On the first anniversary of Sarah White's passing, we celebrate her life and work

February 6, 2023

Saturday 4 February 2023 marked one year since the passing of Sarah White, just two months before her eighty-first birthday. It was a loss keenly felt by the George Padmore Institute (GPI).

Sarah was not only a co-founder of the Institute, she was also one of the unsung heroes of the struggle for racial equality and social justice over many decades. Already steeped in political activity from her years at Leeds University and the time she spent in the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, when Sarah met John La Rose, she found someone whose belief in change chimed with hers. Their unity of vision is what led them to co-found New Beacon Books, the UK’s first black publisher and bookshop.

It was Sarah who was able to afford the building on Stroud Green Road which houses New Beacon Books and which was gifted by her to the George Padmore Institute. As an archive which houses collections related to many of the political and cultural movements which John and Sarah were part of – from the Caribbean Artists Movement to the International Book Fairs of Radical Black and Third World Books – the GPI was always what John ultimately worked towards, a place where many organisations’ records about their campaigns for racial equality and social justice could be stored and accessed to help to educate future generations about what had gone on before. Without Sarah’s constant input of time, funds and hard work, we simply would not be here in our current form today.

Sarah was a remarkable woman of many talents. She held a Doctorate from Imperial College, worked as an editor at New Scientist for many years, spoke Russian, travelled widely, knew many people across continents and had a brilliant memory. She loved walking, reading (particularly Jane Austen – and Italian crime novels!), doing jigsaw puzzles, going to the theatre, visiting people. She had many friends whose birthdays she never forgot and who she would ring often. She was full of life and was interested in life. All of us at the Institute still miss her very much.

Sharmilla Beezmohun

Sarah was the co-recipient of the first Bocas Henry Swanzy Award in 2013 — alongside her late partner John La Rose. Photo copyright: Maria Nunes

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