1956. The year in which Elvis Presley entered the music charts for the first time, with Heartbreak Hotel. The year in which the Broadway musical My Fair Lady opened in New York. The year in which our lives were changed for the better (with IBM inventing the first computer hard disk) and for the worse (with the inauguration of the Eurovision Song Contest). And, perhaps more significantly, the year of the creation of the Joint Action Committee Against Racial Intolerance - or just J.A.C.A.R.I. for those who found the full title a bit of a mouthful.
The historical records suggest the society was set up in June of 1956, though a quick check with the Proctors (the University body in charge of regulating societies) shows that JACARI was officially registered in Michaelmas '56.
The initial aim was 'to consider the problem of racial intolerance, and if possible to give useful expression to the views of members of the University'. Or, to be more specific, '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'.
Indeed, JACARI was founded as a political organisation. The Liberal Club, with the Conservative and Labour Clubs, were founding supporters. The epoch was ripe for such discussion. Internationally, apartheid in South Africa and civil rights demonstrations in America were reaching their respective peaks. Internally, post-World War II Britain was facing social difficulties. Many Afro-Caribbean immigrants arrived in this country to ease the labour shortage and suffered from countless problems.
Yet though the issues discussed were necessarily political, JACARI transcended party-political boundaries. By Hilary term 1958, societies supporting JACARI included the Oxford University Conservative Association and the Oxford University Labour Club. A browse through the Conservative Association's term-card of Trinity 1969 shows that 'OUCA supports the aims and activities of JACARI' and even had a representative on the JACARI committee. Other supporting societies, of which there were thirty-nine in 1958, included the Buddhist Society, the League of Christ the King Society, the John Wesley Society, and even the University Jazz Club. And, while the full JACARI title of the 'Joint Action Committee Against Racial Intolerance' might not have danced off the tongue, many JACARI members bopped at several fundraising Jazz concerts organised by the Jazz Club.
It appears that JACARI was a great political force for good and very successful almost immediately. This was reflected in the make-up of the committees. In Michaelmas 1957 JACARI had an executive of University students running the society under an advisory/regulatory board of a 'President' and seven 'Vice Presidents', including four MPs and one Lord. The number of College Reps also shows this success - in Michaelmas 1957 there were thirty-one reps but, within a term, this had more-than doubled to a massive seventy-six reps, New College leading the way with five reps.
Within two years of its inception, JACARI had captured the imagination of the University. The Michaelmas 1958 end-of-term report cites the membership as 2,354. Though this dropped to 1,250 in Michaelmas 1959, the "Freshman's" termcard boasted that 'we are the LARGEST University club'.
To be a member of JACARI was not simply to be a card-carrying opponent of racial intolerance. Indeed, many members were actively involved in various initiatives. The main area of interest appears to have been in the regular events put on by the committee. These ranged from small student discussion forums ('average attendance of fifty' in Michaelmas 1958) to lunch-time meetings and to grand-scale debates in the Oxford Union main chamber. Speakers as high profile as Barbara Castle MP (on the topic Whither Central Africa, Trinity 1958), the philosopher AJ "Freddie" Ayer (The Background of Racialism, Hilary 1960) and even James Callaghan MP (The Central African Federation, Trinity 1959), later Prime Minister (1976-1979), spoke to packed rooms.
Other speakers included Frank Parker, Vice-Chairman of JACARI, 'an American law student who has fled to Oxford to escape arrest in Alabama', speaking on The 1964 Civil Rights Bill as well as the Prime Minister of British Guiana (Michaelmas 1965) and Lady Gaitskell, wife of the former leader of the Labour Party, Hugh Gaitskell, on A Labour view of Immigration (Hilary 1966). The Hilary 1960 Newsletter highlights the fact that these events were 'extremely well attended (sometimes embarrassingly so)'.
Perhaps the most interesting issue JACARI was involved in was the 'William Brogden Memorial Scholarship'. This appears to have been set up to commemorate Bill Brogden of Exeter College who was initially on the JACARI committee but sadly passed away in Michaelmas 1957. A fund was set up to allow a South African student to study at Oxford for three years. As the October 1956 newsletter states, this was to publicly challenge South African apartheid measures:
The Government of the Union of South Africa is proposing very shortly to introduce legislation excluding non-Europeans from the Universities of Cape Town and Witwatersrand…We feel that the establishment of this scholarship…will show that members of the University feel very strongly about the problem of racial intolerance, and we wish to help in its solution if possible without aggravating the tense situation in certain areas
It further goes on to state that:
…[the scholarship] will also be a timely gesture of good will towards African people whose academic facilities in any case fall far short of ours
Yet the Chairman's frank Michaelmas 1958 end-of-term report shows that this wasn't as successful as first hoped:
The term was in many respects a frustrating and unsatisfactory one. The reason is not hard to find. The JACARI Scholar, Jeppe Mei, who was expected to arrive in September from South Africa did not appear, and negotiations for a passport have been continuing ever since
This seems to have been quite a depressing barrier for the newly formed society to come up against:
After two and a half years of effort to raise £2,000 [approximately £28,000 in today's money] members will no doubt understand the gloom into which Jeppe's absence plunged both the officers and myself
But finally, in Trinity 1959, success arrived as the end-of-term report demonstrates:
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 in 1962 to Africa to 'take up a teaching post in Tanganyika'. In October 1961 the scholarship was repeated: 'we are very anxious that the success of the first Scholarship should be repeated'. How long this scholarship fund continued it is unclear. But the Hilary 1967 termcard suggests that the fund had perhaps been replaced by college schemes - advice was offered to members on 'how to establish a JCR scholarship scheme for African students in your college'.
To raise the money for the scholarship fund many begging letters and posters were drawn up, and several fundraising events were put on. On 18th June 1959 Oxford saw one of the aforementioned Jazz Concerts taking place in the Town Hall. 'Some of the world's leading Jazzmen' played to an audience of about 600, raising £60 (approximately £850 in today's money) towards the fund.
Money was also needed for some of JACARI's other diverse and important projects. In Hilary 1959, when the South African Open Universities were threatened with the exclusion of all non-Europeans, it was, according to the Newsletter, 'largely due to the efforts of JACARI that £1500 [approximately £21,000 in today's money] was sent from the University of Oxford to enable as many non-European students as possible to enter these universities before they were closed to all but Europeans'. Other fundraising exploits mentioned include an appeal for funds for civil rights workers in Mississippi (February 1965).
On a slightly smaller scale, JACARI set up a Christmas Appeal in 1959 for the Defence and Aid Fund. Vivid posters were displayed around the University crying '2/6 THE PRICE OF FREEDOM'. All members were asked to contribute two shillings and six pence (approximately £1.75 in today's money) to the campaign against the locking up of 156 anti-apartheid protestors. As the student Chairman, Patrick McAuslan, noted this raised £150 (approximately £2,000 in today's money). He remarked that 'we can claim no small part in getting the whole country-wide movement started'.
Further events included contributing to a day conference in 1960 on 'The New Africa' which backed a campaign run by the South African Committee for Higher Education to 'raise books to send to non-European students in South Africa who are excluded from 'all-white' Universities and are receiving private tuition for London University external degrees and 'A' Levels'. Emotive posters were placed stating:
WE EXPECT EVERY MAN AND WOMAN GOING DOWN TO GIVE ONE BOOK FOR A SOUTH AFRICAN STUDENT
JACARI also helped to co-ordinate the boycott of South African goods in the University. The roots of this campaign appear to have first grown in Hilary 1960. The Trinity 1966 termcard suggests this battle was still extant in the mid-60s: JACARI organised 'campaigns to boycott the sale and use of South African goods in all colleges'.
It seems clear that JACARI's battle against racial intolerance was both thorough and far-reaching. In Michaelmas 1958 'the question of discrimination with regard to lodgings was raised', and this appears to have been continued throughout the 1960s and perhaps beyond - the Trinity 1966 termcard asks members to 'report cases of racial discrimination by students' landladies'.
March 1963 saw a petition organised on the basis that 'The proposed tour of South Africa by a joint Oxford-Cambridge rugby team will entail playing only all-white teams before segregated audiences in compliance the regulations governing Apartheid in Sport'. JACARI encouraged signatures from those who:
…believe that the tour will appear, particularly in South Africa, to imply approval by the University of the South African Government's Apartheid policies, and therefore urge Oxford University Rugby Football Club to cancel its plan to visit South Africa
The 1960s also saw JACARI campaigns against British Government policy. In October 1961, Kenneth Leech (Trinity College), Chairman of Jacari, issued a policy letter entitled 'UNITE AGAINST THE COLOUR BAR BILL', calling for action against a government bill designed to curb immigration. He persuasively argues against the bill and criticises Sir Cyril Osborne MP who was reportedly quoted in the Daily Mail as saying that:
This is a white man's country and I want it to remain so
Leech urged members to 'write to your MP'. In another paper he calls on MPs to consider the South Africa Bill and whether it was ethical to continue the System of Commonwealth Preference, worth some £51 million (approximately £687 million in today's money) annually to South Africa. And, in another paper, he calls on the Ministry of Defence to clarify whether a military alliance between the UK and South Africa existed. Later, in November 1965, JACARI organised a contingent of Oxford students to campaign outside the House of Commons against the Commonwealth Immigration Bill.
An additional scheme was set up to help foreign students settle into Oxford life. This small programme was encouraged in the Michaelmas 1964 newsletter where Chairman Hannah Rose emphasised that:
JACARI feels that one of the best things students can do…is to meet students from overseas in this period before term starts
In the mid-to-late 1960s JACARI appears to have branched out into other areas. Supporting local, national and international groups JACARI even produced a magazine, New Contact, which, in Trinity 1967, amazingly seems to have been 'on sale…throughout Britain and the US'. Among the many other diverse projects in 1967 included the following:
During the last two terms we have been going to Reading at weekends…Our main work there has been the establishment of a multi-racial play group run now by local mothers. We have also exposed discrimination in employment by arranging for equally qualified white and coloured people to apply for the same job
Indeed, it appears that JACARI began to focus more on surveys and investigations into racial inequality within Oxford and the UK. Later, as the Hilary 1971 termcard (available for the princely sum of 20 pence - approximately £1.74 in today's money) shows, JACARI started to run vacation projects. These included sending parties to Balsall Heath, a multi-racial area of Birmingham, to Halifax where there is a 'sizeable Pakistani community', and, in Christmas 1971, to East Oxford to 'face at first hand the problems of a racially mixed community'.
Up until the mid-1960s the records show no mention of the Home Teaching Scheme. The February 1965 Newsletter gives the first, though brief, hint of the scheme: 'Many volunteers are needed…to help in English classes for immigrants'. The Hilary 1966 termcard is no more explicit: 'JACARI is helping with classes to teach Pakistani children English'. The Michaelmas 1967 termcard suggests that this teaching scheme evolved through the help JACARI gave to the Oxford Committee for Racial Integration which 'we helped to found'. The Trinity 1967 termcard gives the first real explication of the teaching 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
The May 1961 Newsletter demonstrates that 'nearly 100 JACARI members [are] actively involved in this teaching scheme'. The first mention of a JACARI library proper comes in Hilary 1971, though previous years' termcards show that literature was available before this, but on an ad hoc basis.
Sadly the records are incomplete. There is a gap of almost ten years between Hilary 1971 and October 1980 with no mention of Jacari, while the records for the '80s are very patchy. It appears that during the 1970s JACARI began to move away from being a very political organisation to becoming a Home Teaching Scheme. True, the occasional politically motivated activity occurred - an 'urgent' letter writing campaign was encouraged by the Michaelmas 1994 Newsletter to argue against government cuts in funding for Section 11 teachers (who were responsible for helping children for whom English was not their first language). But the Home Teaching Scheme seems to have been JACARI's main priority.
The October 1980 Newsletter states that 'JACARI now has over 200 members in the University and the Polytechnic and we work closely with local schools'. It also sees the first mention of JACARI events for children and volunteers, including trips to London and Southsea, as well as a trip to the Cotswold Wildlife Park (repeated, with great success, in Trinity 2004). A trip to a farmhouse in Worminghall, seven miles from Oxford, is also mentioned. Children from Asian, African and Caribbean communities (most of whom were being 'helped with English and schoolwork by students working through JACARI') visited this farmhouse for a couple of days every year. This was still going on in Michaelmas 1986. The 1980 Newsletter also describes other activities:
In addition to the teaching scheme, which forms the core of Jacari's activities…JACARI is involved in various other projects. We help to run an Adventure Playground in East Oxford…We run an Asian Youth Club, which meets once a week, and we help at the Saturday School organised by the Oxford Council For Community Relations. We teach adults as well, mainly Asian mothers who have particularly severe language problems and are often quite isolated in society
The records of the 1990s are similarly incomplete. The 1996 Freshers' Fair literature states that JACARI taught 'more than 550 children from 20 schools'. Other work involved helping the Oxford Refugee Council to arrange intensive English classes for newly arrived refugees; liasing with Oxfam, The British Red Cross and other organisations to help organise a sponsored bike ride to raise money for refugee families and providing home teachers for children living on a semi-permanent site on the outskirts of Oxford.
Committee reports show that, as JACARI gradually fully devoted its time and resources towards the home teaching scheme, the numbers of teachers involved fluctuated from a high of 1,000 in 1996 to just 50 in 2003! During this period, JACARI became known simply as Jacari. While it would be na´ve to suggest that racial intolerance has fully disappeared, explicit racialism has now been mostly eradicated. Jacari now works on less of a large-scale, and more of a local level.
Moving to the first office in New College in 1995, and to the second office on 13 Bevington Road in 1998 meant Jacari finally had a home of its own, with Presidents no longer having to run the charity from within their college bedroom! A well-stocked library and computing facilities helped to maintain Jacari as the oldest and largest fully student-run charity within the University. Michaelmas 2004 saw another move, this time to the plush - and more central - surroundings of Littlegate House, St Ebbes Street.
While Eminem and Busted have replaced Elvis as chart-toppers, while one is now more likely to watch Jerry Springer - The Opera than to visit My Fair Lady, and while a hard disc can now fit in the palm of one's hand, Jacari (and, sadly, the Eurovision Song Contest…) is still going strong.
Jamie Dear, January 2005