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Black British Rebels: A history of resistance from Equiano to Jayaben Desai

This article is over 11 years, 11 months old
This short but informative pamphlet offers a history of black British rebels, writes Arnie Joahill
Issue 2293
Bringing a history of struggle to life

Bringing a history of struggle to life

Hassan Mahamdallie has produced a short but informative pamphlet that lays out precise and detailed accounts of black British rebels throughout history.

It starts with black working class fighters from 300 years ago. Olaudah Equiano was an activist and writer who detailed the horrid reality of the slave trade and the turmoil that black people faced—from pestilence to plantations.

Robert Wedderburn was regarded as a “notorious firebrand” in the early 19th century. A man who saw his own mother subjected to torture at the hands of slave masters, he raised the call for slaves to liberate themselves from their imposed chains.

It was a time of economic downturn and rising working class demands. In 1819 protesters were murdered in Manchester by the cavalry in what became known as the Peterloo Massacre.

Wedderburn initiated calls for revolution and insurrection at a time of widespread anger and revulsion at the outrage.

He was deemed a threat to the state and imprisoned.


The pamphlet also covers more recent figures such as Claudia Jones. Persecuted by governments and targeted by racists, she remained determined to organise black people in Britain and to unite with the wider working class.

She founded a newspaper, the West Indian Gazette, through which she organised and agitated among Caribbean, African and Asian communities across the country.

Hassan also takes a look at Jayaben Desai, the “Grunwick Lion” who dared to take on the managers at her workplace, the Grunwick film processing factory in north London in the 1970s.

In solidarity with sacked workers, Desai helped organised a picket line outside the factory gates. She later formed a union that would fight to be recognised and strike against the managers.

She also had to deal with racism within the Wembley police force in west London, where support for the fascist National Front ran high. But the Grunwick Lion was living proof that black, white and Asian could fight back together.

These black British rebels were forged from the economic and social realities of their time. They were driven to fight for better working conditions, for the right to vote and for freedom from slavery.

They defied the odds and helped create a black working class history of resistance.

This pamphlet is one of the best I have read and brings these figures to life.

Black British Rebels by Hassan Mahamdallie is available for £3 from Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop, phone 020 7637 1848 or go to

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