Arthur Thomas Benjamin France

Presentation address by Dr Claudia Sternberg


Carnival is a major cultural form and a festival of performance, creativity, political resistance and collective memory.  Arthur France is the person who, in 1967, brought carnival to Leeds, making it the first one in Europe to be organised by West Indians and modelled on the distinctive carnival traditions of the Caribbean.

Born on the island of Nevis into a family with a strong Christian ethos and commitment to learning, Arthur France came to Leeds in 1957.  He continued his education, pursued a career in building, had a family – and became one of the city’s most energetic, productive and enduring community leaders.

Arthur France was a founding member of the United Caribbean Association and the West Indian Centre.  He developed supplementary schooling and youth clubs in Chapeltown;  advocated black representation in politics and the media;  promoted the steel pan nationally and internationally;  and confronted racism.  He has received many awards for his work for the community and in raising the profile of Caribbean arts and culture, including an MBE and the prestigious Leeds Award.

The impact of Arthur France’s tireless work is far-reaching:  The carnival alone involves tens of thousands of local people every year, and Leeds has become a top destination for carnivalists from around the world.  For Arthur France, carnival is ‘a celebration of emancipation’:  this was most evident in 2007, the bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act.  The late Geraldine Connor staged her remarkable Carnival Messiah at Harewood House, boldly highlighting the shared history of colonial and cultural encounters.  It was Arthur, of course, who had initially brought Connor to Leeds to develop a curriculum of Caribbean music.  He also chaired the Leeds Bi-Centenary Transformation Project which organised hundreds of events to pass on knowledge about enslavement as well as African achievement, liberation and aspiration.
Carnival, according to Hollis Liverpool, creates ‘an image of man different from the reality of the social system’.

It is a utopian practice. Community leadership is grounded in reality, but through Arthur France’s vision and determination, a utopian potential has been realised.  It can truly be said that he has been instrumental in forming and shaping the postcolonial Leeds and Britain that we have today.

Vice-Chancellor, I am honoured and delighted to present to you for the Degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa,  Arthur Thomas Benjamin France.