top of page
  • Writer's pictureNatasha at Jacari

From the archives: Jacari in the 1950s

Following our visit to view the Jacari archives, we wanted to showcase some of the items from the 1950s when Jacari was born.

Jacari was formed as a student society at the University of Oxford in 1956, the Joint Action Committee Against Racial Intolerance (J.A.C.A.R.I.). In one of our founding documents dated October 1956 it states:

"JACARI exists for two purposes: (1) To arouse among members of the University an interest in the problems of race relations in the Commonwealth by spreading reliable information . . . and (2) To find constructive ways of expressing a dislike of racial discrimination."

1956 letter stating the founding aims of JACARI

A committee was formed which changed termly and there were also Reps from each College. The student committee was overseen by a more permanent senior advisory/regulatory board, made up of a President and seven Vice Presidents. The board members were very prestigious figures and included Knights, Lords, MPs and Reverends.

Two of the key Oxford University figures involved in founding Jacari were Prof. K. Kirkwood (Senior Member) and Prof. C.A. Coulson (Treasurer). Prof. Kirkwood was Rhodes Professor of Race Relations and came to Oxford from South Africa. He established himself as a leading figure in African studies and a campaigner against apartheid. Prof. Coulson was a Mathematician and Theoretical Chemist at Oxford and was involved in the formation of the Mathematical Institute, becoming its Director. Prof. Coulson had a strong interest in international development and became chairman of Oxfam in 1965.

The committee was quick to start recruiting members, writing to College JCRs and putting up posters around the University. A membership card was 1 shilling, with “profits used to help students suffering from racial discrimination in any part of the world”. By 1959, Jacari had over 1250 members (according to a letter to Freshmen by the Chair, Patrick McAuslan) making it the largest University club. One handwritten note on a Michaelmas 1959 term card calculated membership of 1872! Jacari had clearly captured students' imaginations.

1959 Letter to Freshmen from Jacari's Chair Patrick McAuslan

Jacari brought together a wide range of different university societies, including religious and political groups, many of which had delegates on the committee. At one point in the 1960s, it was supported by over 50 different groups and societies. It also had many female members, who were well-represented on the committee.

Sarah Curtis (then Myers) told us:

"In 1956 I was involved in founding Jacari and was its first Chair. (My name then was Sarah Myers.) I was also President of the OU Liberal Club (Michaelmas Term 1956). I was at that time the only woman Chair of a political club in the University."

Talks, discussions and speaker events

The main regular activity of Jacari was speaker events put on by the committee. The epoch was ripe for political discussion. Internationally, apartheid in South Africa and civil rights demonstrations in America were reaching their respective peaks. Speakers came from across the world to speak to packed audiences on racial discrimination and inequality. Talks also focused on the situation in Britain, where since the end of World War Two, large numbers of immigrants had been arriving from both the Caribbean and Asia.

The earliest posters for speaker events held in our archive are from 1956/7

The first event we have records of was a meeting on race relations with the speakers Prof. C.A. Coulson, Lord Hemingford, Father Huddleston, Albert Hyndman, and Prof. K. Kirkwood on Monday 19th November 1956 in the Union Debating Hall. There was also a Forum on Racism on 18th February 1957 with speakers Rev. T. Corbishley, Arthur Gaitskell, Miss Marjery Perham and Rev. Michael Scott. Also in 1957, Gerald Gardiner QC spoke on the South African Treason Trial.

Jacari attracted notable speakers, including journalists, lawyers, church leaders and leading academics. Several serving Members of Parliament spoke at Jacari events including Barbara Castle on “Whither Central Africa” and The Rt. Hon. James Griffiths M.P. on "The Problems of the Plural Society" in 1958 and James Callaghan MP (and future Prime Minister) and Bernard Braine MP on “Two Views of the Central African Federation” in 1959.

Term card from Hilary 1958

Other speakers included Colin Legum, a journalist for the Observer newspaper who was born in South Africa but spent the whole of the apartheid era in exile; political scientist and Oxford lecturer Bryan Keith-Lucas; Selby Ngcobo, an Economist from London University; Canon John Collins, founder of the British Defence and Aid Fund; Observer journalist Anthony Sampson; Frank Pilgrim, PR officer in the Welfare Department, Migrant Division Commission in the UK for Federation of British West Indians; South African writer William Plomer. The diversity of speakers that Jacari was able to attract to Oxford shows the importance of the society in encouraging discussion and debate on issues of racism and discrimination.

Alongside speaker events, Jacari also organised weekly Monday lunchtime discussions during term time at Queen Elizabeth House on St Giles. Again, a wide range of speakers led these discussions and they covered many topics, from international issues to racism in Oxford.

One regular speaker at Jacari events was Father Trevor Huddleston, an Anglican priest (and later Bishop) who spent 13 years living in South Africa and was a well-known anti-apartheid activist. Father Huddleston returned to England in 1956 and came to Oxford to speak about the situation in South Africa to a packed audience at St Mary’s, the University Church.

Canon Christopher Hall remembers “hassocks were passed out from the pews for people to sit on the floor in the nave." He also told us that one particular student, Bill Brogden, was so inspired by Father Huddleston’s talk that he instigated the first meeting of various political and Christian groups which led to the formation of a committee to respond to the cruelty of apartheid in South Africa, hence the Joint Action Committee Against Racial Intolerance (JACARI), with its initial target: to raise funds to bring an African student to Oxford.

The William Brogden Memorial Scholarship

One of the initial activities of Jacari was to raise £2000 for a scholarship for a black South African to study at Oxford. The newly formed committee contacted Oxford Colleges, societies and publications to ask for donations.

A letter from 1956 states that “We particularly want to show that we, the members of the University, are not merely prepared to have coloured people among us, but are prepared to welcome them by paying for them to come. This is the object of our Southern African Scholarship Fund."

It was later named the “William Brogden Memorial Scholarship” to commemorate Bill Brogden, one of the founding members of Jacari, who sadly died in 1957.

Posters were drawn up for College JCRs to display, including an appeal to raise £2000 for the South African Scholarship Fund. Membership was promoted widely, with a fee of 1 shilling for a Jacari membership card which contributed to the fund.

Fundraising posters for the Jacari Southern Africa Scholarship fund

Jacari organised various fundraising initiatives including a jazz concert at the Oxford Town Hall with guest appearances from well-known musicians such as Johnny Dankworth, Ronnie Scott and Tubby Hayes.

It took two and a half years to raise the £2000 and the South African scholar, Jeppe Mei, was due to arrive in Michaelmas 1958. To the frustration of the committee, he did not arrive that term due to passport issues. He eventually arrived in Trinity 1959. Jacari’s end of term report tells us that: "The outstanding event of the term was the arrival of the William Brodgen Memorial Scholar, Jeppe Mei, from South Africa on 2nd May. He is to spend a further two years at Wadham reading History."

The scholarship appears to have been very successful, with the scholar returning to Africa in 1962 to "take up a teaching post in Tanganyika." In October 1961 efforts to repeat the scholarship began; this time the target was to raise £2,200 (approximately £40,000 in today's money) by Hilary 1962. Records suggest that the committee had managed to collect half this amount by March 1962 and the plan was to keep going but it is unclear how long the scholarship fund actually continued.

Our next blog will explore the archive materials from the 1960s, an extremely active period in Jacari's history.

95 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page