Eyewitness Election of Britain’s first black mayor, 1913
John Archer (1863-1932) was the son of Richard Archer, a black ship’s steward from Barbados, and Mary Burns, from Ireland. He came to London with his Canadian wife while in his early 20s and etablished himself as a photographer. Becoming involved in local politics, he stood as a Liberal candidate for Battersea Borough Council in 1906 and was elected.In 1913, he made history by becoming Britain’s first black mayor. He remained active in politics, switching to the Labour Party and acting as agent for Shapurji Saklatvala, helping to get him elected as one of Britain’s first Communist MPs in North Battersea in 1922. After the Labour Party expelled its Communist members, Archer remained the Labour agent, helping to win the seat again in 1929. At the time of his death he was deputy leader of Battersea Council.
This account is from the Daily Mail.
Election of the first black mayor, 10 November 1913
MAJORITY OF ONE AT BATTERSEA
For the first time in the history of this country a man of colour has been elected mayor of a borough. The honour has fallen to Mr John Richard Archer, a photographer, of Battersea Park-road, who by thirty votes to twenty-nine was last night elected Mayor of Battersea by the Progressive Party. His opponent was Mr W G Moore, a West End tailor. Mr Archer has hitherto kept secret the place of his birth. Last night, on donning his chain of office, he revealed the secret in a dramatic speech. He said:
“I am a man of colour. Many things have been said about me which are absolutely untrue. I think you ought to show the same respect for me as you would a white man. I am the son of a man who was born in the West Indies . I was born in a little, obscure village in England that you may never have heard of – Liverpool . I am a Lancastrian born and bred.
“MY MOTHER WAS IRISH”
“My mothe [here Mr Archer spoke with great emotion] was just my mother. She was not born in Burma , as some newspapers stated. She was not born at Rangoon . My mother was Irish.”
Quoting “East is East, and West is West” and never the twain shall meet,” Mr Archer said: “There is a still older phrase than this, ‘God hath made of one blood all nations of the earth to dwell.’ Surely it is just that if a man is born under the British flag he should have the same rights as a white man.
“The colour of my skin can never affect the heart. My election means a new era in history. The news will go forth to all the coloured nations of the world.”
Mr Archer was elected an hour after the Lord Mayor’s banquet at the Guildhall, to which the new mayor was invited, had begun. Neither he nor his wife attended the banquet.
Source: Daily Mail, 11 November 1913.
John Richard Archer (8 June 1863 – July 1932) was a British race and political activist. In November 1906, he and Henry Sylvester-Williams became among the first people of African descent to be elected to public office in Britain, with Archer becoming a councillor and later Mayor in Battersea.
Archer was born to Richard Archer, from Barbados, and Mary Teresa Burns, from Ireland, in Liverpool. He travelled the world as a seaman, living in the USA and Canada, then settled in Battersea with his wife, Bertha, ablack Canadian. He ran a small photographic studio at a time when photography was in its infancy.
Archer became involved in local politics and friendly with London radicals. In 1906 he was elected as a Liberalto Battersea Borough Council for Latchmere ward; at the same time, Williams won in Marylebone. He successfully campaigned for a minimum wage of 32 shillings a week for council workers and was re-elected in 1912. In 1913, he was nominated for the position of Mayor (at that time a position implying that he was the political leader of the Council, rather than the ceremonial role common in England from the 1920s). There were negative, even racist, aspects to the campaign, with allegations that he did not have British nationality. He won by 40 votes to 39 among his fellow councillors, and gave a notable victory speech:
- “My election tonight means a new era. You have made history tonight. For the first time in the history of the English nation a man of colour has been elected as mayor of an English borough.
- “That will go forth to the coloured nations of the world and they will look to Battersea and say Battersea has done many things in the past, but the greatest thing it has done has been to show that it has no racial prejudice and that it recognises a man for the work he has done.”
Archer moved to the left during his years in Battersea and was re-elected to the Council as a Labourrepresentative in 1919. He stood without success for parliament the same year. In 1918 he became President of the African Progress Union, working for black empowerment and equality. In 1919 he was a British delegate to the Pan-African Congress in Paris. Two years later he chaired the Pan-African Congress in London.
In 1922, Archer acted as Labour Party secretary election agent for Shapurji Saklatvala, a Communist activist standing for parliament in North Battersea. He convinced the Labour Party to endorse Saklatvala and he was duly elected one of the first black MPs in Britain. He and Saklatvala continued to work together, winning again in1924 until the Communist and Labour parties split fully. In 1929, Archer was agent for the official Labour candidate who won in the general election, beating Saklatvala.
Archer served as a governor of Battersea Polytechnic, President of the Nine Elms Swimming Club, Chair of the Whitley Council Staff Committee and a member of the Wandsworth Board of Guardians. At the time of his death in 1932, he was deputy leader of Battersea council. He died on Thursday 14 July 1932, just a few weeks after his 69th birthday. His funeral was held at the Church of Our Lady of Carmel in Battersea Park Road on Tuesday 19 July, and was buried in the Council’s cemetery at Morden.
A secondary school was named in his honour during the 1980s. Archer House – part of the Battersea Village residential complex – was also named after John Archer upon completion of its construction in the 1930s.
In 2004, John Archer was chosen for the 100 Great Black Britons list, coming 72nd in a public vote.
Until recently Archer was thought to be the first Black man to be elected Mayor in Britain. However the American Negro Year Book 1914 in reporting Archer’s election, also recorded that “In 1904 Mr Allen Glaisyer Minns, a col’d man from West Indies, was elected Mayor of borough of Thetford, Norfolk”.
In 2011 John Archer was commemorated with a Blue Plaque from Nubian Jak. The event was filmed by www.ReggaeTV.biz TV Channel and will be aired internationally from July 2011.