Teaching qualifications

Trevor Phillips explains why fighter pilot and author ER Braithwaite is his Black History Month hero

WE celebrate the start of Black History Month this week by asking famous people to tell us about their own heroes from the past.

The annual event celebrates the contributions and achievements of black figures in British life, although they may not be widely known.

5

Trevor Phillips, 66, chooses WWII fighter pilot, teacher and novelist ER Braithwaite as Black History Month heroCredit: Getty – Contributor

Here, writer and host Trevor Phillips, 66, former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, chooses WWII fighter pilot, teacher and novelist ER Braithwaite.

This month we celebrate the great athletes, actors, artists and activists.

But this moment should also remind us that black people are great intellectuals, scientists, diplomats – and warriors.

My hero Ted (ER) Braithwaite – author of To Sir, With Love, the most successful novel of all time on the British black experience – was all of this and more.

Trevor is the former head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission

5

Trevor is the former head of the Equality and Human Rights CommissionCredit: Rex Features

Born in what was then British Guiana, in 1912, he attended the best school in the colony, Queen’s College, where I later studied.

Like dozens of QC boys, he was already a WWII hero as an RAF pilot – and it couldn’t have been easy when it was normal for a flyer to call his black Labrador “N *” *** r ”.

Ted then studied physics at Cambridge and earned a doctorate. At that time, there was no way someone of his color would get a job that matched his qualifications, so he turned to teaching. Semi-autobiographical, To Sir, With Love – about his time teaching in the post-war slums of London – has changed attitudes here and in the United States. A 1967 film version had Sidney Poitier as Braithwaite – educated, well spoken and heroic. He took a thug class and showed them Harlem Globetrotters opera, theater and basketball.

To Sir, With Love, was made into a blockbuster film starring Sidney Poitier and Lulu, but was also the most successful novel of all time on the British black experience.

5

To Sir, With Love, was made into a blockbuster film starring Sidney Poitier and Lulu, but was also the most successful novel of all time on the British black experience.Credit: Alamy

As others prophesied race riots and rivers of blood, Ted argued for racial integration – and allowed black Britons to hold their heads high. Today our country is the best place in Europe to live if you are not white. Ted’s vision triumphed.

At the time, Hollywood moguls said a movie starring a black man would never be rated. Wrong. Poitier, co-starring with Lulu, took on the lead role for a paltry sum of £ 23,000, plus ten percent of the box office. The film was a success and it earned over £ 30million in today’s money. Lulu’s version of the title song was a chart hit.

'Ted Braithwaite was a WWII hero as an RAF pilot - and it couldn't have been easy when it was normal for a flyer to call out his black lab

5

‘Ted Braithwaite was a WWII hero as an RAF pilot – and it couldn’t have been easy when it was normal for a flyer to call his black lab “N **** r”, says TrevorCredit: Rex Features

The film inspired the British sitcom Please Sir !, which made John Alderton a star – and when Barack Obama left the White House in 2017, the American television show Saturday Night Live closed his tribute to the first black president with an interpretation of To Sir, With love.

Ted was later a UN diplomat, an academic at American universities, and a fiercely competitive tennis player.

He died at the age of 104 in 2016 – a man who changed the way we think, defied the odds, and did everything black men weren’t supposed to be able to do. He’s an inspiration to all kids of all races who, when told, “You can’t do this,” responds with Ted’s favorite line: “Why not? “

When Barack Obama left the White House in 2017, the American television show Saturday Night Live closed his tribute to the first black president with a rendition of To Sir, With Love.

5

When Barack Obama left the White House in 2017, the American television show Saturday Night Live closed his tribute to the first black president with a rendition of To Sir, With Love.Credit: Rex Features
Lewis Hamilton talks to the Sun about his ‘sports icon’ Muhammed Ali, Black History Month and how sport fights racism in 2020
Source link