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‘Race Relations’ in Britain: 1965-1970

Newspaper articles (Coll-64)

Collected over the course of years and with painstaking care by Rev Kenneth Mackenzie (Coll-64) –an activist for human rights, members of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement, and later assessor of the Race Relation Act 1968 under invitation of the State Secretary–, a staggering number of newspaper articles in our archives detail the history of ‘racial relations’ in Britain during the years when the Civil Rights Movement was making waves across the pond, and political and cultural debates about the issue of racial discrimination were beginning to take centre stage all across the UK and Europe. This section of history, as gathered by Rev Mackenzie, offers an insightful and illuminating look into the legislative and institutional fight for racial equality in Britain, a fight that begins in Mackenzie’s collection with the text to the Racial Relations Act 1965:

A person discriminates against another person, within the meaning of the Act, if he refuses or neglects to provide entry, service or facilities to another person on grounds of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins, or if these services or facilities are not offered on the same terms and in the same way as to general public. Discrimination includes the segregation of persons within a public place, or the provision of facilities or services only after unreasonable delay, or overcharging.

Annotated, highlighted and grouped into folders according to thematic strands, a number of newspapers clippings in the Mackenzie collection delineate the political background to the Act, as well as its reception and the weight of public opinion on the process of decision making. The overall feeling of dissatisfaction with the new legislation is evident in the many letters gathered by Mackenzie and addressed to the Editors of a number of national newspapers. The problems with the 1965 Bill were multiple: on the one hand, racial discrimination was only taken into consideration in the context of ‘public places,’ to the exclusion of a number of venues of community gathering and social interaction; on the other hand, only ‘the provision of services and facilities’ was accounted for within the Bill, so as to forego many other social circumstances of equal significance to community life. The effective exclusion of such a wide range of potential areas of contention neglected to take into account the consequences of discriminatory acts in the fields of labour, marketing, finance, health and education. In addition, the Race Relations Board, the institutional organisation officially charged with investigating complaints of racial discrimination, was only empowered to act by ‘try[ing] to settle’ complaints ‘by means of conciliation between the two parties concerned, and by getting an assurance from the person against whom the complaint was made that he will not practise unlawful discrimination in future.’ Because the Board did not have the power to carry out penal and or civil proceedings –penal proceedings not being contemplated by the Bill, and civil ones only reserved for the intervention of the Attorney General and the Lord Advocate–, and because no official warning nor threat of repercussions could, within the parameters of the Act, come into effect, the Bill practically resulted in the absence of any significant change in favour of the deterrence and prevention of racial discrimination.

Newspapers articles and other materials (Coll-64)

The string of articles selected by Mackenzie clearly depicts a rapid and conscious turn against the 1965 Bill, as the editorial boards of both national and local newspapers chose to put racial relations at the forefront of public media, and dedicated front pages, in-depth reports and supplements to the issue. Mackenzie, whose ‘crusade interest was no mere sentimental or uninformed passion,’ took great pains to collate a selection of different outlets looking at the Act from different angles and perspectives, and accounting for the variety of coverage that ‘racial relations’ demanded. When voices regarding the creation of a new and amended Racial Relations Act started to circulate in 1968, then, Mackenzie ensured the opinions of supporters of a new Bill would be documented:

What is disturbing is that no mention was made […] about enforcement procedures, in which the current legislation is particularly deficient. (Tribune, 1.3.1968)

As the newspaper clippings demonstrate, those who promoted amendments to the 1965 Act were particularly vocal about the necessity to broaden the definition of discrimination as well as empowering the Board of Racial Relations with the ability to impart punishing measures onto uncooperative offenders. Despite leaving some unsatisfied –Mackenzie highlighted a number of articles detailing the grievances of political parties and the public alike–, the new Bill, eventually coming into effect in November 1968, did present significant alterations to the 1965 Act. As the original text suggests:

For the purpose of this Act a person discriminates against another if on the ground of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins he treats that other, in any situation […], less favourably than he treats or would treat other persons.

With a detailed lists of potentially discriminatory ‘situations’ that included, but was not limited to, advertising, housing, banking, and employment, the Act now covered significantly more ground than its predecessor, and was welcomed by many, including Mackenzie himself, as a step forward in the protection of Britain’s racial minorities. However, as events immediately following the release of the 1968 Bill would demonstrate, the reach of these changes was not, as yet, quite as far as Britain would have needed given the political climate of the time.

Newspaper articles (Coll-64)

Indeed, as Parliament prepared for the circulation of the revised statute, Conservative MP for Wolverhampton Enoch Powell was reported by national press to have called, in a speech at the Rotary Club of London Annual Conference, ‘for large-scale repatriation’ of immigrants, ‘preferably organised by a special ministry’ (The Guardian, 18.11.1968).  Mackenzie dedicated a number of folders to the issues surrounding Powell’s speech, in an attempt, undoubtedly, to highlight the scale and magnitude of the MP’s inflammatory claims. Powell’s focus on ‘coloured immigrants,’ though condemned by many politicians and citizens alike as inhuman and unreasonable, yet evidently received widespread coverage, prompting one reader of The Guardian to question why ‘ideas that were ignored as typical fascist lunacy ten years ago’ (18.11.68) might be receiving such attention on all fronts.

According to Mackenzie’s collection of letters and articles, what made Powell’s tirade against ‘coloured migrants’ particularly appealing to sympathetic audiences was the use of statistics and data that turned the question from one of humanitarian relevance to one made of ‘numbers.’ Yet, as Mackenzie highlights in one of the clipped articles, Powell’s take on ‘facts’ allowed him to ‘select only those facts which enable him to play up to […] fears and prejudices.’ Widely blamed for ‘produc[ing] inadequate statistics and giv[ing] them a false interpretation,’ for ‘confusing the actions of individuals with patterns of behaviour,’ and for ‘obscuring understanding by the rhetoric of unreason’ (The Scotsman, 18.11.1968), Mr Powell himself began being accused of racial discrimination. However, in a bitterly ironic turn of events that underlined the inadequacy of the new Racial Relations Act 1968, no provision was made in the Bill for the prosecution of inflammatory and discriminatory speech. As The Morning Star sorely complained,

In vain did we warn in April that the Bill needed more teeth, and in particular punitive provisions. (26.11.1968)

In Mackenzie’s folders, the storm caused by Powell’s speech, then, is followed by a series of articles examining the merits and demerits of the new, amended Bill, opening the way for a more open investigation in and criticism of the general governmental stance toward the protection and safeguarding of people of colour across the country. In one particularly well-loved 1969 article,  whose yellowing paper carries the marks of Mackenzie’s underlining, Frank Cousin, chairman of the Community Regulations Commission, pointed out further inadequacies in the Act’s text by observing that the ‘legislation could combat direct racial discrimination but much voluntary work would be needed to achieve equal opportunity’ (The Guardian, 26.2.1969). By underlining the Act’s inability to forge a long-lasting cultural shift toward a more accepting and equal society, Mr Cousin –and Mackenzie as the attentive reader and collector– put his finger on the hypocritical features of both popular opinion and Government involvement in racial discrimination, wherein the creation of the Act in itself was to be considered as a conclusive solution to the problem of racial discrimination, rather than a mere first step toward what Mr Cousin termed ‘equal opportunities.’

That blind faith in the Act’s power to ‘cure’ Britain of its ‘racial problem’ was indeed a misguided belief became evident with the publication of an inquiry carried out the following year by the National Council for Civil Liberties for a report to the Select Committee on Race Relations, which claimed that ‘coloured immigrants are subjected to hostile treatment by the Home Office and immigration officials’ (The Guardian, 26.5.1970). Mackenzie highlighted the following section:

The report […] accused the Home Office of neglecting human interpretations of the law; aiming to control and exclude at all costs; and of seeing cases as ‘black and white –metaphorically as well as physically.’ (The Guardian, 26.5.1970)

The report demonstrated governmental bias against people of colour, and rendered the issues of racial discrimination once again central in the political debate. Yet, it wouldn’t be until the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000, 30 years after the publication of the report, that legislation began to include a statutory duty on public bodies to promote race equality, and to demonstrate that procedures to prevent race discrimination would be effective. Still today, over 50 years after the Race Relations Act 1968, the ‘equal opportunities’ that Mr Cousin advocated for are far from being a reality, but the history of struggle, revision and amendment collected by Reverend Kenneth Mackenzie can show a path for more radical, inclusive and constructive system of reforms.

Newspaper articles (Coll-64)


Carefulness, Initiative and Industry: Dr Ranjeet Bhagwan Singh

Born in Teluk Anson, Malaysia on 1st May 1920, Dr Ranjeet Bhagwan Singh attended the K. E. Medical College in Lahore, Pakistan, where he graduated with an M.B.B.S. in 1948. After facing considerable financial difficulties both during and immediately following his undergraduate studies, Dr Singh found employment in 1950 at Irwin Hospital in New Delhi, where he took up a six-months Surgery and Medicine internship. This was to be the beginning of an illustrious medical career that made Dr Singh an immensely prominent figure in the field of Malaysian and world pathology.

Dr Bhagwan Singh conducting an experiment in the Bacteriology Lab, 1964, photographer unknown (CA2/217)

Indeed, after his brief employment in New Delhi, Dr Singh returned, in 1951, to Malaysia, where he was appointed first Senior Bacteriologist and, subsequently, then Head of Department of Bacteriology at the Institute for Medical Research in Kuala Lumpur. During his tenure at the Institute, Dr Singh distinguished himself for his keen interest in innovative research and obtained, in the years 1960-1961, a WHO Fellowship to study Public Health and Vaccine Production in Manila, Philippines, and Bangkok, Thailand. Upon his return and given the success of his medical journey, Dr Singh was then sent on a government funded PhD in the field of Bacteriology at the University of Edinburgh.

Despite numerous struggles related to visa requirements –documented in a thick bundle of three-way correspondence between the University, the Malaysian government and Dr Singh himself, Dr Singh successfully moved to Edinburgh in October 1963. While at Edinburgh, Dr Singh gained the respect and appreciation of colleagues and supervisors alike, who all describe him as someone who ‘carried out his work with carefulness, initiative and industry’ and who ‘was conscientious, persistent and enterprising’. Dr Singh himself took great pride in his work, which he described as an effort ‘To strive, to seek and to venture into pastures new’. It is with this positive and proactive mind-set that Dr Singh obtained his Doctorate in 1965 for the thesis ‘Pathogenesis and Control of Experimental Salmonella Infections’.

Dr Bhagwan Singh at his graduation ceremony, 1964, photographer unknown (CA2/217)
Dr Bhagwan Singh in Edinburgh, ca. 1964, photographer unknown (CA2/217)

Upon his return to the Institute for Medical Research, Dr Singh established the Division of Bacteriology at the WHO Research Centre on Salmonellosis. Then, in 1971, after over ten years of dedicated and invaluable contributions, Dr Singh became the 18th Director of the Institute for Medical Research, a post that he held until his retirement in 1975. As a further recognition to his outstanding career, Dr Singh was also made an Honorary Member of the WHO Expert Advisory Panel on Health Laboratory Service in 1973.

Dr Singh passed away on 13th June 1987. According to former colleague Dr Lim Teong Wah, who wrote Dr Singh’s obituary for the Malaysian Journal of Pathology:

He donated generously to students in various universities and academic institutions through goodwill loans, scholarships and prizes.

In 1982, Dr Singh had indeed bequeathed his house and the rest of his estate to the Dr Ranjeet Bhagwan Singh Endowment Fund to be run by the Science, Technology and Environment Ministry in Malaysia. The Dr Ranjeet Bhagwan Singh Grant, a result of Dr Singh’s generous donation, is still active today, granting funds up to RM 30.000 to support medical and biomedical research carried out by a Malaysian researcher residing in Malaysia.

Dr Bhagwan Singh’s passport photograph, ca. 1962, photographer unknown (CA2/217)

According to an official letter inviting applications for the 2014 Grant:

[Dr Singh’s] funds were primarily established to promote the education of the poor and needy, irrespective of race, colour, or religion.

Despite having officially left the world of medical research over 40 years ago, Dr Singh’s legacy survives today, ensuring that social, financial, and environmental circumstances should not stand in the path of progress and achievement for marginalised and underrepresented students throughout Malaysia.

Department of Bacteriology staff photograph, 1964, photographer unknown (CA2/217)

A Rounded Diversity: Scotland Africa ’97

If Africa is going to move away from being seen as a homogenous entity with intractable problems, then it is essential to create an environment for discussion where Africa is seen, not only in a positive light, but also in a rounded way. […] One needs to present diversity in a rounded way, not merely counteract negative images. (Pravina King)

The Black Umfolosi, 1997 (Coll-67)

Scotland Africa ’97 was a nation-wide initiative started by the Centre of African Studies at the University of Edinburgh. With planning beginning as early as 1994 and the first influx of funding being received from The Binks Trust in 1995, the initiative encompassed an astonishingly large number of events all throughout Scotland, and attracted the participation of a range of institutions and organisations both within Scotland and around the African continent.

Kenyan artists Patrick M Mazola and Stanslaus Shake Makelele, 1997 (Coll-67)
Kenyan artists Patrick M Mazola and Stanslaus Shake Makelele, 1997 (Coll-67)

The primary aims of the initiative are described in an introductory brochure as being:

  1. To increase the awareness, understanding, and appreciation of Africa among people of Scotland;
  2. To examine the many bonds which, from the past and in the present, intimately link Africa and Scotland;
  3. To highlight the current issues which influence the daily lives of people in the many countries of Africa and in Scotland.

In a 1998 interview over the impact of the Scotland Africa ’97 project, general coordinator Pravina King of the Centre of African Studies stated:

Scotland has had such a long relationship with many African countries, especially certain former British Colonies, covering spheres such as education, medicine and governance.

Scotland Africa ’97 Scholarship Dinner, 1997 (Coll-67)

It was exactly these connections that were celebrated by the Scotland Africa ’97 programme, with events and workshops ranging from the visual and performing arts, to lectures and seminars, social and historical exhibitions, children’s activities, fairs, and even sporting events, all taking place between May and October 1997. With funding from prestigious institutions such as The Scottish Arts Council and the City of Edinburgh Council, as well as the University of Edinburgh, the programme certainly proved to be ‘a celebration and exploration of the rich diversity of experience that link Africa to Scotland and vice-versa,’ so much so that it gained the patronage of the Princess Royal as well as South African President Nelson Mandela, who stated in a letter to the Director of the Centre of African Studies, Dr Kenneth King, to have been ‘pleased and honoured for receiving such a prestigious invitation.’

Choir of the Presbyterian Training College from Akropong – Akuapem, Ghana, 1997 (Coll-67)
Choir of the Presbyterian Training College from Akropong – Akuapem, Ghana, 1997 (Coll-67)
Choir of the Presbyterian Training College from Akropong – Akuapem, Ghana, 1997 (Coll-67)

Visits from the Black Umfolosi acapella and dance performance group, the Ghanian choir of the Presbyterian Training College of Akropong – Akuapem, and a number of African authors, artists and academics who offered public lectures and seminars were only a few of the highlights of Scotland Africa ’97. A fundraising dinner was organised by the University of Edinburgh in support of a scholarship for a student from Africa to study at the Centre of African Studies, and Professor Olywole Akinwande Soyinka was recognised with an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science in Social Science for ‘his contributions as educator, social commentator, and activist’ as well as ‘his plays, his poetry and his writing.’ The impressive and diverse range of activities and connections fostered by Scotland Africa ’97 was characterised by a positive spirit of community and cultural exchange, in which traditions, artistic outputs, and daily issues could be openly discussed and explored through a variety of media and practices.

Graduation ceremony for Professor Olywole Akiwande Soyinka, 1997 (Coll-67)

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