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  • Writer's pictureNatasha at Jacari

Jacari in the 1960s

To celebrate our 65th anniversary, we’ve been asking alumni to share their stories and memories of Jacari through the decades. Shirley Vinall and Peter Jones were both involved with Jacari in the 1960s, a particularly active time in our history.

Throughout the 1960s Jacari members helped to organise speaker events, which ranged from small student discussion groups and weekly lunchtime meetings to grand-scale debates in the Oxford Union main chamber. These events attracted some high-profile speakers who spoke to packed rooms.

Notable speakers included Frank Parker, an American law student who has fled to Oxford to escape arrest in Alabama speaking on The 1964 Civil Rights Bill; the Prime Minister of British Guiana; Lady Gaitskell, wife of the former leader of the Labour Party, Hugh Gaitskell in 1966; Malcolm X in 1964, less than 3 months before he was assassinated. This BBC Radio 4 documentary presented by Professor Stephen Tuck gives a fascinating insight into the situation that brought Malcolm X to Oxford in 1964 and the wider context of racial discrimination in Britain at the time and includes interviews with Jacari member Hannan Rose.

Jacari members were also active campaigners, organising petitions, boycotts and fundraising appeals and attending marches in response to apartheid in South Africa and the Civil Rights Movement in the USA. They also campaigned against inequality in Britain, calling for members to write to their MPs against a government bill designed to curb immigration in 1961.

Jacari helped to found the Oxford Committee on Racial Integration (OCRI) in 1965 with the aim of tackling racial discrimination in the city. Jacari members assisted OCRI with its education, social affairs and information sub-committees and volunteered to conduct surveys of the Oxford immigrant population.

During the late 1960s, Jacari volunteers took part in vacation projects tackling discrimination in deprived areas with high immigrant populations, such as Balsall Heath in Birmingham, where members helped to set up and run a multi-racial children’s playgroup.

Finally, Jacari's teaching scheme has its roots in the mid 1960s, when Jacari members started tutoring immigrant children in Oxford. The Michaelmas 1967 term card gives the first real explanation of the project: "Many members help immigrant school children, of different ages, to learn English. Many of them can't get on at school as they have not mastered the language and without extra help can never really overcome their handicap. An hour or so sometimes makes all the difference." By 1969 nearly 100 Jacari volunteers were actively involved in tutoring.

Alumni Q&A: Peter Jones

1. When were you involved with Jacari?

I was a member of Jacari from 1963-66 and 1967-68.

2. What kind of activities were you involved in as a Jacari member?

I attended weekly meetings, any protests and was a college rep.

3. Can you tell us the most vivid memory of your time with Jacari?

Best memory is the bus to London that I organised on November 30th, 1964, to join an Anti-Apartheid torchlight procession and rally. Might add that I also hitch-hiked to London to hear Martin Luther King speak at Kingsway Hall on his way to Oslo to get the Nobel Peace Prize on 7th December 1964. Jacari also organised an evening with Pete Seeger 'singing for freedom' at the Union on Saturday May 9th 1964 that I went to.

4. What are you doing now?

I retired from teaching two years ago in Hobart but remain a member of the Amnesty Refugee Rights group - we demonstrate monthly for the asylum seekers our government has detained since 2013.

5. How has your involvement with Jacari influenced you later in life?

After Oxford, I was involved with the Anti-Apartheid Movement and in particular the campaign to Free Namibia. Since I moved in Australia after 1976, I was involved with Anti-Apartheid groups in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. When living in Canberra, I was a research officer for an Independent Green Senator in Federal Parliament (1986-92) and when she was elected Treasurer of the Parliamentary Anti-Apartheid Group, that meant I did the work - the highlight was meeting Nelson Mandela when he visited us after release from jail but we also met with Herman Toivo ja Toivo from SWAPO.

Alumni Q&A: Shirley Vinall

1. When were you involved with Jacari?

I was involved with Jacari when I was a student at Somerville – a long time ago, in 1965-68.

2. What kind of activities were you involved in as a Jacari member?

I attended many of the bread-and-cheese Monday lunchtime meetings when we were able to hear fascinating talks from people – some already very famous – who were involved in the anti-apartheid campaign, the civil rights movement or in race relations work in the UK. I took part in the scheme to help teach English to teenage immigrants in Oxford, and acted as the society’s Junior Treasurer for one term during my second year (1966-67).

3. Can you tell us the most vivid memory of your time with Jacari?

My most vivid memories are of the friendships I made, and of spending part of two vacations in 1968 at a Jacari project. This was based at St Paul’s Church in Balsall Heath in Birmingham, a very deprived area which was home to many immigrants, especially from the West Indies. We camped in the church hall, helping to run a playgroup for local children during the days, and painting the hall in the evenings, so that it could be used as a children’s centre.

4. What are you doing now?

I am now retired after teaching for over 35 years at the University of Reading, where I became Head of the Department of Italian Studies. My husband (Clive Vinall, Christ Church 1964-68) and I both volunteer at Citizens Advice in Reading, where he is involved in giving specialist advice on immigration matters. When we are not experiencing lockdown, we greatly enjoy being with our grandchildren!

5. How has your involvement with Jacari influenced you later in life?

It significantly broadened my awareness of many social and political issues. When we came to Reading, my husband and I volunteered with Reading Council for Community Relations (RCCR) and then Reading Council for Racial Equality (RCRE), contributing to their education and social committees for about ten years, and the issues of education and discrimination are still important to us.

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