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Life experience with Britain

by - John La Rose

At the heart of my own experience is the struggle for cultural and social change in Britain, across Europe and in the Caribbean, Africa and the Third World.

Of course, my life did not begin here. I came from Trinidad, where I had already been engaged in youth politics and trade unionism, and arrived in Britain in 1961 to make my home in London.

In 1966 I founded New Beacon Books, the first specialist Caribbean publisher, bookseller and international book service. In December of that year, I was the co-founder with Edward Kamau Braithwaite and Andrew Salkey, of the influential Caribbean Arts Movement, which later gave birth to the influential journal, Saracou.

Later I became the chairman of the Institute of Race Relations in 1972/73, during the period when the IRR was establishing its independence. I was also chairman of Toward Racial Justice, the vehicle for publishing the campaigning journal Race Today.

I took my place with others in the Black Education Movement and was part of the significant social and educational struggles of the 1960s and 1970s:

  • The fight against 'banding', or the wrongful placing of West Indian children in schools for children with learning difficulties.
  • The founding of the George Padmore Supplementary School, the first of its kind, and subsequently the national association of supplementary schools.
  • The creation of the Caribbean Education and Community Workers Association, which published How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Sub-normal in the British School System.

Out of these events and circumstances came the Black Parents Movement, and I was involved with the Black Youth Movement and the Race Today Collective, in a formidable cultural and political movement fighting against arbitrary police actions and for better state education. All this culminated in the largest and most effective demonstration of black political power in Britain over the last 40 years - the New Cross Massacre Black Peoples Day of Action on March 2, 1981.

I can remember the magnificence of that day when 15-20,000 black people and their supporters, under the banner of the New Cross Massacre Action Committee, demonstrated through the streets of London. They were mobilised to protest the mishandling by police officers of investigations into the fire which claimed the lives of 13 young blacks at a birthday party in January 1981 at the home of a West Indian family in New Cross Road, South London.

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But my experiences are not necessarily unique. There are many others who have been involved in the struggle for cultural and social change.

I have tried to highlight these various experiences through a series of talks and conversations, held at the George Padmore Institute, in which prominent figures spoke of their experiences of life with Britain.

  • Pearl Connor-Mogotsi on her pioneering cultural work in theatre and film.
  • Garth Crooks on being prominent in football and sport.
  • Courtenay Griffiths on the interaction and dynamic between the experiences of his youth and his development into a young professional barrister.
  • Linton Kwesi Johnson on his early experience in Britain and his first moves into poetry, public performance and music.
  • Michael La Rose on the rise of the sound system in popular culture and social life.
  • Alex Pascall on the historic BBC radio programme 'Black Londoners'.
  • Colin Prescod on becoming an academic sociologist and social analyst.

What is important about all these experiences and contributors, is that they, like myself, have a long track record of personal involvement in the struggle against racism and to overcome racial disadvantage. Confident in resisting, transforming and transcending these difficulties, we are contributing to the humanisation of our society.


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