Race Matters

Runnymede Trust and the 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta

The Runnymede Trust, the UK’s leading race equality think tank, is named after the place where the Magna Carta was sealed 800 years ago today.

Most of the articles of the Magna Carta have long been superseded, but the principle that a monarch’s authority needed to be checked and that privileges should extend beyond the aristocracy are ones that we rightly view as underpinning our own liberal democracies many centuries later.

When the Runnymede Trust was founded in 1968, equal rights were still not a reality. By affirming the legacy of the Magna Carta our founders were highlighting how ending racial discrimination was a further interpretation of that historic document, but also indicating why those principles needed further legislation, policy and social change to become a reality.
This reminds us also that it is the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Race Relations Act, Britain’s first attempt to make the principles of Magna Carta a reality for the country’s Black and minority ethnic citizens. Further major pieces of legislation have since been passed in 1968, 1976, 2000 and 2010, indicating the importance of ensuring that democratic principles are indeed implemented, but also that governments often do so in response to social change and civil society pressure from ‘below’, whether those are Barons, Chartists, Suffragettes, or the Caribbean response to racist attacks in West London in the 1950s that we now know as Notting Hill Carnival.

Runnymede is planning a major conference commemorating these twin anniversaries, reminding us of the importance of democratic and legal principles articulated 800 years ago today. The commemoration also reminds us of the struggles of others over the intervening centuries, and indeed the need for further policy, civil society pressure, and wider social change, to make those principles a reality in 21st century Britain for Black and minority ethnic people, and for everyone.
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