Written by Vicky Iglikowski and Rowena Hillel from The National Archives. This post relates to two Being Human events, led by the Black Cultural Archives and The National Archives, on the hidden histories of the black British civil rights movement, and is interspersed with spoken word pieces created by workshop participants.
“Have you heard of the Mangrove Nine before? “Have you heard of Martin Luther King?”
These questions opened the spoken word workshop run by Trinidadian writer and musician Roger Robinson at The National Archives on 21 November, the second of two collaborative events held with the Black Cultural Archives as part of the Being Human festival.
Our starting point was the realisation that black British history is vastly understudied in schools in comparison to American civil rights, and yet there is a rich history of black British civil rights struggles in the UK. We wanted to reclaim this largely forgotten history through the undeniable power of the archive material that survives in both collections, and introduce this material to new generations.
This combining of collections united the government and the community archive material for the first time in examining the full story of the Mangrove Nine. These protests and the trial of the nine individuals that followed represented a pivotal movement in UK race relations history. The material ranged from the original complaints made by Frank Crichlow in 1969 to the Race Relations Board on the racially motivated raids on his restaurant the Mangrove, to the compelling political statement of why the protests happened in response.
This statement reads: ‘We, the black people of London have called this demonstration in protest against constant police harassment which is being carried out against us, and which is condoned by the legal system.'
Spoken word from The National Archives workshop: written and performed by Jemilea Wisdom and Ijeoma Peter
The National Archives’ material provided the opportunity to look at previously secret Metropolitan Police reports on ‘black activism’, posters of the Black Panthers and the actual eyewitness accounts of people who were there, alongside unique community ephemera held by the Black Cultural Archives. Vivid photographs were used by the police to suggest that key allies of the Black Power movement were implicated in planning and inciting a riot.
The Black Cultural Archives images depict pickets outside the courts by Neil Kenlock, the official photographer for the UK Black Panther Movement, alongside grassroots publications, periodicals and pamphlets reacting to the protests and court process from the Ansel Wong collection. This rich material of this living history inspired discussion and debate throughout the events reflecting on the Mangrove Nine’s resonance to current race relations. Participants immersed themselves in the archival material to explore themes of protest, civil rights and racism.
Spoken word from the Black Cultural Archives workshop: written and performed by Almitra
This historical research inspired the final two hours of the workshops. Discussion was channelled through the powerful force of spoken word poetry to great effect. Ultimately the events succeeded in the key aim of making seemingly old archive material relevant and accessible to young audiences by using the creative vehicle of spoken word to open up this rich area of history in black British civil rights.
These events on black British civil rights took place on Saturday 14 November and Saturday 21 November for Being Human 2015.
Feature image: Black Power demonstration and march, west London, 1970 (The National Archives catalogue reference: MEPO 31/21) Image 1: Archival material at The National Archives Image 2: Flyer calling for justice for the Mangrove Nine, 1970. In the tenth week of the trial these were distributed to black people around the court and Notting Hill to raise awareness of the case (The National Archives catalogue reference: HO 325/143)