A Statue for Sylvia Pankhurst – Fighter Against War, Inequality & Fascism

“A Statue for Sylvia is not simply to recognise a lifetime dedicated to fighting for justice & equality it is to inspire present & future generations to be vigilant against the evils of war, inequality & fascism.”

Listening to a recent edition of “A Good Read” on BBC Radio 4 I heard Vanessa Redgrave and Eileen Atkins discussing Rachel Holmes’ new biography “Sylvia Pankhurst Natural Born Rebel”. They were enthusiastic about the book but what was striking was that they were unaware of the campaigning so central to Sylvia’s political beliefs other than Votes for Women.

This is a main reason for our long campaign to raise “A Statue for Sylvia”. Sylvia wrote the definitive history of the suffragette movement and her name is primarily associated with the fight for votes for women. What is less well known is that Sylvia was expelled from the Women’s Social and Political Union by her sister, Christabel, endorsed by her mother Emmeline. They were opposed to her strong belief that campaigning for votes for women should not be suspended during the First World War, and to her determination to improve the conditions of the working class and her involvement with the trade union movement. The final straw for them was her speaking in the Albert Hall in 1913 defending the workers who had been locked out by the employers in Dublin and supporting the trade union leaders, Jim Larkin and James Connolly.

Sylvia lived and worked in the impoverished East End of London creating employment for women, affordable canteens, crêche facilities and improving health care.

Described by her granddaughter, Helen Pankhurst, a Patron of our campaign, as a woman ahead of her time, Sylvia was a fervent anti-racist. She employed the Jamaican revolutionary poet, Claude McKay, to write regularly for her paper, the Dreadnought – and so he became Britain’s first black journalist. Her involvement in the Ethiopian struggle led to contact with black pan African activists including CLR James and Jomo Kenyatta. WEB Du Bois – one of the most important black leaders of his day expressed the view of black radicals when Sylvia died:

“…the great work of Sylvia Pankhurst was to …make the British people realise that black folks had more and more to be recognised as human beings with the rights of men and women.”

She was among the first in Britain to speak out against fascism in the early 1920s. Appalled by the murder of the Italian socialist Matteotti at the hands of fascists in 1923 and Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia, Sylvia worked tirelessly to assist all opponents and victims of fascism.

The causes for which Sylvia Pankhurst fought remain so relevant today. A Statue for Sylvia is not simply to recognise a lifetime dedicated to fighting for justice and equality it is to inspire present and future generations to be vigilant against the evils of war, inequality and fascism.

We hope to make this beautiful bronze figure a talking statue. Islington Council is hugely supportive and it will be raised in Clerkenwell Green. Dubbed the “headquarters of republicanism, revolution and ultra non-conformity” this is an excellent home for the statue.

Ours has been no easy journey. We received no funds from the government money to celebrate the centenary of the first limited franchise for women in 2013. As Rachel Holmes, author of the recent biography wrote in the Guardian: “Sylvia was a socialist and internationalist – and no doubt far too rich for the blood of those running Britain right now”.

Most of our funds have been raised from trade unions, trade union branches and individuals. We hope that Labour Party activists who see this article will “spread the word” and raise in branches and CLPs. We need to keep fund raising!

Sylvia Pankhurst trained as an artist. Whilst painting/documenting the lives of women working in potteries and factories she wrote: “Mothers came to me with their wasted little ones. I saw starvation look at me from patient eyes. I knew then that I should never return to my art”.

Instead she devoted her life to the finest of causes, the liberation of suffering humanity.

Please play a part in raising a statue to remind everyone that this is what we should all strive to do by donating.

Thank you, The Sylvia Pankhurst Memorial CommitteePhilippa Clark, Mary Davis, Megan Dobney, Barbara Switzer.

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