Malcolm X in England

This video is about Malcolm X, interviewed in Britain.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Malcolm X – black power in Britain’s Black Country

Friday 20th February 2015

Fifty years ago this week, Malcolm X visited Britain’s then most racist town, Smethwick. A few days later he would be murdered. Peter Frost tells the story.

Smethwick, an industrial town sandwiched between Birmingham and the Black Country, can be a cold and unwelcoming place in February.

That was particularly the case half a century ago. Post-war immigrants more used to the warm and sunny climates of their native Caribbean or Indian subcontinent homelands had arrived to work in Midlands hospitals, on public transport and in the dark and dirty foundries that had made Smethwick famous.

Smethwick has an interesting, if turbulent, political history. In 1918 Suffragette leader Christabel Pankhurst missed becoming Britain’s first woman MP after being narrowly defeated by Labour.

From 1926 the Labour MP was Sir Oswald Mosley, who would go on to found the British Union of Fascists. Mosley resigned the Labour whip in March 1931 but continued to represent the constituency until it was taken by the Conservatives at that year’s general election.

Labour won Smethwick in the general election on July 26 1945. However the victorious Labour MP Alfred Dobbs was killed in a car crash the very next day. He is still the shortest-serving MP in British history.

Labour’s Patrick Gordon Walker won the resulting by-election for Labour later in 1945. Walker held the seat until the 1964 general election. In that election Gordon Walker, by then shadow foreign secretary, was defeated in perhaps the most disgusting racist Tory election campaign ever.

Harold Wilson narrowly won the 1964 election with a 3 per cent swing to Labour. In Smethwick however the Tories, playing the race card, won with a 7 per cent swing.

Tory candidate Peter Griffiths ran a hugely racist campaign attacking the government’s immigration policy. Posters and slogans appeared all over the town with the crude message “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour.” This obscene approach would win Griffiths the seat.

It was in the aftermath of this October 1964 election that black activist Malcolm X visited Smethwick. He was perhaps more closely associated with “black power” than anyone else.

That contentious phrase was first coined, in 1850, by pioneering black activist and escaped slave Frederick Douglass — but it was Stokely Carmichael, a leader of the Student Nonviolent Co-ordinating Committee (SNCC), who helped to make the term popular.

In a 1966 speech in Mississippi, after the shooting of James Meredith, Carmichael said: “This is the 27th time I have been arrested and I ain’t going to jail no more! The only way we gonna stop them white men from whuppin’ us is to take over. What we gonna start sayin’ now is ‘black power’!”

Malcolm X knew all about racial intolerance. Even before he was born his pregnant mother was set upon by white racists.

He was born Malcolm Little in 1925. His father, Earl Little, was an outspoken Baptist minister and civil rights activist. This bought death threats from the white supremacists, forcing the family to move house twice before Malcolm’s fourth birthday.

In 1929 their Michigan home was burned to the ground. Two years later, Earl’s body was found lying across the town’s tram tracks. Police declared both incidents accidents. In fact it was racist arson and murder.

Malcolm’s mother Louise suffered a breakdown and was committed to a mental institution, and the children were split up among various foster homes and orphanages.

Malcolm ended up in Boston. In 1946, he was convicted of burglary and sentenced to 10 years in prison. While incarcerated he caught up with education as well as becoming a Muslim and studying black activism.

He joined the Nation of Islam (NoI), perhaps the most militant and extreme arm of the civil rights movement.

By the time he was paroled in 1952, Malcolm was a devoted and influential NoI member with the new surname X. He knew that Little was a slave name whereas X signified his lost tribal name.

Intelligent and articulate, Malcolm was soon appointed as a minister and national spokesman for the NoI. He wrote newspaper columns and appeared on radio and television, His charisma, drive, and conviction attracted thousands of new members. Malcolm was largely credited with increasing membership of the NoI from 500 in 1952 to 30,000 by 1963.

His high public profile did not escape the notice of the FBI. Agents infiltrated the organisation, with one even acting as Malcolm’s bodyguard.

In 1963 Malcolm was devastated when he learned that his mentor and NoI leader, Elijah Muhammad, was secretly having sex, and indeed babies, with many young women within the NoI organisation. Disgusted, Malcolm left the NoI in March 1964. He founded his own religious and political organisation.

That same year, Malcolm went on a pilgrimage to Mecca that would change his life. “I met blonde-haired, blued-eyed men I could call my brothers,” he said on his return.

He returned to the United States with a new outlook on integration and a new hope for the future. Now when Malcolm spoke, he spoke to all anti-racists, whatever their colour.

Perhaps that was the reason he visited Smethwick. He had been on a world tour and when he was banned from visiting and speaking in Paris he came to Britain.

Once here the BBC asked him to visit Smethwick with a view to him having a filmed public debate with Peter Griffiths. Griffiths chickened out at short notice and so an interview with Malcolm X was recorded on Marshall Street, Smethwick — a street that Smethwick Council had declared whites only, just like the segregated US housing he had fought against.

This was to be Malcolm X’s last TV interview before his assassination nine days later. The BBC has never broadcast the interview, but we do know what Malcolm said.

“I have come here because I am disturbed by reports that coloured people in Smethwick are being treated badly. I have heard they are being treated as the Jews under Hitler. I would not wait for the fascist element in Smethwick to erect gas ovens.”

Back in the US the NoI had not forgiven what they saw as Malcolm’s betrayal. Members made repeated attempts on his life. The FBI also turned up the heat. He rarely travelled anywhere without bodyguards.

On February 14 1965, while he was in Smethwick, his New York home was firebombed. Wife Betty and their four daughters luckily escaped the flames.

One week later, just after arriving home from Britain and speaking to a rally in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom on February 21, he was ambushed onstage by three gunmen. They pumped 15 bullets into him at close range. Malcolm X was dead. He was just 39.

Were the gunmen NoI members seeking revenge, or FBI agents acting under orders from J Edgar Hoover? They were probably both.

A far greater truth is that the memory of Malcolm X will live on in the US and in the English Midlands as the long battle for racial equality is slowly being won and the bloody history of that amazing struggle is finally written.

British Conservatives, elections and racism

This video from England says about itself:

Smethwick council buying vacant homes to prevent more coloured people moving in on Marshall Street

Video 1 of 3

In 1964 Peter Griffiths, Conservative candidate in Smethwick constituency won his seat using the slogan “If you want a nigger for a neighbour VOTE LABOUR”.

The general election was won by Labour, overturning 13 years of Conservative government. In contrast, largely because of the race issue, a Labour majority of 3,544 was turned into a Tory majority of 1,774, defeating the senior Labour MP Patrick Gordon in Smethwick.

The “nigger for a neighbour” slogan was attributed to the Griffiths campaign in a BBC interview by Labour leader Harold Wilson. Griffiths denied using those words, but said that they accurately reflected the frustrations of locals.

Immediately after the election Wilson (as prime minister) attacked Griffiths in the House of Commons, calling him the “parliamentary leper”.

Additionally the Tories had also taken control of the local council, instituting a policy on Marshall Street of buying houses which came up for sale and putting them back on the market for sale to whites only. …

Soon after, America’s Malcolm X visited Marshall Street and was interviewed, saying:

“I have come here because I am disturbed by reports that coloured people in Smethwick are being badly treated. I have heard they are being treated as the Jews under Hitler. I would not wait for the fascist element in Smethwick to erect gas ovens.”

Malcolm X was shot dead in Harlem days after his return from this trip.

These two videos are the sequels.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Every election the Tories play the race card

Wednesday 29th October 2014

PETER FROST discovers when it comes to Tory election tactics things haven’t changed much in 50 years

“IF you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour.”

That was the horrific obscene message pasted up all over the streets of Smethwick in October 1964.

It won Tory Peter Griffiths the seat, defeating a huge Labour majority.

Griffiths stood behind the racist message. “I would not condemn any man who said that,” he told the media during his campaign. “I regard it as a manifestation of popular feeling.”

Nationally in the election, Labour took power in Westminster for the first time in 13 years with a swing from the Tories of 3.5 per cent. But in Smethwick, shadow home secretary Patrick Gordon Walker lost on a 7.2 per cent swing to the Tories.

As the defeated Walker left Smethwick town hall after the count gloating Tories catcalled after him: “Where are your niggers now, Walker?” and “Take your niggers away!”

This racist campaign shocked right-thinking Britons. New Labour prime minister Harold Wilson called on then Tory leader Sir Alec Douglas-Home to disown Griffiths. He called the racist Smethwick MP his “parliamentary leper.”

Twenty-five Tories walked out of the chamber in protest and proposed a motion deploring Wilson’s insulting language. Labour members proposed a motion criticising the prime minister for insulting lepers.

Griffiths didn’t last long. He lost his seat in 1966 and wrote a book called A Question of Colour? In it, he argued that “apartheid, if it could be separated from racialism, could well be an alternative to integration.”

Black Country-born comedian Lenny Henry chose to make fun of the deeply ingrained racism of some Midlands people. When the National Front wanted to give black people £1,000 to go home, Henry said: “Fine, that would more than cover my bus fare back to Dudley.”

Smethwick was originally a Staffordshire country town but with the coming of the industrial revolution it grew and grew, eventually meeting the borders of Birmingham. Today it is part of Sandwell Metropolitan Borough.

In the 18th century the Birmingham Canal Navigations were built through Smethwick, carrying coal and goods between the nearby Black Country and Birmingham. The canals brought industry, wealth and work to the town.

Matthew Boulton and James Watt opened their Soho Foundry in the north of Smethwick.

Soon Smethwick was alive with dirty but profitable manufacturing industries.

The town built railway carriages and wagons; made screws and other fastenings at Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds (GKN); built giant mill steam engines at Tangye’s works.

They made everything from steel pen nibs and bicycle saddles to London’s famous Crystal Palace.

With industry came the arts. The Ruskin Pottery Studio, named in honour of the artist and socialist John Ruskin, was in the town, and many English churches have fine stained-glass windows made in Smethwick.

After the second world war, Smethwick attracted a large number of immigrants from Commonwealth countries, the largest group being Sikhs from the Punjab in India.

Race riots hit the town in 1962 and, like many other British cities, the problems actually caused by factory closures and a growing waiting list for council housing were often blamed on immigrants.

In 1961 the Sikh community converted the Congregational Church on the High Street in Smethwick to what is now the largest Gurdwara in Europe.

In 1968 Enoch Powell, the Tory MP for Wolverhampton South West, made his famous “Rivers of Blood” speech to the general meeting of the West Midlands Area Conservative Political Centre in Birmingham, just down the road from Smethwick.

The speech violently attacked Commonwealth immigration and anti-discrimination legislation.

“As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see the River Tiber foaming with much blood.”

Powell’s racist rant caused a political storm, making him one of the most talked-about politicians in the country. It lost Powell his place in the shadow cabinet but undoubtedly contributed to the Conservatives’ surprise victory in the 1970 general election.

Fifty years on, what are the lessons we can learn from what happened in Smethwick in 1964?

Nigel Farage, for all his denials, is putting forward exactly the same political message that immigrants are taking jobs and housing from native-born Britons.

Sadly David Cameron and his backwoodsmen — and women too — are riffling through the political playing cards looking for the race card that has served them so well in the past.

Nick Clegg and his shrinking band and even Ed Miliband, whose dad certainly taught him better, are making suspicious noises too.

Make no mistake about it. Farage and his right-wing obsessives will make sure racism plays a major part in next year’s general election.

It up to those of us who despise these evil ideas to make sure it doesn’t play the decisive role it did in Smethwick half a century ago.

Peter Frost blogs at

MICHAEL Fallon, Tory defence secretary, did an Enoch Powell (he made his anti-immigrant ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968) when he claimed on Sunday that British towns are being ‘swamped’ by immigrants and their residents are ‘under siege’. After the ensuing outcry he was urged to admit that his language should be slightly moderated by PM Cameron, and responded that he had been ‘careless’ in his use of words: here.

Maya Angelou, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela

This video from the USA is called His Day is Done – A Tribute Poem for Nelson Mandela by Dr. Maya Angelou.

The text is here.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Paying tribute to Maya Angelou, a civil rights heroine

Saturday 31st May 2014

Maya Angelou, one of the foremost African-American writers, thinkers and activists of our time, has died in her North Carolina home aged 86. Peter Frost pays tribute.

The respectable Establishment will mark her passing as a poet, writer and broadcaster but will be less keen to celebrate her record as an early and fierce civil rights champion.

Let us celebrate Dr Angelou — she always liked to be called by the title, probably because she never went to any university — as a true global renaissance woman.

She was a celebrated poet, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actor, historian, filmmaker, broadcaster as well as a leading political activist.

Above all this amazing woman was a courageous freedom fighter. Her greatest achievements were in the civil rights movement.

She was close to two giants, both martyrs of that struggle, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.

Prior to his assassination, she and Malcolm X had plans to start a new movement to advance African-American rights. Together they planned to found the Organisation of African-American Unity.

They both intended to speak out on issues plaguing black people in the US to the United Nations. UN support, they believed, would cause the US real political embarrassment. In 1965 Malcolm was cut down by assassins. One dream ended.

For a number of years Angelou was a key leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). This organisation, founded by Martin Luther King, was an important body in the early struggle for civil rights in the US.

The SCLC preached non-violence and organised protests, boycotts, marches and voter registration drives. Again King’s political assassination hit hard but couldn’t kill that dream.

Angelou offered her support to Cuban leader Fidel Castro, writing sympathetic articles when he was most hated by the US Establishment. This had the predictable result that she was branded a communist. Her response was truly poetic.

“Wasn’t no communist country that put my grandpappa in slavery,” she declared. “Wasn’t no communist lynched my poppa or raped my mamma.”

Angelou was born into typical black poverty as Marguerite Ann Johnson in St Louis, Missouri, on April 4 1928. At just eight, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend.

When the rapist was beaten to death after Angelou testified against him, she cruelly blamed herself for his death. She thought her voice, her testimony, had killed him and she didn’t speak again for almost six years.

In 1941 Angelou, aged just 13, won a scholarship to study dance and drama at San Francisco’s Labour School. The school was close to the Communist Party (CPUSA) and was blacklisted as subversive by various state and federal bodies.

The school gave the young Maya a good grounding, not just in music and dance but also in radical politics.

By the age of 14 lack of money forced her to drop out of school and take a job as a conductor on San Francisco’s famous cable cars. She was the first African-American woman to hold such a job.

Later, and by now pregnant, she returned to finish high school, giving birth to her son Guy just a few weeks after graduation. As a young single mother, she supported herself and her child by working as a waitress and cook.

In her late teens continuing poverty forced her into dancing in strip clubs and even into prostitution to augment the earnings from the career she was beginning to build as an actor, singer and dancer.

Slowly recognition came and by 1954 she was touring 22 countries in Europe with a production of the opera Porgy and Bess.

She studied modern dance with Martha Graham, danced on TV and, in 1957, wrote and recorded her first album Miss Calypso.

In 1958 she moved to New York, where she acted in the historic off-Broadway production of Jean Genet’s The Blacks and wrote and performed Cabaret for Freedom to raise funds and awareness for the civil rights movement.

James Baldwin and the Harlem Writers Guild helped her to develop her literary talents and her poems, novels, plays and — best known — her autobiographical books, which would make her famous and give her the voice and authority to speak out against injustice and inequality.

In the early ’60s, Angelou, always an internationalist, supported the young anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. While working in Egypt and Ghana as a journalist and editor she met and became lifelong friends with Nelson Mandela.

Mandela read aloud Angelou’s poem Still I Rise at his 1994 presidential inauguration. In January this year after Mandela’s death she published His Day Is Done, a poetic tribute to her great hero.

Angelou gained respect and fame for her writing. She produced seven books of semi-autobiography — most famously, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings in 1969. It became an instant bestseller despite attempts to ban it from some reactionary quarters.

In 1993 president Bill Clinton asked Angelou to compose an original poem, titled On The Pulse Of The Morning, which she read at his inauguration.

In 1994 the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) presented the writer and filmmaker with the prestigious Spingarn Medal — the African-American Nobel Prize. It meant more to her than her Pulitzer Prize nomination, three Grammys and her many other awards.

In 2011 President Barack Obama awarded her with the Medal of Freedom, the US’s highest civilian honour. However neither respectability nor getting older silenced her strident voice in support of valuable causes.

Last summer Angelou spoke out about the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a white man who had shot and killed a black Florida teenager named Trayvon Martin. She told the media that “the jury verdict showed how far we still have to go as a nation.”

She was a staunch advocate for marriage equality and was always ready to speak out against homophobia and religious bigotry.

She told New York state Senator Shirley Huntley: “To love someone takes a lot of courage. So how much more when the love is of the same sex and the law forbids it.” Her argument convinced Huntley to vote for the same-sex marriage bill before the legislature.

Just a few days before her death she made a strong case for action to recover the kidnapped Nigerian school girls. She tweeted: “Our future is threatened by the robbing of these young women’s future. We must have our darlings back so that we can help them to heal.”

The struggle for freedom and equality in the US, and indeed the rest of the world, has yet to be won. Recent advances by the forces of racism and reaction on this side of the Atlantic mean the world needs voices like Maya Angelou’s more than ever.

She may be dead, but her writings, her poems, her powerful ideas and principles live on. The bird may have flown the cage, but we can all still hear her song.

Maya Angelou’s voice gave life to the struggle for equality and gave many people the confidence to confront sexism and racism, says Moyra Samuels: here.

Writer, singer, dancer and actor Maya Angelou died on the morning of May 28 at the age of 86 in her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. While the exact cause of her death has not been announced, Angelou had been in poor health for some time: here.

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