Frank Crichlow “first came into contact with Notting Hill police station” after he opened a cafe in west London in 1959. He was to become an icon of resistance to the cops’ repression for the rest of his life.
Crichlow was born in Trinidad, then one of Britain’s colonies in the Caribbean, in 1932. At the age of 21, he came to Britain on the SS Colombie.
British politicians had encouraged immigration to meet labour shortages. And like many Afro-Caribbean migrants, he moved to west London and worked for British Rail for a few years.
Looking back at that time, from the vantage of the 1990s, Crichlow described how black people met “racism when they went into a shop or tried to get places to stay”. And how fascist groups organised amid the racist atmosphere.
In 1956 Crichlow formed the Starlight Four band, which found some success with TV and radio appearances. He used the money to set up the El Rio cafe in Westbourne Park.
It attracted a wide clientele from black migrant workers to famous writers, a Tory minister and businessmen.
It also attracted the police who used the “Sus Laws”—similar to Section 60 stop and searches—to frame people on trumped up charges.“The basic reason was racism,” remembered Crichlow.
In 1968 Crichlow set up a new venture called the Mangrove restaurant. Within its first year, cops had raided it six times.
People organised a protest on 9 August 1970 and marched on the police station. Cops beat up protesters and arrested 12 for incitement to riot.
While the magistrates’ court threw out the charges, the Director of Public Prosecutions reinstated them.
Police rearrested Crichlow and eight others, including leading members of the British Black Panthers Altheia Jones-LeCointe, Barbara Beese and Darcus Howe.
After a defence campaign and a nearly 60-day trial, the jury cleared the Mangrove 9 of the main charge.
Crichlow said, “It was black power time and people were looking for something to identify with.
“We had telegrams from people all over the world. They were saying the nine people had stood up against the whole establishment.”
But the police harassment of the Mangrove continued. In 1988 the police used a sledgehammer to break down the door.
They arrested Crichlow and 11 others, charged them with supplying heroin, and banned him from going near the Mangrove for a year.
There were big debates in the defence campaign. Some leading figures came from a black nationalist perspective.
They wanted a campaign that only involved black people or was only passively supported by whites.
Others argued for black and white unity against the police and racism. They included Communist Party member Trevor Carter and Socialist Workers Party members.
Crichlow was acquitted. In 1992 the Metropolitan Police was forced to pay out £50,000 in damages for false imprisonment, battery and malicious prosecution.
The Mangrove closed in the same year, but Crichlow continued his activism until his death in 2010.
He didn’t “see myself as a leader”. “As I see it I stood up for my rights and a lot of people identified with that.” he said.
“We weren’t going to put our tails between our legs.”