“It was January 1981 and a fire in New Cross takes 13 young peoples lives. When I heard the news like many I was in a state of shock!” Said Menelik Shabazz
“The fire was one incident that to many of us didn’t feel right. The police wanted us to believe there was an argument and that a black person was responsible – discounting a racist attack possibility.
“I got involved with the various organisations who came together to express community anger at the deaths and the way the police were handling the case.
“We were sure it was a racist attack in an area where similar types of incidents have happened before using petrol bombs. We organised the Black Peoples Day of Action March that was called for at the local community meeting and I felt impelled to record this moment on film.
“This incident touched people far and wide people were coming in coaches from across the UK. I borrowing old film stock from camera people who were sympathetic and organised two film crews. People like Chris Cox, Albert Bailey (sound), Roy Cornwall, Imruh Caesar (director on the day) came forward to support this effort.
“The film was edited in a deliberate newsreel style, a throwback to 2nd World War propaganda films. This was agit-prop filmmaking with no pretence at being impartial. In my mind it was a film for underground circulation in the community but the reality was different. Not many people saw the film as I expected simply because it was only available to show on a 16mm projector which restricted access. It is only in recent years that the film has been available on DVD.”
Remembrance Day is drawing near. These posts are to redress the balance and to remember that Black people supported the war effort from Britain, Europe and men and women from the Commonwealth and the Empire. The posts are also to acknowledge the deep-seated racism in the European armed forces at the time, ‘Lest We Forget’.
“So dedicated were the French to these theories that they convinced themselves that West Africans, being supposedly more primitive than Europeans, could better withstand the shock of battle and experienced physical pain less acutely. This justified deploying them as shock troops in the first line of battle. As a result, West African soldiers on the western front between 1917 and 1918 were two-and-a-half times more likely to be killed in action than white French infantrymen. The British held similar views of the people of India. Dismissing most of the people of the subcontinent as passive and effeminate, they only recruited from certain ethnic groups, the so-called ‘martial races’.
Margaret Busby is an extremely admirable figure in the British publishing industry, as she became the youngest and first black female book publisher in 1967, aged 23.
The Ghanaian-born publisher, editor, writer and broadcaster co-founded Allison & Busby in 1967, which published the works of many writers, including up and coming black writers.
She also continuously campaigns for diversity within the publishing industry and was a founding member of Greater Access to Publishing (GAP), which works to increase representation of Black writers in British publishing.
Constantly in demand Busby is a frequent contributor to the Guardian, The Sunday Times and the Independent. She has works regularly in radio and television. She presented Break for Women on the BBC Africa Service and London Line for the Central Office of Information. She has also contributed to programmes such as Open Book, Front Row and Woman’s Hour.
Margaret Busby OBE is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
Founder of Europe’s largest ever black newspaper The Voice also founded Black Britain and The Weekly Journal.
From a small, east London council flat in 1982, Val McCalla started the weekly newspaper, the Voice, which went on become the mouthpiece of Britain’s black community and made him a multi-millionaire.
Launched at the Notting Hill carnival that August, it grew into the most popular and important black newspaper in this country. From initial sales of only 4,000, within eight years the Voice was selling more than 53,000 copies a week – and turning over a small fortune in job recruitment advertising.
Its birth was an inspired vision by McCalla. He saw that Britain’s national press gave scant coverage to black issues – and that when it did, it was usually negative. There were a couple of black-orientated publications which appealed to an older generation of Caribbean immigrants, whose notion of “home” lay thousands of miles away. But for a younger generation of British-born blacks, there was nothing.
McCalla identified the emerging culture of the black British identity and honed it into tabloid form. Helped with start-up money from the Greater London Council, his paper quickly established itself as an important campaigner against all forms of racism. For local authorities, and voluntary sector organisations concerned about the lack of ethnic minorities in their ranks, it became a valuable recruitment tool. This led to pages of job advertising.
The job of campaigning black newspaper publisher was far removed from McCalla’s early ambitions. He studied accountancy at Kingston College in Jamaica, and arrived in England in May 1959, aged 15, with dreams of being a pilot. He joined the RAF, but his plans were soon grounded by a perforated eardrum. He spent five years in the supplies section, where he picked up book-keeping skills.
After leaving the RAF in the mid-1960s, he worked in a variety of accounts and book-keeping positions, before volunteering to go part-time on a radical community newspaper, East End News, based near his flat in Bethnal Green. The newspaper bug took a grip, and, within a few years, the Voice had risen from idea into reality.
Despite considerable financial success, McCalla lived a modest life and kept a low profile; there was no vast country mansion or Italian sports car. After being stopped by police several times in his Sussex neighbourhood, he traded in his Mercedes for a Volvo – and lamented that, despite his money, he was like many other black men in Britain, still a victim of prejudice.
But his legacy stretched further than the pages of his newspaper. Many of the black journalists working in mainstream media today got their first break at the Voice. Among them are the television reporter Martin Bashir and the senior programme producer Sharon Ali. People met and got married through the personal pages of the Voice. People found employment via recruitment adverts. Institutionally racist organisations were put under pressure. But, more that anything else, Black Britons were given a voice for the very first time.
Val McCalla died on August 22, 2002 of liver failure.
Born on September 27th, 1953, in London of Jamaican parents, Abbott was educated at Harrow County Girls’ Grammar School and Newnham College, Cambridge, with an MA in History.
A journalist by profession, she worked as an administrative trainee with the Home Office; Race Relations Officer for the National Council for Civil Liberties; a reporter with TV AM and Thames Television; Public Relations Officer with the GLC; and Head of Lambeth Council’s Press Office.
Abbott was active in the Black Sections movement within the Labour Party and in community politics, including OWAAD (Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent); the “Scrap Sus” campaign to ban police stop-and-search tactics levelled at Black youth; and was a founder member of the Black Media Workers’ Organisation.
Active for many years in the Trades Union movement, particularly on race equality issues, Abbott served for a year as Britain’s first Black female Equality Officer in the Association of Cinematographers Television and Allied Technicians.
She also served as an elected local councillor in the London Borough of Westminster for four years, during which she was a member of the Environment, Grants and Social Services.
Diane Abbott was married to David Thompson until a divorce in the mid 1990s, she has one son by that marriage. She is also founder and president of the organisation Black Women Mean Business.
Claudia Jones was a leading figure in London’s Caribbean community from 1955 until her early death in 1964. She founded The West Indian Gazette, and is known as ‘the mother of the Notting Hill Carnival’.
Jones was born in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, in 1915, when Trinidad was still a British colony. When she was eight, she moved with her parents and three sisters to Harlem, New York. Living in impoverished conditions, Claudia caught tuberculosis and had to drop out of school in 1932. For the rest of her life she suffered from damaged lungs and heart disease.
Jones stayed in New York from 1923 to 1955. In 1936, she became an active member of the American Communist Party. At the time, Black issues were still neglected in mainstream politics. The Communist Party, with its ethos of social equality, offered a voice for those fighting for Black civil rights.
Claudia Jones was a talented journalist and by the late 1940s she had become the editor of ‘Negro Affairs’ for the party’s paper, The Daily Worker. An elected member of the National Committee of the Communist Party, she also organised and spoke at events.
In 1948, she was arrested for her political activities and sentenced to the first of four spells in prison. Finally, following a year in the Alderson Federal Reformatory for Women, Jones was deported. She was refused entry to Trinidad and, in 1955, was granted asylum in England.
In London, Claudia Jones became a leader in the emerging. Black equal rights movement. Post-war migration from the Caribbean had caused tensions in the City Many West Indians suffered from prejudice in housing and employment. At the time, there was no legislation making it illegal to discriminate on the ground of colour.
In 1958, Jones founded the West Indian Gazette, the first newspaper printed in London for the Black community. It provided a forum for discussion of civil rights as well as reporting news that was overlooked by the mainstream media. Claudia worked as editor on the paper until her death, encouraging the most talented Black writers of the time to contribute to it.
WEST INDIAN GAZETTE
Courtesy of Lambeth Council: The West Indian Gazette was founded by the black leader and freedom fighter, Claudia Jones, in 1958. Her broad-based interest in world politics and charismatic personality raised the tone of the subjects covered and the calibre of both the contributing journalists and the people they interviewed. Claudia’s style of reportage increased the social and political awareness of the growing number of Black and Asian peoples in Britain, with in-depth articles on issues such as the MP Fenner Brockway’s stand on the Bill dealing with racial discrimination. The gazette was to close down six months after her death on December 25th, 1964. Front page of West Indian Gazette, Vol.5, No9, April19631992/16
One of Jones’ best-known legacies is the annual Notting Hill Carnival. She helped launch the event as a response to the 1958 riots, when tensions had turned violent as racist mobs attacked local Black residents. Using the West Indian tradition of carnival, the event was intended to create closer relations between all local communities. The first carnival was held in January 1959 in a local hall.
In the early 1960s, despite failing health, Jones helped organise campaigns against the 1962 Immigration Act. This had made it harder for non-Whites to migrate to Britain. She also campaigned for the release of Nelson Mandela, and spoke out against racism in the workplace.
Claudia Jones died of a heart attack on Christmas Eve 1964, aged just 48. She was buried in Highgate cemetery next to the grave of Karl Marx.