From Scottsboro to Munich: Race and Political Culture in 1930s Britain

By Susan D. Pennybacker | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
GEORGE PADMORE AND LONDON

IN 1924 THE YOUNG STUDENT Malcolm Nurse traveled by ship up the eastern coast of the United States from his native Trinidad and disembarked in New York City. The Ellis Island immigration authorities classified him as an “African Black” on sight, though he had not yet journeyed to the continent that drew much of his life's interests and commitments. Malcolm Nurse lived briefly on West 135th Street in Harlem and took a sociology course at Columbia University fifteen blocks south before heading across the Mason-Dixon Tine. Though he was a black man living under Jim Crow, only two hours' drive from Chattanooga, his life was in most ways very different from that of Ada Wright and her family. He had come to Nashville to pursue his medical studies at African American Fisk University. Born in the Arouca District of Trinidad and raised in Port of Spain, Nurse completed the Cambridge Local Examinations at secondary school and was awarded a medical board certificate in 1916. When he came to America, he left his wife Julia Semper, pregnant with their daughter, at home. The child symbolized their identification with the cause of Trinidadian emancipation from the British, named as she was for Edward Blyden, a seminal figure for pioneers of Carribean independence.1

Nurse's political commitments grew and the prospect of remaining at Fisk dimmed for the young schoolmaster's son, grandson of a slave, rumored to be a relative of the celebrated Caribbean activist Henry Sylvester Williams.2 Instead, he began speaking out regularly on the problems of colonial rule and the British Empire, participating in a symposium on China at nearby, segregated Vanderbilt University in 1927. His political activities in Nashville may have gained him notoriety with the local Ku Klux Klan. Four years before the Scottsboro case broke, he left the region for America's radical political center, arriving in New York for the last sustained visit of his lifetime. The study of law briefly beckoned Malcolm Nurse, but his increasingly demanding political commitments led him to withdraw from New York University in late 1927. He joined the American communist party in 1928 and took his cousin's name as a pseudonym. An American official in Liberia appeared a decade later with that same name; the coincidence created more than a little confusion. But Nurse never relinquished the alias and was now “George Padmore.” He found employment as a janitor at the New York Times building and as a crewman on Hudson riverboats, an anonymous West Indian who sought out the country's greatest newspaper and one of her greatest waterways as a common laborer-observer. Former

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