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'Mr Windrush', Sam King passes away at 90

GIANT: Sam King

SAM KING, co-founder of The Equiano Society and Windrush Foundation, passed away peacefully in his sleep on Friday, June 17 2016 at the age of 90 in Brixton, south London.

He was one of the generations of Windrush Pioneers who served in World War 2 and heard the calls of the Mother Country to help the reconstruction of Britain after the war doing key jobs in the NHS, public services, transport, industry, and construction.

Although there were other ships that brought migrants from the Caribbean and other parts of the Commonwealth to Britain it was the Empire Windrush which docked in Tilbury on June 22nd 1948 that captured the imagination of the British public and created the message to the Commonwealth that all migrants were welcome here.

Sadly, 68 years later, the issue of migration is one that still divides opinions and the country as reflected in the recent EU referendum debate.

However, what is clear is that the legacy and foundations of the Windrush Generation are undeniable particularly for the Caribbean community.

Sam King, often called 'Mr Windrush', optimised the values and tradition of this generation in overcoming racism and creating the foundations for Black Britons - hard work, respect, tolerance, self-help, strong, spirituality and serving the community.

Sam was born in Portland, Jamaica, in 1926 along with his nine siblings where he worked on the family farm.

Following the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 a then 18-year-old Sam responded to a Royal Air Force advertisement in The Gleaner newspaper for volunteers in 1944. More than 15,000 volunteers from the West Indies were recruited by the RAF and over £2million were raised for the war effort in the region. Many people believed that if Germany won the war that Hitler would re-introduce slavery in West Indian colonies.

After successful recruitment Sam did his initial training in Kingston and travelled to the England where he spent three months at the training base in Filey in Yorkshire. Sam was eventually posted to the fighter station RAF Hawking near Folkestone and served as an engineer.

After the war ended, Sam was demobbed and returned to Jamaica. Like many ex- service men and women they had difficulty in getting employment and fitting back in to civilian life. With the advert in the Gleaner in 1948 for a new life in England he took the opportunity of travelling on the Empire Windrush. He re-joined the RAF, and later worked for the Royal Mail. In 1983 he was elected Mayor of the London Borough of Southwark, the first black councillor to have held this office in the borough.

In 1996 Sam and Arthur Torrington established Windrush Foundation with the objective of keeping alive the memories of the young men and women who were among the first wave of post war settlers in England.

In 1998 as part of the 50th anniversary of the Windrush he received his MBE. Also, in 1998, Sam published his autobiography, climbing up the 'Rough Side of the Mountain'. In addition he has shared his life story with schools, various public events and the media as the way of preserving the Windrush history and the Caribbean contribution to WW2.

For the last few years Sam was part of the campaign for calls for a public holiday called Windrush Day in celebrating the contribution of migrants and multicultural Britain. In June 2015 Simon Steven, Chief Executive of NHS England invited Sam King as guest of honour at a Windrush event acknowledging the contribution of migrant workforce to the NHS.

Arthur Torrington, close friend gave a personal tribute.

He said: “Sam was a giant with a voice that commanded respect that provided a positive message to all about the contribution of the Caribbean community but the wider benefits of migration. We need to give our gratitude to men and women like Sam who made sacrifices and laid the foundations that we take for granted today in the community.”

Sam Beaver King MBE: 20 February 1926 - 17 June 2016
Sam’s first wife, Mae, died in January 1993. He is survived by his second wife, Myrtle, two children Michael and Althea, three grandchildren and three great grandchildren. He also has siblings still live in the UK, Caribbean and US.

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