Remembering photographer John Archer, the 1st person of African descent to become London mayor in 1913

Stephen Nartey November 22, 2022
John Archer, London Mayor/Photo credit: Bibliotheque nationale de France

John Archer became the first person of African descent to ascend the seat of Mayor in London in 1913. He was elected as Mayor of Battersea in keenly contested polls which he won by a single vote. It was a landmark moment because it was the first time a Black person was going to occupy a senior public office in London, according to English Heritage.

Election observers argue that Archer was well aware of the weight placed on his shoulders by that decision, thereby, in his acceptance speech, he acknowledged that the councilors looked beyond the color of his skin and existing prejudice and voted in his ability to confront their challenges.

He resided at 55 Brynmaer Road in Battersea for two decades, including during his days of active politics. According to the African American Registry, he bought his home at Brynmaer in his late 20s with his wife, who was a Black Canadian. Archer was initially a photographer, with a studio in Battersea Park Road. He was a census officer and at a point in time a professional singer.

He was born to a Barbadian ship’s steward and an Irish woman in June 1863. He took interest in local politics after his participation in the Pan-African Conference organized in London in 1900, where he engaged with leading members of the African diaspora.

In 1906, he was voted onto the Battersea Borough Council. He lost his seat in 1909, but he worked tirelessly to regain control of it in 1912 and retained it until 1931, before becoming the deputy leader of the Labour group.

Despite holding the position of Mayor for one term, Archer never abandoned his political calling and advocacy. He was actively involved in politics mounting stiff opposition to cuts in unemployment reliefs and the use of a workhouse for Battersea’s young employed. He later assumed the position of secretary of the North Battersea Labour party.

He died on July 14, 1932, at the St. James Hospital, Balham, after a short illness. He died just a few weeks after his 69th birthday. His funeral was held at the Church of Our Lady Carmel in Battersea Park Road and his remains were interred at the Council’s cemetery at Morden.

In recognition of his advocacy for social equality and justice, a secondary school was named in his honor during the 1980s. A section of the Battersea Village residential complex by the name Archer House was named after him when it was completed in the 1930s.

Archer was listed as one of the 100 Great Black Britons in 2004, coming 72nd in a public vote. That wasn’t all the honor bestowed on London’s first Black mayor. In 2011, he was commemorated with a blue plaque from Nubian Jak, which was televised on Reggae TV Channel.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: November 22, 2022


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