Cast Iron Radio has used material from the Charles Parker Archive in the making of a programme to be broadcast at 8pm on Saturday 5 December 2015 on BBC Radio 4:
On the 50th anniversary of Britain’s first Race Relations Act, Ritula Shah considers the role of the law in ending racial discrimination. She is joined by Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who worked on the original legislation in 1965.
The programme is ‘set’ in The Hair Lounge, an Afro-hair salon on London’s Portobello Road and the conversations of young women who mark the progress of race relations through hairstyles.
Lord Lester was one of a handful of determined lobbyists who convinced political leaders of the need for an anti-racist law in Britain. We’ll hear how the Civil Rights Movement in the US propelled the newly-arrived immigrant communities to take action and campaign for their rights.
When the law was enshrined, it was ‘pathetic’ and was replaced in 1968. But as Britain took one step closer towards racial equality, the Commonwealth Immigrants Act of that same year tried to close the door on British citizens living in East Africa.
In 1976, the Act was amended once again, but it would take an inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 before the law tackled its own enforcement – racism within the police force.
Over the course of 50 years, the law has been polished and refined to create a fairer and more equal society. But, Ritula asks, with fears about immigration on the rise, will the experience of the past half century help us navigate the challenges ahead?