Have you heard of Olive Morris?

I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t heard of Olive Morris until today although I’m not surprised because that kind of ignorance is why I started this blog in the first place.

I came across Olive’s story today when someone I follow on Twitter posted about a seminal book called ‘The heart of the race:Black women’s lives in Britain’ which is 30 years old today.

This book was published when I was nine-years-old and I think it is a sad indictment of the UK school system that I had not even heard about until now.

I’m not going to pretend I know much about it but the introduction to the book states: “this book originally came about as a response to gaps in the historical record, especially concerning Black women.

“Histories were being produced about Black struggles as a whole, but too often Black women’s roles and experiences were left out or diminished. The white-dominated women’s movements in the UK were also repeating the same thing: documenting ‘herstory’ from every angle except our own”.

I find it really moving that in 1985 there were people who recognised that the story of how Black people (especially, in this case, women) have and are contributing to the UK was not being heard and wanted to address it.

But it’s also a little bit sad that 30 years later IMO this topic has still not been properly addressed beyond a few committed and passionate individuals and organisations.

Anyway, back to Olive Morris who was a leading voice in the Black women’s movement in the UK and spoke out on a range of social issues especially housing and education.

Olive Morris at a rally

Copyright: BBC

Olive came to the UK from Jamaica when she was 9 years old and grew up in South London. During her teenage years she was involved in political activism and later co-founded several influential civil liberties groups including the Brixton Black Women’s Group and the Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent.

During the 1970s, which we all know was a turbulent time for Black people in the UK due to widespread racism and discrimination, Olive could be called on to mobilise and organise people and ensure their voices were heard. She was evidently a strong, committed and active woman who was determined to stand up for vulnerable people who may otherwise have been ignored by the system.

Instead of sitting around, bemoaning the way things were, Olive set about trying to make them better and her courage in the face of what must have seemed daunting odds, is to be admired, even if you might not agree with all of her ideas or methods.

People like Olive don’t come along often but when they do they shake up the establishment and show other individuals that we can all make a difference.

Sadly, Olive died of non Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1979 at the age of just 27, but I’ve often said you don’t have to live a long life to make an impact on the world and it’s clear that she certainly did from what I have been reading.

I really think that learning about Black Caribbean people such as Olive, Claudia Jones, Walter Tull, should be compulsory in British schools.

I certainly wish that I had known some of these stories when I was growing up – it may have helped me to realise just how much Black Caribbean people have added to the history of the country I was born in and so deserve to have their sacrifices remembered.

Further reading:

https://rememberolivemorris.files.wordpress.com/2007/09/om_biog.pdf

https://rememberolivemorris.wordpress.com/category/remembering-olive/

http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/london/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8310000/8310579.stm

 

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Fighting for King and Empire

Well it seems a few people might be beginning to understand the value of Caribbean people to Britain over the decades, as there seems to be almost a plethora of news, exhibitions, articles and programmes that have emerged recently celebrating the theme of this website.

The BBC are showing a documentary tomorrow (Wednesday 13th May) that fits in nicely with some of the posts I have put on here about the brave men and women from the West Indies who voluntarily fought in WWI and WWII for ‘the mother country’. The film, called ‘Fighting for King and Empire: Britain’s Caribbean heroes’ will be shown on BBC Four tomorrow at 9pm and will then be available on demand on the BBC player.

The promotional copy for the documentary says: “This programme is based on a film entitled Divided By Race – United in War and Peace, produced by The-Latest.com.

During the Second World War, thousands of men and women from the Caribbean colonies volunteered to come to Britain to join the fight against Hitler. They risked their lives for King and Empire, but their contribution has largely been forgotten.

In this programme, some of the last surviving Caribbean veterans tell their extraordinary wartime stories: from torpedo attacks by German U-boats and the RAF’s blanket bombing of Germany to the culture shock of Britain’s freezing winters and war-torn landscapes. This brave sacrifice confronted the pioneers from the Caribbean with a lifelong challenge – to be treated as equals by the British government and the British people.

In testimony full of wit and charm, the veterans candidly reveal their experiences as some of the only black people in wartime Britain. They remember encounters with a curious British public and confrontation with the prejudices of white American GIs stationed in Britain.

After the war, many veterans returned to the Caribbean where they discovered jobs were scarce. Some came back to Britain to help rebuild its cities. They settled down with jobs and homes, got married and began to integrate their rich heritage into British culture. Now mostly in their 80s and 90s – the oldest is 104 – these pioneers from the Caribbean have helped transform Britain and created an enduring multicultural legacy.

With vivid first-hand testimony, observational documentary and rare archive footage, the programme gives a unique perspective on the Second World War and the history of 20th-century Britain.”

I’m going to try and watch it – I hope you will too.

See also:

http://www.the-latest.com/bbc-film-recognise-britains-caribbean-heroes

http://newafricanmagazine.com/britain-divided-by-race-united-in-war/

West Indian officers in WWI

I read recently on the BBC website about a man of Jamaican descent called David Louis Clemetson who volunteered to join the armed forces in WWI and became an officer in the Yeomanry in 1915 which is today’s equivalent of the territorial army.

The BBC suggests that this would make him the first black officer in the British army rather than Walter Tull although it does admit that Tull was an officer in the regular army which is an important distinction. But these two men along with another man of Jamaican descent called George Bemand (who apparently lied about his black heritage so he could get around regulations which forbid black officers in the British army at that time) were obviously incredibly brave and proud.

In fact according to the BBC article on Clemetson, 16,000 West Indians served in the rank and file in WWI in segregated units like the British West India regiments and I am extremely honoured that these soldiers were willing to die to secure a better future for generations unknown.

I also find it endlessly fascinating that so long ago people who were descendants of slaves were voluntarily fighting for the British and dying for the Empire.

These stories seem to be coming to light more and more because of the centenary of the first World War and I am glad that we are finding out about this rich history which shows the unbelievable contribution people of Caribbean descent have made to this island over many years in blood, sweat and tears.

Check out the full story of David Louis Clemetson on the BBC website – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-31796542

A historic voyage of discovery

The history of black Caribbean people in the UK is long and varied, as I hope I have been demonstrating through the posts on this blog, but there will always be one event that is forever linked with our past in this country and that is the arrival of the Empire Windrush in June 1948.

On that ship were over 490 passengers from Jamaica and Trinidad which was the largest number of black Caribbean people to come to Britain at one time.

The people that arrived on the Windrush were brave, bold and enterprising and the others that followed shortly afterwards would undoubtedly thank them for taking that first step and showing the way.

My video montage posted below (with captions) charts the arrival of the Windrush and highlights some of the achievements of those on board as well as their descendants.

The Windrush voyage was history in the making and its arrival nearly 70 years ago shows how far Caribbean people have come.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step (Lao Tzu)”.

References / further reading:

http://www.voice-online.co.uk/article/empire-windrush-jamaica-sails-british-history

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/modern/windrush_01.shtml

http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/arrival-ss-empire-windrush

http://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item107829.html