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Nancy Cunard's English journey
journal contributionposted on 2023-07-26, 12:33 authored by Maroula Joannou
This essay analyses Nancy Cunard's contribution to the struggle for racial justice in England and her work with the black communities in Liverpool and London (whose histories and experiences differ radically from their counterparts in the United States) in the 1940s. It chronicles for the first time her campaign to safeguard the African collections in the Liverpool Museum and her specific contribution to the archive of black British history. This includes not only the monumental the Negro Anthology (1934) but also the tract, The White Man's Duty (1943) arguing for an end to British imperialism and for race relations legislation. Cunard is situated within a history of the Communist left in Britain and the United States. Her insistence on the primacy of race differentiates her from other white left activists in her day for whom issues of gender and race were or secondary importance compared to those of class (Cunard, 1944). Using unpublished archive material from the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas I show that Cunard's work constitutes one segment in the rich and varied mosaic of black cultural activity in the 1930s and 1940s and discuss how Cunard knew and worked alongside some of the key figures in the black British politics of her day including Una Marson, Learie Constantine, John Carter, Harold Moody, Rudolph Dunbar and Paul Robeson. A prolific writer, publisher and political activist, Cunard presented a white readership with documentation which prompted them to question their own prejudice and rendered problematic the imaging of black people as fixed embodiments of a Eurocentric sense of reality. Cunard's work in the 1930s and 1940s predates the sailing of the Empire Windrush and the accelerated immigration to Britain from the Commonwealth after the Nationality Act of 1948. It adds to our knowledge of earlier black history, narratives, settlements, and anti-racist struggles.
Publication titleFeminist Review