01 October 2020
Throughout October, we’ll be showcasing a series of blogs to mark Black History Month, giving a range of perspectives from the London Youth team and our board.
During the icebreaker of a recent all-staff meeting, we were asked, ‘what skill do you wish you had?’ I took this in its broadest sense and chose the ability to time travel, not really a skill but something I would love to be able to do.
I was then asked, ‘what era would you travel to?’ In a heartbeat, I said ‘the UK civil rights movement.’ Although not as well documented as the US civil rights movement, it is an important part of our history.
The British civil rights movement has a quiet strength and a determined passion, but it is nonetheless impactful. Perhaps not on a global scale but it most definitely resonates with me. There are distinct nuances that differentiate the American and the British experience for Black people, and the same type of activity is marked in very different ways.
If I think about the American civil rights movement, I can’t help but think how rich and powerful it has been. For example Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks is known for making a stand by refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger in 1955. Her actions led to the Montgomery bus boycott which sought an end to racist segregation laws.
I continue to wonder why all things American are so well documented, but the British experience is less so. There have been huge strides to bring about equality in Britain, which should be acknowledged and celebrated.
In 1963 when it was still legal to discriminate against a person based on their colour, Paul Stephenson, a Youth Worker in Bristol decided to take a stand. He organised a boycott of all buses owned by the Bristol Omnibus Company (BOC). The BOC brazenly operated ‘the colour bar’, a policy of refusing to employ Black and Asian people despite being the midst of skills shortage. The boycott lasted 4 months and was hugely supported by a number of Black organisations and churches in and around the Bristol area. Eventually the BOC backed down by changing its policy.
This was a huge achievement for Stephenson and Black people in the Britain as it overturned the colour bar but more importantly, paved the way for Race Relations Act of 1965.
Similarly, many of us know about and attend the Notting Hill Carnival, but many aren’t aware that it was born out of racial tensions in the 1950s and 1960s. Race relations between the police and black people led to riots in 1958.
The following year, Claudia Jones hosted an event in Camden to showcase the richness of carnival culture and I believe to put the emphasis back on the ‘celebration of black culture’. Few were in attendance in the early days but today, the Notting Hill Carnival has been hailed as Europe’s largest Street Festival. On a personal note, I really don’t like the term ‘street festival’ (aka street party) as it downplays how the Carnival started and its historic significance.
Civil rights or not, throughout history, we are more likely to hear of the American experience with little thought of what is happening right here on our own doorstep – good or bad.
Murder at the hands of the police that you’re more likely to hear about:
- Breonna Taylor
- Eric Garner
- George Floyd
- Sandra Bland
But not so well known are the names of the people who died at the hands of the police here in Britain, such as:
- Cynthia Jarret
- Derek Bennett
- Joy Gardener
- Mark Duggan
I think about the first march I went on for the New Cross fires and all the other marches over the last few decades. Or the demonstrations I have initiated or any of the many protests I have been a part of and realise I am an activist in my own way, a campaigner and an advocate for equal treatment of Black people. It is not my intention to downplay my American brothers and sisters’ efforts. But I would like to take a moment and acknowledge the Black British contribution to civil rights and meaningful change.
So, when someone engages you in a conversation about activism, campaigning and civil rights, and they mention Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Bobby Seal or Huey P Newton, remember to say the names of Black Brits who have led the charge in the our civil rights movement: Claudia Jones, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Darcus Howe, Dianne Abbott and Doreen Lawrence. Or as I do, say the names of those community leaders who aren’t in our history books, like my old boss Winston Pinder – Chairperson of the Afro Caribbean organisation in Camden. The strides this man made to lead change in the borough are unheard of and unspoken.
We have our own civil rights activists, advocates, champions and campaigners and I am proud of them and their achievements.
I salute the advocate, activist, champion and campaigner in you.
Angela Lynch | Head of People
Angela joined London Youth in February 2020, having worked largely in the third sector mainly within education. In addition, Angela worked for a number of campaigning organisations, which worked closely with organisations such as the African National Congress where Angela arranged speaking tours. Since joining London Youth, Angela has led discussions about race and racism with members of the London Youth staff team and board, helping to drive through London Youth’s commitment to being an anti-racist organisation.