Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, an event that sends shock waves reverberating around the world.
Enoch Powell makes the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech at a Conservative Political Centre meeting in Birmingham on April 20, 1968. The speech is made as the Race Relations bill is making its way through Parliament. The bill would make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of colour or creed. In a world where the infamous ‘no dogs, no blacks, no Irish’ is a commonplace refrain, this is to be a significant change.
The Black People’s Alliance is established in response to Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech. It brought together more tan 50 African, Caribbean, and Asian organisations. In 1969, activists organise a march of more than 7,000 people who demand that the proposed legislation, designed to stop immigration from Black commonwealth countries, should be dropped. This is the largest Black demonstration to date.
British Black Panther Movement
The British Black Panther Movement, or the British Black Panthers (BBP) is the first Panther organisation to form outside of the USA. It is founded by Obi Egbuna in 1968, however, after his arrest, the leadership is passed to Altheia Jones-LeCointe. In 1970, Darcus Howe and Farrukh Dhondy joined the movement. Around 1970, the Panthers relocate the centre of their organisation from Portobello Road in Notting Hill to Brixton, meanwhile establishing separate branches in Acton and Finsbury Park as part of their push to establish roots in the poorest Black communities. In doing so, the new leadership, in contrast to the old, focusses on community outreach. A minority of the Panthers are not happy with this new direction. Tony Soares leaves the Panthers to help form the separatist Black Liberation Front and, in 1973, the BBP ceases to exist while some members reorganise under the new name of the Black Workers’ Movement. Shortly afterwards Howe, Leila Hassan, and Dhondy found the Race Today Collective.
Bogle-L’Ouverture Publications (BLP) is established in order to promote radical writing by Black authors or by those with a sympathetic view of Black people’s history. They publish books by Walter Rodney, Bernard Coard, Lemn Sissay, and Valerie Bloom.
The Mangrove, a restaurant in Notting Hill, owned by Frank Crichlow, becomes a centre for the Black community – attracting intellectuals, artists, and campaigners. The restaurant is repeatedly raided by police, for example Between January 1969 and July 1970, police raided the restaurant on 12 occasions, citing narcotics use to justify their actions, even though drugs were never found . The central incident, which later became known as ‘the Mangrove affair’, takes place when a deputation of 150 Black people protest against ongoing police harassment of patrons of the popular restaurant. The protest leads to nine arrests and 29 charges.
Camden Arts Centre holds the first show in Britain to feature Contemporary African Art, from August 10–September 8, 1969. It is a testament to the curators that virtually all of these artists withstood the test of time and are now recognised as accomplished, successful artists: Yemi Bisiri, Jimoh Buraimoh, Dumile Feni, Uzo Egonu, Ibrahim El-Salahi, Ovia Idah, Vincent Akwete Kofi, Sydney Kumalo, Malangatana Valente Ngwenya, Azaria Mbatha, Julian Motau, Iba N’Diaye, Uche Okeke, Asiru Olatunde, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Hezbon Owiti, Gerard Sekoto, Twins Seven Seven, amongst others.
The group Caribbean Education and Community Workers’ Association (CECWA) consisted of West Indian teachers, social workers, educational psychologists, and community workers who campaigned to improve conditions for Caribbeans in Britain. It published the pamphlet How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Sub-Normal in the British School System in 1971.
Black Unity and Freedom Party
Formed in 1970 by Alrick (Ricky) Xavier Cambridge, George Joseph, Danny Morrell, and Sonia Chang, amongst others, in its early years the Black Unity and Freedom Party (BUFP) has three branches; two in London and one in Manchester. The BUFP actively seeks solidarity with groups such as the Indian Workers’ Association (GB) and the Institute of Race Relations (IRR). From August 1970, the BUFP publishes the Black Voice newspaper. It is printed in the form of a tabloid newspaper with pictures and articles documenting British and international political developments and is an important publication until its demise at end of the 1980s. The Black Women’s Action Committee is set up within the BUFP by Gerlin Bean. In 1971, it publishes a pamphlet called ‘Black Women Speak Out’, which gave a female perspective on racism.
Sigi Krauss begins to use his frame shop – on 29 Neal Street, Covent Garden, London – as an international gallery and important meeting place for Black and Asian artists, renaming it the ‘Sigi Krauss Gallery’. He later opened an exhibition called Gallery House.
The Immigration Act of 1971 is passed, provoking the biggest anti-racist demonstration in the history of Britain. The Act means that Commonwealth citizens lose their automatic right to remain in the UK and they would now face the same restrictions as immigrants from elsewhere. In the future, they would only be allowed to remain in the UK after having lived and worked here for five years. During the early 1970s, as the new rules result in many married couples being kept apart, this leads to many campaigns, including the ‘Immigration Widows’ and ‘Divided Families’ campaigns as well as campaigns against passport raids in 1973, which particularly affected migrant workers.
The Act’s impact is still being felt today. For example, in May 2018, we learn that sixty-three people have been wrongfully deported under the provisions of the Act.
The Campaign for the ‘Windrush’ generation started after Paulette Wilson publicised her case in the Guardian.
The Artists Liberation Front is formed by David Medalla, a Filipino artist, and John Dugger. They would later form the Artists for Democracy group with an international membership which included Rasheed Araeen.
Asian Ugandan refugees, fleeing persecution by the country’s military dictatorship, begin to arrive in Britain. The Asian Ugandan community was established during the British Empire and so its members have a right to British citizenship. Many councils do not want to house the refugees; Leicester City Council even places an advert in Ugandan newspapers urging people not to come to Leicester.
The film, The Harder They Come – a crime thriller with Jimmy Cliff, is released. The film has been described as ‘possibly the most influential of Jamaican films and one of the most important films from the Caribbean’.
Love Thy Neighbour, a comedy revolving around the lives of a Black couple and their racist neighbour, is first broadcast. Seven series were broadcast until 1976. It was widely criticised for its use of racist language.
Art and Culture
Aubrey Williams, founding member of the Caribbean Artists Movement, shows work at the Nicholas Treadwell Gallery, London
In 1974, the far right National Front (NF) holds a march through the West End of London that includes a meeting at Conway Hall, Bloomsbury. A counter-demonstration against the NF results in disorder, during which Kevin Gately is killed in Red Lion Square. Gately, a maths student from Warwick University, is reported to have died after being injured by police on horseback. The inquest results in a public inquiry, led by Lord Justice Scarman.
In May 1974, 1,100 Asian workers at the Imperial Typewriter Company in Leicester go on strike over unequal bonus payments and discriminatory promotion practice. The shop stewards’ committee and union branch refuse to support the strike but the strikers – supported by Bennie Bunsee, a South African Asian; the Indian Workers’ Association; and Race Today amongst others – stay on strike for almost fourteen weeks. The dispute is important in shifting the attitudes of British trade unionists towards immigrant workers. This would be borne out by much wider support for the largely Asian worker-led Grunwick dispute three years later.
In 1972, Britain’s oldest and largest non-governmental race relations organisation, the IRR, changes beyond recognition when its staff vote against the wishes of their board of directors and financial backers and transform the organisation from ‘a policy-oriented, disinterested research body into a progressive think-tank in the service of the Black community’, unbeknown to senior management. As a result, by 1974, the IRR has lost all its previous sources of funding and its premises, and now consists of a library and three members of staff, Ambalavaner Sivanandan, Jenny Bourne, and Hazel Waters. They keep the Institute going with the help of unpaid volunteers from the Black community, including several Black Power activists such as the BLF’s Tony Soares, the BUFP’s Roger Loftus, and the BBP’s Darcus Howe.
By 1974, Race and Class: A Journal for Black and Third World Liberation, has become the leading international English-language journal on racism and imperialism, attracting to its editorial board Orlando Letelier, Eqbal Ahmad, Malcolm Caldwell, John Berger, Basil Davidson, Thomas Hodgkin, Jan Carew, and Manning Marable, among others.
In London, the arts centre known as ‘The Drum Arts Centre ’ is established by John Mapondera and Cy Grant to encourage the art and cultural interests of the Afro Caribbean community. (not to be confused with The Drum in Birmingham)
A new Race Relations Act is passed, which makes racial discrimination unlawful in many circumstances. The Commission for Racial Equality is formed to enforce it.
In 1976, however, racial tensions are running high, due largely to the police’s ‘stop and search’ policy. Three thousand police officers – ten times the usual number – are assigned to police the Notting Hill Carnival. This over-policing leads to Black youths fighting the police at the end of the Carnival.
The Grunwick strike begins when six workers walk out of the Grunwick Film Processing Laboratory in Willesden, thereby igniting a historic two-year-long dispute that unites thousands in demanding better rights for poorly-treated workers. As the first workers leave the factory, one of them – Jayaben Desai – offers a parting shot to the management: ‘What you are running is not a factory, it is a zoo. But in a zoo, there are many types of animals. Some are monkeys who dance on your fingertips. Others are lions who can bite your head off. We are those lions, Mr Manager’.
Gurdip Singh Chaggar is murdered in Southall. This results in clashes between the Indian community and police in Southall. The day after the murder, the Southall Youth Movement (SYM) is born, which in turn inspires the formation of further Asian youth movements across the country. Read the memories of Gurdip Singh Chaggar’s family: http://www.comingofage.online/karamjit-chagger/
Eric Clapton makes a racist speech at concert. A complaint in the music magazine, NME, results in the establishment of the ‘Rock against Racism’ movement. ‘Rock Against Racism’ is founded in 1976 by the photographer Red Saunders and Roger Huddle, amongst others. Mixing politics with music, poetry, writing, and zines, it soon becomes an influential group nationally.
The West Indian cricket team’s tour of England, in 1976, comes at a time of mounting attacks on and provocations of Black communities, both by fascist groups – such as the National Front – and by the institutionally racist police forces. The situation is inflamed by comments from England Captain and native South African Tony Greig who, before the tour, claims, ‘I intend to make them grovel’. This comment comes amid the controversy about South African apartheid and sporting boycotts. The story of the Test was later made into a film, Grovel.
The Arts Britain Ignores: The Arts of Ethnic Minorities in Britain is published by Naseem Khan. This report charts the range of arts practiced amongst ethnic minority communities, which are invisible to and unsupported by national institutions.
The novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family is published, and soon becomes a cultural sensation. Calling his work ‘faction’ – that is, a combination of fact and fiction – African American author Alex Haley recounts his family history back through seven generations to Kunta Kinte, a Mandinka warrior from the Gambia who was enslaved in 1767 and taken to the United States. A year later his book is broadcast in the U.S. as a miniseries.
The National Front marches through Lewisham, Central London. Over 5,000 counter-demonstrators take to the streets to prevent a march of 500 National Front supporters – who are protected by a five-thousand-strong police force – from getting through Lewisham. The decision by the NF to hold a march through Lewisham in August 1977 divides the opposition, with regard to tactics, like no other issue has done to date. Lewisham is an area in which many Black people live, the NF have been campaigning there on the basis of high levels of Black crime, and the police have recently carried out raids on homes of supposed street criminals, arresting 21 people. A demonstration in support of the Lewisham 21 is attacked by the NF just weeks after a prominent Black activist is chased and beaten up by racists in a public lavatory. The march by the NF leads to a battle between anti-racist campaigners and the police.
Frank Bowling holds a solo exhibition at the Acme gallery in Covent Garden, London. This exhibition reflects on a decade of the artist’s practice, 1967–77. The exhibition comprises some sixteen paintings from his popular and celebrated map paintings through to a number of less figurative paintings.
Rasheed Araeen stages the happening Paki Bastard (Portrait of the Artist as a Black Person) for the first time. His performance marks a break with the medium of sculpture, bringing the body and lived experience to the centre of his work. In this one-man performance, Araeen plays the part of an immigrant worker sweeping the floor, who – blindfolded and gagged – becomes a victim of street violence and whose tragic murder then goes unnoticed and ignored. Paki Bastard spoke to the painful experiences of immigrants and their vulnerable existences in a limbo-land of fear and violence.
On May 4, 1978, a young Bangladeshi textile worker is murdered in East London. It is a racially motivated killing – not unique at the time – but one which leads to a large community campaign. Read more about the Altab Ali Foundation: http://www.altabalifoundation.org.uk/
Art and Culture
Formed by Ibrahim Wagh, Yeshwant Mali, Prafulla Mohanti, Suresh Vedak, Mohammad Zakir, Lancelot Ribeiro, and Balraj Khanna, the group Indian Artists Collective UK is renamed the Indian Artists United Kingdom (IAUK) in 1976. This initiative is developed from an earlier group called the Indian Painters Collective UK, which was formed in 1963.
The show Mixed Blessings is broadcast, a sitcom based around a Black woman – who marries a white man – and her husband’s racist parents.
Rasheed Araeen writes Preliminary Notes for a Black Manifesto. The manifesto results from Araeen reading Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1961) and about the death of David Oluwale in Leeds. As a result, Araeen starts making art which confronts the socio-political realities he witnesses in Britain. His manifesto calls for a radical ‘Third World’ art that confronts neo-colonialism and seeks to change old power relations by rejecting the idea of individual artistic genius, instead he argues that art should serve the interests of ordinary people, and challenge presiding Western versions of the history of art. The manifesto would have a huge impact on younger artists, including Eddie Chambers and Keith Piper, who would use it in their ideas in forming the Blk art group.
Around one hundred NF members meet in the town hall of Southall, a predominately Asian area in West London. Southall’s residents take to the streets to stop the NF meeting. A large presence of some 3,000 police officers results in a riot, and Blair Peach is killed.
In the early hours of Sunday January 18, 1981, a fire breaks out at no. 439 New Cross Road, killing thirteen young Black Londoners. In the face of public indifference towards and negative media coverage of the loss of thirteen young Black lives, as well as the perceived inaction of the police in attempting to apprehend the suspects, hundreds of people meet on January 25, 1981 at the Moonshot Club and march to the site of the fire in protest. The New Cross Massacre Action Committee is set up and plans are made for the Black People’s Day of Action on March 2, 1981.
The 1981 Brixton riot, or Brixton Uprising, are the names later given to a confrontation between the Metropolitan Police and protesters in Lambeth, south London, April 10–12, 1981. The riot results in almost 280 injuries to police and 45 injuries to members of the public. The trouble flares against the backdrop of heavy-handed policing, especially ‘Operation Swamp’, and the New Cross fire, which had taken place just weeks earlier.
Twelve members of the United Black Youth League are arrested as they prepare to defend Bradford’s Manningham area from a fascist attack. The Bradford 12 Defence Campaign was one of the most important campaigns to assert the right to self-defence in law.
The exhibition Black Art an’ Done: An Exhibition of Work by Young Black Artists is shown at the Wolverhampton Art Gallery, June 9–27. The exhibition shows the work of Keith Piper, Andrew Hazel, Ian Palmer, Dominic Dawes, and Eddie Chambers.
The period from 1981 to 1984 sees the Wolverhampton Young Black Artist Group re-named as the Blk Art Group. The Group focusses on the concerns of the Black community and racial prejudice. It also seeks to empower Black artists as well as to encourage young white artists to be more socially relevant in their practice. Working with a variety of mediums such as painting, installation, assemblage, and sculpture, the Blk Art Group question Britain’s social, cultural, and political legacies by appropriating, critiquing, and reinventing past art.
The Black Audio Film Collective (BAFC) is established. It is active until 1998 and consists of seven Black British media artists and filmmakers including John Akomfrah, Lina Gopaul, Avril Johnson, Reece Auguiste, Trevor Mathison, Edward George, and Claire Joseph. Joseph leaves in 1985 and is replaced by David Lawson.
No Problem!, the Channel 4 sitcom that focusses on a Black family, is broadcast. It is created by the Black Theatre Co-operative and written by Farrukh Dhondy and Mustapha Matura.
The Black Women Time Now exhibition opens at the Battersea Arts Centre, London, with Brenda Agard, Sonia Boyce, Chila Kumari Burman, Jean Campbell, Margaret Cooper, Elizabeth Eugene, Lubaina Himid, Claudette Johnson, Mumtaz Karimjee, Cherry Lawrence, Houria Niati, Ingrid Pollard, Veronica Ryan, Andrea Telman, and Leslee Wills.
The exhibition Five Black Women takes place at the Africa Centre and includes work by Sonia Boyce, Lubaina Himid, Claudette Johnson, Houria Niati, and Veronica Ryan.
The Pan-Afrikan Connection: An Exhibition of Work by Young Black Artists takes place at the Africa Centre, London, May–June 1982; Ikon Gallery, Bristol, November 1982; The Midland Group, Nottingham, January 1983; Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry, March 1983.
A convention entitled, ‘Radical Black Art: A Working Convention’, is held on March 28, 1984 at the Ukaidi centre, Nottingham. Speakers include: Lubaina Himid, John Akomfrah, Donald Rodney, Keith Piper, Eddie Chambers, and Marlene Smith. The event follows an evening of poetry with the Turbo Black Arts co-operative from Nottingham.
Armed police raid the home of Mrs Cherry Groce in search of her son, in connection with alleged firearms offences. Mrs Groce is shot by a policeman and left paralyzed from the waist down. Within hours, youths clash with police in the streets of Brixton, South London. The incident inspired Keith Piper’s work Adventures Close to Home as well as Kimathi Donkor’s Under Fire.
The riots in Brixton spread to other regions where there are deep tensions with police, including Peckham, south London, Toxteth, Liverpool, Handsworth in Birmingham, and Broadwater Farm in Tottenham, London – the latter erupts into riots in September – all of which are sparked by the death of Cynthia Jarrett and the shooting of Mrs Cherry Groce, both of whom suffer the results of wilful negligence on the part of the police.
The exhibition Eastern Views: Works by Young Asian Artists from the Midlands, is show at the New Walk Museum, Leicester and features works by Said Adrus, Saleem Ayub, Surinder Singh Juttla, Anuradha Patel, and Gurminder Sikand.
The Obaala Arts Collective tours the exhibition From Generation to Generation: The Installation, which features David A. Bailey, Sonia Boyce, Shakka Dedi, George Kelly, Kenneth McCalla, and Keith Piper, starting at the Cotton Gallery, Midlands Art Centre (MAC), Birmingham.
The exhibition The Thin Black Line at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London takes place. Curated by Lubaina Himid, the exhibition features work by Brenda Agard, Sutapa Biswas, Sonia Boyce, Chila Kumari Burman, Jennifer Comrie, Lubaina Himid, Claudette Johnson, Ingrid Pollard, Veronica Ryan, Marlene Smith, and Maud Sulter. The foreword on the inside cover of the catalogue explained ‘All eleven artists in this exhibition are concerned with the politics and realities of being Black Women. We will debate upon how and why we differ in our creative expression of these realities. Our methods vary individually from satire to storytelling, from timely vengeance to careful analysis, from calls to arms to the smashing of stereotypes. We are claiming what is ours and making ourselves visible. We are eleven of the hundreds of creative Black Women in Britain. We are here to stay’.
The exhibition Caribbean Expressions in Britain: An Exhibition of Contemporary Art takes places at the New Walk Museum, Leicester. Selected by Aubrey Williams, Pogus Caesar, and Bill Ming, the exhibition features work by Simone Alexander, Frank Bowling, Sonia Boyce, Pogus Caesar, Denzil Forrester, Anthony Jadunath, Errol Lloyd, John Lyons, Bill Ming, Ronald Moody, Colin Nichols, Eugene Palmer, Veronica Ryan, Gregory White, and Aubrey Williams.
The exhibition Conceptual Clothing takes place at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham and features the work of Rasheed Araeen, Sokari Douglas Camp, and Mona Hatoum, amongst others.
The exhibition Darshan: An Exhibition by Ten Asian Photographers takes place at Camerawork, London and features the work of Zarina Bhimji, Prodeepta Das, Ashvin Gatha, Sunil Gupta, Sunil Janah, Abida Kahn, Mumtaz Karimjee, Samina Khanour, Sarita Sharma, and Padma Shreshtha.
The historic election to the House of Commons of four Black Members of Parliament – Diane Abbott, Paul Boateng, Keith Vaz, and Bernie Grant – takes place.
Art and Culture
The Lenny Henry Show is broadcast on BBC 1, thereby establishing Lenny Henry as a national star.
The exhibition Critical Realism: Britain in the 1980s Through the Work of 28 Artists takes place at the Nottingham Castle Museum, Nottingham and features the work of Sutapa Biswas, Sonia Boyce, Tam Joseph, and Shanti Thomas.
The exhibition D-Max: A Photographic Exhibition takes place at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham and features the work of David A. Bailey, Marc Boothe, Gilbert John, David Lewis, Zak Ové, Ingrid Pollard, and Suzanne Roden.
The exhibition The Element Within, a group exhibition of Asian Artists, at the Bonington Gallery, Nottingham and features work by Said Adrus, Sardul Gill, and Gurminder Sikand.
The book There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation by Paul Gilroy is published.
Len Garrison, the founder of the Afro-Caribbean Education Resource (ACER), sets up the Afro-Caribbean Family and Friends (ACFF) Centre in Nottingham, as an educational and cultural organisation.
Salman Rushdie publishes The Satanic Verses.
Art and Culture
Autograph APB is formed – originally established as the Association of Black Photographers – with the photographer Rotimi Fani-Kayode becoming its first chair.
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