RAF veteran Sam King returned to England in 1948 to make a new life for himself but ended up making a difference to the lives of many others as a community activist and local politician
Born in Portland, Jamaica, Sam Beaver King first worked as a boy on his father’s banana farm. When he was 18, he noticed an appeal in the Daily Gleaner for volunteers for the Royal Air Force and decided to enlist. He left for Britain in 1944, arriving in Greenock, Scotland, by steam ship a few weeks later. After training at Filey in Yorkshire, he was sent to RAF Hawkinge in Folkstone, where he served as an aircraft fitter.
Back in Jamaica after the war and at a loss with what to do with himself, he saw another advert in the Daily Gleaner, this time offering tickets to England on the MV Empire Windrush.
Sam re-joined the RAF soon after arriving in London and when his term of service ended, he bought his first home in Southwark in the south of the capital settling down with his family.
Like many other migrants, he found a job in the Post Office, where he worked for 34 years, starting out as a postman and rising through the ranks to become a manager.
Throughout, he was acutely aware of the discrimination black people faced, recalling in his 1998 autobiography, Climbing Up the Rough Side of the Mountain: “The host nation saw the influx [of migrants] as an imposition and became hostile.
His desire to make a difference led him to become involved in the West Indian Gazette, a campaign newspaper launched by Claudia Jones, who’d recently been deported from the US during the anti-communist witch-hunts.
Sam worked voluntarily as its circulation manager and was also treasurer of the carnival Claudia organised at St Pancras Town Hall in 1959, considered the inspiration behind the Notting Hill Carnival.
He was also an active trade unionist and long-time member of the Labour Party. Six months after being elected on to Southwark council in 1982, he was made mayor, the first black person to hold that office in the borough. His appointment led to death threats from the fascist National Front, which he brushed off with his customary wit.
In 1998 Sam received an MBE and, just a few months before his death aged 90.