Society of Peoples of African Origin

I came upon the Society of Peoples of African Origin in a Colonial Office file (CO 323/807 41495). The society was asking the Colonial Office whether any of the African military units would be represented in the forthcoming ‘Peace March‘. Not having heard of the Society, I did a little digging.

While the letter was signed by WFE Taylor, Felix Eugene Michael Hercules was a leading figure in the Society which was involved in the 1919 Cardiff and Liverpool riots. The Society had been ‘founded in 1918 by a group of black businessmen and students in London.’ Their aim was ‘to further the general interests of blacks everywhere, to bring their grievances to the notice of the British public, and to promote closer relations between the Mother Country and the colonies in Africa and the West Indies.’ They produced a newspaper, African Telegraph. (WF Elkins, ‘Hercules and the Society of Peoples of African Origin‘, Caribbean Studies, 1972, 11:4, p47)

Despite its remit, it did not seem to engage too much with peoples from Africa, although Hercules did get to West Africa in 1919 around the time the Society associated with the African Progress Union to become the Society of African Peoples. In December 1919, African Telegraph stopped publishing and the attempt to set up an African League had failed. Not long after the Society of Peoples of African Origin disappeared too.

Regarding the Peace March which brought the Society to attention, the Colonial Office replied that it would not be possible to arrange for African units to be there. The cost of bringing the forces to the UK would be too much, let alone deciding which units would be best to attend. There seem to have been a few peace marches in 1919, another earlier in the year was on 3 May where already most colonial forces were not represented as they had returned home.

While none of the groups were long-lived, they are evidence of groups of people trying to give themselves a voice, independently and collectively, unable to overcome the various hurdles they encountered.

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