Although he spent a lifetime shaping the political evolution of the anti-colonial struggle and those considered its foremost proponents, George Padmore is often an overlooked figure.
There has been little in the way of commemoration, either in his native Trinidad or the US and UK where he lived for a number of years.
But Ghana’s first president Kwame Nkrumah felt so indebted to him that he made him one of his advisers at the country’s independence in 1957, and eulogised him as the father of African emancipation at his funeral two years later.
Nkrumah met him in London in 1945, where Padmore had become such a prominent voice in the push for African self-government that it is said that almost all of Africa’s independence leaders passed through the cluttered kitchen of his tiny Somers Town flat at one time or another.
They included Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria and Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta who would both go on to become their countries’ founding presidents, and of course Nkrumah himself.
As an ideologue and an agitator, Padmore also helped mobilise an event considered to be a turning point in Africa’s liberation movement, the fifth Pan African Congress.
Held in Manchester in 1945, it called for solidarity in the fight against colonialism, capitalism and racial discrimination.
It was the crowning moment of an extraordinary career that had taken Padmore to the US and the Soviet Union before he settled in the “dark heart of empire”, Britain.
Born at the dawn of the last century, Padmore worked briefly as a journalist on the Trinidad Guardian before travelling to study in Tennessee and then New York, where he became an active member of the Communist Party.
Single minded in his pursuit of racial and social justice, he dropped out of law school in 1929 and took himself to Moscow, where he was put in charge of mobilising black workers internationally.
In 1934 he resigned from the Communist Party after he was directed to stop agitating against France and Britain following the Soviet Union’s alliance with them against Germany.
He came to London and began working with the Camden Town-based West African Student’s Union that was at the forefront of the anti-colonial struggle in the UK. He also formed the International African Service Bureau, a network of Caribbean and African intellectuals, and penned a number of books, among them How Britain Rules Africa in 1936.
Padmore moved into Cranleigh House with his wife, Dorothy Pizer, in 1941. Among its many visitors was the African American author Richard Wright, another former Communist, who recalls Padmore as an “old fashioned Trinidadian gent, always impeccably dressed” and often locked in endless discussions with his African comrades around a wooden kitchen table as a “kettle hissed in the background”.
Padmore died after a short illness in London in 1959 aged only 57. At Nkrumah’s request, his ashes were flown to Ghana to be interred.
Published: 30 June, 2011