Black History Month has been celebrated in the UK in October since 1987. It provides a platform to celebrate the achievements of black people, which for many years have been overlooked in the teaching of history. It is an excellent opportunity to put a spotlight on the contributions of the UK’s black community across science, politics and the arts.
If you have ever studied British history, you might have heard the terms “Windrush” and “Windrush generation”. They refer to a very important event in Black British history, which is still celebrated to this day. So, what is Windrush?
MV Empire Windrush
Windrush is actually a reference to MV Empire Windrush, a large ship that arrived at Tilbury Docks in Essex, in the United Kingdom, on 22 June 1948. The ship carried 1,027 passengers, many from Caribbean countries including Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago. These passengers were the first of up to 500,000 immigrants to the UK who became known as the Windrush generation.
Who are the Windrush generation?
The Windrush generation arrived in the UK between 1948 and 1971. There were two main factors that prompted this mass migration to the UK.
Firstly, the British Nationality Act 1948 granted anyone born in a British colony the right to settle in the UK. This made large-scale immigration much easier. Secondly, there were severe labour shortages in the UK after World War II. To avoid a crisis, Prime Minister Winston Churchill appealed for “lively and active citizens in the prime of life” to help fill vacant jobs.
Migrants took on vital roles in rebuilding British society by becoming manual labourers, cleaners and drivers. Many also became doctors and nurses for the newly created National Health Service (NHS). Ships like MV Empire Windrush continued to bring workers to the UK until immigration laws changed in the early 1970s.
The majority of the Windrush generation came from the Caribbean, but others came from countries including India, Pakistan, Kenya and even Poland. There are now thriving communities from these countries all over the UK!
What is Windrush Day and why do we celebrate it?
Windrush Day falls on or around 22 June every year, to mark the anniversary of MV Empire Windrush arriving in the UK. It is a celebration not only of the contributions of Black people to British society, but also a commemoration of their endurance in the face of prejudice.
Despite the crucial part they played in rebuilding Britain’s economy, many Windrush migrants encountered hostility when they first arrived.
Some shops and pubs refused service to Black people. Even the Secretary of State for the Colonies of the United Kingdom, Arthur Creech Jones, was dismissive of the new arrivals, saying “they won’t last longer than one British winter.”
Thankfully, through hard work and determination they proved him wrong, and built families, communities and a legacy that lasts to this day.
British political activist Patrick Vernon was the first to call for a day of celebration for the Windrush generation in 2013. Many people joined in his campaign and the first official Windrush Day was celebrated in 2018. Events and activities take place all over the UK on Windrush Day, including dance performances, exhibitions and talks.
On Windrush Day 2021, campaigners erected a plaque dedicated to Paulette Wilson, a prominent immigrant rights campaigner and member of the Windrush generation.
If you’d like to learn more about Black History Month you can visit the official website, where you’ll find lots of resources, information and remarkable stories. Alternatively, to find out what Kaplan is doing to ensure a fairer future, you can check out our social responsibility page.