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

By Susan D. Pennybacker | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
LADY KATHLEEN SIMON AND ANTISLAVERY

“Workers of the World Unite”; I thought of the wide shallow slogans of political
parties, as the thin bodies, every rib showing, with dangling swollen elbows or
pock-marked skin, went by me to the market; why should we pretend to talk in
terms of the world when we mean only Europe or the white races? Neither the
I.L.P. nor Communist Party urges a strike in England because the platelayers in
Sierra Leone are paid sixpence a day without their food. Civilization in West
Africa remains exploitation; we have hardly improved the natives' lot at all.
Graham Greene, Journey without Maps, 1936

IN 1956 GEORGE PADMORE acknowledged Lady Kathleen Simon's role in the struggle for rights of those of African descent.1 Kathleen Manning Simon, the Irishwoman and doctor's widow who married the politician and cabinet minister Sir John Simon, was an ardent antislavery advocate and, from 1927, a leader of the venerable British and Foreign Anti-Slavery and Aborigines' Protection Society (the “Society") that claimed the legacy of early abolitionist William Wilberforce. Her life's work was deeply engaged with the Society in many respects.2 Simon's opposition to lynching in the era of Scottsboro was steadfast. Her call for freedom for the more than 6 million persons, whom she and her associates deemed “living in bondage” in the 1930s, forced a relentless gaze upon many parts of the globe, in the hope of eradicating the evil of slavery as a basis for both trusteeship and the enlightened preservation of empire.3 In so doing, the Society challenged Parliament's failure to press the issue forward in the peace negotiations at Versailles. Lady Simon affected a memorable presence and was an indefatigable orator and fund-raiser. It would have been cruel to undermine achievement with a search for greater motive beneath her magnanimous and liberal exterior. Padmore may have judged that he ventured there at his own peril and instead left Lady Simon on the brighter side of posterity. But his fellow activist Sylvia Pankhurst and her colleagues had not demurred from such dissent in the thirties, challenging “the propaganda emanating from what they called the 'antislavery enthusiasts,' the 'welfare of natives group,' and denounc[ing] them as Roman Catholics and Fascist sympathizers."4

The League of Nations, closely allied to the Society in its promulgation of the Slavery Convention of 1926, had already failed to galvanize the post-Versailles world to take up a struggle against human incarceration in its many forms by

-103-

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Abbreviations xv
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - Ada Wright and Scottsboro 16
  • Chapter 2 - George Padmore and London 66
  • Chapter 3 - Lady Kathleen Simon and Antislavery 103
  • Chapter 4 - Saklatvala and the Meerut Trial 146
  • Chapter 5 - Diasporas: Refugees and Exiles 200
  • Chapter 6 - A Thieves' Kitchen, 1938–39 240
  • Conclusion 265
  • Chronology 275
  • Notes on Sources 279
  • Notes 283
  • Glossary 341
  • Bibliography 353
  • Index 371
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