My song today is ‘Living for The City’. This was a 1973 single by Stevie Wonder from his ‘Innervisions’ album. It reached Number 8 on the ‘Billboard Hot 100’chart and Number 1 on the ‘R&B Chart’. Rolling Stone ranked the song Number 105 on their list of the ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time’.
‘Living for the City’ was one of the first soul music songs to deal explicitly with systemic racism and to use every-day sounds of the street like traffic, voices and sirens which were combined with the music recorded in the studio. The song won two ‘Grammy Awards’: one at the 1974 Grammy Awards for ‘Best Rhythm & Blues Song’, and the second for ‘Best Male R&B Vocal Performance’ at the 1975 Grammy Awards for Ray Charles’ recording on his album ‘Renaissance’.
The song tells the story about being born into a poor family in Mississippi, where a young black man experiences discrimination in looking for work and eventually seeks to escape to New York City in hope of finding a better and more prosperous life. Through a series of background noises and spoken dialogue, the man reaches New York by bus but is then promptly framed for a crime, arrested, convicted, and sentenced to ten years in prison.
This was a protest song by Stevie Wonder about the racism experienced by blacks, especially the poorer black citizens. I was a new Probation Officer at the time of this record release and my previous life had witnessed numerous incidents of institutional racism against black citizens and black immigrants ever since becoming a trade union shop steward in textiles. In 1960, not only was I the youngest trade union shop steward in Great Britain (appointed shop steward in the textile firm I worked at two weeks after my 18th birthday), I hit the national papers when I brought 300 plus men and women out on strike because the firm’s owner refused to hire a suitable candidate applying to fulfil an advertised job vacancy ‘on the grounds that he was a black West Indian’. This strike lasted a week and although the textile owner relented, the West Indian refused to accept the job because of all the previous publicity his cause had attracted. This was at a time when black workers could not join trade unions, black people could not join Working Men Clubs and other organisations. It was also the era when landlords would put notices in their windows announcing vacancies that also said, ‘No Blacks. No Irish. No Dogs!’
In the late 1970s, the ANC and AAM decided to promote Nelson Mandela’s reputation, presenting him as the symbol of the anti-apartheid struggle. This was the AMM campaign to ‘Free Nelson Mandela’. When I was aged 35 years, I took part in my first and only ever protest march in a ‘Free Nelson Mandel’ rally. The rally was organised by students from Bradford University. Nelson Mandela had been arrested and imprisoned in 1962 and was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiring to overthrow the state. Nelson Mandela served 27 years in prison, a sentence which was split between ‘Robben Island’, ‘Pollsmoor Prison’, and ‘Victor Verster Prison’.
Nelson Mandela's closing words at his trial have been much quoted. They were reportedly spoken looking the judge full in the eyes. His statement that he was prepared to die for the cause was strongly advised against by his lawyers who feared it might itself provoke a death sentence. In a concession to their concerns, Mandela inserted the words "if it needs be". Nelson Mandela, speaking in the dock of the court on 20 April 1964, said:
“During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, my Lord, if it needs to be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
From the day that his life sentence was imposed, segregation between black and white citizens in South Africa continued, and riots and armed resistance spread unabated. In the eyes of all black people around the world and white people who wanted to see a speedy end to all segregation in South Africa, Nelson Mandela became an article of faith. More and more streets were renamed after Mandela in Great Britain, the earliest being ‘Mandela Close’ in the north London suburb of Brent. Today, the UK has more streets named after Nelson Mandela than anywhere in the world outside South Africa.
'Freeing Mandela' had become perhaps the greatest cause célèbre of the era. While serving his life sentence, Nelson Mandela changed his previous philosophy from that of being a committed anti-apartheid revolutionary who was convinced that the black citizen’s vote would only come through armed struggle, to becoming a man of peace. He wanted political change and representative government to come about by peaceful means and he did everything possible to calm down the many riots which were mounting in frequency and intensity daily with the countless loss of lives. During his prison sentence, Mandela became close friends with his prison guard and a relationship of mutual respect developed. He was elected as the very first black South African President and served between 1994 to 1999. During the remainder of his life, Nelson Mandela became the most popular statesman in the world. He died on the 3rd of December, 2013, having succeeded in dismantling the legacy of apartheid. The world lost a great man.
In celebration of the New Millennium, I wrote eight books to be published on the 1st January 20OO, which were published and sold to Yorkshire schools in their tens of thousands, raising tens of thousands of pounds for charitable causes. One of these stories was a story about South Africa of old. The story was set centuries earlier in more uncivilised times, filled with warring tribes. The story could be compared to a relay race from the past, in which the first leader of the ‘Tembu Tribe’ (Nelson Mandela’s ancestor) holds the baton of Chief during his lifetime, and as each leader dies, the baton is passed on to the tribe’s next Chief, until eventually it is passed into the hands of Nelson Mandela, the leader of the ‘Tembu Tribe’.
Many people have had some connection with a famous person, and I have been luckier than most people. Between 1990 and 2000, I had about four dozen books published and sold hundreds of thousands of copies to Yorkshire schools and, raised over £200,000 profit from their sales which was given to charity in its entirety. During this decade, I persuaded 840 famous names and celebrities to publicly visit a Yorkshire Junior School and read from one of my books to assemblies of school pupils. These celebrities came from every sphere of national and international life and have included Ministers of Government, one Prime Minister and two Prime-Minister’s wives, Archbishops, Film Stars, Acclaimed artists, Astronauts, Antarctic Explorers, World-leading Environmentalists, Television Presenters, Singers, Authors, Footballers, Royalty, etc.
Even the late Princess Diana contacted me when her children were aged 9 and 7 years and requested that I send her two of my books so that she could read them to Princes William and Harry at their bedtimes. She even agreed to visit a Yorkshire school and read for me, but before she could honour that commitment she was killed in that a traffic collision during the early hours of the 31st August 1997 in a Parisian road tunnel. About three months earlier, Princess Diana had phoned me at my home and all she said was, “I will read for you” before putting the phone down. It pleased me to know that two of my children ‘s books have been read by a future King of England and his brother.
I also had a phone call from the late Princess Margaret who assisted me in one of my charitable projects during the early 1990s, and five or six years later, Princess Royal, Princess Anne, accepted my invitation to open a Disability Centre in Dewsbury during the late 1990s which one of my storybooks was raising money for. I also met Queen Elizabeth 11 in 1995, when she pinned an MBE on me.
But my proudest moment of all was in the year 2000, when the phone rang at my home in Mirfield, and it was the Home Office. The person at the other end of a three-way linking line said, “Is that Mr. Forde?” and when I said it was, the next voice to speak said, “Nelson Mandela here. Mr. Forde. I just wanted to say that I have read two of your books with the African and Jamaican stories, and I thought they were wonderful, especially the story about the birth of South Africa. Thank you.”
The book I refer to regarding the birth of South Africa is called ‘The Valley of The Two Tall Oaks’. That story can be found in my books, ‘One Love, One Heart’ or 'Two Worlds-One Heart', or ‘The African/Indian Trilogy’. All my books are available in hard copy from Amazon or in E-book format from www.smashwords.com or kindle. ‘The Valley of the Two Tall Oaks’ can be purchased in E-book format on its own if required. All book profits are given to charitable causes in perpetuity.
Ever since a West Indian surgeon saved my life on the operating table of the old Batley Hospital in late 1954, I have promoted anti-racism in every aspect I have come across and I have helped underprivileged black children in their schools, both in West Yorkshire and in Falmouth, Jamaica also. Between 2000 and 2003,
I worked in conjunction with the Minister of Education and Youth Culture in Jamaica (ironically called Mr. White) and the Mayor of Falmouth (the old Jamaican slave capital), and 32 Falmouth schools who were paired with 32 West Yorkshire schools in a trans-Atlantic pen-pal project. The objective was to acquaint all the black and white pupils with each other’s culture and to hopefully reduce racism between black and white. In addition, I wrote four books for the Jamaican schools, and thousands of copies were shipped across to Falmouth to sell and raise tens of thousands of pounds for much needed educational supplies in all 32 of Falmouth’s schools.
Of all my contacts with the good and the famous (and I am far more fortunate than most people to have had so many), none will ever mean more to me than that day Nelson Mandela phoned me at my Mirfield to praise a couple of my children’s books.
Love and Peace Bill xxx