© Mary Evans Picture Library Ltd (1/1)
In 1930, the Daily Express reported on the situation of ‘coloured’ children in the docklands of East London which they described in extremely depressing terms. Yet, in the reminiscences of local residents, some of whom were from mixed race families, tell a different story. Stephen Bourne’s interviews with the children of a white mother and a British Guyanese father who grew up in East London in the 1930s speak of a community in which mixed families and people were not only visible but accepted. This view is also echoed in accounts of white residents, such as Doris, who remembers growing up in alongside black and mixed families in 1930s Canning Town with little racial tension.
‘There are about 600 children in all and in 98 per cent of cases their mother is white. Poor little half-castes, looked down and jeered at from their childhood upwards, grow up with bitterness in their hearts against the white race and all for which it stands. Born in a strange, murky, hostile land, brought up amid sneers and insults, launched while still in their teens upon a life barren of almost everything but dirt, disease and despair, without race, with no country that they can call their own, knowing no tongue but the cockney idiom of their tormentors, outcast and bereft of friends…these are the little Londoners whom human mercy and kindness seem to have passed by.’
“There were lots of black kids. We used to play together, no animosity between any of us. There were white women married black, you know, West Indians, they were working on the boats. Got on ever so well together. Played in the street, great big skipping rope right across the road. And we had a factory down the street so we used to have quite a bit of traffic, just drop the rope and let the lorry go over it. Everybody in the street used to speak to each other, and all the children used to play together. Sometimes when me and my sister’s talking, we say, “I wonder what happened to so and so,” you know. During the war a lot of them went.”
Doris, a white Eastender, who was born in 1922 in Canning Town, East London and lived there until 1948.
‘So black men married white women and quite a lot of mixed marriages turned out alright because they were good to each other. Where we lived there was no feeling that mixed marriages were wrong. The white people we lived with accepted it. I feel there is more racism here now than we ever had before the war. We never had any racism when I was young.’
Anita, daughter of a Guyanese father and white English mother.