I am the struggle of my ancestors…J Whyne, ‘I Am‘
The tapestry of Black History is deeply dyed in struggle. Without the struggle of our Ancestors, many of us who are of Black Heritage may not have been where we are (or even exist); and would most definitely not have our rightful freedoms.
The systematic disempowering of a people, for the profitable gain of those who want absolute power, has been the founding pillar of many an empire.
transitive verb: to deprive of power, authority, or influence: make weak, ineffectual, or unimportant
How does one resist such a system, much less overturn it?
You can’t have true racial harmony without racial justice. So, you need to be disruptive.Paul Stephenson OBE
Paul Stephenson is an iconic Black Briton whose story should be more well known.
In 1964, Paul Stephenson walked into the Bay Horse pub in Bristol and ordered half a pint. A bartender served him, but when the pub’s manager noticed, he told Stephenson to get out, saying: “We don’t want you black people in here – you are a nuisance.” Stephenson refused, and the police were called. Eight officers arrived to arrest him for refusing to quit a licensed premises and held him in the police cells until midnight…
Looking back, the 83-year-old says that the arrival of so many officers in a show of force was the police sending a message about upholding the colour bar – because “they knew I was a civil rights activist”.Excerpt from Paul Stephenson: the hero who refused to leave a pub – and helped desegregate Britain |Kehinde Andrews |Oct 1 2020
His one-man sit-in was a protest that paved the way for the first Race Relations Act in 1965.
Mr Stephenson was no stranger to the struggle and in fact, just the year before had been one of the key people -along with Roy Hackett, Owen Henry, Audley Evans and Prince Brown- responsible for the 1963 Bristol Bus Boycott
One day in early 1963, Roy Hackett was walking in Broadmead, Bristol, when he saw a man crying. The man was outside the Bristol Omnibus Company. He told Hackett he was weeping because the company had told him he could not get an interview for a job there solely because he was black… Hackett marched straight into the bus company to demand answers. He was, he says, “born an activist” and saw it as his duty to challenge racism whenever he saw it. Once in front of the manager, he made it clear he was not asking for black people to be treated equally – he was demanding it…Roy Hackett in a profile by Kehinde Andrews |Roy Hackett: the civil rights hero who stood in front of a bus – and changed Britain forever |6 Aug 2020
Paul Stephenson, Roy Hackett, Barbara Dettering, Delores Campbell and countless others before them such as Claudia Jones, forged a path for the generations to come. In the face of hostility, threats of violence, denied housing, being underpaid, losing their jobs, slandered in the press and more, they continued to resist the systems that sort to exclude them, the Black community and other marginalised groups from the British landscape. Literally, figuratively, and historically.
Fifty-six years on since Stephenson’s one-man sit-in, and the struggle continues. If the absence of “No Irish, no dogs, no blacks” signs in guest houses gave the impression that it was over, events in 2020 provided an unignorable uncomfortable sign that it most definitely is not.
… proud of the blows her generation struck against institutional racism. “We have given a lot to Bristol because we never backed down,” she says. “We carried on our fight and our struggle”.Barbara Dettering, one of the Seven Saints of St Paul’s |Bristol’s walls of fame celebrate seven ‘saints’ who fought for race equality by Tom Hall |26 Aug 2018
How you choose to engage is up to you. You don’t need to feel that you are a born activist like Roy Hackett; you may like Barbara Dettering– be “one of the “silent diggers”, who worked away in the background …” You don’t have to stage a one-person sit-in like Paul Stephenson; you may be the friend who no longer avoids difficult conversations or challenging inappropriate perspectives or behaviour. You don’t have to be arrested for your activism like Claudia Jones; you may like Delores Campbell – in the words of Miles Chambers – be someone “...who bore the birth of future activists”.
As a few social media posts said at the height of the global response to the killing of George Floyd,
Resistance is NOT a one-lane highway. Maybe your lane is protesting, maybe your lane is organizing, maybe your lane is counseling, maybe your lane is art activism, maybe your lane is surviving the day. Do NOT feel guilty for not occupying every lane. We need all of them.
“We need all of them” and we all need to find a lane(s) to occupy.
I say again, how you choose to engage is up to you, but engage you, I, we, must.
If you are neutral in times of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor.Archbishop Tutu
- The Bristol Bus Boycott: A watershed moment for Black Britain
- Seven Saints of St Paul’s (video shorts w/poetry from Bristol Poet Laureate, Miles Chambers)
- 100 Great Black Britons