So far, the black history month posts have been fairly positive stories – two young officers of mixed race, and a successful propaganda speaker. Sadly (if unsurprisingly) it was not all plain sailing where race relations in Great War London were concerned. There were several incidents of race riots.
It was not quite all quiet on the home front. At least two race riots took place in London during the Great War.
In July 1917, the Times reported a ‘disturbance’ on Victoria Dock Road in West Ham. A police sergeant told magistrates that “in consequence of the infatuation of the white girls for the black men in the district, some of the inhabitants are greatly incensed against the coloured men.”
The previous Saturday night, a gang of white youths attacked houses inhabited by black men in Victoria Road causing considerable damage. In response, several black men came out into the street ‘armed with knives and other weapons’. The newspaper reported that the clashes continued the following day, when ‘according to the police, a crowd of about a thousand people assmbled, and stones, sticks, bottles, pokers and tongs were freely used by both sides. One black man was fined £1 for brandishing a revolver during the melee.
After the war had ended, a wave of race riots swept the country in the summer of 1919. A website about the riots describes the events in London:
The troubles in London were more sporadic. On Saturday 14th June there was an incident at a coffee shop in Cable Street, East London, where two Negroes were “roughly handled.”[Daily Express 16/6/19]. The Daily Mail [16/6/19] reported that “a coffee shop kept by an Arab was stormed and the furniture wrecked; two revolver shots were fired at the crowd by Negroes who were found in the house… The riot arose on a report being spread that some white girls had been seen to enter the house. Soon a crowd of about 3,000 people assembled, and the place was attacked.”
Two days later there were also attacks on Chinese-owned properties in Poplar.
Clearly all was not well in relations between the races in London – and in the other places in England and Wales where disturbances occurred in 1919. Thousands of people clashed in the street on these occasions. It is notable that both these examples in London were linked to white girls being seen with black men. The 1919 riot was happening at the same time that German inhabitants of the occupied Rhineland were fed racist propaganda (such as this infamous medallion) against the stationing of black colonial troops there by France after some of them got together with German women in what was called the ‘black horror’.