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HomeHistoryIn depth historyFrom the archives: The News's 2010 interview with the late Sam King

From the archives: The News’s 2010 interview with the late Sam King

Southwark?s first black mayor and co-founder of the world famous Notting Hill carnival Sam King passed away aged 90 on June 18. Here?s what Mr King told the News back in February 2010 when was awarded a Blue Plaque for his impressive life achievements:

For a man who has spent his life fighting the established way of thinking Sam King seems in danger of becoming something of an institution, writes Alex Steger?

His MBE in 1998 was followed by the unveiling of a Blue Plaque at the Herne Hill house Sam and his family have lived at for many years.

While both honours are usually the preserve of figures from the establishment, Sam King could never be described as such.

First coming to these shores in 1944 aged just eighteen to join the RAF in the Second World War, he was deported after victory.

Come 1948, he braved the Atlantic once more aboard the infamous Empire Windrush and seemed to live his life breaking boundaries from the moment he stepped off the boat.

On his arrival for a second time, Sam started working at a post office in Camberwell, where he stayed for much of his life and eventually becoming a manager.

Before becoming Southwark’s first black mayor in 1983, he would also set up a programme to help fellow migrants buy homes, work for the first paper for West Indians, and help organise the first Notting Hill Carnival.

So why, having fought for Britain in the Second World War with the RAF, did he respond to her second cry for help in 1948, when Britain desperately needed labour?

He told the News: “I’m from Jamaica. I wanted my grandchildren to have an education and I thought I had to get back to England and in the end it worked out. My daughter went to Alexandria University in Egypt.”

However in 1950s Britain, finding a way to get a roof over his head was Sam’s most pressing concern.

Despite migrant workers coming to Britain’s aid not everyone was welcoming to those from overseas.

Sam explained: “In 1950 in Stockwell I went with a man to see a house and there was a sign which said ‘No Irish, no Blacks, no Dogs.'”

However, Sam did not see this as an obstacle rather another challenge to overcome.

Through a system which already existed in Jamaica he and others found a way to own property.

“We saved the money and collected it, but then one person gets that money. Then at the end of about three years we have enough money for a deposit on a property.”

Sam and his family were amongst the first black families to own a house in Britain, settling in Camberwell.

Being first seems to be a trend in Sam’s life. While working as a postman he delivered a good deal more than letters for the black community.

He was involved in organising the first Notting Hill Carnival and setting up the first paper dedicated to West Indians, ‘The West Indian Gazette,’ both of these involved the seasoned civil rights campaigner Claudia Jones.

Sam King Blue Plaque in Warmington Road, Herne Hill
Sam King Blue Plaque in Warmington Road, Herne Hill

However it was in becoming Mayor of Southwark that Sam King cemented his position as a pillar of the community in Southwark. Although typically for a man whose autobiography is entitled ‘Climbing up the Rough Side of The Mountain’ this was not all plain sailing:

“The year after I became a councillor The National Front said if I became the mayor they would burn down my house and slit my throat. I said I’m not against the slitting of my throat because I’m a Christian, and believe we all have to go sometime and that I’d go to a nice place. But I said they shouldn’t burn down the house.

“For about three months when I became mayor when I went out there was a policeman with me. But God is good because lots of people heard Sam King had become Mayor of Southwark.”

The Blue Plaque unveiled means for years to come many more people will know what Sam King achieved.

The Blue Plaque scheme was set up by the News and Southwark Heritage Association in partnership with Southwark Council to recognise through votes from local people the borough rich past.


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