Windrush Pioneer: Dame Jocelyn Barrow

Dame Jocelyn Barrow is a race relations pioneer. She was one of the founders of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination, and her work has encompassed broadcast, healthcare and housing. She even persuaded the retailers of Oxford Street to let people of colour work on the shop floor as opposed to the stock-room where they had previously been working.

Well I was brought up with great confidence. I was brought up to feel that nobody could prevent me from doing what I wanted to do. There are changes that you can make without being confrontational, without causing chaos or shouting or screaming. There’s no point shouting and screaming because nobody listens.

We had formed a campaign against racial discrimination in 1964, when Martin Luther King passed through this country. We got the Race Relations Act of ’68, which covered employment. And we were looking at ways to enforce the legislation. One of our sponsors was Lord Sieff, the owner of Marks & Spencer, and he was a great supporter of ours. They’re a Jewish family and he understood the discrimination. Because the Jews, even at the time that the blacks came here, lots of Jewish people told me they were glad the blacks came because it took some of the discrimination that they suffered away.

There was a time when people did not want black people to touch their clothes, or to touch them, even in hospitals. He agreed, if we found some pretty West Indian girls, he would employ them. The whole of the Oxford Street, Regent Street area began to look at employing black people in different ways. And, that was a great breakthrough for us. After that had happened, I went into Marks & Spencer in Brixton high street and there was a notice up for a large number of vacancies. And I looked around the shop and there were black customers, white salespeople, white cashiers. And I phoned and asked, applied for a job and I was given an appointment. And then I went in at Saturday morning and said I was here to see Miss So and So. She went in, and I don’t know what she told this lady, but this lady came out and told me, with her face highly flushed because she was embarrassed: all the vacancies are filled. And I had a letter from Lord Sieff. And I just took it out of my handbag and just showed her the top of it. And I allowed her to see up to there: Jocelyn Barrow. If she would had a bad heart, she would have fainted. She was puce: come and sit down. And I said: no I’m not sitting down, I’m here to tell you two things. Take that sign down or fill them with black people. I give you six weeks, otherwise I’m reporting you to headquarters. And left.

Although the main store on Oxford Street was employing black people, she in the heart of Brixton was running her own fiefdom, in a way. And it’s that sort of curious thing that we had to work through. Because you couldn’t relax. You had to be vigilant across the country. If you want to achieve something, you can’t let people who are pulling at your skirt pull you down. Or laying traps to throw you down, prevent you from achieving what you set out to achieve.


1000 Londoners

This film is part of 1000 Londoners, a five-year digital project which aims to create a digital portrait of a city through 1000 of the people who identify themselves with it. The profile contains a 3 minute film that gives an insight into the life of the Londoner, as well as their personal photos of London and some answers to crucial questions about their views on London life. Over the course of the project we aim to reveal as many facets of the capital as possible, seeing city life from 1000 points of view.
Twitter: @1000_londoners

1000 Londoners is produced by South London based film production company and social enterprise, Chocolate Films. The filmmakers from Chocolate Films will be both producing the films and providing opportunities to young people and community groups to make their own short documentaries, which will contribute to the 1000 films. Visit



Thank God for women like Dame J Barrow

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