Peter Fryer was pivitol in educating the public about the presence of people of African descent in Britain.
The son of a master mariner, Fryer was born in Hull on February 18, 1927 and raised in the city. He won a scholarship to Hymers College in 1938. He was impressed by the local Communist Party’s opposition to Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists, and when he was 15 he joined the Young Communist League.
Aged 16 he became a trainee journalist at the Yorkshire Post. His Communist views did not sit easily with the paper’s Tory politics and he was dismissed from his job for refusing to leave the Communist Party. At the end of 1947 he joined the Daily Worker (now the Morning Star) and for this paper he covered the arrival of Caribbean settlers on the Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks in 1948.
His honest reporting of the Hungarian uprising of 1956 led him to write a book Hungarian Tragedy in defence of the revolution and this led to his expulsion from the Communist Party. Shortly before his death he was informed that Hungary’s president had awarded him the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic, in recognition of his “continuous support of the Hungarian revolution and freedom fight”.
Of his many other books, the most well-known is Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain. Originally published in 1984, this 600-page, meticulously researched volume begins in Roman times with the famous opening words, “There were Africans in Britain before the English came here.” It continues to be considered the definitive history of Black people in Britain.
A highly accomplished blues pianist, he was also a leading authority on blues music, its history and related music in Africa and South America. At the time of his death he was working on a volume of Black American history – a study of life in Mississippi in the 19th and 20th centuries, under the working title “Behind the Blues”.
Yorkshire Post obituary, 4 November, 2006 http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/obituaries/peter-fryer-1-2398379
Guardian obituary by Terry Brotherstone, 3 November, 2006
Dr Lauren Darwin
African Stories Project Researcher.