A day out with John Rex in Handsworth and Sparkhill

I totally missed the news that Professor John Rex had passed away recently. He had been a significant figure for me since I came to Birmingham in the late sixties. With a friend, Kuldip Singh Rai, I attended his lecturers at Aston University, but I think under the auspices of Birmingham University, on Race Relations in The Modern World in 1980. They were stimulating not only because of John’s extensive knowledge and experience, but because those present represented the diverse community including a number of radical activists. We had in consequence lively and informed debate. One exchange became the subject of articles and letters published in the N.A.M.E. journal “Multiracial School” around this time. At times it became quite personal but nevertheless John answered his critics, which probably included myself. He was quite ready to drink with us in the pub afterwards, where we learned many more interesting things as John told us of legendary personalities with whom he had rubbed shoulders, such as Frantz Fanon.
I met with John Rex again when I visited Warwick University when I was researching my dissertation for London University Institute in Education in 1982. His books on Sparkbrook, 1967 and Handsworth in the early seventies. The latter co-incided with my work as a teacher in the Department for teaching English as a Second Language. In 1972 I became a senior member of department when there were around 300 teachers deployed in schools and centres to support children who were entering schools from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh principally. The Head of Department, Bob Chapman, took a broad view and I consequently had the interesting task of leading on educating teachers about the backgrounds of such children. Children from the West Indies were included in the remit, and a report produced by one senior member of staff, Alex Crump, noted underachievement as an issue. This was around the time Bernard Coard published his critique on the education of children from the Caribbean.
I noted that I was quoted in the work on Handsworth, not by name, but as the anonymous editor of Contact, a magazine I produced in the seventies. It is filled with names of those I knew (still know in many cases) and interacted with. James Hunte, the larger than life former West Midland County Councillor, is on the cover.
On a later visit to Warwick I introduced John to a friend, Professor Babu Desai, visiting from Surat in the Gujerat area of India. We were invited into a lecture and debate where we able to join in.
More recently I had a conversation with John on the phone. I can’t remember how it came about. He said he had funding to revisit Sparkbrook and Handsworth 30 years on. He met me and we spent the day visiting both areas and sites he had associations with. This included St Peter’s College in Saltley where for a time he had his base.
I dropped him off at Snowhill Station. He was having some difficulty walking following a fall he had had while visiting Beijing. Nevertheless he was still active and continued to have an office at Warwick. As one of the tributes to him says the British press were extremely quiet about one of their eminent and distinguished sociologists. It was left to his son to write the Guardian obituary. If he were French he would have appeared on the front pages. It is time to restore the balance.

Obituary by Sally Tomlinson, co-author of Rex’s book about Handsworth.
Sivanandan IRR

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.