Monday, September 23, 2013

Father Trevor Huddleston, the dauntless Anti-Apartheid Campaigner

This year celebrates 100 years since the birth of Ernest Urban Trevor Huddleston, who was born at 36 Chaucer Road, Bedford on 15th June 1913. Trevor’s father, Captain Sir Ernest Whiteside Huddleston, was the son of an Indian army officer and had been born in India, one of twelve children. He was educated at Bedford Modern School, and met his future wife, Elsie Barlow Smith in Bedford. They married in 1904 and had two children, Barbara in 1909 and Trevor in 1913. The family moved to Golders Green, London. Trevor later attended  Lancing College, a high Anglican public school chosen by his mother, and then went on to study history at Christ College Oxford, before training for the priesthood at Wells Theological College.  He spent two years as a curate at St Marks in Swindon, and then importantly joined the Community of the Resurrection (CR) at Mirfield, becoming a monk in 1941 at the age of 28. 

It was from here in 1943 that he was sent to on mission to Sophiatown in South Africa, where the Community had churches, schools and a college for the poor black residents. Huddleston himself thought that there was little of interest in his life prior to his time in South Africa, as an Anglican Priest and later Superintendant of St. Peter’s School in 1949, he helped to spread education and literacy in the community.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu at a commemorative service at Lancing College dedicated to Trevor Huddleston in 2007 told of his first meeting with Trevor Huddleston:
“I must have been about nine years of age or so, and I was standing with my domestic worker mother on the veranda of the hostel for black blind women for whom my mother was a cook, when a tall white man in a flowing cassock swept past … and doffed his black hat to my mother. Only much later did I discover that it had been Trevor Huddleston. What? A white man raising his hat to a black woman, and an uneducated domestic worker at that? Quite unheard of in race-obsessed South Africa. But for him it was quite natural, because the light he threw on the dank gloom of South Africa's racism declared that each person is of infinite worth, because each is created in the image of God … He sort of pierced the gloom of race-mad South Africa with the gentle light of the Gospel of God's love for us all.”

Father Trevor met many of the leaders of the anti-apartheid movement, such as Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Oliver Tambo and became a fierce critic of segregation.  Oliver Tambo applied as a Physics teacher during the early 1950’s at St. Peter’s School where Huddleston later became Superintendant and they became very close friends. 
Between 1930 and 1950 Sophiatown became a symbol of unity and diversity in what was an increasingly racially divided country. It was in this tiny suburb that South Africans of every group co-existed in a peaceful, if chaotic manner. It was particularly known as a centre of arts, literature, music and drama.

During the 1950's the government began a brutal campaign against so-called 'black spots' and racially integrated areas, such as Sophiatown, became a casualty of the government's new system of forced removals under the Group Areas Act. From February 1955 Sophiatown was systematically destroyed. Only four buildings survived the removals. Neighbours and families were moved to different areas according to skin colour. The community protests led by African leaders and Trevor Huddleston, extended to Britain, but were in vain. On the first day of removals on 9 February 1955, 2000 policemen ousted 100 families to Meadowlands. In all, 65,000 people of all races were affected. A new white suburb was built over the rubble, rather ironically, named Triomf.

In 1955 Trevor Huddleston wrote the book “Naught for your comfort” in response to the removals that he had witnessed. He used to publicise and speak out against the atrocities being committed in South Africa, calling for an end to apartheid. He witnessed the razing of black communities in the African townships, and the arrest of Nelson Mandela and 155 members of the ANC in 1956.  He appealed to the Community and the Anglican Church in England for help, but the Community of the Resurrection, fearing he would be expelled from South Africa, recalled him to England.  Before he returned to Mirfield, after being forced to leave South Africa, he toured the USA, meeting Martin Luther-King and other celebrities, doing all he could to promote the cause of the ANC and the release of Nelson Mandela from prison. In 1959 Huddleston helped to found the Anti-Apartheid Movement in England, alongside Oliver Tambo who had also been expelled from South Africa.

Huddleston was elected President of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in 1981. He criticized white liberalism, arguing that it had "done so much to keep the apartheid structure in place . . . by its essential philosophy of evolutionary change." Some people regarded him as a radical and combative man, but Huddleston crucially led the move for economic sanctions against South Africa. In the Xhoza language, his nickname is "the dauntless one" and in his many campaign actions you can see why. He was a man of action and would get exasperated with the many speeches, saying with impatience, "Words, words, words - I am sick of words!"

Archbishop Trevor Huddleston's gave a speech at the 1990 Nelson Mandela: An International tribute to free South Africa concert held on the 16th April at Wembley stadium, London. This celebrated Nelson Mandela’s freedom after he was freed from prison on the 23rd February 1990 after 27 years.

Father Trevor Huddleston was able to celebrate the end of Apartheid with the elections of a new democratic South Africa on 27th April 1994, and saw Nelson Mandela become the first Black President of South Africa.  Trevor Huddleston died in 1998. He is remembered fondly both here and in South Africa for his great work. A memorial centre was set up in his memory in Sophiatown, which provides community facilities and projects, especially encouraging the education and development of young people.

The bust for Huddleston was sculpted by Ian Walters and was bought for Bedford in the early 1990’s after a local anti-apartheid group member, Steve Lowe, visited South Africa House and met Bishop Huddleston and the sculptor. Bishop Huddleston told Lowe the bust should be displayed in Bedford as he came from Bedford, as well as honouring the work of many people in Bedford who fought apartheid. In 1999 the bust was paid for by Chris Kilroy, High Sheriff plus contributions from hundreds of local people. The bust unveiled in 1999 was re-dedicated by Nelson Mandela during his visit to Bedford in 2000.

The plinth is engraved with Nelson Mandela’s own words “No white person has done more for South Africa than Trevor Huddleston”, is a worthy tribute to a great campaigner and a life spent serving, but also fighting for the freedom of others.
This year is the 100th anniversary of Sophiatown. The Trevor Huddleston CR Memorial Centre are launching the Sophiatown 100: Motswako celebration. Find out more at

For more information see:
Naught for Your Comfort, by Trevor Huddleston
Trevor Huddleston a Life, by Robin Denniston
Lancing College: Click here for the Full Sermon by Archibishop Desmond Tutu
There is a live Radio 4 interview with Archbishop Trevor Huddleston from 1988 talking about his life and work to that date see BBC Radio 4 interview

By Lydia Saul, Keeper of Social History

No comments:

Post a Comment