(1863 – 1932)
John Archer was the first person of African descent to hold civic office in London. He was also the first British black person to represent his country at an international conference abroad, and the first black person to become an election agent for a constituency Labour Party.
He was born on the 8th June 1863, in Liverpool. His father, Richard, was a ship’s steward from Barbados, and his mother Mary Theresa, was Irish. Almost nothing is known of his early life. He was in his late 20s when he and his wife, a black Canadian, set up home at 55 Brynmawr Road, at the south end of Battersea Park. Archer earned his living as a photographer, with a studio in Battersea Park Road; he appears to have been successful as a photographer, for his work won many prizes. He then turned his interest to local politics, and was elected to the borough council in 1906, as one of the six councillors for the Latchmere ward, where he topped the poll with 1,051 votes. He lost his seat in 1909, but won it again three years later.
On 10th November 1913, he was elected mayor of Battersea. The population at the time was 167,000 and the council’s annual income from rates was over £400,000. The newly elected mayor told the council,
“You have made history tonight…Battersea has done many things in the past, but the greatest thing it has done is to show that it has no racial prejudice, and recognises a man for the work he has done“
Archer received letters of congratulations from leading members of the black community in the United States, and was featured in WEB Dubois’s journal The Crisis, with photographs of Archer and his wife in their mayoral robes. He successfully defended his seat in 1919, and then became a successful political agent and alderman. He returned to the council in 1931, and died suddenly the following year. His record of service to the local community was extraordinary.
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