“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago, before April 24, 1920, East London

Jamaican Claude McKay, 30, probably the only working black journalist in Britain, is looking forward to seeing his letter to the editor in one of the newspapers he writes for, the Workers’ Dreadnought, founded and edited by noted activist Sylvia Pankhurst, 37, daughter of Suffragette Emmaline, 61.

He knows that “A Black Man Replies” will be the headline. The inflammatory piece


Claude McKay’s article in the Workers’ Dreadnought

is the strongest shot in a battle between the Communist Party’s Dreadnought and the Labour Party’s the Daily Herald, edited by George Lansbury, 61, a former Labour Member of Parliament.

Earlier in the month, the Herald had run an article by E. D. Morel, “Black Scourge in Europe:  Sexual Horror Let Loose by France on the Rhine,” about French troops from northern Africa based in Germany after the Great War.

McKay had sent his reply to the Herald the very next day. But Lansbury had ignored it. Pankhurst, however, is proud to publish it—even though Lansbury has often helped out her enterprise by supplying money to buy newsprint when she needed it. But she’s criticized him publicly before.

Sylvia Pankhurst young

Sylvia Pankhurst

McKay writes,

Why this obscene maniacal outburst about the sex vitality of black men in a proletarian paper? Rape is rape; the colour of the skin doesn’t make it different…I do not protest because I happen to be a Negro…I write because I feel that the ultimate result of your propaganda will be further strife and blood-spilling between whites and the many members of my race.”

Claude McKay

Claude McKay

McKay is outraged. This over-sexualizing of black men is what he would have expected from some publication of the Ku Klux Klan in America. His years living there had opened his eyes to racism. How could an important national left-wing newspaper like the Herald publish hateful, racist articles like Morel’s?

Sylvia is proud of her adopted East London neighbourhood, brimming with immigrants and sailors off the ships which dock here. McKay writes that he has been told by white men in the neighbourhood,

who ought to know, that this summer will see a recrudescence of the outbreaks that occurred last year.”

In other words, more attacks on people of color.

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the book, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s, to be published by K. Donnelly Communications. For more information, email me at kaydee@gpysyteacher.com.

If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

In 2020 I will be talking about writers’ salons in Ireland, England, France and America before and after the Great War in the University of Pittsburgh’s Osher Lifelong Learning program.

Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins and his relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.



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