Peter Fryer, the author of ‘Staying Power: the history of black people in Britain’ died on 31 October. His funeral is on Wednesday 8 November at 2pm at Islington Crematorium, High Road, East Finchley, London N2 9AG.
Peter Fryer, born in 1927, was from an early age associated with left movements in the UK. As a member of the Communist Party and journalist on the Daily Worker he was sent to Hungary to cover the 1956 uprising and was later to publish the book ‘Hungarian Tragedy’ in defence of the rebellion – for which he was expelled from the party.
It was again his role as journalist on the Daily Worker that took him to Tilbury on 22 June 1948 to cover the arrival of Jamaican workers on the Empire Windrush. This event plus his long interest in Black music and its musicians (especially Jazz) led to his mammoth pioneering research project into the history of Black people in Britain from the third century AD to 1981.
His 632-page epic published in 1984 became the basis from which every other historian would take off in the years to come. Humble to a fault, Fryer had sometimes to endure attacks from those who felt a White man should not be writing Black history. But, as Sivanandan pointed out the skin colour of the author was irrelevant, the colour of the history was. And ‘the 200 pages of appendices and notes alone’ were so rich ‘in documentation, reference to source material and suggestions for further reading as to provide a veritable arsenal of weaponry against white historiography’. And for CLR James the book was ‘rare in mastery’. ‘Two thousand years is a long time’, he wrote and ‘Peter Fryer never loses his grip in time and place’.
After ‘Staying Power’ came the book ‘Black people in the British Empire’ (1988) for young people, and in 2000 ‘Rhythms and Resistance’ on the impact of African music.
Peter Fryer was not only a serious, committed and thorough scholar. He will also be remembered for his comradely generosity and the encouragement he gave to so many students of Black history that came after him.