Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse
28 June 1903
|Died||23 September 1959 (aged 56)|
|Education||St Mary's College|
|Alma mater||Fisk University|
|Occupation||Journalist, author, pan-Africanist|
George Padmore (28 June 1903 – 23 September 1959), born Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse in Trinidad, was a leading Pan-Africanist, journalist, and author. He left Trinidad in 1924 to study medicine in the United States, where he also joined the Communist Party.
From there he moved to the Soviet Union, where he was active in the party, and working on African independence movements. He also worked for the party in Germany but left after the rise of Nazism in the 1930s. In 1935, the USSR made a decisive shift in foreign policy: Britain and France, colonial powers with active occupations in Africa, were classified as "democratic-imperialisms" — a lower priority than the category of "fascist-imperialist" powers, in which Japan and Germany fell. This shift fell into direct contradiction with Padmore's prioritization of African liberation, as Germany and Japan had no colonies in Africa. Padmore broke instantly with the Kremlin, but continued to support socialism.
Padmore lived for a time in France, before settling in London. Toward the end of his life he moved to Accra, Ghana, where he helped shape the politics of Kwame Nkrumah and the Convention People's Party.
Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse, better known by his pseudonym George Padmore, was born on 28 June 1903 in Arouca District, Tacarigua, Trinidad, then part of the British West Indies. His paternal great-grandfather was an Asante warrior who was taken prisoner and sold into slavery at Barbados, where his grandfather was born. His father, James Hubert Alfonso Nurse, was a local schoolmaster who had married Anna Susanna Symister of Antigua, a naturalist.
Nurse attended Tranquillity School in Port of Spain, before going to St Mary's College for two years (1914 and 1915). He transferred to the Pamphylian High School, graduating from there in 1918. After that he worked for several years as a reporter with the Trinidad Publishing Company.
In late 1924, he travelled to the United States to take up medical studies at Fisk University, a historically black college in Tennessee. He had recently married, on 10 September that year, and his wife Julia Semper would later join him in America. She left behind their daughter Blyden, who was born in 1925 (and died in 2012). According to Nurse's instruction, she was named in honour of the African nationalist Edward Blyden of Liberia. Nurse subsequently registered at New York University but soon transferred to Howard University.
During his college years in the US, Nurse became involved with the Workers (Communist) Party (CPUSA). When engaged in party business, he adopted the name George Padmore (compounding the Christian name of his father-in-law, Constabulary Sergeant-Major George Semper, and the surname of the friend who had been his best man, Errol Padmore).
Padmore officially joined the Communist Party in 1927 (when he was in Washington, DC) and was active in its mass organization targeted to black Americans, the American Negro Labor Congress. In March 1929 he was a fraternal (non-voting) delegate to the 6th National Convention of the CPUSA, held in New York City.
Padmore, an energetic worker and prolific writer, was tapped by Communist Party trade union leader William Z. Foster as a rising star. He was taken to Moscow to deliver a report on the formation of the Trade Union Unity League to the Communist International (Comintern) later in 1929. Following his presentation, Padmore was asked to stay on in Moscow to head the Negro Bureau of the Red International of Labour Unions (Profintern). He was elected to the Moscow City Soviet, the Soviet (council) of the capital city. It was a workers' council.
As head of the Profintern's Negro Bureau, Padmore helped to produce pamphlet literature and contributed articles to Moscow's English-language newspaper, the Moscow Daily News. He was also used periodically as a courier of funds from Moscow to various foreign Communist Parties.
In July 1930, Padmore was instrumental in organizing an international conference in Hamburg, Germany. It launched a Comintern-backed international organization of black labour organizations called the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW). Padmore lived in Vienna, Austria, during this time, where he edited the monthly publication of the new group, The Negro Worker.
In 1931, Padmore moved to Hamburg and accelerated his writing output, continuing to produce the ITUCNW magazine and writing more than 20 pamphlets in a single year. This German interlude came to an abrupt close by the middle of 1933, however, as the offices of the Negro Worker were ransacked by ultra-nationalist gangs following the Nazi seizure of power. Padmore was deported to England by the German government, while the Comintern placed the ITUCNW and its Negro Worker on hiatus in August 1933.
Disillusioned by what he perceived as the Comintern's flagging support for the cause of the independence of colonial peoples in favour of the Soviet Union's pursuit of diplomatic alliances with the colonial powers, Padmore abruptly severed his connection with the ITUCNW late in the summer of 1933. The Comintern's disciplinary body, the International Control Commission (ICC), asked him to explain his unauthorized action. When he refused to do so, the ICC expelled him from the Communist movement on 23 February 1934. A phase of Padmore's political journey was at an end.
As a result of his membership in the Communist Party and working for it in the Soviet Union and Germany, Padmore was barred from re-entry into the United States. He was a non-citizen and the government did not want to admit known communists.
Although alienated from Stalinism, Padmore remained a socialist. He sought new ways to work for African independence from imperial rule. Relocating to France, where Garan Kouyaté was an ally from his Comintern days, Padmore began to write a book: How Britain Rules Africa. With the help of former American heiress Nancy Cunard, he found a London agent and, eventually, a publisher (Wishart). It published the book in 1936, the year the publisher became Lawrence and Wishart, known to be sympathetic to communists. Publication of books by black men at that time was rare in the United Kingdom. A Swiss publisher distributed a German translation in Germany.
In 1934 Padmore moved to London, where he became the centre of a community of writers dedicated to pan-Africanism and African independence. His boyhood friend C. L. R. James, also from Trinidad, was already there, writing and publishing. James had started International African Friends of Ethiopia in response to Italy's invasion of Ethiopia. That organization developed into the International African Service Bureau (IASB), which became a centre for African and Caribbean intellectuals' anti-colonial activity. Padmore was chair, the Barbadian trade unionist Chris Braithwaite was its organising secretary, and James edited its periodical, International African Opinion. Ras Makonnen from British Guiana handled the business end. Other key members included Jomo Kenyatta from Kenya and Amy Ashwood Garvey.
As Carol Polsgrove has shown in Ending British Rule in Africa: Writers in a Common Cause, Padmore and his allies in the 1930s and 1940s—among them C. L. R. James, Kenya's Jomo Kenyatta, the Gold Coast's Kwame Nkrumah and South Africa's Peter Abrahams—saw publishing as a strategy for political change. They published small periodicals, which were sometimes seized by authorities when they reached the colonies. They published articles in other people's periodicals, for instance, the Independent Labour Party's New Leader. They published pamphlets. They wrote letters to the editor; and, thanks to the support of publisher Fredric Warburg (of Secker & Warburg), they published books. Warburg brought out Padmore's Africa and World Peace (1937), as well as books by both Kenyatta and James. In a Foreword to Africa and World Peace, Labour politician Sir Stafford Cripps wrote: "George Padmore has performed another great service of enlightenment in this book. The facts he discloses so ruthlessly are undoubtedly unpleasant facts, the story which he tells of the colonization of Africa is sordid in the extreme, but both the facts and the story are true. We have, so many of us, been brought up in the atmosphere of 'the white man's burden', and have had our minds clouded and confused by the continued propaganda for imperialism that we may be almost shocked by this bare and courageous exposure of the great myth of the civilizing mission of western democracies in Africa." The Biographical Note on the cover describes Padmore as European correspondent for the Pittsburgh Courier, Gold Coast Spectator, African Morning Post, Panama Tribune, Belize Independent and The Bantu World.
Before World War II, James left for the United States, where he met Kwame Nkrumah, a student from the Gold Coast who studied at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. James gave Nkrumah a letter of introduction to Padmore. When Nkrumah arrived in London in May 1945 intending to study law, Padmore met him at the station. It was the start of a long alliance. Padmore was then organizing the 1945 Manchester Pan-African Congress (designated the Fifth Pan-African Congress), attended not only by the inner circle of the IASB but also by W. E. B. Du Bois, the American organizer of earlier Pan-African conferences. The Manchester conference helped set the agenda for decolonisation in the post-war period.
Padmore used London as his base for more than two decades. He and Dorothy Pizer, a white English writer and his domestic partner and co-worker, shared a flat that became a center for African nationalists. Padmore maintained connections across the world, sending articles to international newspapers and keeping up a correspondence with American writers and activists W. E. B. Du Bois and Richard Wright. The latter was then living in Paris. At Padmore's urging, Wright travelled to the Gold Coast in 1953 to explore the buildup to independence; he wrote Black Power (1954). Before Wright left the Gold Coast, he gave a confidential report on Nkrumah to the American consul; later he reported on Padmore to the American Embassy in Paris. According to the embassy's account, Wright said that Nkrumah was relying heavily on Padmore as he made plans for independence.
When Wright published Black Power in 1954, Padmore was finishing a book that he hoped would be both a history and blueprint for African independence: Pan-Africanism or Communism? It was his attempt to counter Cold War suspicions in Western nations that the African independence movements were fundamentally communist-inspired.
As independence neared for the Gold Coast, the London community had splintered. In 1956 James had returned from the United States, but Padmore and Pizer referred to him with condescension in letters to Wright. Meanwhile, former Padmore ally Peter Abrahams published a roman à clef entitled A Wreath for Udomo (1956), which contained unflattering portrayals of the members of this London political community. George Padmore was identified by many as the model for the character "Tom Lanwood".
But Padmore's alliance with Nkrumah held firm. From the time of Nkrumah's return to the Gold Coast in 1947 to lead its independence movement, Padmore advised him in long detailed letters. He also wrote dozens of articles for Nkrumah's newspaper, the Accra Evening News, and wrote a history of The Gold Coast Revolution (1953). With Dorothy Pizer (who was a writer and secretary), Padmore encouraged the leader to write his autobiography. Nkrumah published his autobiography in 1957, the year the Gold Coast became independent Ghana. Padmore deputized for Nkrumah as best man when Sir Stafford Cripps' daughter Peggy married the anti-colonialist Joe Appiah, who was one of Nkrumah's closest allies at the time.
Padmore accepted Nkrumah's invitation to move to Ghana, but his time there as Nkrumah's advisor on African affairs was difficult. He was talking with friends about leaving Ghana to settle elsewhere when he returned to London for treatment of cirrhosis of the liver.
Padmore died on 23 September 1959, aged 56, at University College Hospital in London. A few days later, responding to rumours that the activist had been poisoned, his companion Pizer typed out a detailed statement about his death. She said that his liver condition had worsened in the previous nine months, before he sought treatment from a longtime physician friend. Due to his failing liver, he suffered haemorrhages that resulted in his death.
"...eight countries sent delegations to his funeral in London. But it was in Ghana that his ashes were interred and everyone says that in this country, famous for its political demonstrations, never had there been such a turnout as that caused by the death of Padmore. Peasants from far-flung regions who, one might think, had never even heard his name, managed to find their way to Accra to pay a final tribute to the West Indian who spent his life in their service."
Staying on in Accra, Dorothy Pizer wrote a preface for a French edition of Padmore's Pan-Africanism or Communism. She began research for a biography of Padmore. However, as she told Nancy Cunard, she was frustrated by his habit of having destroyed his personal papers and not having talked about his past.