June-Elizabeth White-Smith-Gulley was born in the UK to parents of Jamaican Heritage.  She recognised early on that her status as a British citizen was precarious and could easily have been removed from her with the passing of the 1981 Nationality Act. She has dedicated her life to the service of Caribbean-descended communities through her advocacy, writing, educational projects and campaigning.  She has served as a International Windrush Ambassador, and is a core member of the Windrush National Organisation as well as the co-Founder of the Northampton Windrush Generation and Descendants UK.

During the interview, which took place on 8th April 2022, I asked June-Elizabeth: ‘When did you realise there was an issue with the citizenship status of Black people in Britain?’  She explained she had attended a meeting in Harrow Road about the New Nationality Bill following an advert she’d seen in the Voice Newspaper (in 1980). 

One week after the meeting, the Voice paper reported:

‘If you were born here, you no longer have to pay £50.’ While she personally didn’t end up having to taken any action, she notes: ‘It affected me and it’s always stayed with me.’ […]‘I’m not really accepted, they can play with me…[…] [T]hey can play bouncy ball, ping pong with my life.’

From that day in 1980 I realised that elders need help with the paperwork’. 

June-Elizabeth has been an activist ever since and would travel with sound systems across the country, using it as an opportunity to warn people about the changing immigration and citizenship legislation.

Interview by Juanita Cox

June-Elizabeth White-Smith-Gulley

KEYWORDS: Amendment, Nationality Bill, Social Minister, John Wheeler, 1980, Mrs Thatcher, Voice, Gleaner, Paul Boateng, House of Commons, Australia, Jamaica, citizen, illegitimate, alien, Africa, India, Caribbean, Joyce Fraser, Black Heroes Foundation, party, Mary Seacole, nurse, police, Blues.

Copyright & Permissions: June-Elizabeth White-Smith-Gulley granted copyright and performing rights in this interview to the University of London.  She agreed for the interview to be made accessible as a public reference resource for use in research, publication, education, lectures, broadcasting, podcasting and the internet. Permission to use this material beyond the Windrush Scandal website should be sought before reproduction.

Date/Location:

8th April 2022.  At her home in Grafton Road, Northampton

Key:

JC:         Dr Juanita Cox (Interviewer)
JW:        June-Elizabeth White-Smith-Gulley (Respondent)

Transcript: Excerpt 1 of Interview 1 [36:03- 46:27]

JC         36:03

So let me just ask you. Before we go on, when did you, just thinking back to the 70s and 80s, when did you first realise that the citizenship status of Caribbean people wasn’t as straightforward as people might have thought?

JW         36:21

So that’s what I was thinking. When you asked me I was thinking, you know what, I used to buy anything now. Because I’m in London. You’ve got, you’ve got lots of Black papers: you’ve got the Voice, you’ve got the Gleaner. Yeah.  We used to get it in Northampton, as well. But most shops sell it and and in the Voice, right, they had a thing about this new Nationality Bill. And they said, Oh, they’re having a meeting along the Harrow Road in Paddington. Now this was 1980. And they’re inviting us as community to come and they’re going to explain why they’ve dealing with this amendment to the Nationality Bill. And Mrs. Thatcher was in power. Yeah. And Mrs Thatcher sent her Social Minister, his name was John Wheeler. And when John Wheeler came, I made sure I got there really early. So I had a, had a ideal position. It doesn’t matter which, anybody asking anything happening, I didn’t have to turn my neck. I could see everything. And I’m at the front.  And…

 JC          37:47

Can you describe the room for me, that you were in?

JW         37:49

Well, it was just a hall really, was just a hall, you know. And then how the chairs were placed. You know, you know like if you’re having a church service and you’ve got all the chairs in like, and then they’ve got some this side. So that’s, that’s the main hall then. Yeah. So that’s the door you come in. And this is the main hall so all the and then he’s here. But then they put chairs here. So that’s where I sat. So if I was sitting there, if somebody’d come in I would have turn around, sitting at the side there, like at the front.

 JC          38:21

But he was on a raised platform?

 JW         38:23

No, he was standing. Yeah. I could’ve touch him. Yeah. When I… I mean, that’s the distance he you know, he wasn’t on no platform.

JC          38:34

Was he the only person there?

 JW         38:37

No, the chair of the meeting was Paul Boateng. He was a chairman. Yes. So it was orderly. And then Mr. Wheeler, he stood up and he gave an introduction of why and, and one of his reasons he said, You know, one of the reasons was that too many people come here illegally. They do not contribute to the system. And then he said, they leave a lot, behind a lot of illegitimate children for this government to finance. So I thought, then he went on to say, unless your parents were citizens when you were born, you are not a citizen. And I thought… He said, you’re an alien if you do not pay 50 pounds if you were born here to be a citizen. And I thought well I never. Because, I think I, maybe I asked him, Well, what if you didn’t pay the £50? He said you’re an alien. And I thought to myself well I came very early as a citizen, and within 15 minutes I’ve become an alien. So all my questions that I wanted to ask, oooh what was the point? I was thinking, You know what, I’m going back to Jamaica. I’m going to go and live with my granddad, even though you don’t get much money in Jamaica. So when they had a, like a liccle break, they call a recess, I didn’t come and sit at the front. I’m a blooming alien now. So I just sat at the back so I can make a quick exit. And near the end, you know, there was a lot of good questioning, and you go through the chair.

 JW         38:43

How did the audience respond when they heard this?

 JW         40:16

Well, you know, that was just his introduction. Now we’re going back from 1980, so I, I can’t say, but there was lots of different interactions, but he came with his template. Yeah. So from him told me I was not a citizen, and I was born here. That was it. I realised then, that when they put a full stop on their immigration paperwork, when they want to change it, they just turn it into a comma. Because how can I be a citizen, and from he started to talk in about 15 minutes, I became an alien. So I knew that even though I was born here, yeah. So what happened, I was very conscious, black conscious. Right? So when this Australian lady stood up, and she questioned him, you know, how come she comes and go when she wants from Australia, and she stays as long as she wants. She doesn’t need no permit. She don’t need no visa. And she said, but Mr. Wheeler, the people that you invited here to build the country, a lot of them getting elderly now, she she said, You were even tripping up on some of your long words. How do you expect them to deal with this paperwork, and also pay on top of it? And you know, I can just come and go as free as I like. And he told her that as a great, great, great grandchild of patron, she can come and go as freely as she liked. Well I decided I’m gonna ask a question. I put my hand up, Mr. Boateng. I said yeah, Miss White. And he said, Go ahead. And I said, Mr. Wheeler, are you I gather a patron of in your great, great?  I said, Do you remember when England conquered a lot of the world and they went to India and they went to Africa and they went to the Caribbean. And they took advantage of black women like myself and left behind a lot of illegitimate children for them government to – what you call them, those countries, third world, you call them now – to finance.  Have those illegitimate children, right, got the same right as what you’ve just given this Australian lady. He didn’t answer me. He looked at his watch. And do you know what the time was, nearly eight o’clock. He said Oh, he’s late for a meeting at the House of Commons. And he was running out. He went like this with his finger, you know, when you beckon? So he had a liccle young boy, and liccle young boy run across with his briefcase. And he was just going out the door. Well, I’m somebody of principle. But I didn’t have time to go through the chair because he was going out the door. I said, Mr. Wheeler!  I had to do it. I said when you finish with your meeting, can you put my question to your ministers, please? But then everybody stood up. And they started. You know, like, not rioting. But when I say rioting, what’s the word when they become noisy?

 JC         43:48

Like some commotion, I guess?

 JW         43:50

Yes. You know, people standing up. There was disorder. So Mr. Mr. Boateng said, Miss White, I take it, yes. The next week, the headlines of the paper – I’m going to see if I can get one – because Joyce Fraser’s husband was editor of The Voice. Cos I don’t know if they have a collection with Black Heroes Foundation, which I’m affiliated with. It said, if you were born here, you no longer have to pay £50? And it wasn’t because of my question, because I was one of the people that was not, I wasn’t one of the most intelligent people. And when I left, cos then I made my quick exit. And an Asian gentleman came after me. And he called me and he said Miss White. He said, Are you a barrister or a solicitor? Because to put what he started with and put it together so quickly? I said, No, I’m a nurse. I work at Central Middlesex Hospital. I live in the nurses home. He said, he’d like me to come and sit on the Westminster, some kind of Council. Well, I’ve just left the police force. I didn’t really want to be involved in anything. You know, I just wanted to chill, and just do my liccle nursing, go to my liccle party. And then when I go to my party now, I found out that later on, that one of the parties that I go to, one of the blues on the, on the Harrow road, they called it the Graveyard Blues, because this graveyard next to it, and I found that that’s where Mary Seacole was buried. Yeah. So there you go.

JC          45:43

So that’s really interesting. Tell me did, What about Paul Boateng? I mean, how does he… What was he kind of doing? Was he literally just almost moderating the crowd?

 JW         45:54

Yeah, he was very good.

 JC          45:55

He didn’t say anything…

JW         45:56

No his job as the chair was to keep things in order, which he did. Because, you know, when, when, when Mr Wheeler a run way, when him ah run way, say ‘im a go Parliament, maybe there weren’t no meeting, he just was a, making a quick escape because he didn’t want to answer. Yeah, he wasn’t expecting a question like that, that weren’t on this template to answer. So that’s when he said, Order, order, order and everybody just calm down, you know.

 

 

 

 

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