Friday marks 70 years since the MV Empire Windrush docked here with nearly 500 people from Caribbean nations ready to help rebuild Britain after the ravages of World War II.
But this years Windrush Day celebration is marred by an ongoing political scandal over suddenly classifying these long-term residents and descendants from former British colonies as illegal immigrants.
When the Windrush landed at Tilbury Docks in the Port of London in 1948, its 492 passengers included people from Jamaica, Trinidad and Bermuda, and many were children. The British government had invited people from its territories to fill labor shortages – nurses, engineers, bus and train drivers and cleaners – and build the United Kingdoms postwar economy.
They became known as the "Windrush generation."
Most moved to the Clapham area of south London before settling in nearby Brixton – a neighborhood that remains the epicenter of black British life. Brixton, which gained notoriety in the 1980s because of riots with police, is now gentrified, with rising prices forcing out many old businesses and residents.
Many of the Windrush generation settled in the area around Somerleyton Road in Brixton. Paul Barrett, 76, who moved to the United Kingdom from Jamaica in 1959 at about age 18, still lives near Somerleyton Road, which he described as "part of history."
“They built this country,” the retired construction industry worker said about his generation and predecessors. "The original people came here not to stay too long, they came to make money and go home."
Tales of the rampant racism the newcomers faced on arrival are common.
“We used to walk in groups,” Barrett said. “They couldn’t challenge us. Nowadays they call it gangs, but we didn’t see it as gangs. ... We protected each other.”
A major scandal erupted this year over the governments treatment of the 500,000 people of the Windrush generation who came to the U.K. between 1948 and 1971, many as children who were wrongly classified as illegal immigrants because they lacked correct documentation.
Many were deported, lost their jobs, denied medical treatment through the National Health Service and were unable to claim social welfare. Others who had left the country found they were barred from returning.
The scandal resulted in the resignation of Interior Minister Amber Rudd and led Prime Minister Theresa May to apologize to Caribbean leaders.
"Those who arrived from the Caribbean before 1973 and lived here permanently without significant periods of time away in the last 30 years, have the right to remain in the U.K.,” May said last month. “As do the vast majority of long-term residents who arrived later, and I dont want anybody to be in any doubt about their right to remain here in the United Kingdom.”
The government has set up a task force to assist those affected and announced a review to “look at what happened and what action is needed to prevent anything like this from happening again.”
The government also announced that June 22 will be known as Windrush Day, an annual celebration of the contributions of the Windrush generation. Fridays events include a service of thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey in central London.
David Lammy, a lawmaker from the opposition Labour Party whose parents moved to Britain from Guyana, is at the forefront in the fight for the rights of the Windrush generation.
"Britain called, and they came. It is important to recognize why they came to the mother country, as they called it. They came because they wanted to take part in building Britain’s future, but they also came because there was little future left for them in the Caribbean," Lammy told lawmakers this month.
He also pointed out that 300 years of colonial rule had left their homelands with "an unsustainable plantation economy."
"We dont know how many citizens have been deported & detained by the Govt," he tweeted Thursday. "We dont know how many made homeless & jobless. Why do we still have no answers?"