Mayor Auguste Senghor with the town's council
After the post about the first black mayor in the Netherlands I got intrigued by the presence of black people in European politics. I did some research and found out that in all Western European countries, from Norway to Italy you could find at least one black face in parliament, and several people of non European descent representing their regions on different levels of government.
The more people of foreign origin in a country, the more they will be represented politically Therefore countries like France and the UK have the largest portion of black politicians, up to ministries and chief secretaries. Women and men. In all other countries, except for the Netherlands, their representation is very small, but it is there and that’s what matters.
I think of the Secretary of State for Sports in France, Rama Yade or the chief Secretary to the Treasury Paul Boateng in the UK. Both are part of a recent phenomenon but it is clear that many will follow in their footsteps. It is therefore no illusion that one day France could elect a black president (the current one is half Hungarian, and has some Greek-Jewish ancestry on his mother side…) and England will have a black prime minister. The colour of their skin doesn’t matter, in a true democratic system, the best candidate (whatever his origins) should eventually take office.
We shouldn’t forget either that the population of African ancestry in Western Europe is very small. In countries like France (without its Caribbean territories), the Netherlands and the UK they represent approx. 3% to 5% of the population (mixed race included). However, you’ll find high concentrations in the cities, predominantly in certain areas of London and Paris. But even then, rarely do black people represent more than 50% of a municipality’s population.
In this context I did some research to the election of Black mayors throughout Europe. Although I can’t guarantee that I researched the topic thoroughly enough, I think I can give you an idea here. What is surprising is that the presence of a lot of black people in a municipality doesn’t mean you have a greater chance to find a black mayor. On the contrary, all black mayors were elected in rather small towns, with very few black people. They were elected not because of the colour of their skin, but because the people thought that she/he was the right person for that job. It all started in 1904 in Thetford, Norfolk.
The first in the UK
Picture of John Archer
John Richard Archer is generally believed to be the first black mayor in the UK, elected (nominated) in Battersea in 1913, a municipality in the London area. However it was found that Dr Allan Glaisyer Minns (1858-1930), elected Mayor of the town of Thetford, Norfolk in 1904, was the first black man to become a mayor in Britain. He was a doctor, surgeon and politician. However, there is very little information about him. Much more is known about John Archer and therefore he is often mentioned as the first black mayor of Britain.
John Archer was born in Liverpool in 1863. His father was from Barbados and worked as a ship’s steward. His mother was Irish. Nothing is known about Archer’s education but as a young man he travelled the world probably spending some time in the West Indies and North America. During this time he met and married Bertha, a black Canadian.
Archer and his wife settled in Battersea in the 1890s and in 1913 he became Mayor of Battersea. Read more about him on this website and this website too
The first in France
In France we will have to wait until 1929 before the First black mayor is elected. Raphaël Elizé was elected as mayor of Sablé-sur-Sarthe, a rural town in the department Pays de la Loire (central western France) of around 12.000 inhabitants. Raphaël Elizé was born on the Caribbean island of Martinique in 1891. He graduated as veterinary from the university of Lyon, France and during World War I he served for the French army in Europe. After WWI he settles in Sablé and starts a political career with the Socialist Party. During World War II he was part of the Résistance. He was deported to Buchenwald and died there in 1945. Phillippe Bérenger, a French filmmaker, is working on a film about this man ‘Le Nègre de Sablé’.
Below I post a little youtube documentary about Elizé, (unfortunately only for those who understand French)
Except for John Archer, Allan Minns and Rafaël Elizé I have no knowledge of other people of African descent who became mayors in the then so-called Mother Countries in Europe. In England and the UK there might have been other cases but I do not know of any and couldn’t find any.
However several black political activist and politicians past and present have been active in the UK, at various levels of government. For a list check wikipedia’s Black British politician page .
It is not clear who is the next black mayor in France after Elizé. France is kind of mysterious about race and colour of skin. The official story is that it doesn’t exist and so official reports on the issue are nonexistent. It’s quite sure that it is Auguste Senghor (a nephew of Léopold Sedar Senghor) who was the next black mayor in Franc after Elizé, but sources contradict each other on the year of his taking office as a mayor. He was mayor of Le May-sur-Èvre (Maine-et-Loire, 3,891 inhabitants) several times. However the Wikipedia page of May-sur-Evre states Auguste Senghor was their mayor from 1977 till 1989 and from 1995 till 2008. This makes him the second black mayor in France and the longest ever running black mayor in France.
Last year he moved to another town on the Atlantic shores of Bretagne, (Saint-Briac-sur-Mer, 1900 inhabitants) and was recently elected mayor there.
We are certain that Kofi Yamgnane who is originally from Togo, became mayor of Saint Coulitz in the department of Finistère, a tiny little village (approx. 400 inhabitants) in Bretagne, western France. He must be confused when he mentions on his webpage that he actually is the first black mayor of France. Not exactly but close. Fact is that in France race is taboo. It is illegal to classify people according to race, therefore the election of a black mayor will only be informally registered. But reading below what happened in 2008, you’ll discover that the government in Paris seems to be hypocritical about race.
The 2008 elections in France
In 2008 several black French mayors were elected, one of them Kader Atteye in the tiny village of Morey (180 inhabitants, central France, department Saône-et-Loire). He was born and raised in the region, his parents were immigrants from Djibouti.
This election was not without problems because more than a third of the municipal council members (5 out of 11) have resigned in protest of the election of a black person with a Muslim background (though I doubt he is still a practicing Muslim, I didn’t find anything about it though. What is certain is that he has two kids and lives together with the mother of both kids in a tiny village of 180 people …). The mayor didn't have to run for reelection but stayed in office, however 5 new council members had to be elected. read more on this racist controversy here(in French) and on this link (in French) . A similar scenario occurred in another small town where the people elected a Frenchmen of Algerian origin.
Kader Atteye, mayor of a tiny village of 180 inhabitants
During the local elections in 2008 4 municipalities elected a mayor of African origin. One of them was Kader Atteye. All were small rural municipalities of less than 5000 people, and with no significant black population. Two mayors are of Afro Caribbean ancestry and 2 of African ancestry. More info via wikipedia
Hector Julio Castillo Figueroa
Spain just has a recent democratic history. As soon as 4 years after General Franco’s death the first black mayor is elected in Spain. On the 3rd of April 1979 Héctor Julio Castillo Figueroa is elected as mayor of Isla Cristina, a coastal town of 20.000 people on the Atlantic shores of southern Spain (close to the city of Cadiz). Figueroa was a native from the Dominican Republic. He is a doctor and currently still lives in Isla Cristina. If you read Spanish you can find more about him here
Until 2007 there is no info of any other black mayor in Spain. More recently Juan Antonio de la Morena Doca was elected mayor of the town of Villamantilla in 2007, a municipality in the greater Madrid area of just 800 people. His father is Spanish, his mother comes from Equatorial Guinea in Western Africa. You can read an interview with him on line in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo or there is also an article via this link.
Juan Antonio de la Morena Doca
In Italy we have Sandy Cane, who is African American and Italian and was elected this year (2009) mayor of Viggiu (5000 inhabitants) a small town in the Italian Alps. The first mayor of African ancestry in Italy’s modern history (I say ‘modern’, as some research states that during the Roman empire, some 2000 years ago, people of African ancestry settled in Italy and were actively involved in local affairs and politics, read more here and here. I don't want to go into any discussion about this topic, as I am convinced that the concepts of race, as we understand it today, do not apply to that era). She was backed by the alleged xenophobic Lega Nord
Ireland also elected its first black mayor. Rotimi Adebari, a native of Nigeria, was elected mayor of Portlaoise Town in 2007. Portlaoise(pronounced something like Portleash) is a town in central Ireland of approx. 14.000 inhabitants. However there is some controversy on the person of Rotimi Abedari as he would have lied about his troubles in Nigeria (and whereabouts previous to his life in Ireland) applying for the procedure to get legal residence in Ireland. More details about this issue are mentioned on the Wikipedia page here.
In the Netherlands Joyce Sylvester recently became mayor of Naarden, replacing the fromer mayor Anna Paulowna. As such she became the first black woman to become a mayor in the Netherlands. Naarden is a beautiful medieval town in Holland worth a touristic visit. It was recently elected as the most pleasant town to live in the Netherlands. Naarden is rather small, and also doesn’t have a predominantly black population, rather predominantly white. Sylvester is born in Amsterdam and from Surinamese origins.
But Joyce Sylvester was not the first black person to become a mayor of a Dutch municipality. This was Headly Binderhagel , a Surinam born creole man, who was mayor of Nuth from 2002 to 2008. Nuth is small town of 15.000 people in the southern province of Limburg in the Netherlands.
Sylvester and Binderhagel became, like all the other AfroEuropean mayors, the mayor of a town because of their person, their communication skills, theri political skills, their character, … not because of race, not because of affirmative action …
And as a last little thing this picture that I found on this link about an African running for mayor of a Russian town. Is this real or hoax? I don’t know, but it is worth a thorough research.
Peter Bossman (born 2 November 1955) is a Ghanaian-born Slovenian doctor and politician. He is currently the elected mayor of Piran, a city and municipality on the Gulf of Piran in south-western Slovenia. A member of the centre-left Social Democrats, he defeated the incumbent mayor in the October 2010 mayoral election to become Slovenia's first black mayor.