George Padmore – A great man, a hero of our time

George Padmore is widely-considered to be among the greatest West Indians that ever lived. Yet, the doyen of Trinidadian journalism George John once noted that most Trinidadians have never heard about George Padmore. "No streets anywhere bear his name. No statues have been raised in his honour in the country in which he was born,' John wrote in an article entitled "Forgotten Heroes" in the Trinidad Guardian newspaper where Padmore worked as a reporter before emigrating to the United States to study at Fisk University and Howard University Law School.

Padmore was hailed at his funeral rites in Ghana in October 1959 as the father of African emancipation. A great revolutionary who at the height of his glory stood on the reviewing stand in Moscow's Square as the May Day parade marched past.

Stalin and Molotov were some of the big Soviet names that stood shoulder to shoulder with him on the platform. He and Stalin were members of the Moscow Soviet, but he broke ranks with the Communists over their refusal to support national liberation movements in Asia and Africa.

Padmore was born Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse. His father, James Hubert Alfonso Nurse, was already a remarkable man – well read, deeply concerned with the plight of black people. Padmore went to St Mary's College and after graduating1918, cut his teeth in journalism writing for the Trinidad Guardian as a shipping reporter between 1921 and 1922. In 1924 he emigrated to the United States to study medicine but shifted to law. He quickly rose to prominence as a powerful public speaker, joined the Communist party and adopted the name George Padmore.

In 1929, he dropped out of university to migrate to the Soviet Union where he became a senior member of the Communist party in charge of mobilizing black workers worldwide. For a while, he travelled widely, recruiting leaders for African liberation movements, but when in 1934 the Soviets aligned with Great Britain and France in opposition to Germany, Padmore was instructed to stop agitating against the main colonial powers. He refused and was expelled from the Comintern and the Communist Party.

He returned to London and organised the African Bureau, met his old friend CLR James and according to his biographer "a frequent caller and guest was a young student, Eric Williams…who followed Padmore and James closely, but never joined their organisation, preferring instead to prepare for an Oxford First."

CLR James recalled, "When I was in England, one day I heard that the great George Padmore, the great Communist, was coming to speak in Gray's Inn Road. I had heard a lot about George Padmore, the great man from Moscow who was organizing black people all over the world, so I said I would go…I went to the meeting and there were about 50 or 60 people, half of them white, and suddenly, after five minutes, there walked in the great George Padmore. Who was he but my friend Malcolm Nurse?"

In his autobiography, Williams referred to Padmore as "my friend who brought out the English edition of his work "Negro In the Caribbean." Williams also wrote that on a visit to London in 1955, he discussed the draft programme and constitution of the Peoples National Movement with Padmore and James.

Padmore's numerous books on Africa's struggle for independence include How Britain Rules Africa (1936), Africa and World Peace (1937), Africa: Britain's Third Empire (1949), and Pan-Africanism or Communism? (1956). Shortly before World War II, he established the International African Service Bureau, which in 1939 likened the European colonial powers to the Nazi takeover of Europe.

It was during his travels that he was introduced to Kwame Nkrumah, thus beginning a close and fruitful friendship. It was under the auspices of Padmore's African Bureau that Nkrumah went to the Gold Coast and launched his Nkrumah's Convention People's Party"s historic political campaign that culminated in the declaration of independence of Ghana in March 1957, the first British African colony to achieve that status. Padmore worked with Nkrumah all through that period as his chief adviser on African affairs until he fell ill and died in London in September 1959. His ashes were flown to Ghana at Nkrumah's request and interred with due ceremony at Christianborg Castle on October 4.

In an emotional eulogy president Nkrumah said, "There existed between us that rare affinity for which one searches for so long but seldom finds in another human being. We became friends at the moment of our meeting and our friendship developed into that indescribable relationship that exists between two brothers."

Padmore has been hailed as a leading pioneer in the great movement for the redemption of Africa, but John noted "only a few Trinidadians perhaps have read his books or the texts of his speeches, or are aware of his major contribution to the independence of colonial Africa.  2011 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat, Georgetown, Guyana.



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