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Black troops were welcome in Britain, but Jim Crow wasn't: the race riot of one night in June 1943

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Black American GIs stationed in Britain during the war, these in Bristol, were given a warm welcome by their hosts but treated harshly by their white US Army comrades. brizzlebornandbred, CC BY-NC-SA

Bullet holes found in the wood surrounds of the NatWest Bank in Bamber Bridge, in Lancashire in the north of England, in the late 1980s led to the rediscovery of an event that saw some of the few shots fired in anger in England during World War II, which had been largely forgotten. These were not shots fired by invading troops, but by American GIs against their own military police.

Intrigued by his discovery, Clinton Smith, the black British maintenance worker who discovered the holes in the woodwork, asked locals how they could have got there. He was told that they were the remnants of the Battle of Bamber Bridge, when black American troops stationed in the town faced off against white US Army military police on the night of June 24-25, 1943.

More a mutiny than a battle, it led to the death of Private William Crossland in nearby Mounsey Road, and four other injuries to black American soldiers in a five-hour confrontation which spread from the thatched Olde Hob Inn at one end of the town to the Adams Hall army camp, where from early 1943 the US Eighth Army Quartermaster Truck Company, a black company apart from a few white officers, had been based. The event was officially downplayed, in order not to undermine morale on the home front, but the events of that night led to the conviction of 27 black American soldiers.

The ‘battle’

The whole incident is typical of the clashes on and around bases in Britain between black and white American troops – 44 between November 1943 and February 1944 alone – where the intrinsic racism in a segregated army led to confrontations. This was especially the case in a foreign setting where the black soldiers saw around them a very different reality from that they faced at home – a non-segregated society where they were welcomed as fellow fighters against fascism, rather than tolerated hod-carriers for the war effort as they were generally treated by the US Army.

That evening in 1943, black troops and white locals were stretching out “drinking-up time” in a pub at the end of the evening. Words were exchanged, and military police arrived and tried to arrest Private Eugene Nunn for not wearing the proper uniform. But they faced new solidarities: a white British soldier challenged the military police: “Why do you want to arrest them? They’re not doing anything or bothering anybody.”

The incident escalated into a fist fight and the military police were beaten back. When they returned with reinforcements to meet the group, now returning to camp, a battle developed in the street. Shots were fired, and Crossland died with a bullet in his back.

Black GIs would drink in mixed company in British pubs, to the horror of the white US Army authorities. brizzlebornandbred

When rumours spread at the camp that black GIs had been shot, scores of men formed a crowd, some carrying rifles. The arrival at around midnight of more military police with a machine gun-equipped vehicle convinced many of the black soldiers that the police intended to kill them – and they drew rifles from the stores. Some barricaded themselves into the base, others tore off back into town, leading to running shooting battles in the streets.

Many of the black American troop standing up to the military police that febrile night were no doubt influenced by news filtering through of race riots in Detroit on June 20, where defenceless black men were attacked by racist police, responsible for the deaths of 17 of the 25 African-Americans killed.

Race relations at home and abroad

In his essays George Orwell alluded to the oft-quoted assertion that American GIs were “oversexed, overpaid and over here”. But he qualified this with the observation that: “the general consensus of opinion is that the only American soldiers with decent manners are Negroes.”

The black American servicemen were welcomed into the leisure time of their British hosts in ways that spread solidarity. A former black GI, Cleother Hathcock, remembers:

At that time the Jitterbug was in and the blacks would get a buggin’ and the English just loved that. We would go into a dance hall and just take over the place because everybody wanted to learn how to do that American dance, the Jitterbug. They went wild over that.

The town did not share the US Army’s segregationist attitudes. According to the author Anthony Burgess, who spent time in Bamber Bridge during the war, when US military authorities demanded that the town’s pubs impose a colour bar, the landlords responded with signs that read: “Black Troops Only”. The extent to which this rankled the white American troops is shown by the comments of a lieutenant:

One thing I noticed here and which I don’t like is the fact that the English don’t draw any color line. The English must be pretty ignorant. I can’t see how a white girl could associate with a negro.

This sort of attitude exemplifies the particular resentment over the way black troops openly fraternised with white British women – and many of the confrontations during this period were sparked by the ease of interracial relationships in a British rather than American context.

The military authorities tried to push back against this by imposing Jim Crow segregation in Britain, so that when the black American world heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis visited on a propaganda tour in 1944 he encountered blatant discrimination from the troops he was visiting, as he had at home.

The events in Bamber Bridge encapsulated these Jim Crow practices – and the wider paradox of the open-armed welcome from the local residents coupled with resentment of that welcome by white American troops. The pub was a place of sanctuary for black troops where they mingled with, mainly friendly, locals, and where the segregation many had to endure in the American South was thankfully absent.

Local resident Gillian Vesey recalled how, as a young barmaid at the Olde Hob Inn, she stood up for African American soldiers against attempts by white Americans to impose discriminatory practices in the pub, insisting that the American white soldiers wait their turn rather than expecting to be served before their black colleagues.

Keeping a segregated army in the context of fighting for democracy became untenable, and in 1948 the then US president Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 which eventually led to an integrated army. While the convictions of the troops involved at Bamber Bridge were largely commuted or overturned, soldiers returned to Jim Crow segregation in the US, with the reality that some veterans were lynched in their uniforms.

But the new freedoms they experienced in Europe meant they were not prepared to put up with discrimination, racism and racial violence again. As veteran Wilford Strange said in the documentary film Choc’late Soldiers from the USA:

I think the impact these soldiers had by volunteering was the initiation of the Civil Rights movement, ’cos these soldiers were never going back to be discriminated against again. None of us were.

The Conversation

Alan Rice receives funding from Arts Humanities Research Council, British Association for American Studies, Lippman- Miliband Trust, the European Union and The Embassy of the United States. I have volunteered for the Labour Party, am Co-Director of the Institute for Black Atlantic Research at UCLAN and am on the boards of the Centre for the Study of International Slavery and the Lancaster Jazz Festival. He was a talking head for the documentary Choc'late Soldiers from the USA (Cook & Izon, 2013).

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expatpaul
42 minutes ago
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ALWAYS REBLOG.

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ALWAYS REBLOG.

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StunGod
2 days ago
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Following instructions. Proudly. This is the root of the whole job-loss to immigrants problem.
Portland, Oregon, USA, Earth
expatpaul
2 days ago
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What will the USA be like when it’s not the world superpower any longer? What will their “age of reflection” look like?

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I’m developing an idiosyncratic theory on how Trump’s presidency will be viewed twenty/thirty years hence: that it will oddly be looked upon as something that was good for the world, but a total disaster for America itself. Given this is the exact opposite of how his presidency is often discussed, by many of his detractors and all of his supporters, I should elaborate.

I think Trump’s legacy will be the end of Pax Americana. We’ll never know if America’s time as the world’s foremost superpower could have been prolonged if Hilary had won – and it will be endlessly debated for the next hundred years at least – but I really think Trump is destroying it, knowingly or not. The main way he is going about this is not just the overt stuff, the trade wars and all of that, but by forcing the rest of the West – Europe, Canada, Australia – to imagine and then construct a post-American world against their collective will. Oddly enough, I think that the globe might function quite capably without America’s influence, and I want to stress here that I say that not as some American basher but as someone who will mourn Pax America’s passing deeply. However, I still think that it won’t be a disaster, mostly because Trump’s presidency is allowing the rest of the West a nice transition period to adjust, whereas a sudden bursting of the American bubble could be horrible for most of it. If America has to decline, perhaps this is the best way, at least from a European perspective. In other words, I used to think if America declined, it would pull the whole of the West down with it – I’m now pretty sure this wouldn’t be the case.

A lot of Americans see things like the US pulling out of the Paris Agreement as America flexing its muscle, yet in future it will be seen as precisely the opposite. It was a moment when it allowed China to assert itself as the leader of a new order. Climate change will not only be one of the major concerns of the 21st century, but one of the major sectors of the world economy. America has essentially ceded it to China and to a lesser extent, Europe.

One can see how China and Europe could accommodate each other in a post-American world: the Chinese will appreciate a liberal democracy that exists as an escape valve, holiday/second home destination and talent producer that isn’t a threat and is financially reliant on the Communist Party; Europeans may need Chinese money to prop up their version of social democracy. Even Russia might be able to be accommodated in this new world order, with possible trade offs being brokered by the Chinese between Europe and Putin. Again, I would personally rather a liberal democracy remained the world superpower, but I used to think of a post-American world as purely dystopian – Trump has made me see that that doesn’t need to be the case, even this early into his first term.

However, I think the Trump administration will be apocalyptic for the US itself over the long term. European countries have had to adjust many times over the last few centuries, some going from world superpowers with colonies to total backwaters, so they have an inbuilt cultural ability to absorb decline. The United States of America does not. Of course, the country has had its share of national crises, the Civil War being possibly the worst among them, but they have always been able to see themselves as a country on the up in one way or another. What happens when real decline sets in? What happens when the US dollar is no longer a world reserve currency, with the yuan and the euro usurping it completely? I will take a slight side trip here to pour water on the Eurosceptic fantasy about the euro collapsing – the single currency has already replaced the dollar in many parts of the world as the currency of choice, and Trump’s isolationism is only going to speed up that process.

How will America react to their own “age of reflection”? To a time when the whole raison d’etre of the nation will have to be rediscovered? I really don’t know. If I had to think of a country a post-Trump USA might resemble more than any other, it would probably be Mexico – a dysfunctional place with a very wealthy upper class that eats up a greater and greater share of GDP while everyone else’s living standards collapse further and further, all while crime spirals out of control. Only difference is, I think Mexico will probably sort out a lot of its problems over the next thirty years, all while America inherits them. I’m tempted to suggest that perhaps in thirty years time Mexicans will be demanding a wall be built to keep the Americans out, but I’ll refrain. The replacement of a liberal democracy as the world’s superpower with an oligarchy morphing into a dictatorship is too depressing for any mirth.

The post What will the USA be like when it’s not the world superpower any longer? What will their “age of reflection” look like? appeared first on nicktyrone.com.

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expatpaul
2 days ago
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There is certainly some truth in the assertion that European leaders are having to come to terms with the fact that the US can no longer be relied upon, and are adjusting accordingly.

As far as the US is concerned, I am still surprised at the extent to which politicians (especially) and the media (to a lesser extent) seem unable to recognise just how deeply Trump is dragging their country into the mire.

Maybe the article is correct -- when the dominance of the US collapses, everyone will be prepared for it and no-one will care.
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Cardiff Council bids to become X factor judges

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A bizarre new policy introduced in Cardiff requires buskers to send 'audition tapes' to the council before getting a license under strict new rules.

Wales online report that the rules, which are set to come into force from July 1, mean that buskers have to send a video clip of them performing to Cardiff council to be approved and apply for the license each month.

Apparently, officers will be assessing the tapes to establish each busker's "sustainability and standard". The council has refused to give any further details as to the criteria they will use to judge whether a performer is worthy to grace the City's streets.

Each license, which is free of charge, will last one month which can be renewed "subject to agreement". Noise levels by buskers have to be "reasonable" and if the council receive a complaint then they have a statutory duty to investigate it.

The council say that the new system has been brought in following complaints by City centre businesses, but it is not clear whether objections have been focussed on the quality of the music or the fact that the busker is present at all.

I fully expect questions at the next council meeting as to what qualifications the officers concerned have to evaluate other people's music. Everybody is a critic I suppose.
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expatpaul
2 days ago
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Everyone's a critic
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Trump is creating his American caliphate, and democracy has no defence | Nesrine Malik

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Officials quoting a holy text to justify repressive policies is something we who grew up in the Arab world have seen before

If there was a dictator’s playbook, the Donald Trump administration would now be on the “Instrumentalise Religion” chapter. Last week, in what sounded like the launch of a US caliphate, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, reached for a biblical verse to defend his department’s policy of separating migrant parents from their children at the Mexican border, suggesting that God supports the government.

“I would cite you to the apostle Paul, and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,” Sessions said. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves. Consistent and fair application of the law is in itself a good and moral thing, and that protects the weak and protects the lawful.”

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expatpaul
4 days ago
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Stephen Chow developing ‘Monkey King’ animated film

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"Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Chinese superstar Stephen Chow is developing an animated version of The Monkey King for the Shanghai-based animation company Pearl Studio. It will feature a script penned by Ron Friedman and Steve Bencich, who cowrote Brother Bear and Chicken Little.

Monkey King is described by the Studio as “one of China’s most mythical, mystical and mischievous superheroes.”

“It’s one of China’s most enduringly popular heroes of all time. Every child in China grows up knowing the epic tale,” said studio chief creative officer Peilin Chou. “Stephen is the perfect creative partner to bring the character to the world. We know that he will bring all the comedy and scope that makes this adventure legend so special and translate The Monkey King into an enchanting and exciting global animated event.”

The story of the Monkey King from the Chinese classic novel Journey to the West is of course not new to Chow. He previously played the character in A Chinese Odyssey 1 and 2, directed Journey to the West and produced the Tsui Hark-directed Journey to the West 2: The Demons Strike Back.

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expatpaul
5 days ago
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This appeals to me on multiple levels
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zippy72
3 days ago
Time to dig out my DVDs of the 1980s Japanese TV version while I wait then :)
expatpaul
3 days ago
That series was superb. I bought the box set a few years ago and have been working through it ever since.
zippy72
3 days ago
I remembered watching it as a kid. They actually made two series, and the BBC transmitted the first and the first half of the second as three series of 13, leaving 13 episodes I haven't yet seen strewn across the DVDs with Japanese soundtracks and subtitles. Alas, there's no similar option for the dubbed episodes, but nevertheless it's going to be fun...
expatpaul
3 days ago
Yep, that sounds like the set I have. The undubbed episodes are interesting. The tone seems a little darker, although whether that is because the final series was darker or the dubbing lightened the tone I don't know. Also, Tripitaka's horse is a great character -- I wish we could have seen more of him ;-)
zippy72
2 days ago
Inthe original book, the horse is actually a dragon, if I remember right. It's a few years since I read it (and it was a very abridged translation). I do recommend the book though.
expatpaul
2 days ago
That's true -- the horse is a dragon. I read the book a few years ago -- it is well worth reading.
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