Learie Constantine

Lord Sir Learie Constantine, MBE. Cricketer; Barrister; Administrator; Broadcast Journalist; Politician; Author: Activist. 

Baron Constantine of Maraval and Nelson.

Born: 1901, Trinidad. Died 1971, London.

Learie Constantine was born in Diego Martin, inTrinidad in 1901. He followed in his father’s footsteps and became a first-class cricketer for the West Indies Cricket Team; in 1923 the youngConstantine played with his father, against British Guiana, in Georgetown – one of only a few occasions when a father and son have appeared together in a first-class match. As a cricketerConstantine became one of the most exciting all-rounders and one of the most exceptional fielders that has ever appeared in the game. However, he was disappointed that his valuable status as a professional cricketer did not correlate with his lower status as a man. Determined to equalise both his passions of law and cricket, in 1928 Constantine joined Nelson Cricket and Bowling Club in Lancaster to earn his living and play cricket. He was paid £500 a year to be a professional cricketer. In 1930, playing for the West Indies against England, Constantine bowled the West Indies to their first Test Match win. His play in the Lancashire Cricket League was so outstanding that he was awarded the Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1940.

His cricketing fame was insufficient to prevent discrimination in other areas of his life. In 1944 he was the first black person to successfully bring a court case against a service establishment that barred people on the grounds of colour. He won his case against the Imperial Hotel in London for ‘failing to receive and lodge’ him and his family on grounds of colour. Learie Constantine and CLR James wrote Colour Bar (1954) as an insider’s view of discrimination in Britain. Constantine continued to seek equal rights for people of colour in Britain from his earliest times in Britain. In 1963, along with other national figures such as Tony Benn and Harold Wilson, he spoke on the Bristol bus company colour bar dispute; the local bus company was boycotted until the ban on employing people of colour was rescinded. Constantine supported the sixty-day bus boycott that was led by local man Paul Stephenson.  Constantine was a member of the League of Coloured Peoples – an organisation dedicated to fighting discrimination against people of colour – and later became its President.

Once he had retired as a first-class cricketer Learie Constantine returned to work for the BBC as a freelance commentator – an interest that he had commenced in the 1930s. He also wrote several books on cricket, including Cricket and I (1933), Cricket Crackers (1949) and The Young Cricketer’s Companion (1964). His non-cricket book was Colour Bar (1954) written about British ‘race’ relations from a black perspective.

During the Second World War Constantine worked as a Welfare Officer for the Ministry of Labour in Liverpool. It was in his remit to promote the interests of the Caribbean workers that had migrated to assist the war endeavour. After the war Constantine, having returned to and completed his legal studies, was called to the bar in 1954 and returned to Trinidad, where he became a Minister of Communications, Works and Public Utilities and a Member of Parliament.

Following Trinidad and Tobago’s national independence in 1962, he travelled back to Britain where he became the High Commissioner of his nation in London between 1962 and 1964. Constantine was granted a knighthood in 1962. He started his legal practice in 1964 when he was aged 63 years.

In 1966 Constantine became a member of the Race Relations Board and continued to work as an activist for racial equality and against racial discrimination. Between 1969 and 1972 he served as a governor of the BBC, he was also appointed as the first black rector of the University of St Andrews in Fife in 1967. He was granted a life peerage in 1969 – he became the first black man to be appointed to the House of Lords. Constantine retained an active interest in sport throughout his life; he was also a member of the Sports Council.

Learie Constantine succumbed to illness from lung disease and was buried in Trinidad in 1971 and he was posthumously awarded the country’s highest honour – The Trinity Cross.