Thursday 25th April 2019 witnessed a joint Caribbean Labour Solidarity event with the launch of “Billy Strachan Above All Caribbean Man” and a fundraiser. An estimated fifty people, with ages ranging from teenage to a number of people in their eighties, crammed into the large common room of Henry Twining Court, Crescent Lane, in Clapham.
The meeting was well chaired by Anne Braithwaite who was lucid, well informed and most ably linked the speakers and participants from the audience.
Chris Strachan, eldest son of Billy, deserves great credit for travelling down from Birmingham to speak at the meeting. In a brief but excellent speech, he outlined the qualities of his father in both the political and personal spheres. Chris also reminded us that the battles Billy had fought all his adult life against racism and fascism had not yet been won and the rise of the “far right”, including racists and fascists, in recent times, remains a grave danger not only in Britain but world wide.
Anne then called on Winston Pinder to speak. Words are often bandied around nowadays such as “legend” and “national treasure”, well, in my opinion, Winston, for his life’s work, fighting racism and fascism, working for unity for Black people in Britain and above all, his decades of selfless youth work, deserves these accolades. Now in his eighties, looking dapper as ever, he spoke about his introduction to Billy in the 1950s following a meeting with Cheddi Jagan who told Winston to contact Billy in London. He extolled Billy Strachan as leader and mentor for West Indians in the 1950s and 1960s. Winston also mentioned his own link with another great Caribbean communist, Claudia Jones, and recalled Strachan’s championing of Dorothy Kuya who eventually established the International Slavery Museum in her native Liverpool.
Among those in the audience, were Billy’s widow, Mary Strachan who later sent me this message: –
” Congratulations on a very successful launch. It was a great evening and wonderful to see so many people interested in Billy’s life and work. All your hard work came good.
All the best Mary”
A number of people who assisted me completing the book were also there. Journalist Angela Cobbinah, who constantly encouraged and advised me attended. Bob Newland and Leon Silver, both of whom I interviewed and gave important contributions to the book came along. Richard Temple, archivist at Senate House Library also attended and I must say that without Richard and his colleagues helping me access the amazing Billy Strachan papers, this book would not have been completed.
There were two valuable contributions from the floor. Leon Silver who with his late wife Maria, worked with Billy at Movement for Colonial Freedom/Liberation in the 1970s, outlined how Billy had mentored and encouraged Maria to study law, leading her to eventually becoming a court’s clerk. Bob Newland also worked with Billy for that organisation and he mentioned his qualities of listening to and engaging his colleagues but above all, acting as mentor.
After explaining why the booklet was subtitled “Above All Caribbean Man”, I detailed Billy’s journey with fellow Jamaican Ferdinand Smith to the Caribbean in 1952 at the height of the Cold War to spread the word of unity in the many territories for independence and ultimately a free Democratic Socialist Caribbean. This journey although thwarted by the Colonial authorities and their local lackeys, achieved huge success in Jamaica where the two men spoke to vast crowds of workers. This led to a calypso “The Ferdie and Billy Calypso” composed that year by none other than our late president Richard Hart. Our youngest speaker Ruth proceeded to recite the calypso with verve and clarity.
I must mention two other people who helped make the evening a success. My old friend Cordel, mother to the lovely Constance, who cooked a huge quantity of delicious chicken, made salad and supplied hard-dough bread. Those in attendance received the food with delight. Big thanks are due to Cordel. Also my old friend photographer Karl Weiss who travelled over from Leytonstone and took over 30 photographs Thanks to you Karl
I would mention at this point, two C.L.S. members who were unable to be with us but they were certainly there in spirit. Our President, Luke, who last year encouraged me to write the book and our technical wizard Steve, without whom, this book would have just been words on my laptop. My gratitude to both of them.
I also am extremely grateful to all those C.L.S. comrades who did so much to make the evening the success it was. Present were Cheryl and Jacqui as well as Margaret who, busy as she has been, edited the booklet my thanks. Dennis stood tall and with his usual skill and enthusiasm outlined the work of C.L.S. to the gathering. Frank brought the north London posse, including Cauline and Raphael, south to Clapham and then he selflessly took on the role of opening the outside doors to allow people in. Raphael, with his usual bonhomie and vigour, took over the raffle and announced the winning tickets. Incidentally, the raffle raised £68.00 for C.L.S. Cauline worked tirelessly especially in the kitchen area in her always unselfish and obliging way. This also involved herself and other comrades mentioned arranging seating at the beginning of the meeting and then putting everything back where it belonged at the end. They also made sure the kitchen was left spotless and collected all the rubbish. We sold over 50 copies of the book. I cannot emphasise strongly enough that the success of the evening was the wonderful team work of the comrades. Without them, this event could not have happened.
Author of Billy Strachan Above All Caribbean Man
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