Sunday Morning Medicine

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David Harley

The article about the British Black Panthers reminds me of several things.

One is the story of Britain’s ugliest representative of Black Power in the 1960s, Michael X, who was executed for some very nasty murders in Trinidad, in 1975. He was supported in his plea for clemency by Kate Millett, Angela Davis, Dick Gregory and John Lennon.

Another is the derision with which mssionaries from the Nation of Islam were met by the black commnunity in London, when they arrived in their typical uniform to make converts. Like many Americans, they failed to understand that immigrants from the West Indies had a range of backgrounds and experiences that were very different from those of the descendants of American slaves.

Another is the way that various race riots have been erased from memory. It is perhaps unsurprising that the Evil May Day riot of 1517 or the Tredegar anti-Jewish riot of 1911 have been forgotten, but the same has happened to riots within living memory, which have receded as the circumstances have changed. The 1958 Notting Hill riot, which led to over 100 arrests and to nine white youths receiving five-year sentences and large fines, is one example, barely remembered except sometimes as the occasion for the founding of the Notting Hill Carnival.

1981 was a year of many riots, often in response to the Thatcher government’s policing policies. The ethnic composition of some communities lent the apthat.pearance of race riots to some of these events, notably in Brixton. This was the context for the composition of Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue,” named after a street in Brixton. I feel fairly sure that few of the song’s many admirers know that.

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