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Darcus Howe, wild, wise and direct civil rights campaigner – and my godfather

'He gave me my first serious book, Black Jacobins, for my 13th birthday'

06 April, 2017 — By Sam Harding

RADFORD “Darcus” Howe, the broadcaster, civil rights campaigner and Black community leader who died on Saturday aged 74, was my godfather, charged with being present at my Christening as stand-in for my father who had to work on the tube that day.

For my deeply religious mother it was the ultimate responsibility – if anything happened to her, this fellow Trinidadian and best friend she knew from her home­town would be stand-in parent – forever. It was also a shrewd choice – a man my mother knew was going places and could maybe get her daughter there, too. In fact, it never worked out that way.

When my wish to become a doctor crystallised as a teenager, Darcus set up a meeting with David Pitt – then Lord Pitt of Hampstead – but my poor mum got the date wrong and I never heard about it again. At least we were exposed to Darcus’s vision and ambition. He gave me my first serious book, Black Jacobins, for my 13th birthday.

I vividly remember taking soup for “Nello”, the great CLR James, who used to live in the upper room at the Race Today offices in Shakespeare road, Brixton.

This old man with white hair asked me: “Young lady, do you cut hair?” I was simultaneously astonished and honoured. Even if the answer had been yes, how could I dare touch the head of the author of Black Jacobins? As well as receiving our copy of Race Today religiously, slaving over Carnival costumes and observing Darcus’s turbulent fame, I remember his kindness.

The night my grandmother died, Darcus  came round to reminisce until dawn with my mother about their golden childhood in Belmont, Port of Spain. And when I began to show some musical talent he stumped up the cash for a clarinet and later a violin, both of which ended up displaced by the piano.

Naturally he gave the eulogy at my mother’s funeral – a retelling of the tense, irascible and affectionate relationship they had. When I became a doctor he was there to celebrate and entertain, taking credit for my achievement. We shall miss his wise, wild directness.

Sam Harding is a consultant ophthalmologist who lives in Primrose Hill


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