Clarence Thompson MBE
Clarence Thompson MBE was born in Trinidad in 1940.
He is a social scientist, poet, business teacher and Chairman of the West Indian Standing Conference. He is also the Chairman of the 198 Gallery which was set up during the 1980's in response to the social unrest in and around Lambeth.
Clarence received his MBE in 1965 for his services towards the Race Relation Act Campaign which was responsible for the formation of the Race Relation board.
Below is an abridged version of Clarence's interview:
00:00 Clarence talks about his background and education.
01:11 I am the chairman of the West Indian Standing Conference. This was formed in 1958 as a consequence of the Notting Hill Riots and the racial killing of Kelso Cochrane. We decided to form an organisation to bridge the racial gap.
01:55 Art is very important. It is a way of expressing ideas. I wanted to make sure that there was an opportunity for young people to show their work in the Gallery. When this gallery was formed there was no space for young people, particularly of African heritage, to be able to show their work. This became the ideal space.
02:58 198 was formed in 1988. I was teaching business at the time and two people came to me wanting to create a private gallery. I advised them to do it as a community gallery.
03:35 I received an MBE for services to the community. The West Indian Standing Conference was responsible for campaigning for the 1965 Race Relations Act. That act led to the formation of the Race Relations Board. There was a revision in 1968 that led to the Community Relations Commission (CRC). A further revision in 1976 led to the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), and then the Equal Opportunities Commission. Finally in 1999 we saw the establishment of the Disability Rights Commission, which looked at the needs of people who had a variety of disabilities. That came into being in 2000. Then in October 2007 the Labour Party decided to combine the three commissions to form the single Commission for Equality and Human Rights. That is where we have got to today. We can look back to 1965 to assess the kind of impact these acts have had on the quality of life and the heritage of people in the UK.
05:40 It was great to be recognised, because you work hard. When you start out you are not looking for recognition of any kind but when it comes you say “Thank you and well done!”.
05:59 I feel proud to have had the MBE. But that does not stop me from campaigning for the rights of people of African heritage because I come out of that community. It benefits all communities. We formed the Presentation Housing Association in 1968. During that period, notices in shop windows used to read “Rooms and flats to let. No children, No Irish, No dogs, No coloureds”. We formed a housing association to address the needs of the people from that community. I do not have much to do with it now, but I was an active member from 1968 to 1986. It now houses about 25,000 families. I think that is quite an achievement. There are people from all races, all walks of life, the housing is apportioned according to need.
07:44 The West Indian Standing Conference came about after Michael Manley (later the 4th Prime Minister of Jamaica) came to enquire about the issues of racism and the riots. He recommended that a group should be formed to bridge the gap between the white community and the African heritage community. This year we celebrated our 50th anniversary. We had a service at Westminster Abbey with The British Caribbean Association (BCA). Together we shared the celebration of 50 years of community work to change the heritage of the people of the UK.
09:08 The Brixton Riots started in 1981. It was a difficult period because we had many difficulties with the relationship between people of African heritage and the police. During my youth police from around here went on an exercise which they called “nigger hunting”. This meant that when we first came here we were prime targets for abuse. You were not abused because you had done anything wrong. You were abused because you were of a different pigmentation. The riots came about when young people went through a process called "suss". The attitude of the Tory government caused it. There was an arrogance. They didn’t care about how or what people felt. So it just took one little incident, and the whole place was on fire. We tried to warn them from the West Indian Standing Conference but no one took any notice of us. That is what is happening today. In 1989 we told them about incidents with knives. That was almost 20 years ago and today it is out of control. When things happen it is normally the fault of people who are making the decisions. They don’t understand and sometimes we think that they really don’t care.
11:12 Joseph A Hunt was responsible for The Race Relations Policies. At the time the government was talking about integration. But there was no sociological model by which to define what they meant by integration. Jo Hunt came up with the hypothesis. He was studying philosophy at the time and stated that in a democracy the government of the day has a responsibility to create an environment in which all it's people irrespective of race , class, colour, creed, sexuality or disability are given equal access to education and to participate equally in the creation of the wealth of the nation. I have argued that this hypothesis has been responsible for the significant socio-economic and socio-political changes that have taken place in the UK since 1965. No other philosophy has had such an impact on the heritage of the UK since 1965.
13:42 My hope for the future is for young people to be given the right opportunity. Four hours before his death, Jo Hunt said “Clarence Thomson I am passing the mantle of responsibility onto you”. I have really embraced that responsibility. I want young people, irrespective of race, colour, class, creed or disability to be given an opportunity to fulfill their full potential. Life is a beautiful experience and we should create an environment in which our young people can grow. We will grow old and we have to pass the mantle of responsibility on. Anything that you want you should be able to achieve. Do not accept anyone telling you that you cannot.
15:42 My message to young people is twofold. First the message has to go to those who are responsible for the care of young people. They need to end the exclusion of young people from education. Education is a basic human right. Exclusion is an easy option. I work with young people who are members of gangs. When you talk to them they tell you a different story. The government and those in high places who are responsible for their care have got to take their advice on board. There is a division in education at age 11 between academic study and practical study. We need to support practical and vocational study but provide opportunity for young people to get back into academic education later on. Life is about continuous learning. My message to the young people is to think differently. Stop killing each other. Life is a precious thing. All the key religions preach the oneness of God and his laws. One of his principal laws is "Thou shall not kill". Learn to love each other, care for each other, lend a helping hand to each other and change the world for each other.
21:27 There are two main events that have changed my life: The 1965 Race Relations Act and the Notting Hill Carnival. The Carnival actually started here in Brockwell Park in 1960. They went from the park to Waterloo Bridge and back. Lambeth Council used to fund it. In 1963 they stopped funding it. The majority of people who came were Trinadadians who lived in Notting Hill so it moved there. It has brought people together. People of all races have benefited from the exuberance of the carnival. I wish that it goes on for many more years.
23:07 The biggest ideas that have influenced my thinking are about housing and employment. When we used to go to the labour exchange on Loughborough Road, job applications were stamped with "NCP" (No coloured person need apply). So we have contributed to housing, to equality of opportunity and to equality in employment. Those are the ideas I would want to see grow. The government must take note of them and do it differently.