The Museums Association has joined a public call on the UK Government to make Windrush Day 2023 a significant moment in the UK’s national calendar.
The letter urges policymakers to ensure that next year’s 75th anniversary of the arrival of the ship HMT Empire Windrush is a national moment “as important in Britain’s calendar as Martin Luther King Day is in the US”.
The ship arrived at Tilbury Docks on 22 June 1948, bringing 500 passengers from the Caribbean to help rebuild Britain after the second world war. The occasion is seen as symbolic of the start of post-war Commonwealth Britain and its shift towards becoming a multi-ethnic society.
“This is not only Black history – it is British history. It should be something we all know and commemorate,” says the letter.
The letter has more than 100 signatories from across politics, faith and civil society, sport, culture and business, including actor Lenny Henry, poet Benjamin Zephaniah, broadcaster Trevor Phillips and London mayor Sadiq Khan.
Campaigners have created the Windrush 75 Network to help coordinate efforts across the UK over the next 12 months and beyond to encourage maximum participation. Public institutions like museums are being urged to commemorate the moment in a significant way.
New research commissioned by Windrush 75 and the thinktank British Future shows has shown that a majority of people in Britain (57%) feel the arrival of the Empire Windrush in the UK is an important moment in British history.
Around half of the public (46%) and 55% of ethnic minority citizens think the 75th anniversary should be marked in a significant way. Half the public (49%) say they are familiar with the story of the Windrush, while just under half (46%) say they would like to know more about it.
Patrick Vernon, convenor of the Windrush 75 network, said: “We have one year now until the 75th anniversary of the Windrush. It’s something we should commemorate as a major event and a piece of our history that every child should learn about at school. It is something every institution should be marking in a significant way.”
A new monument was unveiled at London’s Waterloo Station this week to mark this year’s Windrush Day.
Designed by Jamaican artist and sculptor Basil Watson, the statue shows a man, woman and child standing on top of suitcases. It is intended to represent "the courage, commitment and resilience of the thousands of men, women and children who travelled to the UK to start new lives from 1948 to 1971".
Two permanent public sculptures by artist Thomas J Price have also been unveiled outside Hackney Town Hall in honour of the Windrush generation. The artist took 3D scans of more than 30 members of the Windrush generation and their descendants to shape the eventual artwork.
National Windrush Day was established by the UK Government in 2018 and provides a £500,000 grant scheme for related projects across England.