Over the past couple of years, we have shared stories in collaboration with The Windrush Generation Legacy Association (WGLA), a charitable organisation headed up by our very own Deborah Klass. The WGLA puts on exhibitions, seminars, and events at its home at the Whitgift Centre in Croydon, London, to celebrate the contributions of over three Caribbean generations to British society. To mark Windrush Day 2021, we shared a Q&A between Deborah and her mother, Joan Andall – a retired NHS nurse – detailing her experience of emigrating to the UK from Grenada in this piece. This year we also shared the story of married couple Daphney and John Bertrand and their arrival in the UK from Grenada, told by their son Julian here.
Earlier this month, we did some pro-bono copywriting for WGLA for an exhibition by the artist Zoe Sinclair, Homage to Heritage, to accompany her striking portraits of Black icons. As we come to the end of Black History Month, we’d like to share three of the portraits of icons from recent British history – including Baroness Amos, Claudia Jones and Sir Trevor McDonald – along with the biographies we produced for the exhibition. With thanks to the WGLA for giving us the permission to do so.
Zoe Sinclair was born and bred in South London, in her own words ‘a melting pot of diversity and culture’. Of mixed heritage – her father Jamaican and her mother Polish – Zoe was brought up with both cultures; enjoying the differences each parent’s cultures had to offer and the influences on her lived experiences. She cites the lack of relatable portrait artwork as part of her enthusiasm and motivation for creating these portraits. About Homage to Heritage, she says:
“I think it’s very important to have positive role models around to inspire, motivate and exemplify values and behaviour worthy of imitation. I created these limited edition prints featuring iconic heroes and heroines to celebrate them, the marks they’ve made on the world, and to inspire others to be bold in the pursuit of their dreams.
“The stunning African fabrics provide beautiful colour and pattern and pay homage to the heritage of these inspirational people. Each iconic muse has a circle crowning their head representing wholeness, totality, original perfection, the self, the infinite, eternity, God.”
Baroness Amos of Brondesbury (born 13 March 1954) was appointed a Labour life peer in 1997, making her the first black woman to serve as a Minister in the British cabinet and in the House of Lords. She has consistently sustained interest in, and a commitment to, development issues, equality and human rights.
The Baroness was an adviser to the Mandela Government on leadership and change management issues. Furthermore, she was Chief Executive of the Equal Opportunities Commission between 1989 and 1994. She has also held high office as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office between 2001 and 2003 and held the office of Secretary of State for International Development in 2003. After a further period in the Lords as a spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Office, she became Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council between 2003 and 2007.
Baroness Amos served as UK High Commissioner to Australia before joining the UN in 2010 as Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.
Her work in the voluntary and charity sector and in other non-governmental organisations has gone hand in hand with her policy and political work. She has served as a Trustee for Voluntary Service Overseas, the Windsor Leadership Trust, Project Hope, and the Institute for Public Policy Research. She has also served as Deputy Chair of the Runnymede Trust.
Baroness Amos was awarded an Honorary Professorship at Thames Valley University in 1995 in recognition of her work on equality and social justice. On 1 July 2010, she received an honorary doctorate (Hon DUniv) from the University of Stirling in recognition of her “outstanding service to our society and her role as a model of leadership and success for women today.” She has also been awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (Hon LLD) from the University of Warwick in 2000 and the University of Leicester in 2006.
Claudia Jones, born Claudia Vera Cumberbatch (21 February 1915 – 24 December 1964), was a feminist, political activist, visionary, and journalist. She founded Britain’s first major black newspaper, the West Indian Gazette, in 1958. Jones also played a central role in founding the Notting Hill Carnival.
As a young girl, she migrated from Trinidad and Tobago with her family to the US where she took the name Claudia Jones as a form of “self-protective disinformation”. Growing up she became a Communist political activist which later on led to her being deported from the US in 1955 following the political persecution of Communists in the US. From there she came to live in the UK where she was an active member of the Communist Party of Great Britain for the rest of her life, specifically fighting racism within the organisation.
Jones was also involved in the British African-Caribbean community where she helped organise both access to basic facilities, as well as the early movement for equal rights. She campaigned against racism in housing, education and employment. In the early 1960s, Jones helped organise movements against the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill which would make it harder for people of colour to migrate to Britain. She also campaigned for the release of Nelson Mandela.
Claudia Jones died at only 49 years of age due to a heart attack and tuberculosis. However, her political legacy still echoes today. The National Union of Journalists’ Black Members Council holds a prestigious Claudia Jones Memorial Lecture every October, during Black History Month, to honour Jones and celebrate her contribution to Black-British journalism. Yvette Thomas among others founded The Claudia Jones Organisation in London in 1982 to support and empower women and families of African-Caribbean heritage. These initiatives are a few among many as Claudia Jones is considered an icon in anti-racism movements in the UK and across the globe.
Sir Trevor McDonald
Sir Trevor McDonald (born 16 August 1939) is a retired radio reporter, news presenter, and sports journalist. He was born and educated in Trinidad where his career in media began, working as a radio reporter, news presenter and sports journalist. He was sent to London in 1962 to report on talks at Marlborough House which culminated in setting a date for Trinidad’s Independence.
In 1969 he came to London to work as a Producer in the BBC Overseas Regional Service. He went on to produce Current Affairs programmes for the BBC World Service and worked on a number of shows like The World Today which are still part of the BBC World Service schedule. He continued working as a reporter for ITN as a General Reporter in 1973. McDonald later became the anchor of News at Ten, The Evening News, and Tonight with Trevor McDonald.
He has won more awards than any other news broadcaster in the UK, including Newscaster of the Year in 1993, 1997, and 1999. In 1999, he was knighted for his services to journalism. McDonald is also the biographer of two books on cricketing heroes, Clive Lloyd (1985) and Vivian Richards (1987), and has published his autobiography Fortunate Circumstances (1993).
Since retiring as a newsreader in 2008, McDonald has made and presented a number of critically acclaimed documentaries, including Death Row 2018 (2018), a sequel to his award-winning documentary Inside Death Row (2013), and Martin Luther King by Trevor McDonald (2018). McDonald was the first journalist to interview Nelson Mandela after his release from prison in 1990. It was a moment of profound impact on the journalist’s career and in 2018, to mark the centenary of Mandela’s birth, McDonald made the documentary Trevor McDonald: Return to South Africa, in which he considered the continued struggle for social equality in post-apartheid South Africa.
Pictures in order of appearance: Baroness Amos, Claudia Jones, Sir Trevor McDonald – by Zoe Sinclair ©