The 1970s marked a decade of creativity and activism, emerging collectives showcased the desire for progress through expression. The presence of the media was increasingly felt, shaping the perception and documentation of Black issues internationally.
In 1972, Haitian people began seeking refuge in the United States, attempting to escape the Jean-Claude Duvalier’s dictatorship. Although policy at the time declared that Haitians were not political refugees but economic migrants, as a result no Haitians were given refugee status. Many Haitians settled in Miami-Dade County, Florida.
Shifting representations of Black women in the media were shaped by the publication of US lifestyle magazine Essence in 1970, specifically aimed at Black women. In 1974, Beverly Johnson made history as the first Black model to appear on the cover of American Vogue magazine. By 1975, almost every major fashion designer had African American models.
The success of Bob Marley and The Wailers’ albums The Best of the Wailers (1971) Catch a Fire and Burnin’ (both 1973) saw reggae gain international popularity, set to the backdrop of political change in Jamaica. Norman Manley was elected prime minister of Jamaica in 1972, his election campaign sought to appeal and empathise with a growing Rastafarian community, and the desire to shift towards a democratic socialist country.
In 1970 Black South Africans were stripped of their citizenship denying them of their few remaining civil rights and made citizens of one of ten designated “Bantu Homelands”. On 16 June 1976, Black students from Soweto took to the streets in protest sparked by the ruling that classes should be taught in Afrikaans, alienating many teachers and students who did not speak Afrikaans or regarded it as a symbol of apartheid. Peaceful protests were met with police brutality, killing an estimated 700 people, although the official number is given as 176. Sam Nzima’s photograph of Hector Pieterson being carried by Mbuyisa Makhubo with his sister Antoinette Sithole running beside them was named by Time magazine, one of the most influential photos ever taken. It would be another 15 years before the end of apartheid.
The 1970s also saw the rise of national and international events to honour and recognise Black excellence. Black History Month was first officially recognised in February 1976 in the US. The following year, on 15 January 1977, thousands of artists, writers, activists, musicians and scholars from Africa and the Diaspora assembled in Lagos, Nigeria for the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, commonly known as FESTAC ’77. It was a month-long celebration of “Black art, culture, and spiritual regeneration.”
At the end of the decade, Muhammad Ali, became the first American heavyweight champion to with the title three times, by defeating Leon Spinks in New Orleans. He had previously won back the titles he was stripped of for refusing to join the US Army by defeating heavyweight champion George Foreman in October 1974.
Throughout the 1970s, the ‘Sus Law’ was implemented by the UK police force. The police were permitted to stop and search people based on suspicion (‘sus’) that the person intended to commit a crime, in breach of section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824. An example of institutionalised racism and legalised victimisation, the law was used disproportionately to arrest young Black men, often persecuted with little or no evidence.
In 1975, David Pitt, was appointed to the House of Lords as a life peer, the second peer of African Caribbean heritage. Created Baron Pitt of Hampstead (in Greater London and Grenada), Pitt played a leading role in campaigning for the Race Relations Act 1976. The act tightened the law to outline four types of racial discrimination; direct, indirect, victimisation and harassment. Although, these laws did not apply to the police until 2000.
A coalition of Black groups and lawyers, went on to form The Black People’s Organisations Campaign Against Sus (BPOCAS) in 1978. Effective campaigning by BPOCAS and others forced the consideration of the issue onto the government’s agenda, and in the next two years, the Select Committee on Home Affairs recommended the immediate repeal of the law. The Vagrancy Act 1824 was repealed in Scotland in 1982 in its entirety, but the majority remains in force in England and Wales (as of September 2019).
In sport, the Wimbledon Tennis championships were won in July 1975 by Arthur Ashe. Defeating Jimmy Connors, Ashe became the first Black man to earn the singles title. Ashe remains the only Black man to win the singles title at Wimbledon, the US Open, or Australian Open. In that same year, Viv Anderson became the first Black footballer to be picked for the England team.
Throughout the 1970s, artistic and activist groups flourished. Focusing on the concerns of the Black community, a group of young artists founded the Black Art Group in Wolverhampton. Among the founding members, were Keith Piper, Marlene Smith, Eddie Chambers and Donald Rodney. Their first exhibition, Black Art An’ Done, was held at Wolverhampton Art Gallery and the group sought to empower Black artists as well as encouraging young white artists to be more socially relevant in their practice.
The publication of The Arts That Britain Ignores by Naseem Kahn prompts the establishment of The Minority Arts Advisory Service (MAAS). Compiling and maintaining a record of culturally diverse artistic groups and providing artistic spaces, a dance group MAAS Movers who were instrumental in raising awareness of Black dance. In 1976, Rock Against Racism emerged in reaction to a rise in racist attacks, bringing together fans in their common love of music. The Anti-Nazi League (ANL) was founded in 1977 to oppose the rise of far-right groups in the UK. Both the ANL and Rock Against Racism formed part of a wider struggle for equality.
Increasing media coverage of the apartheid regime in South Africa, prompted activism across the UK which gained force in the 1970s, through imposing economic sanctions and boycotts of South African goods. Leicester was amongst the cities where protest groups arose. Key events included a protest outside the Welford Road stadium, when the South African Springboks toured the UK.
As part of a UK wide tour, Bob Marley performed with the Wailers at Leicester Polytechnic (now De Montfort University) as part of the Catch a Fire tour in 1973. Amongst musical revolutionaries and protests in response to international injustice, this decade also fuelled momentum for activist and artistic collectives in the East Midlands.
The 1970s also saw the first Caribbean Carnivals established in the region. Nottingham Caribbean Carnival was established in 1970 by group, largely from St Kitts, with a carnival parade in the Meadows area of the city. The first Derby Caribbean Carnival took place in 1975, beginning as a small festival in Moorways Sports Centre, members of the community came together to raise funds for projects.
Black Power movements in Leicester (and across the UK) saw African, African Caribbean and Asian communities coming together in the 1970s. As described in a newsletter produced by the Leicester’s Black People’s Liberation Party produced the first edition of their newsletter Black Chat in 1971; “[W]e have got one more chance, i.e. BLACK POWER!… Therefore, the truth is “IN UNITY LIES OUR LIBERATION”.”
Buildings across the East Midlands also became established as venues for the African and African Caribbean community. The Leicester United Caribbean Association (LUCA) was also founded in 1973 on Rutland Street, in the area that is now Leicester’s cultural quarter. Providing a home for meetings, educational programmes, Saturday school, family events, recreation and social gatherings, and artistic groups. LUCA was instrumental in providing a base and as a social hub in the city centre for Caribbean people.
In Northampton, the Matta Fancanta Cultural Youth Movement occupied a derelict building, the old Salvation Army building in 1977, transforming it into a cultural and education hub, where hundreds of people would attend music events, public readings, Saturday schools and holiday events. Founded in 1975, Matta Fancanta supported other emerging Black organisations across the Midlands and London.
Raddle Books opened on Maidstone Road in Leicester during in 1979, providing a rare opportunity to culturally diverse publications that were rarely available in mainstream bookshops. Established by Leicester based activist Wolde Selassie originally as a “bookshop in a suitcase,” a stall that would be set up at schools, colleges and polytechnics to sell books. Raddle Books received a small amount of local authority support from an area programme fund, and the seven founders’ own contributions. The bookshop became not just a place to buy publications but to learn about Black history and culture.
(Accessed 29 September 2019)
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DWICA: Derby Carnival http://dwica.co.uk/events/derby-carnival/ (Accessed 29 September 2019)
Gross, Michael (2003). Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women. HarperCollins. p. 239. ISBN 0-06-054163-6.
Haitian Boat People https://immigrationtounitedstates.org/536-haitian-boat-people.html (Accessed 29 September 2019)
Highfields, Leicester, UK : Racism, Police & Riots Documentary – 1984 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tf9DVHQAyfw (Accessed 29 September 2019)
Northampton Black History: Our History So Far http://www.northants-black-history.org.uk/about-us/our-history-so-far (Accessed 29 September 2019)
Nottingham Carnival Feature http://www.bbc.co.uk/nottingham/content/articles/2009/06/12/nottingham_carnival_history_feature.shtml (Accessed 29 September 2019)
Photographer took iconic image of 1976 Soweto Uprising https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=diwwYxhSv9Q (Accessed 29 September 2019)
Police to lose immunity from race law https://www.theguardian.com/uk/1999/feb/23/lawrence.ukcrime2 (Accessed 29 September 2019)
Reggae, Rastafari and the Rhetoric of Social Control https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2tvgj2 (Accessed 29 September 2019)
Recalling Rugby Match https://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/news/history/recalling-rugby-match-caused-storm-3174056 (Accessed 29 September 2019)
Student Uprising Soweto Riots https://www.thoughtco.com/student-uprising-soweto-riots-part-1-43425 (Accessed 29 September 2019)
The Work of Life Peers: David Pitt https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/evolutionofparliament/houseoflords/house-of-lords-reform/from-the-collections/from-the-parliamentary-collections-lords-reform/the-work-of-the-life-peers/davidpitt1913-1994/ (Accessed 29 September 2019)
Trevor Hall Feature http://www.bbc.co.uk/northamptonshire/content/articles/2005/01/29/trevor_hall_feature.shtml (Accessed 29 September 2019)
University of Leicester: Interview with Donna Jackman and Charmaine Blake http://specialcollections.le.ac.uk/digital/collection/p16445coll8/id/677/rec/2 (Accessed 29 September 2019)
Who defines Black dance? https://prezi.com/nvxq3yx8zxkk/who-defines-black-dance/ (Accessed 29 September 2019)