Post memories: Anti-racism activist Ted Parker

Ted Parker

Ted Parker - Credit: Archant

» Ted Parker’s first experience of racism came as a six-year-old being told tales about his father discovering the horror of the concentration camps during the Second World War.

The beginning of the big LSE student sit-in in April 1967. Ted Parker in the leather jacket on the r

The beginning of the big LSE student sit-in in April 1967. Ted Parker in the leather jacket on the right. "It was shortly after these dramatic events that I was recruited for the South African mission." - Credit: Archant

My dad died when I was very young but my mum was always full of his tales about how we went across with the invasion forces.

“I think that probably gave me an attitude that has lasted for life about opposition to racism,” the now 70-year-old says.

Ted, who was principal of Barking College for 17 years up until 2008, was one of 16 people interviewed for a project about East London against racism led by Eastside Community Heritage.

A video of his interview will soon be available at

He has spent the last 50 years as a political activist and has had an extraordinary experience along the way, which was sparked aged 19 by an unusual situation, as he explains.

“I joined the Air Force and did a three-year apprenticeship but I became involved in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which sounds like a contradiction and indeed it was as I was being trained to service the V-bomber fleet that carried our nuclear weapons.

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“When someone persuaded me, after months of argument, that Britain didn’t need nuclear weapons, it brought me into conflict with the Air Force.”

Cue a letter on his views sent to pacifist newspaper Peace News and him being court-martialled and sentenced to four months’ detention. He was also discharged from service – which suited him quite nicely.

When he went to study at the London School of Economics in the late 60s, Ted became a prominent voice within the Socialist Society, leading sit-ins to protest against the Vietnam War and other global issues.

It was there that he was arrested for activism against racism. Walking along the Strand one day he saw a policeman grab a black man for no reason.

“I just saw red – and this is a thing that has happened a lot in my life, and it took me a while to get out of the habit – but I just lost it and leapt on this policeman’s back. Next thing, I’m slammed into the back of a police van.”

That led to a mass brawl involving a huge crowd which made the front page of The Sun and had Ted in court being found guilty for obstruction and charged two pounds.

Later on, he was invited to go undercover to South Africa to canvas against apartheid.

Together he and another activist posed as a newly-engaged couple and flew over with suitcases with false bottoms, under which were hundreds of campaign leaflets.

He described his first impressions on landing: “Buses were white-only or non-whites, seats in parks were white or non-white, toilet blocks always had four toilets, so men and women were divided into black and white.”

After South Africa, Ted was involved with the Battle of Lewisham in 1977 when an attempt by the far-right National Front to march from New Cross to Lewisham led to counter-demonstrations and violent clashes. An educationalist, in 1992 Ted became principal of Barking College and worked hard to, as he puts it, “make being customer-friendly, student-friendly, cheerful, positive, optimistic, the feel of the place.”

When the British National Party (BNP) were elected into Barking and Dagenham Council, Ted was incensed.

“I felt I needed to do something so I was able to join in the Unite Against Fascism demos and able to use the college in order to have Love Music Hate Racism events.”

Now retired, Ted lives in Eltham but is still very involved with the voluntary sector in the borough, particularly anti-racist groups.

His world view speaks of his years using his voice to help others be heard: “Everyone has got a tale to tell. We always come from somewhere, which is basically unique.”