Back in time for Birmingham – Old newspaper clippings illustrate the harsh realities of the 1950s for South Asian immigrants.

The BBC’s hit show Back in Time returned on Monday 20 June, outlining South Asian history in the heart of Birmingham. The documentary looks at the development of British Asian life and culture from the 50’s to the 90’s through the eyes of the Sharma family of Solihole.

Modern British Asian history begins when the British Nationality Act of 1948 granted British citizenship to the people of the former empire, including the recently divided India and Pakistan. Back in Time tells us about a time when Britain was desperate for workers to rebuild a nation tired of World War II, and South Asians were looking for relatively well-paying jobs and the future of their families. Began to go to the UK to secure.

The first installment shows the pieces of life in the 50’s and 60’s, as these early immigrants built new homes, adapted to a new culture, and brought their families with them. How did the rest of Birmingham react to his arrival?

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Using old copies of Birmingham newspapers, we can trace the stories that emerged in the 1950s when the first few thousand South Asians began living and working in the West Midlands. Reports use historic and offensive language, but the reality is how South Asians and their issues were discussed at the time.

In Wolverhampton in June 1958, we see an example of the “color bar” – social discrimination against non-whites. Adat Das Gupta, an apprentice engineer, sent a letter of complaint to the mayor of Wolverhampton after he and some friends were denied entry to the Scala ballroom.

Birmingham, 1972 People march in support of Enoch Powell.
(Photo: Mirrorpix)

When asked to comment from the ballroom, he said, “It was a policy of denying admission to Indians and West Indians. If there is less prejudice against people of color, he will consider changing it.”

“It’s not about the color bar, it’s about the sound business,” said Ballroom. “Everyone else in the ballroom doesn’t want people of color.”

In Wedensbury, Hyde Road residents asked Mr Sambo Mukherjee to stop buying a house near them. He denied the “color bar” and said “the sentiments of the rate takers should have been given more consideration”.

He told the Post that he was concerned about converting the house into rooms for several occupants, as he had done with another of his properties – “to devalue the estate, which belongs to the working class.” It is owned by people who have invested in it. Saving lives on the property. “

His petition failed, and Mr Mukherjee moved into the 2, 2,225 house at the end of November 1959. Anti-Asian rental practices were common, but so did those who could afford mortgages.

In 1955, the Greater Birmingham Employment Committee discussed unemployment rates among those who had recently arrived in the country. This year a TV documentary was born. Birmingham was “fully employed” at the time, with only 0.53% of the city’s population out of work.

The committee found 250 migrants out of work in Birmingham, half of them Indians or Pakistanis, and the number was growing because of the city’s settlement. For example, compared to immigrants from the Caribbean, they found that South Asians “had less demand as workers, and tended to stay out of work longer.”

For those who work, job security is a role to play. Smethwick Engineering Firm, which employed 1,000 primarily migrant workers, fired 180 at once in May 1956.

Town Hall Demonstration Of The Forthcoming 1968 Race Relations Bill.
Town hall demonstration of the forthcoming 1968 Race Relations Bill.
(Photo: Mirrorpix)

The 180 were mostly Indians and Pakistanis, and the firm denied any racial discrimination. He claimed to have been fired on a “first out, last out” system – and South Asian semi-skilled workers were among those who joined recently.

In December 1955, the Birmingham Gazette reported a speech by a Methodist minister at a local branch of the Women’s Council. He was “sometimes a little worried about how we would accept these things in our city.”

These things? “I am especially thinking of local girls who make friends with Pakistanis, join the armed forces, build houses and have children. There are many young children growing up in the city today for whom There are ideas of sexual freedom and morality. Acceptance by the Muslim community is normal. “

This notion of corruption and incompatibility with the UK will be the subject of far-right opposition to immigration in modern times. This will be followed by Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech at the end of the first episode of Back in Time and events such as the rise of the National Front in the coming decades.

Things have improved for Birmingham’s South Asians since the 1950s – on the one hand, the minister will be rightly reprimanded for his comments, and anti-discrimination laws protect the rights of his predecessors. Were not present at the time of arrival. But the news in Birmingham’s newspapers marks the beginning of a difficult road to modern times.

See more history and memories here.

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