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Dispatches from Penzance: J.A. Rogers and the Place of Cornish ‘Race Relations’ in African American Historiography

Dispatches from Penzance

Madeleine Midgley

Key findings

  • The study highlights Cornwall's connection to African American historiography in the inter-war period
  • Raises the profile of J.A.Rogers and the issue of race in relation to the United Kingdom
  • Explores Roger's visit to Cornwall in the context of the wider history of the time including music, politics and labour disputes of the time.


The visit to 1920s Cornwall by a leading Black Civil Rights campaigner is examined in a book entitled Dispatches from Penzance, published by the Institute of Cornish Studies in association with Cornish Story ( Written by Dr Madeleine Midgley, a former postgraduate student at the University of Exeter, it looks at issues of Cornish ‘Race Relations’ in the context of African American Historiography. In 1925, Joel Augustus Rogers (1880-1966), Black American journalist/war correspondent, historian, novelist and civil rights campaigner, sailed from New York to Plymouth on the first leg of a European tour. Before travelling to London, Rogers headed for Penzance and the far west of Cornwall. His experience, documented in a contemporary series of articles for the African American press, was to inform his internationally influential philosophy of race relations. Rogers’s observations on exclusion, acceptance and marginality at home and abroad during the inter-war years provide a unique perspective on Cornwall, its people and their attitudes towards the ‘Other’.

The foreword to the book is written by Nicole Broadhurst, Mayor of Penzance, who noted that ‘Rogers’s time in Penwith was, for him, a welcome respite from the atmosphere of race hate that was prevalent in the US at the time. As a black man he found it liberating to be able to wander down streets and not be abused and vilified for his colour. As an incomer and a black woman I had a similar, if not so extreme, experience. This book shows that the people of Penzance, then and now, are a sensible and welcoming community’.

Despatches from Penzance is the first volume in the Fordhow Nowydh series that attempts to open up new avenues of research in Cornish Studies. Dr Garry Tregidga, editor of the series and co-director of the University of Exeter’s Institute of Cornish Studies, commented that ‘Madeleine Midgley is to be congratulated on writing an account that captures the historical atmosphere of the 1920s. Her detailed research and sensitive handling of the sources provide fresh insight into Cornwall’s connection to African American historiography and it is appropriate that it should be published in a year when race is such a prominent issue at the global level’.

For further details on Dispatches from Penzance: J.A. Rogers and the Place of Cornish ‘Race Relations’ in African American Historiography please email at the Institute of Cornish Studies, University of Exeter, Penryn Campus.