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West Indian migration, 1948-1958

Photograph from housing association leaflet

In the years following the Second World War, the British government encouraged the migration of workers from Commonwealth countries to help reduce the British labour shortage and rebuild the war-damaged country. The arrival of nearly 500 passengers from the Caribbean on the 'Empire Windrush' ship at Tilbury Dock on 22 June 1948, has become one of the symbols of this migration. These primary sources look at different responses to increased African Caribbean migration after the Second World War.

Catalogue = This symbol after a link means that it links to catalogue descriptions of the documents (including the reference numbers which will help you to order up the original documents at the MRC).

Digitised = This symbol after a link means that it links to digitised copies of the documents.


The Trades Union Congress archive contains several series of files relating to race relations and migration, including sources relating to Commonwealth migration during the 1940s and 1950s. As well as internal material created by the TUC, the files also include reports, memoranda, correspondence and ephemera from a range of individuals and organisations, including often shortlived community groups. The employers' view is represented in the archives of the Confederation of British Industry and its predecessors, which includes files relating to trade and migration within the Commonwealth. Publications and other sources can be found across a range of additional archive collections.

Selected sources:

"Colour Problem: Race Relations", 1943-1960 Catalogue

Trades Union Congress file which contains correspondence, reports, memoranda, resolutions and other documents from a variety of organisations and individuals. Several documents from this file have been digitised:

'The colour problem in Britain and its treatment', July 1948 Digitised

Confidential memorandum written for the Labour Party Advisory Committee on Imperial Questions. It includes an outline of the "four main occupational categories" of "coloured people in Britain", gives examples of the types of discrimination that may be encountered, and suggests methods of tackling prejudice.

Letter on the 'colour bar' in Britain, 21 Nov 1954 Digitised

Letter sent to the Trades Union Congress by a West African student living in Britain (no name is given). The writer talks about the "many problems [which] have arisen recently about the employment of coloured workers in Britain, due to the increase in the inflow of West Indians into this Country", and comments on how discriminatory treatment in Britain could lead to anti-British repercussions when West African countries became independent members of the Commonwealth.

"Commonwealth Workers in Britain", 1954-1957 Catalogue

Trades Union Congress file which contains correspondence, reports, memoranda, resolutions, press cuttings, copies of articles and other documents from a variety of organisations and individuals. Several documents from this file have been digitised:

Memorandum on 'Coloured workers', 15 April 1955 Digitised

Document produced by the Trades Union Congress, based on a memorandum submitted by the Ministry of Labour Staff Association (this organisation represented people who worked in what later became known as Job Centres). It includes sections on the reasons for West Indians to emigrate to Britain, their condition on arrival, attitude towards work, and the attitudes of the employers and Ministry of Labour towards the immigrants.

Report on "Problems of coloured people in London", 27 Sep 1955 Digitised

Report of a joint sub-committee of the London Labour Party Executive and the London County Council Labour Party set up "to consider problems arising out of the recent influx of coloured people into London".

'Coloured people in Nottingham', March 1956 Digitised

Report of a conference convened by the Nottingham Consultative Committee for the Welfare of Coloured People to look at ways to improve integration and combat social problems caused by the "rapid increase in the rate of arrival" of "this body of new citizens". A programme and questions for submission for the recall conference on "Coloured people in Nottingham", held in April 1957, are also available online.

Immigrants from the West Indies, 1955-1957 Catalogue

Correspondence sent in response to a circular from the British Employers' Confederation. The BEC asked its members for information on "aspects of the present immigration... which are of concern to British employers".

"Commonwealth Workers in Britain", 1956-1960 Catalogue

Trades Union Congress file which contains correspondence, memoranda, reports, press cuttings, leaflets, circulars and other documents from a variety of organisations and individuals. The file includes:

'Employment of coloured workers in the Birmingham area', 1956 Digitised

Draft report produced by the Race Relations Group of Fircroft College, Birmingham, under the sponsorship of the Birmingham Christian Social Council. The report was the result of a survey undertaken during 1954 and 1955, and includes sections looking at the employment policies and attitudes of employers, the attitudes of trade unions and British workers, and the reactions and experiences of "coloured" workers.

'West Indian strangers', Spring 1955 Catalogue

Short article in the monthly magazine of the Young Women's Christian Association. It presents a view of West Indian migrants and includes references to anti-immigrant comments and the work of some community groups.

'The West Indian in Britain', Apr 1956 Catalogue

Pamphlet containing an abbreviated version of a report by Dr Clarence Senior and Douglas Manley, sent by the Jamaican government to look into Jamaican emigration and the problems faced by West Indians in Britain.

'West Indian immigrants - a survey of the position in the Midlands', June 1956 Catalogue

Movement for Colonial Freedom pamphlet by Felicity Bolton.

Metropolitan Coloured People's Housing Association, 1957-1960 Catalogue

Minutes, agendas and publicity leaflet for the London housing association formed in 1957 to "alleviate the housing difficulties of coloured migrants and their families".