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tribute to the historic black heroes of South West London


Black History Month is a great time to honor the historic black heroes of South West London by looking back on their lives and achievements.

Claudia jones

During her short life, Claudia Jones was a political activist, feminist, journalist and Communist.

She was born on February 21, 1915 in Trinidad and emigrated to New York on February 9, 1924 after World War I, where she lived for over 30 years.

Her position as a black Caribbean immigrant in pre-civil America meant that she could only find work in a laundromat, then in the retail business.

She then landed her first job as a journalist after writing for her Claudie’s comments column for the National League on Urban conditions among negroes.

In 1936, she became a member of the Youth Communist League USA, the youth wing of the Communist Party of the United States.

However, her political involvement in the party resulted in her being deported to the United Kingdom on December 7, 1955.

When she arrived in London, she suffered from racial hostility as a black woman in the British Communist cliques.

Soon she realized that the UK was not a black paradise, so she started working with the Afro-Caribbean community in London.

Racial tensions were high, especially in areas such as Notting Hill and Brixton, where newly emigrated Caribbean migrants settled after arriving in the UK.

Jones campaigned for equal access to basic services like housing and education, and lobbied against the British Immigration Act of 1876.

She is well known by her famous quote: “The speechless people were lambs in the slaughterhouse.”

JOURNALIST: Claudia Jones with a copy of her newspaper, the West Indian Gazette

With these words, she set up the West Indian Gazette in March 1958 above a barbershop in Brixton.

The purpose of the newspaper was to give a voice to the peoples of the British Caribbean to be recognized and released.

The monthly newspaper was successful and reached a circulation of around 15,000 copies.

Although the West Indian Gazette quickly gained more readers, it faced financial problems and its publication ceased in August 1965.

On December 24, 1964, Claudia Jones died of a serious heart attack and was found in her apartment on Christmas Day.

Len Garrison

Len Garrison was a historian, community activist, poet, and educator.

His work in recording the development of British black identity and history has been a major force in the development of a multicultural curriculum in British schools.

Garrison was born in St Thomas, Jamaica on June 13, 1943, and emigrated to West London in 1954 to join his mother and father.

While studying at Kingsley High School in Chelsea, he worked as a part-time film projectionist at Clapham Junction as he was interested in photography.

He then took up this subject again at King’s College London.

He went on to become a specialist medical photographer at Guy’s Hospital in Southwark, London, and an active freelance photographer for the West Indian Gazette.

In the mid-1960s, he was also a founding member of the International Social Group, whose work led to the creation of the Wandsworth Council for Community Relations.

In 1971, Garrison wrote a thesis on the Rastafarian movement in Jamaica for his degree in development studies at Ruskin College, Oxford.

He graduated in African and Caribbean History from the University of Sussex in 1976, and in 1992 received an MA in Local History from the University of Leicester.

His studies helped him to embark on a career combining academic research and community activism.

Bust of Len Garrison, a Black History Month hero
MOLDED: Bronze bust of Len Garrison commissioned by the Black Cultural Archives

In the late 1970s, school officials and teachers in the city center were desperate for materials and textbooks that focused on the history of their African and Caribbean students.

Garrison stepped in with his vast knowledge by founding the African and Caribbean Educational Resource (ACER).

The resource aimed to give black children a sense of identity and belonging that could be traced back to their African heritage.

The first ACER educational kits were introduced at Dick Shepherd School in Brixton, and then were used across the country, with support from the Inner London Education Authority.

In 1981 he co-founded the Black Cultural Archives (BCA) in Brixton, a showcase of documents, photographs and artefacts that bear witness to the presence and struggle of blacks in Britain.

Len Garrison died of a heart attack on February 18, 2003, at the age of 59.

The BCA partnered with Middlesex University to establish the Black History Archive and Museum in 1997.

Photo credit: London Leadership and Lifelong Learning 2021, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division and George Kelly under Creative Commons – Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported – CC BY-SA 3.0

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