Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Goodbye to Haynes Baptiste - a friend and true fighter for racial justice over 50 years

Haynes Sylvester Baptiste was laid to rest today at St Gregory’s Catholic Church in Earlsfield, south London.

Haynes, 83, has been a fighter for racial justice in this country for the best part of the 50 odd years in which he has resided here since migrating from Dominica in 1956 as part of the Windrush generation.

He lived through the years of the no blacks, no irish, and no dogs notices being routinely put up in bed sit windows. Haynes experienced this ferocious racism at first hand.

He also fought against racism in the Catholic Church being a founder member of the Catholic Association for Racial Justice in the early 1980s and later serving as chair and vice chair. He helped lead the efforts of CARJ to break the mould of white domination of the hierarchy in an increasingly diverse Church. It was a hard battle that remains long from won.  

One of Haynes longstanding desires was to see a black bishop, reflecting the multicultural nature of the Church in the UK. Sadly, to his dying day that aim has not been achieved. It was also to the chagrin of the Bishops Conference of England and Wales that no bishop could find time in their busy diaries to attend the passing of such an important figure in the fight for racial justice. Frankly, a disgrace.  

Born in Dominica in 1932, Haynes progressed becoming a teacher on the island. He was moved around in that role, prior to deciding to come to England. Once here, Haynes did a variety of jobs, working on the trains as a fireman and in a mental hospital. He then worked for the Post Office and then British Telecom. A strong trade unionist and Labour Party member Haynes was always on the side of the workers.

When BT was privatised he left to work with the Methodist Church on racism awareness workshops.

In 1967, he married Juanita Murdock at Holy Trinity Church in Brook Green. Two years later the couple moved to Earlsfield, where they have attended St Gregory’s ever since. They have four children and seven grandchildren. Haynes was also a keen musician and cricketer.

In 2013, Haynes was awarded the Papal honour of the membership of the Knights of St Gregory for his work across society.

Haynes funeral was a testimony to the life of the man. It brought together family, parish, members of the Catholic Association for Racial Justice and people from far and wide involved in his life. There was much love and warmth displayed on the day.

I will always remember Haynes breaking into a smile whenever we met, usually opening with the words: “who have you been upsetting this week?” There would then be chat about the Church, Labour Party and the trade unions. I'll miss him.

A solid family and community man, Haynes Sylvester Baptiste has made a huge contribution throughout the whole of his life. There was laughter and tears today to celebrate a man who gave so much for a better tomorrow. Let’s hope others will be now prepared to pick up the torch of racial justice carried so long and honourably by Haynes.  

* published Independent Catholic News - 8/6/2016

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