Black Power in Britain started in 1967, reached its apogee in 1971 and was in terminal decline by the mid-1970s. It was an expression of frustration, anger and – most importantly – resistance to the individual, institutional and state racism experienced by the postwar generation of black immigrants to Britain.
The British state took the threat of Black Power very seriously, both at home and across the Commonwealth. When an international conference on Black Power took place in British Protectorate Bermuda on 10-13 July 1969, the British government sent a warship full of marines to anchor off the coast in case civil disorder broke out. It also sent Special Branch officers undercover as conference delegates.
From the mid-1960s onwards the spectre of race riots, of the sort blazing across major northern American cities, haunted the British press and politicians. In an effort to stop such a thing happening here, Special Branch was instructed to use its powers of surveillance, infiltration and counter-intelligence against Black Power groups and activists and report back to the Home Office.
In this session, historian Rosie Wild will sketch an outline of the British Black Power movement and explain why this small and relatively short-lived movement scared the British establishment so much. Drawing on her recent work for the Undercover Research Group, she will also look at the different ways the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch tried to spy on, infiltrate and disrupt London’s Black Power groups and explain why ultimately their efforts were hobbled by their own racism.
Winston Trew was a teenage member of Black Power group, The Fasimba, when he was attacked by a gang of white men on the tube on the way home from a political meeting in 1972. When he and his three friends fought back, the white men revealed themselves to be undercover policemen and all four were arrested and charged with robbery and assaulting police officers. Convicted after a five-week trial at the Old Bailey and sent to prison, Trew and his friends, known as the ‘Oval Four’, joined the ranks of Black Power activists who were prosecuted on spurious, trumped-up charges. Drawing on his published autobiography Black For A Cause… Winston Trew will talk about his experiences as a Black Power activist and victim of corrupt policing, and explain how his lifelong struggle to clear his name finally came to fruition in December 2019 when the Court of Appeal quashed the Oval Four’s convictions after 47 years.