Later John Archer "travelled round the world", probably with the merchant navy,
so while the newspaper speculation about his origins are off the
mark, they might have been provoked by his familiarity with various
different parts of the world. His wife Bertha, for instance, was
a black Canadian, but by 1901 the census lists him as living at
Brynmaer Road, near Battersea Park.
By luck or good judgement Archer had settled in one of the districts in London which offered opportunities in public life for a black man of his background and temperament. The Nine Elms district in the north-east of Battersea had a large Irish Catholic population, and the most prominent local politician, John Burns, had the same name as Archer's mother. Burns created the Battersea branch of the Marxist Social Democratic Federation in 1885, backed by a broad alliance, and in 1892 he was elected to Parliament with the intake whose emergence signalled the establishment of organised labour as a Parliamentary force.
Archer, in the meantime, began establishing himself in left-wing circles after 1900. The local labour movement and radical and liberal organisations formed an alliance in 1894, which took control of most of Battersea's municipal affairs, and Archer rose rapidly within its leading organisation, the Battersea Labour League. He was also establishing himself in black political circles, and he attended the first Pan-African Conference in July 1900 at Westminster Town Hall. With Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, the black British composer, he was elected to the Executive Committee of the short-lived Pan-African Association established at the Conference.
Guest-curated for the British Library by Mike Phillips
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