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John Archer: The First Person Of African Descent To Become London Mayor In 1913

Photo credit: Bibliotheque nationale de France

 

In 1913, John Archer became the first person of African descent to be elected Mayor of London. He was elected Mayor of Battersea in hotly contested elections that he won by a single vote. According to English Heritage, it was a watershed moment because it was the first time a Black person would hold a senior public office in London.

Election observers argue that Archer was well aware of the weight placed on his shoulders by that decision; thus, in his acceptance speech, he acknowledged that the councilors voted in his ability to confront their challenges rather than the color of his skin or existing prejudice.

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He lived at 55 Brynmaer Road in Battersea for over two decades, including during his active political career. According to the African American Registry, he purchased his Brynmaer home in his late twenties with his Black Canadian wife. Archer started out as a photographer with a studio on Battersea Park Road. He was a census taker and, at one point, a professional singer.

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In June 1863, he was born to a Barbadian ship’s steward and an Irish woman. He became interested in local politics after attending the Pan-African Conference in London in 1900, where he met with leading members of the African diaspora.

He was elected to the Battersea Borough Council in 1906. He lost his seat in 1909, but he worked tirelessly to reclaim it in 1912 and keep it until 1931, when he was appointed deputy leader of the Labour group.

Despite only serving as Mayor for one term, Archer never lost sight of his political calling and advocacy. He was active in politics, speaking out against cuts to unemployment benefits and the use of a workhouse for Battersea’s young employed. He later became the secretary of the North Battersea Labour Party.

After a brief illness, he died on July 14, 1932, at the St. James Hospital in Balham. He died just a few weeks after turning 69. His funeral was held at the Church of Our Lady Carmel on Battersea Park Road, and his ashes were interred in the Morden Council Cemetery.

During the 1980s, a secondary school was named in his honor in recognition of his advocacy for social equality and justice. Archer House, a section of the Battersea Village residential complex, was named after him when it was completed in the 1930s.

In 2004, Archer was named one of the 100 Great Black Britons, finishing 72nd in a public vote. That was not the only distinction bestowed upon London’s first Black mayor. He was honored with a blue plaque from Nubian Jak in 2011, which was broadcast on Reggae TV Channel.

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Written by How Africa News

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