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Trevor Huddleston

(1913-1998)

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Bedford-born Anglican priest, in South Africa from 1943 to 1956, who also served as president of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement. In October 1987 he convened the Harare Conference, which brought together a range of resistence groups from South Africa and thus had a direct bearing on the continuing struggle against apartheid.

His Life

Trevor Huddleston was born in Chaucer Road, Bedford, in 15thJune 1913. He was educated at Oxford University and was ordained as a priest in 1939. Two years later, he was posted to South Africa, where Afrikaner nationalism was on the rise, to work in the black slums near Johannesburg.

From the beginning he fought to alleviate poverty and railed against laws that made blacks non-citizens in their own land. He fumed as bulldozers sent by the authorities destroyed the pitiful homes of his parishioners - and burned ever after with a desire to end such cruelty.

Huddleston's support for the black cause made him a lifelong friend of ANC leaders like Mandela and Oliver Tambo.

Huddleston's resistance against the trucks and bulldozers sent by the National Party government to flatten the multiracial Johannesburg suburb of Sophiatown earned him the African National Congress' (ANC's) highest award, the Isithwalandwe, in 1955.

There were many in SA who could say they had become what they were today because of Huddleston. He had given musician Hugh Masekela his first trumpet, passing it on from Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was 8 when he first met Huddleston in a Johannesburg hostel for the blind where his mother worked. He said he remembered an incident in the early 1940s when the cleric had doffed his hat to Tutu's mother, a domestic worker. "As a nine-year-old I was bowled over at this sign of respect" by a white man for a black woman.

Huddleston's book, Naught for Your Comfort, written in the 1950s, had turned many university students internationally into lifelong activists against apartheid.

In 1956, he was recalled by his superiors, who feared the views expressed in his book might get him expelled.

In 1960 he was appointed Bishop of Masasi in Southern Tanzania as it prepared for independence.

Eight years later he moved to the poor streets of east London when he was appointed Bishop of Stepney, and he worked to protect Indian immigrants from right-wing National Front extremists.

In 1978, he was appointed Bishop of Mauritius and Primate of the Indian Ocean.

On retirement five years later, he devoted himself full time to "the South Africa I love." He was a founder of Britain's Anti-Apartheid Movement and its president from 1981 to 1994 and chairman of the Defence Aid Fund for South Africa. Huddleston toured the world, lobbying government leaders and raising funds. In 1982, he received the United Nations Gold Medal Award for his work.

Black South Africans gave him a tumultuous welcome when he returned to Johannesburg in June 1991 for the first time in 35 years.

Asked by a Guardian interviewer in 1993 if he had expected apartheid to last so long, he replied, "No, but I've always said I wanted to see apartheid dead before I am - so they've got to get a move on."

In 1998, shortly before he died, he received a knighthood for his work against apartheid.

He died on Monday, 20thApril, 1998, aged 84 in in Mirfield, northern England, the headquarters of the religious order he joined in the 1930s and where he lived after his retirement. The cause of death was not given, but he had been in poor health for some years.

Quotes about Trevor Huddleston

Quotes from Nelson Mandela:

"It is humbling for an ordinary mortal like myself to express the deep sense of loss one feels at the death of so great and venerable figure as Father Trevor Huddleston."

"At a time when identifying with the cause of equality for all South Africans was seen as the height of betrayal by the privileged, Huddleston embraced the downtrodden."

"He brought hope, sunshine and comfort to the poorest of the poor. He was not only a leader in the fight against oppression. He was also father and mentor to many leaders of the liberation movement, most of whom now occupy leading positions in all spheres of public life in our country.

His memory will live in the hearts of our people. "

"Father Huddleston was a pillar of wisdom, humility and sacrifice to the legions of freedom fighters in the darkest moments of the struggle against apartheid."

Quotes from Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

"...ensured that apartheid was placed on the world's agenda and that it stayed there until its demise."

"He was a tremendous person; the world is a better place because there was a Trevor Huddleston."

"I contracted TB when I was 14 and although he had these very eminent world figures visiting him, he would always make time to visit me in hospital and bring me books. I admired him enormously and I'm sure part of me when I became a priest and a bishop was trying to emulate someone like Trevor Huddleston. Us urchins would go to his office and we'd be playing marbles on the floor and in the next room he had Yehudi Menuhin or someone. We attended a concert and while we didn't know a violin from a spade - it was just tweet, tweet, tweet to us - we knew that it said something about us as people that such a great man had come to our home." "

"If you could say that anybody single-handedly made apartheid a world issue then that person was Trevor Huddleston."

Bedford's Tribute

A bust of the man who spent his life fighting apartheid was bought for Bedford by millionaire businessman, Chris Kilroy, High Sherriff of Bedfordshire at the time, who donated 10,000 to buy the bronze bust of Archbishop Sir Trevor Huddleston to mark his year of office and the millennium.

This bust is now in position. Behind is the High Street, on the left of the statue is Debenhams, and Huddleston looks down Silver Street.

On Friday 7th April 2000 Nelson Mandela, ex-premier of South Africa, visited Bedford to pay tribute to Trevor Huddleston.

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Rest eludes Huddleston

17 January 1999

NINE months after his death, Archbishop Trevor Huddleston's dying wish to be laid to rest in his beloved Sophiatown has been thwarted by an embarrassing dispute over funds for a church's restoration project, writes, BONNY SCHOONAKKER. Shortly before his death last April the veteran anti-apartheid campaigner told members of his order, the Community of the Resurrection, that he wanted his remains to be interred in the Church of Christ the King in Sophiatown, where he began his life-long campaign against apartheid. But, according to The Times yesterday, the Community of the Resurrection, based in West Yorkshire in England, which Huddleston joined as a novice in 1939, has been asked by Johannesburg's Anglican diocese to pay 15 000 (about R150 000) towards the restoration of the church before it can allow his ashes to be interred there. The community, which is keeping Huddleston's ashes at its priory in West Turffontein, told the newspaper that it was "deeply embarrassed" by the affair but that payment for the restoration of the church would amount to improper use of its funds. Father Crispin Harrison, the superior of the Community of the Resurrection, told the newspaper that he planned to fly to Johannesburg to try to resolve the dispute. "My one dear wish is to see my dear brother finally laid to rest before the first anniversary of his death," he said.

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Last Updated on: 9 April 2000
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