Socialist Worker

Black Power in Britain—as told by those who fought

A new BBC documentary tells the history of anti-racist resistance in the 60s and 70s, featuring interviews with leading activists, writes Elizabeth Adofo

Issue No. 2746

Taking to the streets against racism and to defend the Mangrove Nine against harassment (Pic: @UkNatArchives/Twitter)

Taking to the streets against racism and to defend the Mangrove Nine against harassment (Pic: @UkNatArchives/Twitter)


Two simple words—Black Power—fostered a movement of radical anti-racism across the world.

We might be very familiar with its roots in the black liberation movement in the US, following on from the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panthers.

But it’s refreshing to see a documentary dedicated to looking at the movement in Britain.

Black Power—A British Story of Resistance tells the important and almost forgotten history of the rise and fall of the British Black Power movement of the 60s and 70s.

Its most impressive feature by far is the accounts from so many of the movement’s major leaders, musicians, poets and photographers. It features better-known names such as Leila Hassan Howe, but many others activists are telling their story on screen for the first time.

The documentary begins by painting a picture of the reality of what racism was really like in Britain, starting from the Windrush Generation.

The movement was forged in these conditions. The British Black Power movement was inspired by a generation of black and Asian teenagers who felt they could no longer stay silent.

Frank Crichlow— taking an inspiring stand against the establishment
Frank Crichlow— taking an inspiring stand against the establishment
  Read More

It also explores how events—both in Britain and around the world—shaped the movement.

Writer James Baldwin, the emerging reggae scene, as well as the struggle against South African apartheid played a crucial role in shaping the new radicals.

In Britain activists were shaped by the 1958 Notting Hill riots and the stabbing of black man Kelso Cochrane.

On top of that, the 1964 general election had been characterised by racist campaigning. Vile rhetoric from conservative MPs such as Enoch Powell and Pete Griffiths all stoked up anti-immigration rhetoric.

It’s eye opening to learn of how many radical black power political organisations were set up in response to this and how they all organised.

The documentary particularly emphasises how this all culminated in the protests to defend the Mangrove Nine—leading black activists targeted by the cops.

It puts these struggles at the centre of the movement. And it exposes how ruthless the state can be in trying to break them.

The programme ends by focusing on lessons we can take away, and a reflection on Black Lives Matter. It is a valuable piece of history.

Black Power—A British Story of Resistance is on BBC2 at 9pm, Thursday 25 March and then afterwards on BBC iPlayer

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