Part of The Black Creative Voice series, written by our alumni Seyi Alawode and team
Black America often takes centre stage within the discourse of black people’s fight for equality. Yet, postmodern Britain (ie Britain from the 1960s-80s) saw a notable emergence of ‘radical’ Black Power groups eg The Black Panther Group, within the country.
By 1968, there were a variety of said groups in operation, all of whom shared the common goal of ending the black plight for good. The ‘radicals’ in question advocated for the right of self-defence for every black person, refusing to shy away from force when necessary.
Here, we take a look at the groups & incidents alike that revolutionised the scope of Black Britain.
The Black Panther Group
Possibly the largest and most influential of these groups was the Black Panthers, which arose in the summer of 1968 inspired by its American counterpart.
BPG was founded by Obi B Egbuna, a Nigerian playwright who later co-wrote the first British ‘Black Power’ manifesto. Egbuna implemented his activism in his creative work, a tactic that soon led to his arrest on the grounds of ‘conspiring’ to harm the British Police. The movement was later taken over by Althea Lecointe, a Trinidadian woman who played a key role in ensuring that the safety and protection of black women remained at the core of the organisation.
Black panthers and the Mangrove trial 1970
Panthers' most prolific campaign was one in defence of the Mangrove Restaurant, a Caribbean restaurant in Notting Hill. It’s been recalled as ‘the high watermark of the Black Power movement’ in Britain, and its significance is multi-layered.
The Mangrove was the first black restaurant in Notting Hill, owned by Frank Crichlow. It was different from your average restaurant, in that it served as a centre for black folk seeking kinship, advice and community. For this very reason, the thriving restaurant came under attack. A group of policemen local to the area (otherwise known as the heavy mob) raided the Mangrove 12 times between January 1969 and July 1970 on the grounds that Crichlow’s establishments were seemingly ‘drug dens’.
In response to this, restaurant owner Crichlow, together with Darcus Howe & The Black Panthers, mobilised the black community within the area to march in protest. This led to the arrest of the ‘Mangrove Nine’, all of whom were later acquitted of all charges.
The trial was significant in that it forced the first systematic acknowledgement of racial prejudice inside the Metropolitan Police, more than 27 years before the MacPherson Report recognised institutional racism.
Black people’s day of action march of 1981: The New Cross Fire
The New Cross fire occurred during a house party in New Cross, south-east London in the early hours of Sunday, 18 January 1981. It, unfortunately, took the lives of thirteen young black people aged between 14 and 22, with one survivor sadly taking his own life two years later.
Strangely enough, the cause of the fire till this day remains unknown, and not a single person has been charged since.
To commemorate the lives lost & pressure for systematic action, the New Cross Massacre Action Committee was set up. Led by Darcus Howe and John La Rose, some 20,000 people marched across London in demand of justice for the victims of the fire. Crowds from as far as Birmingham and Manchester -- even France -- attended to lend their voices to the cause.
Disappointing yet unsurprisingly, there has been little to no progress in this case since then.
The demonstrations did, however, bring the country to a standstill, signalling a turning point in the movement for racial equality.
Brixton Riots, 1981
In April 1981, tensions arose in Brixton between some black people and the British police, as the former grew frustrated from racial maltreatment through the latter’s abuse of stop and search. These later grew into violent fights, which became known as the Brixton Riots/Brixton Uprising. Buildings and cars were set on fire and the damages came to an estimated £7.5 million.
It’s upsetting looking back on how reminiscent these incidents are of some modern-day fights for equality. Upon reading about the New Cross Fire, what sadly comes to mind is the Grenfell Fire in 2017.
Though not necessarily related to the black plight, the latter was equally an indicator of the UK’s disregard for black & brown lives.
Secondly, the Brixton Riots in 1981 (then 1991, then 1995), brought to mind the 2011 Tottenham riots, in response to the unjust death of Mark Duggan.
Both incidents are reflective of just how frustrated the black community gets when our voices are continually silenced, our people recurrently murdered, and our lives perpetually & institutionally oppressed.
Seeing history repeat itself raises these very simple question:
When will it stop?
We’re asking for one thing: to be free. In all its terms.
How hard could it possibly be?
Decades after the postmodern era, later the black plight in Britain is still normalised. As such, daily activism has in turn become the norm for several black folks.
Thanks to digital platforms, however, it has taken a different form. The leveraging of social media for social justice purposes has allowed for easy accessibility of resources, mobilisation of activist groups (as seen in the BLM Protests in the UK this year) and created somewhat safe spaces for people to learn & unlearn.
Will the accessibility of social media and the unity of the global black voice be a force strong enough to push us closer towards our goal of liberation?
Or will history repeat itself, yet again?