Black Britons – Race Riots in South Shields and Liverpool

Black Britons – Race Riots in South Shields

Yemeni Protester being led away
Yemeni Protester being led away

The first race riots to take place in Britain were in South Shields (Tyneside). A number of Arab and Somali seamen had settled there in the 1860’s, and theses populations were added to by West African and West Indian Seamen who settled in North shields before the First World War. Because of the war the areas black population increased fourfold.

The first Riot took place when in 1919 some Arab Seamen, having just paid their £ 2 stamp to clear their union book, which had to be paid up to date before they could sail, were then refused work. J.B Fye an official of the stewards and cooks Union incited a crowd of foreign white seamen against the Arab seamen; he was later convicted of using language likely to cause a breach of the peace.

Fye himself hit one of the Arabs, who hit him back…the crown then chased the Arabs all the way Holborn, the district in South shields where they lived. Here Friends of the Arabs arrived to back them up. They fired warning shots over the heads of the attackers, then they turned the tables on them chasing the attackers through the streets back to the Shipping Office, which was wrecked in the following fight. Army and Navy patrols were called in and 12 of the Arabs were arrested. At Durham assizes the judge was reasonably lenient. Three were acquitted, others received between three months prison and one month hard Labour.


After the war demobilisation took its toll on black workers living in and around Liverpool and their numbers swelled to around 5,000. Then in the spring of 1919 around 120 black workers, employed for years in the sugar refineries and oilcake mills were fired because white workers now refused to work with them. In those days there was no state benefit, and families had to live on credit for as long as they could manage. Many black families were at the end of their credit limit and were being thrown out of their lodgings.

On the 13th May the secretary of the Liverpool Ethiopian Association , the merchant D.T.Toummavah, wen to see the Lord Mayor. His visit was to explain that between 500 and 600 black men , mostly discharged British soldiers were out of work and were stranded in the area.

He suggested that the Colonial Office repatriate the men and provide them a bursary of £5 because many of the men had pawned their possessions to buy food. Also many of the men had lost limbs or eyes in the war.

The mayor had also received a deputation claiming to represent 5,000 jobless white ex-servicemen who were complaining of competition for jobs from black workers.

The Mayor wrote to the colonial office putting forward both cases.

“Only the other night there was a fight between the two races, and matters are not likely to improve.

(Liverpool Post and Mercury, (7th,11th,19th June 1919) ,
Manchester Garden (7th, June 1919.)
(Liverpool Echo 10th June 1919)
(11th June Liverpool Courier 1919)
(14th,21st June,Liverpool weekly post 1919)
Racial Riots – Inspector Hugh Burgess


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