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Henry Gunter

Henry Gunter

"...The colour bar cannot be fought by underhand measures; but in the open, where by exposure to the spotlight of public opinion, it can be seen for the rotten bigotry it is..."

Henry Gunter 1950

Henry Gunter [Born 1920- ]
Trade Unionist/ Activist/ Journalist/ Editor

Written by Roi Kwabena

Henry Gunter was born in Portland parish, Jamaica. At eighteen years he attended commercial college where he studied Accountancy. His understanding of social and racial concerns in Jamaica led to his membership of the Peoples National Party, which led the struggle for Independence from Britain in 1962.

He migrated for work in 1940 to the Panama Canal Zone, there he encountered the scourge of racism and soon returned to home where he was again recruited to work abroad. This led to his being based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the USA, where he worked in munitions. He was involved in writing letters of protest against working conditions and racism to the local trade union paper. He eventually founded the Jamaican Worker, that addressed these and other issues.

After the war their American Employers/ hosts repatriated these Jamaican workers to Florida, where they suffered much persecution. His activities in the print media led to his banning from the USA. Thus, on return to Jamaica, he immediately returned to political activities.

He migrated to Britain in the wake of the famed migration of Caribbean workers in 1949. Having arrived in Birmingham, despite his accountancy skills, he was eventually employed in a brass rolling mill in Deritend. Challenged by racism, he moved to Erdington where he worked as machine operator. He eventually was introduced to others active in trade unionism. Some of these individuals were members of the then existing Afro-Caribbean Organisation, which he joined and eventually was elected Chairman. As a member of the AUEW, he was selected as the first ever black representative on the Birmingham Trades Council.

His campaigns against racism (the 'colour bar') continued relentlessly, thus Henry is well remembered for his many letters and articles in the local press. He organised a major demonstration in the Birmingham city centre against the colour bar on 12 October 1952. One year earlier, Gunter and friends founded the UK branch of the Caribbean Labour Congress in 1951.

In response to that famous demonstration of workers against the colour bar, Birmingham Trades Council declared by resolution a condemnation of British colonial policies. In 1954, Henry published: 'A Man's a Man: A study of Colour Bar in Birmingham and an Answer'. He was a prominent participant in the successful struggle for black workers in the public transport sector. Henry Gunter advocated the setting up of a fair employment practices commission. As a direct result of his efforts, Norman Manley then chief minister of Jamaica, set up the first Enquiry into Jamaican Migration and the Economy.

Henry Gunter was also the midland correspondent for the West Indian Gazette, edited by famed Trinidad born activist Claudia Jones. He has welcomed to the city the likes of Pan- Africanist George Padmore, the acclaimed Paul Robeson [whom he first met in the US] , Sertse Khama [the then future first President of Botswana ], among others.

Henry is married to Evelyn and has since returned to Birmingham after an absence of several decades. He remains a consentient supporter of the struggle for peace, justice and equality. His present efforts centred on keeping contact with the Caribbean Solidarity Group (London) and via the Methodist Church is a regular contributor to their paper on issues like cancellation of the foreign debt crisis of developing countries and the continuing struggle for World peace. Henry Gunter is recognised for his tireless efforts to raise the consciousness of all about injustice, bigotry, racism and colonisation. He is a living example of the struggles of our forbearers in Pan-Africanism, anti- colonialisation, and Caribbean unity.

Sources: Birmingham Historian Issue 21: February 2002,
Fiona Tait, Archives and Heritage