Black History Month
In conversation with the first Black Mayor of High Wycombe, Sebert Graham.
In 1996, High Wycombe elected its first Black Mayor, a Jamaican migrant, Sebert Graham. He arrived in the 1960s, amidst a time where race and immigration had become major domestic political issues in Britain.
In a Bucks Free Article dated 1996, Sebert recalls that “I had been through High Wycombe on the way to Oxford and remember seeing the Rye and Kingsmead. Those green spaces reminded me of those in Jamaica. So, I decided to make the move”
Sebert soon became impassioned about race relations within his community, standing three times before finally being elected as councillor in Bowerdean and Daws Hill. Whilst facing these barriers, he still went on to become the first Afro-Caribbean councillor, and later Mayor, across the whole of Buckinghamshire. He describes in his autobiography, One People Mayor the great pride he felt, to be able to “share the in the history of this country” and be part of a history in High Wycombe that dated back eight hundred years. Sebert still to this day remains a proud Labour councillor in Oakridge and Booker.
In our discussion, he reminisced the importance his Mayoral role had in inspiring the next generation. When visiting schools as a Mayor, he describes fondly the student’s reception of him: “I would ask the question “who would like to be the next mayor?” and everyone wanted to be the next mayor. You could see from their faces, and their hands going up, black children, white children, all the same. So, for me this was something I could say to young people, that if I came from Jamaica and can become the Mayor of High Wycombe, they can do better. They can achieve better.”
During his tenure as Councillor and as Chairman of Community relations, Sebert worked closely with other minority leaders building strong relationships and allies within the Asian community in High Wycombe. His approach focused on what minority communities had in common, working together to achieve the provisions diverse neighbourhoods desperately needed. He describes warmly “when we went to meetings, we went as united people. We were asking for the same needs such as youth clubs and facilities the younger generation needed”. Sebert still remains passionate about the significance of youth facilities and funding, in particular for children from disadvantaged communities.
As an ethnic-minority female standing as a candidate in the local elections, in the same seat Sebert stood in High Wycombe, I was interested to know his thoughts on the generation of women who were hoping to make a difference as he had. I was delighted to hear his response. He recollected “over the years from when I first used to leaflet, I have become so impressed by the way in which women of colour have become more engaged. Becoming more effective communicators to a country which was initially native to them. It is a blessing to all of us. I really appreciate all women and particularly women of colour who are now taking up public life. Having a chance to excel themselves to show they are equally as good”.
On Black Lives Matters, Sebert explains that it will take a lot more to happen and to be discussed before Black lives do begin to matter. He explains that with the Black Lives Matter movement: “we have seen more emphasis on Black history from British Museums and archives. For example, Black Caribbean people who have served in the First and Second World War. Their names were deliberately left out by Winston Churchill… They should have been recognised. This has meant that a whole generation have not been able to recognise their contributions and identify with them.” He emphasised to me “we have a long way to go before black lives matter”.
Finally, we touched on the Labour party and the advice he would share to fellow Wycombe Labour members. He stated “Labour can win. Believe in yourselves. Make it your responsibility to come and vote in the election. Not only voting for any party but for the Labour party. Because they were the ones when immigration was scourged in the 1960s, when migrants had no homes to live in. When signs such as no blacks, no dogs and no Irish existed. It was the Labour party which rescued us from Enoch Powell and from a time which was very hostile. So, stand up for Labour and support your Labour candidates when the time comes.”
Seberts story is one which continues to inspire a generation in High Wycombe. His role as the first Afro-Caribbean Mayor in Buckinghamshire shows that despite adversary, anything is possible. During Black History Month, there is no better time to acknowledge the crucial role, Sebert Graham has had in laying foundations for a generation of minority Labour candidates.
"So, for me this was something I could say to young people, that if I came from Jamaica and can become the Mayor of High Wycombe, they can do better. They can achieve better."