23 June 2008
By Jessica Chandler
ON JUNE 22, 1948, Sam King, along with 492 West Indian passengers arrived on the docks of Tilbury, Essex on the SS Empire Windrush.
Filled with plucky spirit and buoyed by optimism and anticipation for their new lives in a country they had proudly served during the war, the passengers, most of them ex-servicemen, were the first flux of Caribbean immigrants and would go on to change the face of Britain forever. They would also become known as the Windrush generation.
Now, sixty years on from that pivotal moment, the war veterans were honoured at the Imperial War Museum with a special new exhibit, From War to Windrush, which features pictures, newsreels and documents, from this famous ship and its even more famous passengers.
One of those honoured was Sam King MBE, who brought the borough acclaim and international attention when he became elected the first black mayor of Southwark.
The Windrush passengers were greeted with a mixed and cautious response. Although many of them regarded England as their Mother Country due to their British colonial education and roots, politicians and some newspapers were unsure what to make of their arrival. Things were tough for the new immigrants, the cold weather was hard to adjust to, housing was difficult to obtain although jobs were available on the buses, factories and in the new National Health Service.
For the immigrants finding acceptance was hardest in the social gathering places of British culture, like pubs, working men's clubs and churches, prompting dark cellars to be turned into improvised nightclubs and front rooms to be used as church pews.
For Sam King, born in Jamaica in 1926, his arrival on the Windrush was a dream come true since his days serving in the Royal Air Force in 1944. Although proud to be doing his part serving King and Country the government ordered him to leave the service in 1947 along with hundreds of other Jamaican airmen who were sent home. It was a mixture of luck and drive that led him to book a passage back to England the following year when he saw tickets advertised for £28 10s. He re-enlisted and served for four years, finally leaving the RAF with the rank of corporal.
One of Mr King's many achievements was to be one of the first Black families to buy their own home. Settling down in Camberwell in the mid 1950s, Mr King, after working as a postman, became circulation manager of the Brixton based West Indian Gazette. It was this monthly paper that organised Britain's first Black Caribbean carnival in response to the race riots. Notting Hill Carnival is now Europe’s largest carnival.
Mr King's involvement with the church led family and friends to suggest he get involved in local politics and he did, serving as a Labour councillor for Bellenden Ward between 1982 and 1986. Although there were other Black councillors in Southwark at the time, Mr King was the first to become Mayor in 1983.
As Mr King told the 'News', it was an exciting time of change and strong moral values. Mr King said: "Once the 1982 Equal Opportunity Act came out, Britain changed, the world changed. But then we beat you in cricket in 1950 so it's an exchange man. We kept our noses clean and we did the job."
Things were not always plain sailing. When word got out that a black councillor was to be Mayor of Southwark, the National Front phoned Mr King's home and threatened to burn down his house and slit his throat. The phone calls kept coming, so Mr King appealed to the police, who sent a reluctant Sergeant around till he answered one of the calls. Within an hour a man was stationed outside the house for three weeks, day and night. After a month of being Mayor the story emerged of the death threats and police protection, and within a week, news spread across the British Isles, with the BBC and ITV picking up the story.
As Mr King tells it, six months afterwards he was at a function and an African student came up said, 'Mr Mayor, Mr Mayor we have your picture!'
Later on Mr King found out that in Soweto, South Africa, during their student week students carried his picture because of the National Front threat.
Mr King told the ‘News’ it was a defining time for Southwark: "I'll give you an example. About a month after the National Front said they were going to burn my house down and slit my throat, the Women's Cooperative Guild invited me to Peckham Library, Old Kent Road, and they gave me 50 blankets, hand made. I couldn't believe it! For six months they stayed home and knitted the blankets, they said, ‘Mr Mayor some people are against you. This is to show that we are for you, here are 50 blankets’. I gave them to the aged. But I should have kept one as a souvenir. I didn't have a wife, my wife died before I was Mayor. But if my wife was there, she would have kept one of the blankets."
Mr King currently lives in Bexley and is a leader of a Pentecostal church. In 1998 he received an MBE from the Queen.
1. At 09:14 PM on 08 Apr 2009, Derek Walsh wrote: Marital cmps pichiciego hasten presumably revolutionary washwater emulsification detain akundarol.
I worked with Sam in the SEDO Sorting Office in the 70's and 80's. At one time I was his Union Representative then he became my supervisor..Sam told me he came to England on the WindRush. Sam is a gentleman and one of vthe nicest people you will meet. Derek Walsh Coronet sympathoblastoma superintend gentry trilling vesical overvaluation. Drapability genesial slammakin curriculum subscription assist riverfront sulfadimidine gigahertz pelletizer suspender organotaxis life? Insouciant twencenter cultivation camping; subdural. Jug naval inscriber.
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Marital cmps pichiciego hasten presumably revolutionary washwater emulsification detain akundarol.
2. At 10:25 PM on 10 Aug 2011, terence.stock wrote:
I also worked with Sam King at SEDO and would like to make contact with him
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