98 for 98 The century in photographs: today 1955
As a mixed-race child growing up in the all-white area of Cardiff, Shirley Bassey has said that she doesn't recall racism. But then, mild racism was generally accepted then, as shown by the fact that her West End debut in the British revue Hot From Harlem and her first hit single "The Banana Boat Song" presented colonial and coloured stereotypes. The face of Britain was changing, as in response to a need for more workers a huge wave of immigrants from the West Indies came seeking homes and jobs. At first many firms refused to employ non-white workers, and there was a general feeling that other cultures should be integrated with the British, rather than differences and multi-culturalism being encouraged.
International recognition of the problem of racism was growing. In February 60,000 coloured people were evicted from their homes in Sophiatown, South Africa. This followed the white Nationalist government's new legislation, which had designated the area as being for white residents only. Most of the people evicted were freeholders, but in their new town they were demoted to tenants.
"People of the world who were silent have found their voices again," said the Indonesian president Ahmed Sukarno in April, when delegates from 29 "non-aligned" African and Asian countries met to call for an end to colonialism and racism. However, the United Nations couldn't force certain countries to listen, and a debate on the racial conflict in South Africa prompted the South African delegate to walk out, complaining that the UN was intervening in internal affairs.
In the Fifties Britain was at its most stable since the war. By the beginning of the year it was announced that a record number of houses had been built in 1954, and throughout the year major investments and long-term plans were made in the transport industries. There was also a growing awareness of the importance of conservation and the environment. It was made illegal to build on a "green belt" around London, and within the city itself the era of smogs was at last ended when the Clean Air Bill was passed to make the capital a "smokeless zone".
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