London: A Black History Tour

There are a multitude of important Black History landmarks dotted throughout London. Here is a run through of some of the locations you should know about this Black History Month (and beyond). 

Brixton

Black Cultural Archives –  Founded by activist Len Garrison in 1981, the centre moved to it’s Brixton base in 2014. The archive has a variety of rotating exhibitions, a bookshop and a cafe. There is also an extensive library and archive of African and Caribbean memorabilia. The Organisation for Women of African and Asian Descent was based in Brixton in the 1980s and stores a lot of its history here.

Railton Road – 121 Railton Road in Brixton was the house where Olive Morris squatted in. Olive Morris was a Jamaican born British Black nationalist, squatters rights activist and community leader. 121 Railton Road became a hub of political activism and organising against racism and state violence. The building was also the site of the Sabarr Bookshop, one of the first Black community bookshops.

Dalston

Dalston Peace Mural – The Dalston Lane Peace Mural is a composition based on the 1983 Hackney Peace Carnival. It was painted in 1985 and has become a staple of the area.

Central London

Cleopatra’s Needle, Embankment – Taken from the Nile Valley in the late 19th century, this obelisk was created almost 3,500 years ago. That is about 1,500 years before London was founded by the Romans. It is an incredible testament to the thousands of years of African engineering and science which predate European colonisation and slavery. (The name is confusing but it had nothing to do with the famous Egpytian queen Cleopatra). 

YMCA Bloomsbury – A blue commemorative plaque for Dr Harold Moody was placed here in 2019. Dr Moody, a Jamaican born physician and campaigner, formed ‘The League of Coloured Peoples’ with a group of other YMCA Club members on 13th March 1931. The goal of the organisation was racial equality around the world, a primary focus being on black rights in Britain.

Museum of London – The Museum of London showcases the history of the city from prehistoric to modern times. The Museum currently has several online exhibitions which explore different aspects of Black Britain ranging from the Windrush generation to different photo series of Black Britain and the history of dub reggae. 

Notting Hill- The first iteration of Carnival which was called ‘Claudia’s Carnival’ was held in 1959. Named after anti-racism campaigner Claudia Jones who reacted to the violence of the Notting Hill riots, by organising a celebration. This was the birth of Notting Hill Carnival.  It initially took place at St Pancras Town Hall and the next following six years would see the annual celebration hosted in community halls. In recent time, this event has become the expansive street party we all know and love.

The Mangrove Restaurant – The Mangrove was a Carribean restaurant founded by activist Frank Chrichlow in Notting Hill. This became a popular meeting spot for notable Black figures – from Nina Simone to Bob Marley. It was also a spot frequented by the Black Panthers. In 1969, the restaurant became the target of police attention. It was raided 12 times in the space of 6 months. Protests erupted to demand that the police back off the Mangrove – which resulted in violence and the arrest of nine protestors (‘the Mangrove Nine’).

New Cross

New Cross Fire – On 18th January 1981, an arson attack caused the death of 13 young Black people at a party. This tragedy was widely ignored by the police and the government attempted to blame the victims. There caused such a massive outcry from the community who organised the Black People’s Day of Action. This culminated into a demonstration of up to 20,000 people who walked from New Cross to Hyde Park demanding equal rights and justice. A plaque commemorating the victims was introduced in 2011.

Finsbury Park

New Beacon Books – Founded by activist John La Rose in 1966, this is the oldest surviving bookshop and publishing house in London. It also served as a Saturday School for black children and was a key meeting spot for the Black Parents Movement.

Haringey

Bruce Castle Museum – Bruce Castle is a 16th century manor house which was converted into a museum in the 19th century. The archives of the London borough of Haringey are housed within the Bruce Castle Museum. There is evidence of the presence of enslaved Africans in baptism and burial records in Tottenham and Hornsey church parish registers. 

I hope this inspires you to (safely) explore the city and check out some Black History gems which may be right at your doorstep.  

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