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Remembering black icon Olive Morris

The anniversary of the death of a young black activist and socialist will be marked this weekend, reports ANYANNA NDUKWE

SUNDAY July 12 is the 41st anniversary of our remembrance of Olive Elaine Morris, Brixton’s iconic ’70s black British activist.

Morris was born on June 26 1952, and arrived in Britain aged nine. 

She grew up in an increasing hostile atmosphere of racism and violence, from police SUS laws and legitimised brutality, organised National Front groups, systematic discrimination with black youth unemployment at 70 per cent, housing deprivation and an education system that branded black children from the Windrush generation as “educationally subnormal.”

From the age of 16 in 1969 after leaving school Morris began to organise community action and resistance and was an active member of the Black Panthers Movement Youth Collective at 38 Shakespeare Road.

She went on to campaign for squatters’ rights, organised protests in solidarity with black, Asian and white workers on picket lines and after a rooftop demonstration, she launched her printing press where she published The Squatters’ Handbook, found Race Today a home and established The Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD), Brixton Black Workers’ Group, Black Women’s Group, Brixton Carribean Centre and legal advice at Brixton Community Law Centre, among many of her illustrious achievements.

During her academic study at Manchester University, she was instrumental in building the local Moss Side community, establishing a much-needed supplementary school after campaigning with local black parents for better education provision for their children.  

Not only was Morris pivotal in shaping the race-equality agenda in Lambeth, she also influenced national and international politics, campaigning for Mozambique, Angela Davis and visiting China.

Lambeth Council commemorated Anti-Racism Year in 1985, and renamed the former housing benefit offices Olive Morris House to acknowledge the contribution she made to the lives of disadvantaged communities living in Lambeth.

It is poignant that since 2012 Lambeth Council has earmarked Olive Morris House, a community asset, for redevelopment by a private company in a bizarre deal that has cost the council over £1.2 million to keep it empty. 

In April, during the height of Covid-19, bulldozers began to dismantle the building on Brixton Hill which stood as a reminder of past and present struggles during a period of mirrored social unrest against oppressive authoritarian policies that kill, harm and destroy the weakest in our societies, and that she vehemently fought against. 

Lambeth workers and the community continue to campaign for a memorial community resource building which grassroots groups and local people can use as a development space.

Olive Morris was 27 years old when sadly her life was cut short too soon on July 12 1979 by illness. She is missed dearly and she will never be forgotten.

Anyanna Ndukwe is women’s officer for Liverpool West Derby Constituency Labour Party. 

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