Gunter, its one time Chairman. A political activist in his native Jamaica, and in the United States where he worked during World War II, Gunter wrote frequent articles for the Jamaican and trade union press. He came to Britain after the war, and continued to write for the trade union press, eventually becoming Birmingham correspondent for the West Indian Gazette.
Henry Gunter was also the author of a pamphlet entitled A Man's A Man: A Study of the Colour Bar in Birmingham - and an Answer. This looked closely at the unfair treatment received by the city's black communities, and provides a vivid portrait of attitudes towards race at that time. Just as Avtar Jouhl was to, Henry Gunter noticed the difficulty many immigrants had in finding adequate accommodation when they first arrived. So much so that he is able to refer, not without some irony, to 'one Moseley family, letting rooms for the first time, [which] was courageous enough to rent them to a Jamaican family and found them to be just as good tenants as they would have expected white people to be.'
Along with problems finding accommodation, unfair working practices were another symptom of the racism that existed in Birmingham. One of the many campaigns that Gunter was involved with concerned the city's Transportation department, which during the 1950s continued to refuse to employ black workers. The Afro-Caribbean Organisation arranged a march through the city centre, under the banner 'No Colour Bar to Housing and Jobs', which was well-supported and eventually led to a meeting with the city council. The situation was eventually resolved, and a more representative workforce employed on the city's buses. However, this was just the first of many battles the Afro-Caribbean Organisation involved itself with.
Henry Gunter was also instrumental in organising a number of visits to the city by the black American singer, actor and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson. Robeson had previously visited Birmingham in 1949, singing in a concert at the Town Hall organised by the British-Soviet Society. However, following the confiscation of his passport after returning to America the following year - for alleged 'un-American' and communist sympathies - he was not able to return until 1958. During several visits to the city, as part of his national tours, Robeson attended a welcoming party organised by the Afro-Caribbean Organisation, whilst also speaking to the African Students Union at Birmingham University.
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