St John’s Inter-Racial Social and Cultural Club was one of the earliest inter-racial clubs in London, founded in 1951. It was founded and held its activities at the church hall of St John the Evangelist, on Brixton’s Angell Road, and the vicar at St John’s continued to lend his support to the club throughout its existence.
They held numerous social evenings and dancing, with one event at Balham’s New Park Ballroom to mark Jamaican Independence in July 1962 reported as ‘One of the largest gatherings of coloured and white people [to] take place in Lambeth’.
As with the nearby Brockley International Friendship Association, such events were co-ordinated to include local dignitaries, and Brixton MP Marcus Lipton, as well as the Mayor of Lambeth and his wife, were regular presences. St John’s held an annual carnival at Lambeth Town Hall, an event, the South London Press reported, for which ‘the hall rocked to the rhythms of the calypso and steel bands’. They also held regular beauty competitions at the Town Hall. This reliance on the Town Hall, though, was a case of needs must. As Courtney Laws told Flamingo magazine in 1964, ‘It is true that we have a few functions each year at the Town Hall. But we want somewhere so that we can meet as often as we wish to’.
St John’s Inter-Racial Club also undertook several surveys of black Lambeth life. A 1961 survey, aiming to assess the degree of ‘integration’ in the borough, included an early intervention into policing in Brixton. The survey conductors included a meeting with George Bentley, the Lambeth police chief who had organised ‘Operation Shut Down’, a clamp-down campaign against West Indian and African clubs in the borough. As Courtney Laws, leading the survey, told the South London Press, the complaints against such clubs was largely because ‘there weren’t enough places in Lambeth where [West Indians] could go for entertainment and that meant they had to have their own in their homes’. But when Laws confronted Bentley with accusations of police harassment and violence, including in the numerous police raids conducted on such gatherings, Bentley refused to comment. Four years later, their own club at St John’s Church Hall was subject to a police raid, in which the police were accused of being ‘peremptory and rude’ to the club leaders. A later survey, in 1966, was led by Joe Hunte, who later would publish his stinging indictment of police brutality in Brixton, N[***]r Hunting in England?. Hunte’s 1966 survey, addressing the pressing politics of housing provision, appealed to the council to put more pressure on landlords to effect repairs, and to provide play areas for children in Somerleyton Road and Geneva Road, two of the centres of black settlement in Brixton. Hunte would also later lead a St John’s Club campaign for more accountable policing, inviting the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination and the National Committee for Commonwealth Immigrants to join him.