Socialist Worker

A chance to hear from the last of the Yemeni sailors

by Alan Newman
Issue No. 2338

The title of this multimedia exhibition is a quote from a Yemeni poet.

It tells the story of Yemeni sailors who settled in South Shields, in Tyne and Wear, in the early 20th century. It has photos, interviews with 14 sailors, and footage of a visit from the great boxer Muhammad Ali.

The fighter and his wife were invited by the Boys Boxing Club. Ali boxed with the children. Their marriage was blessed at the Al Azhar Mosque.

Yemeni sailors served on British merchant ships during the First World War.

Some 800 Yemeni seamen lost their lives during the Second World War.

They faced hardship at sea—and racism and discrimination, even inside their own National Union of Seamen.

In 1919 there were race riots, when the sailors beat off their attackers. And for years the sailors faced outrage at the idea of Arab men marrying white women.

First shown in 2008, the exhibition is an opportunity to see and hear from the last of an apparently hidden and forgotten generation.

Yemeni sailors were among millions who came, worked and settled in Britain—because Britain‘s empire stretched over their home countries.

Last of the Dictionary men

The Mosaic Rooms, Tower House, 226 Cromwell Road, London SW5 0SW, 1 February to 22 March. Free

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