Darcus Howe, one of the most prominent black activists of his generation in Britain, has died. He was 74, and had been suffering from prostate cancer.
Howe was a leader of the U.K.’s little-chronicled black power movement, which battled institutional racism and challenged the prevailing view that racism wasn’t a problem in modern-day Britain.
“He was a genuine radical,” Howe’s biographer, Robin Bunce of Cambridge University, said. “He was at the center for bringing racial justice to the U.K.”
Howe rose to prominence in 1970 when he masterminded a campaign to stop the Metropolitan Police from closing down the Mangrove Restaurant in Notting Hill, a hub of black culture. Police had raided the restaurant a dozen times, triggering a backlash that climaxed in a pitched battle between police and 250 protesters.
Howe and eight others — the so-called Mangrove Nine — were charged with riot, affray and assault. But the trial, and Howe’s ultimate acquittal, brought public attention to the issue.
A decade later, he organized a march to protest what activists saw as the failure of police to fully investigate allegations that a racially motivated arson attack caused the New Cross Fire, in which 13 young black people died.
Born in Trinidad, Howe came to Britain in 1961 with the intention of studying law. Instead, he became a writer. At the advice of his uncle, the Caribbean intellectual C.L.R. James, Howe in 1968 attended a congress of black writers in Montreal, where he met members of the U.S.-based Black Panther Party.
He recalled his early days in London in a 2013 column for the Guardian newspaper.
“As the new immigrants, we ducked and dived as missiles – verbal and otherwise – came our way,” he wrote before quoting a racial slur to illustrate how bad the environment was for black Britons. “One election slogan then made things as plain and as clear as can be: “If you want a n—– for a neighbor, vote Labour.”
Howe was unafraid of being controversial. Asked to comment on the 2011 riots that followed the death of a 29-year-old black man shot by police in London, he said his concern was with the dead man, his family and the number of young black men being subjected to random police searches.
Unlike the black power movement in the United States, where confrontational tactics brought figures like Malcolm X to prominence, Howe and other British activists were more low-key, Bunce said.
“Black power was born in the U.S., though he played a role in delivering that black power to the U.K.,” Bunce said of Howe. “He made it appropriate for the British context.”
SOURCE: DANICA KIRKA