Events and Activities Opening the Archive Our library Related collections Thinking about collections

The 1945 Pan-African Congress: Manchester and the Fight for Equality

Holly Randhawa

What was the Pan-African Congress?

Held in Manchester in 1945, the 5th Pan-African Congress was part of a series of seven meetings, intended to address the decolonisation of Africa from Western imperial powers. Set within a new world order of international cooperation during the 1940s, the Congress demanded an end to colonial rule and racial discrimination, as well as the recognition of human rights and equality of economic opportunity for all peoples of African descent.

Photograph of Congress attendees
Photograph of Congress attendees, 1945 Pan-African Congress. Among the people to attend were George Padmore, W. E. B. Du Bois, Jomo Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah. Source: Pan-African Congress 1945 and 1995 Archive, GB3228.34

What Collections are available?

To mark the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of the Congress in 1995, six audio interviews were carried out with local Mancunians who either lived during, or attended this historic event. Thanks to a recent project by the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre, these interviews are now available as part of the digital sound archive Pan-African Congress 50 Years On, which can be explored using Sound Cloud.

Why is it important?

Although the Congress may not seem relevant today (colonialism is all in the past right?), it appears that colonial nostalgia is making a comeback. Alongside Brexit, the Trump administration and the rise of far-right political parties across Britain and Europe, the objectives of the Pan-African Congress are still worryingly significant. Looking back at some of the topics addressed on the agenda of the Congress in 1945, it is unsettling to see that many of these issues are not confined to the past.

Colour Problem
Title of the First Session of the 1945 Pan-African Congress.

Entitled ‘The Colour Problem in Britain’, the first session of the Congress ‘reported on the position of coloured people in the British Isles’, aiming to tackle the difficulties facing coloured workers who had fought for Britain during WWI. These servicemen were being denied the employment and benefits which had been promised to them by the British government after the war, a sentiment which has been echoed during the recent Windrush scandal, in which several British-Caribbean subjects were wrongly detained, denied legal rights and deported from the UK.

Why Manchester?

‘…the political consciousness in Manchester was very strong, so it was the ideal place’ – Paul Okijie, chairman of the fiftieth anniversary celebrations in 1995.

The importance of remembering Manchester as honouring and upholding values intrinsic to the Congress is imperative in understanding the city’s complex past, as well as celebrating the prominent figures within the BAME community who helped to shape the Congress’s history. Unlike the previous four Congresses, Manchester involved people from the African Diaspora across the globe, including Afro-Caribbeans and Afro-Americans. As historian Simon Katzenellenbogen said of the fiftieth anniversary celebrations, ‘it is also to recognise what has too long been ignored – the contribution made by the people and the city of Manchester, most prominently by the city’s people of African and Afro-Caribbean origins’.

Speakers at the 1945 Pan-African Congress.
Audience Congregation
Audience congregation listening to the speakers at the 1945 Pan-African Congress, including Jomo Kenyatta and Amy Ashwood Garvey.

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Stories

Ordinary Mancunians like Raz Finni and Archie Downie form part of the Pan African Congress 50 Years On digital archive project. Not only do their reminiscences help to shape an understanding of the historical contexts surrounding the Congress, but provide an insight into the continuing experience of the black community during the post-war years. Listening to their experiences of racism highlights the importance of BAME histories, as well as the need for inclusion and representation in today’s society.

Challenge to the Colonial Powers
The original declaration of the 1945 Pan-African Congress, as outlined by George Padmore.

Around the globe, the effects of colonialism are still ongoing. The Pan-African Congress declared freedom, independence, education and a decent living as the basis for their demands, yet sadly these basic rights are still not within reach for many people today. As we celebrate the achievements of this monumental event in furthering the cause of decolonisation, it continues to remain increasingly important that the issues at the heart of this Congress are not forgotten.


Adi, Hakim and Marika Sherwood, The 1945 Manchester Pan-African Congress Revisited (London: New Beacon Books, 1995).

Sherwood, Marika, Manchester and the 1945 Pan-African Congress (Savannah Press, 1995).

Holly is a postgraduate student studying Music at the University of Manchester. She is currently doing a work placement with the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre.

6 replies on “The 1945 Pan-African Congress: Manchester and the Fight for Equality”

[…] Before the project goes live, there are some important ethical considerations which must be addressed. As most of the interviewees have passed away, permission is required from living relatives confirming that we are allowed to release the interviews into the public domain. Even though this project is fairly low risk, it is still essential we follow the correct procedures! The last stages of the project will be the most fruitful; promoting the sound archive on the Centre’s website and other social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. Writing for the Reading Race, Collecting Cultures blog is a quick and fun way to endorse the project and you can check out my blog post on the importance of the Pan-African Congress here. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s