Wednesday, November 6, 2013

George Powe (1926 - 2013) in The Voice

Hundreds pay tribute to 'outstanding' Nottingham campaigner
Community remembers George Powe who worked tirelessly to improve race relations in city

14/10/2013 12:46 PM
Image Text:
DIGNIFIED AND GENEROUS: George Powe (Pic: Nottingham Evening Post)
MOURNERS TURNED out in their hundreds last week to pay their respects to a man who played a key role in fighting discrimination and inequality in Nottingham.
George Powe, 87, of Mapperley, who passed away on September 9, was described as a bridge who linked the community together.
His funeral was held at Mansfield Road Baptist Church, in Sherwood Rise last week.
As pallbearers carried Powe’s coffin into the church draped in a Jamaican flag, Bob Marley’s One Love was played.
Powe was a key player in the formation of the Afro-Caribbean National Artistic (ACNA) Centre in St Ann’s, which he was inspired to create following race riots in the city in August 1958.
His widow, Jill Westby, led the tributes during the service by delivering the eulogy. She told the congregation they first met over 50 years ago while campaigning for nuclear disarmament.
“He was very aware of widespread racial discrimination in the forces and civilian world. He fought to turn the situation around,” she said.
“Some of you might remember a time when black people were treated very badly in pubs. He and I started a campaign inside a Nottingham pub where black people were not welcome in the same room as whites. It turned nasty and we went away peacefully, and the pub was closed down a few weeks later.”
She added: “I’m proud to have been married to a man who was so generous with his time and fought hard for all communities. He had a strong moral compass. He was respectful and dignified and it was a privilege to be part of his life.”
Powe was born in Kingston, Jamaica on August 11, 1926. At the age of 19, he left the island to spend four years serving with the RAF during the Second World War.
Through his years of active service, he also encountered racism.
He went on to become the UK’s first black councillor while living in Long Eaton, and also served with Notts County Council.
Another of the city’s leading race equality campaigners, Milton Crosdale, chairman of the Nottingham and District Racial Equality Council, also gave his tributes to Powe during the service.
He said: “His vision was to create an environment for change and to leave the world a better place than he found it. I worked with George for nearly 50 years but more closely during those 12 years when we were chairman and secretary at the ACNA Centre. I got to know the man and respect him and his capability to serve.”
He added: “I’ve always found him to be a gentleman, a man with compassion whose concern for others outweighed his own personal needs.”
The service also heard other tributes from friends and relatives from across the UK and Jamaica.
A representative of the Jamaican High Commissioner also spoke, describing Powe as having been “an outstanding ambassador for Jamaica.”
Former Nottingham South MP Alan Simpson, who had known Powe since the 1970s, shared his own tributes.
He said: “He was a really important bridge that stretched across the community and pulled it together.”
The funeral was followed by a burial at Wilford Hill Cemetery and a reception at the ACNA Centre.
Donations in memory of Powe were collected at the service and are to be given to the Nottingham Black Archive at a later date.

Posted on: 14/10/2013 12:46 PM 

Obituary: George Powe (1926 - 2013) by Alan Simpson

[This obituary was written by my Alan Simpson, Nottingham South Labour MP, about his friend George.  It has been submitted to The Independent.]


It was never clear whether George Powe was on St Ann's Well Road or not, when Nottingham's ‘race riots' took place in that late August of 1958. It didn't really matter. George knew that if he was not to be defined as 'the riot' he had better be part of the solution. And that's what his life was about.

Although George was probably Britain's first Black Labour councillor, most of Nottingham knew him for his community work. Born in Kingston, Jamaica (on August 11, 1926) George volunteered to fight for Britain in the Second World War.

He returned to Britain after the war, and in the late 70’s helped found the Afro Caribbean National Artistic centre (ACNA) in Nottingham. He continued as its Secretary for all but his final years. More than this, George was a key part of the glue that linked Afro Caribbean and Asian communities into the mainstream of city politics.

George already had a decade of anti-nuclear/CND campaigning tucked under his belt by the time we met in the early '70s. We were part of a movement that easily spilled over into education, anti apartheid and anti-poverty campaigns

George never lost sight of the importance of connecting big picture and small picture politics into a single vision. He was always doing 'casework' for people. It never mattered whether he was 'in office' or not. He just got on with it.

George would smile at today's burgeoning number of community food co-operatives. He had been in the vanguard of these, almost 40 years earlier. Knee-deep in the laughter and confusion of setting up the first St Ann's food coop, I recall George quietly saying "And no South African produce, right?"  It was just about getting the ground rules right. Of course families could supply ourselves with cheaper, better food. But we didn't have to do so off the back of a greater evil. 

George didn't strut any of this. He was content to be the engine that kept things running. 'Tie your ropes together', was the maxim George lived his life by. He did so within the Labour Party, within the peace movement, in education and in the community. 

What he brought as a young man, volunteering to fight in a war against racism and fascism, he continued to bring as part of his own post-war settlement. 

With or without the St Ann's race riots, George would have lived a life that was focused on building the peace, rather than just winning a war. Those who shared some of this with him will be eternally grateful for his company, his consistency and his comradeship. 

George died on September 9, 2013. He was survived by Jill Westby, his second wife (whom he married in 1982), his 4 children, 7 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren.

ALAN SIMPSON  - Labour MP (1992-2010) and friend for 40 years.

Obituary: George Powe (1926 - 2013), by Jill Wesby

[This obituary was written by my aunt Jill, about her husband George.  It was submitted to The Guardian but it was shortened for publication.  Published version.]


My husband, Oswald George Powe, always known as George, was born in Kingston Jamaica in 1926. He had a happy childhood in a family with high aspirations for its children. His father was a Chinese conjuror, from Canton, China, who emigrated to Jamaica  and became a  merchant, along with his brothers. George’s parents made sure that he had a good education and he was part way through college, studying to become an electrical engineer when he volunteered, in 1944, to join the Royal Air Force. Trained in radar, he spent much of the time stationed in Devon and Cornwall. He went back to Jamaica a couple of years after the war ended, and was demobbed, but decided to returned to England within a few months. He stayed here for the rest of his life.

In the 40’s he was very aware that  there was widespread racial discrimination in the forces and in the civilian world. He saw horrific treatment of black people in London, was on the receiving end of much of  it, and was soon fighting to attempt to turn this situation around. He joined the Communist Party, which at that time was probably the most active group promoting the rights of disadvantaged and exploited people.  At some point in the 40’s he wrote a pamphlet  called “Don’t Blame the Blacks”.

He moved to Birmingham and later to Long Eaton, Derbyshire. He eventually left the Communist Party and joined the Labour Party, retaining his Labour Party membership for the rest of his life. In the early 60’s he was elected as a Labour Party  Councillor in  Long Eaton, and was, I believe, the first black man to achieve such a position in this country. He moved to Nottingham in 1971 and after a few years was elected, again as a Labour Councillor, on Nottinghamshire County Council.

I first met him just over 50 years ago, shortly after Cuba Crisis Week. We were pushing leaflets about the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament  through letterboxes on opposite sides of a road on a snowy evening. I remember thinking that he must have been feeling very cold, as I assumed he had just arrived in this country after a long journey in a boat.

Little did I know that he had been over here for 20 years! 

In the 60’s  black people were still being treated very badly in public places such as pubs, clubs, schools, shops and in courts of law.   He and I started a campaign against a Nottingham pub where black people were not welcomed in the same room as whites. A large number of people, black and white came along to  try to be served and then stay there as long as they could, drinking very slowly indeed, in order to make it a bad night for the pub’s profits. I ordered two half pints of bitter, and was about to be served when the landlady realised that one of them was for George. She said “ I’ll serve an Indian or a Pakistani but not one of those black…………..”  She snatched the beer back and we were unable to get a drink. It began to turn a bit nasty, and at one point a glass of beer was emptied over the bar, but we all left peacefully. The pub was closed down a few weeks later.

Thankfully over the years such direct action became less necessary, and more Black and Asian people started to  become active in local and international politics,  many of them joining the Labour Party, with some involved in smaller and more hard-line groups.

George always spent part of his spare time in strictly political campaigns. He devoted just as much time in assisting individual people to gain the treatment they were entitled to expect from the police, the education system, and in their places of work. Although the majority of these people were from Jamaica and the wider Caribbean, India, Pakistan or Africa, he was also instrumental in assisting many white people to gain their rights.

He was the prime founder member of the Afro-Caribbean Centre  (ACNA), formed in 1971 by a number of  black organisations, eventually securing permanent premises in Hungerhill Road, Nottingham, opening as a community centre and social club in 1978. He acted as Company Secretary until  few years ago, and was an active Director until he died. The ACNA Centre stands as part of his legacy.

When British Governments passed various Immigration Acts, it was clear that many people would need help in dealing with all the problems they caused. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people have been helped by him to resist  this new type of discrimination. Whenever a Jamaican had a relative who was refused a visa to come to Britain, and came to George for help, just as long as he knew they were telling him  the truth about their circumstances, he would advise them about any grounds on which they could appeal.  I cannot remember a time when any of these cases which went to appeal with his help were turned down.

I am proud to have been married to a man who was so generous with his time, and who fought hard for the rights of all communities. He had both Jamaican and  British citizenship, and could move freely and successfully in both societies. I went to Jamaica with him four times over the past thirty years. To see the respect he was afforded when in Jamaica was amazing. So many people in Spanish Town, Kingston and beyond knew him, and those who didn’t would never guess from the way he walked and talked, spoke and listened, that during his life he had so spent much more time in England than he did  in Jamaica. Wherever he went people treated him in line with one of his favourite expressions – respect and dignity.  

He was not a religious man, but he had strong moral compass.  He never forgot his roots. It was a privilege to be part of his life.

Jill Westby  September 24, 2013 

He died on September 9, 2013. He is survived by his second wife, Jill, whom he married in 1982;
4 children, 3 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren from his first marriage to Barbara Florence Poole in 1949; and 4 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren from a previous relationship with Lilian Elisabeth Willis during the time he was stationed in Devon.

Obituary: George Powe (1926 - 2013), by Jill Wesby, as published in The Guardian

[This obituary was written by my aunt Jill, about her husband George.  It was published in The Guardian on November 4, 2013.]


Link to on-line version

George Powe moved to Nottingham in 1971 and was later elected as a Labour member to the county council
My husband George Powe, born in Kingston, Jamaica, volunteered to join the RAF in 1944, when he was only 17. Trained in radar, he was stationed mainly in Devon and Cornwall. George, who has died aged 87, went back to Jamaica in 1948 when he was demobbed, but returned to Britain within a few months and stayed for the rest of his life.
In the 40s he experienced widespread racial discrimination, initially in London, and fought against it, joining the Communist party, probably the most active group promoting the rights of disadvantaged and exploited people at that time. He later joined the Labour party, and in 1963 was elected as a Labour district councillor in Long Eaton, Derbyshire. He moved to Nottingham in 1971, and was later elected as a Labour member of Nottinghamshire county council.
For most of his working life George was an electrician; but in the 70s he retrained and became a maths teacher, taking early retirement in 1983. He divided his spare time between political campaigns and in helping people to be treated as they were entitled to be by the police, education system and in places of work. He played a leading role in setting up the Afro-Caribbean Centre (ACNA), Nottingham, opened in 1978 as a community centre and social club, and until a few years ago acted as its company secretary.
The Immigration Acts of the 1980s threw up many problems for those from ethnic minorities. George helped many hundreds of people, often when a relative was refused a visa to visit Britain. I cannot remember when any cases that went to appeal with his help were turned down. Having both Jamaican and British citizenship, he moved freely and successfully in both societies. He never forgot his roots. He was not religious, but had a strong morality.
I met him in 1962, through the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and we married in 1982. He is survived by me; by four children, Malcolm, Daphne, Desmond and Cynthia, from his first marriage, to Barbara Poole, which ended in divorce; and by seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. His daughter Susan, from an earlier relationship with Lilian Willis, died in 1982.