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Lord Fowler and Baroness Benjamin with the Bust of Lord Learie Constantine Lord Fowler and Baroness Benjamin with the Bust of Lord Learie Constantine. Photo © House of Lords 2019 / Photography by Roger Harris

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Parliament marks 50th anniversary of first black Life Peer in the House of Lords
Lord Constantine, a key figure in the Civil Rights movement in the UK, took his seat on 26 March, 1969

Published on March 28, 2019

Earlier this week, Tuesday March 26, the Houses of Parliament commemorated the 50th anniversary of the day that Lord Constantine became the first black Life Peer to take his seat in the House of Lords.

The occasion was marked with the unveiling of a bust of Lord Constantine by Lord Fowler and Baroness Benjamin.

A key figure of the Civil Rights movement in the UK, Learie Constantine was born in 1901 in Trinidad. Famous for his role in the West Indies Cricket team, he was part of tours of England in 1923, 1928 and 1939. In 1928, he signed to play cricket in the Lancashire League for Nelson, playing for the team until 1937. Having established links with the UK, he later took on the role of Trinidad and Tobago's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom in 1961. He campaigned on a number of Civil Rights issues, including encouraging the Government of the need for a Race Relations Act.

Following the Life Peerages Act in 1958, membership of the House of Lords was opened up to the whole of society, allowing for the diversification of the House with more Black and Minority Ethnic members, as well as women. Lord Constantine took his seat in the House of Lords on March 26, 1969.

Discussing the commemoration, Lord Fowler commented that "The appointment of Lord Constantine marked a watershed for the House of Lords, and it is right we celebrate it today on the 50th anniversary of his introduction to the House and over the coming months. His arrival as the first black life peer paved the way for the many brilliant Black and Minority Ethnic members we have in the House today ... Learie Constantine was both a sporting icon and a man who contributed hugely to the advancement of race relations in this country. He made an outstanding contribution to cricket and then took on the even greater challenge of changing attitudes and confronting prejudice. His example is an encouragement to everyone."

Baroness Benjamin continued, explaining that "When I was appointed to the House of Lords, I was very pleased to know I would be following in the footsteps of Learie Constantine, who lived in the same town as me in Trinidad. He was a great pioneering Trinidadian who achieved so much on the cricket field and in his contribution to public life in the UK. During the Second World War, he served as a welfare officer for West Indian and West African servicemen in the North West of England and won a landmark legal case against the Imperial Hotel when it refused him and his family a room because they were black. He achieved that victory without the benefit of the Race Relations Board which he later served on and in doing so paved the way for the Windrush Generation. Lord Constantine was a brave and determined man who made a real difference to the lives of many people in the UK and in Trinidad. I am so pleased the House of Lords is taking this opportunity to celebrate his legacy and outstanding contribution."

Lord Constantine's bust, which is on loan to the House of Lords from the National Portrait Gallery, will be on display in the Robing Room in the House of Lords until 22 April, when it will be moved to become part of an exhibition on the life and work of Learie Constantine in the House of Lords.

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