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Staying Power is a panoramic history of black Britons. Stretching back to the Roman conquest, encompassing the court of Henry VIII, and following a host of characters from Mary Seacole to the abolitionist Olaudah Equiano, Peter Fryer paints a picture of two thousand years of Black presence in Britain.

First published in the 80s, amidst race riots and police brutality, Fryer’s history performed a deeply political act; revealing how Africans, Asians and their descendants had long been erased from British history. By rewriting black Britons into the British story, showing where they influenced political traditions, social institutions and cultural life, was – and is – a deeply effective counter to a racist and nationalist agenda. In this blog, we have reproduced some of the book’s most fascinating histories.

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Septimus Severus

Africans in Britannia

There were Africans in Britain before the English came here. They were soldiers in the Roman imperial army that occupied the southern part of our island for three and a half centuries. Among the troops defending Hadrian’s wall in the third century AD was a ‘division of Moors’ (numerus Maurorum Aurelianorum) named after Marcus Aurelius or a later emperor known officially by the same name. Originally raised in north Africa, this unit was stationed at Aballava, now Burgh by Sands, near Carlisle. It was listed in the Notitia Dignitatum, an official register of the Roman administrative system, and there is an inscription referring to it on a third-century altar found in 1934 built facing down into a cottage wall at Beaumont, not far from Burgh.

Though the earliest attested date for this unit’s presence here is 253–8, an African soldier is reputed to have reached Britain by about the year 210. ‘Of great fame among clowns and good for a laugh any time’ (clarae inter scurras famae et celebratorum semper iocorum), this ‘Ethiopian’ has gone down in history as a man daring enough to mock the emperor who, in all probability, had brought him to Britain. It happened near Carlisle. Septimius Severus, the Libya- born emperor who spent his last three years in what was then a remote province, had been inspecting Hadrian’s wall. He had just defeated the wild Caledonians who lived on the other side and, being very superstitious, was hoping for a good omen. He was far from pleased to encounter a black soldier flourishing a garland of cypress boughs. Sacred to the underworld god Pluto, the cypress could mean only one thing to a Roman: death. Severus was troubled, not only by the ominous nature of the garland, but also by the soldier’s ‘ominous’ colour. ‘Get out of my sight!’ he shouted. The soldier replied sardonically: ‘You have been all things, you have conquered all things, now, O conqueror, be a god!’ Matters were hardly improved when, wishing to make a propitiatory sacrifice, Severus was provided with victims which also happened to be black. Abandoning the sacrifice in disgust at this further bad omen, he found that his attendants had carelessly brought these animals to the very door of the palace. It was a black day, as we say, for the emperor – we share some puns with the Romans, and some superstitions – and he died not long afterwards, at York.

Besides African soldiers and slaves, there may well have been officers (praefecti) from the flourishing towns of north Africa serving in Roman Britain in the second and third centuries. And, though no remains have yet been positively identified, there can be little doubt that Africans were buried here. Among 350 human skeletons found in an excavation at York in 1951–9 – the greatest number yet exhumed in any Romano-British cemetery – were several of men whose limb proportions suggest that they were black Africans.

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Sugar and slavery

Throughout the first half of the seventeenth century England’s black population remained very small. Scattered from Devon across to Kent was a handful of black pages and laundrymaids and the like: young slaves used as household servants and status symbols in the mansions of English noblemen and gentry. Then, in the 1650s, their numbers began to rise steadily. Having a black slave or two in one’s household soon became a craze for all who could afford it. And what started the process was the simple, everyday act of putting a spoonful of sugar into a dish of tea or coffee or chocolate.

Each of these three new beverages that English people began to drink in the 1650s had a rather bitter natural taste. So there was a growing demand for sugar, even among the very poor. The in- creasing popularity of rum punch also promoted sugar consumption in England, which went up fourfold between 1660 and 1700 – and about twentyfold between 1663 and 1775. How was a reliable and increasing supply of sugar to be obtained? The planters of St Kitts, England’s first successful Caribbean colony, made no bones about it. In 1680 their council told the Lords of Trade in London: ‘It is as great a bondage for us to cultivate our plantations without negro slaves as for the Egyptians to make bricks without straw.’ A planter on the neighbouring island of Nevis said the same thing nearly 100 years later (it must have been received wisdom in the Leeward Islands): ‘It is as impossible for a Man to make Sugar without the assistance of Negroes, as to make Bricks without Straw.’ John Pinney knew what he was talking about, for he and his family had made a vast fortune out of the sugar produced for them by black slaves. They had plenty of straw, and it made them bricks of gold. They were not the only ones.

Ships left London, Bristol, and Liverpool loaded with textiles made in Lancashire; muskets, brass rods, and cutlery made in Birmingham; copper rods and manillas (bronze rings used as a medium of ex- change) made in Glamorgan, Bristol, Warrington, St Helens, and Flintshire. Cargoes also included gunpowder, felt hats, silk pieces, sailcloth, green glass, beads, spirits, tobacco, and beer brewed by Samuel Whitbread and Sir Benjamin Truman. On the African coast these commodities were bartered for slaves, who were shipped across the Atlantic in the notorious middle passage. In Barbados, the Leeward Islands, Jamaica, and Surinam these young Africans were exchanged for sugar, spices, molasses, rum, and tobacco, which were carried back to Britain and sold. With a proportion of the profit more manufactured goods were bought, and the cycle began afresh. It was an ingenious system, for the ships never needed to travel empty. And it was an enormously profitable system for the planters whose slaves produced the sugar, the merchant capitalists who sold them the slaves, the industrial capitalists who supplied the manufactured goods with which the slaves were bought, and the bankers and commission agents who lent money to all of them.

Manchester and the textile industry prospered. The British Linen Company was chartered in 1746 mainly to supply merchants trading in Africa and the New World plantations ‘with the like Kinds of Linen-cloth as they hitherto were obliged to purchase from foreign Nations’. The Lancashire cotton manufacturers did their best to capture the market by copying Indian fabrics, popular on the African coast. Cotton piece goods worth £4,381 were marketed in Africa in 1739; within 30 years the trade had soared to £98,699, or almost half of Britain’s total exports in this line. In 1788 the manufacturer Samuel Taylor told the Lords of Trade that the value of goods supplied each year to Africa from the Manchester area was about £200,000, of which £180,000 was for the sole purpose of buying black slaves; about 18,000 men, women, and children were employed in this manufacture, which had a capital of at least £300,000. Birmingham and its gun- making, brass, cutlery, and wrought iron industries prospered, as did the copper industry in the Swansea area and elsewhere; exports to Africa of guns, unmanufactured brass, brass rods and rings, cutlery, hardware, copper rods, and manillas increased enormously.

Thus, at the dawn of the factory system in Britain, the trade in black slaves directly nourished several important industries and boomed precisely those four provincial towns that, in the 1801 census, ranked immediately after London: Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, and Bristol. Still more widespread were the trade’s indirect effects. There is controversy about the extent to which the threefold profits of the triangular trade as a whole financed Britain’s industrial revolution. The evidence marshalled by the late Eric Williams shows that they gave it, at the very least, a shot in the arm. Funds accumulated from the triangular trade helped to finance James Watt’s steam engine, the south Wales iron and coal industries, the south Yorkshire iron industry, the north Wales slate industry, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, and the Great Western Railway. Rising British capitalism had a magic money machine, an endless chain with three links: sugar cultivation; manufacturing industry; and the slave trade. And the slave trade was the essential link’. The whole system ‘was frankly regarded as resting on slavery’.

peter fryer staying power history of black people in britain africa africans roman empire slavery sugar manchester liverpool london bristol william wilberforce slave trade early black organisations cheddar man Ukawsaw Gronniosaw imperialism colonialism british empire

The slave ports’ self-image

When the Commons turned down Wilberforce’s first motion to bring in a Bill abolishing the slave trade, in 1791, Bristol’s church bells were rung, workmen and sailors were given a half-holiday, cannon were fired on Brandon Hill, a bonfire was lit, and there was a fireworks display.1 Sixteen years and many cargoes later the trade was at last abolished. Did abolition hit the slave ports hard, as had been forecast?

Bristol’s slave trade, in fact, was already in decay. Its merchants had been severely hit by the 1793 economic crisis and their ranks had been thinned by bankruptcies. Those left could see the writing on the wall and had largely transferred their capital to safer fields. The need to diversify had been clear for some time to Liverpool’s more far-sighted businessmen, too. Some, like Thomas Leyland, had chosen banking as the next best thing to slave trading. Most of them simply switched their attention to another profitable commodity

– one that happened to be produced by slave labour. For the next quarter of a century cotton, slavery, and Liverpool made up a trinity no less rewarding, and no less important to British capitalism, than the triangular trade it replaced. Liverpool, says a recent writer,

‘gained greatly in importance even as the slave trade on which it was founded was officially abolished. The city’s slave-trading past . . . was smugly overlaid by a respectability based on cotton. Yet by a cruel irony, slavery remained one of the bases of the wealth of Lancashire, and of Liverpool’s prosperity, which together provided such a large component of Britain’s nineteenth-century supremacy. For a further 27 years . . ., as for the previous two centuries, the black slave remained the prop, and victim, of the British economy.’

Apart from folklore – which, as we have seen, is sometimes imprecise – London, Bristol, and Liverpool have almost entirely forgotten their past as slave ports. When it is remembered the tone is usually one of oily complacency.

peter fryer staying power history of black people in britain africa africans roman empire slavery sugar manchester liverpool london bristol william wilberforce slave trade early black organisations cheddar man Ukawsaw Gronniosaw imperialism colonialism british empire

Early black organizations

So far we have been looking at Britain’s black population exclusively through the eyes of the natives of the country they were brought to against their will. We have had no alternative. Until about 1750 the traces left by their presence here – royal proclamations, entries in parish registers, instructions to slave-ship captains, offers of slaves for sale, advertisements for runaways – were the documents of native rulers, administrators, merchants, noblemen, and ships’ officers. But from about the middle of the eighteenth century there is some- thing new in the records. There is evidence of cohesion, solidarity, and mutual help among black people in Britain. They had developed a lively social life. And they were finding ways of expressing their political aspirations. Black self-awareness took literary shape in autobiography, political protest, journalism, and other published writings ed England and wrote in English.

London’s black community organized very much bigger and more elaborate affairs, with music and dancing, at various taverns – ‘the wonted haunts of Moormen and Gentoos’, as the author of The Servants Pocket-Book (1761) called them, noting that black servants invariably tended to ‘herd together’ there. ‘Among the fashionable routs or clubs, that are held in town, that of the Blacks or Negro servants is not the least’, reported a newspaper in 1764, telling how black domestics of both sexes ‘supped, drank, and entertained themselves with dancing and music, consisting of violins, French horns, and other instruments, at a public-house in Fleet-street, till four in the morning. No Whites were allowed to be present, for all the performers were Blacks’. The black community attentively followed the long-drawn-out Somerset case and sent representatives to attend the hearings. At the lord chief justice’s fateful words, ‘The man must be discharged’, they bowed to the judges, then clasped each other’s hands in joy and relief. A few days later this partial victory was celebrated by a gathering of about 200 blacks, ‘with their ladies’, at a Westminster public house. Tickets of admission cost 5s., so these were either better-off servants, whose masters paid them wages, or else delegates each of whom represented many others. Lord Mansfield’s health was ‘echoed round the room’ and the evening ended with dancing.

Besides small private meetings and more elaborate gatherings with music and dancing there was also community observance of christenings, weddings, and funerals – precisely those events in the human life-cycle which, if we take christening as a special case of name-giving, figure so largely as social occasions throughout black Africa. A christening at the parish church of St Giles, London, in 1726 assembled ‘well-drest’ black people of both sexes. The two godmothers and their half-dozen attendants are described in a newspaper report as ‘all Guiney Blacks, as pretty, genteel Girls, as could be girt with a Girdle, and setting aside the Complexion, enough to tempt an old frozen Anchorite to have crack’d a Commandment with any of them’. At least one black kinsman of Jack Beef, footman to the Leeward Islands solicitor-general John Baker, attended Beef’s funeral in Bloomsbury in 1771; and Samuel Bowden, physician and versifier, in ‘An Epitaph, On a Negro Servant, who died at Governor Phipps’s, At Haywood near Westbury’, recorded that

Black guests, and Æthiopian night,

Sit round this funeral room.

And when, in 1773, two black men were imprisoned in the Bridewell house of correction for the crime of begging, they were ‘visited by upwards of 300 of their countrymen’ and the black community ‘contributed largely towards their support during their confinement’.

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Ignatius Sancho by Thomas Gainsborough

Ignatius Sancho

The first African prose writer whose work was published in England – his Letters appeared in 1782, two years after his death, and proved an immediate best-seller – was born in 1729 on a slave-ship in mid-Atlantic. At Cartagena, on the coast of Colombia, the baby was christened Ignatius. His mother died soon afterwards, and his father killed himself rather than exist as a slave. When the boy was about two his owner brought him to England and gave him to three maiden sisters who lived in Greenwich. These ladies called him Sancho because they fancied that he looked like Don Quixote’s squire. Unlike Phillis Wheatley’s mistress, they ‘judged ignorance the best and only security for obedience’ and believed that ‘to enlarge the mind of their slave would go near to emancipate his person’. All the same, ‘by unwearied application’, Ignatius Sancho taught himself to read and write.

The Duke of Montagu, who lived at nearby Blackheath, admired the young man’s ‘native frankness of manner as yet unbroken by servitude’, gave him presents of books, and advised the three sisters to attend to his education. But they were inflexible. What brought matters to a head was a love affair, which would have appeared ‘infinitely criminal in the eyes of three Maiden Ladies’. So Sancho, now 20 years old, ran away and sought refuge with the Montagus. The duke had recently died; the duchess wanted to send the runaway back to Greenwich but he threatened to shoot himself rather than return, so she engaged him as a butler. Now he could freely indulge his passion for reading and cultivate a broad range of talents. He wrote poetry, two stage plays, and a ‘Theory of Music’, dedicated to the Princess Royal, which was never published and is apparently lost. He emerged also as a minor composer: three small collections of songs, minuets, and other pieces for violin, mandolin, flute, and harpsichord were published anonymously. ‘Composed by an African’, they are dedicated to members of the Montagu family, which makes their attribution to Sancho reasonably certain. Some of Sancho’s music, which Paul Edwards has called ‘slight, but elegant, and thoroughly fashionable’, was broadcast by the BBC in 1958. Sancho adored the theatre and would spend his last shilling to see Garrick, greatest actor of the age, at Drury Lane. But he was not a clear enough speaker to play Othello and Oroonoko, though it seems he would have liked to. His other passions were for women and gambling; he was cured of the latter weakness when he lost his clothes playing cribbage.

Sancho was soon taken up by London’s fashionable literary and artistic circles. Gainsborough painted his portrait in 1768. He became a friend of Garrick. Other friends included the historical painter John Hamilton Mortimer, the sculptor Joseph Nollekens, and the writers Samuel Johnson and Laurence Sterne. Sancho’s friendship with Sterne began in 1766, when he wrote to tell the author how much he admired his Sermons and Tristram Shandy – and to ask for Sterne’s help on behalf of the enslaved Africans.

In reply, Sterne pointed out that, by coincidence, he had been writing ‘a tender tale of the sorrows of a friendless poor negro-girl’ when Sancho’s letter arrived, and added that Sancho’s brethren were his also and that he often, looking westward, thought of ‘the burthens which our brothers and sisters are there carrying’. Ten months later, Sterne was thanking Sancho for getting the Montagu family to subscribe to the ninth and final volume of Tristram Shandy and asking him to press his employers to pay their subscriptions since he needed the money. A few weeks later he wrote to Sancho: ‘I hope you will not forget your custom of giving me a call at my lodgings next winter.’

Troubled with gout and ‘a constitutional corpulence’, Sancho left the service of the Montagu family in 1773. By now he was married to Anne, a black woman from the Caribbean who was to bear him six children. Helped by a small legacy and annuity left him by the Duchess of Montagu, Sancho opened a grocery shop in Charles Street, Westminster.

The publication of Sancho’s Letters, two years after his death, were made public with the express intention of proving ‘that an untutored African may possess abilities equal to an European’. They attracted over 1,200 subscribers, more than any publication since the Spectator of Steele and Addison 70 years before.

The first edition sold so quickly that the Monthly Review could not get hold of a review copy and had to wait for the second edition in the following year. (‘Let it no longer be said,’ concluded the reviewer, ‘by half-informed philosophers, and superficial investigators of human nature, that Ne-gers, as they are vulgarly called, are inferior to any white nation in mental abilities.’) Sancho’s widow, who carried on the grocery business after his death, is said to have received over £500 from the book’s sales. Sancho’s son William, after working for a time in the library of the botanist Sir Joseph Banks, turned bookseller, in his father’s old shop, and published the fifth edition of the Letters in 1803.

Though Sancho’s literary style owes an obvious debt to Sterne, he never forgets that he is an African. He signs two letters to the press ‘Africanus’, sends ‘Blackamoor greetings’, refers to ‘my brother Negroes’ and ‘my poor black brethren’. Now and again he laughs at himself as ‘a poor Blacky grocer’, ‘only a poor, thick- lipped son of Afric’, ‘a fat old fellow’, and ‘a man of a convexity of belly exceeding Falstaff – and a black face into the bargain’. He describes himself as ‘a coal-black, jolly African, who wishes health and peace to every religion and country throughout the ample range of God’s creation!’ Nor is his good humour ruffled when he and his family are subjected to rudeness or racist insults.

How far can Sancho, butler turned shopkeeper, with artistic tastes and literary talents and friends, be said to have been ‘assimilated’ into eighteenth-century English society? Brought to England at the age of two, he grew up as a black Englishman. His cultural models, in literature and music alike, were English, not African. But a black Englishman, even one with the broad talents, white friends, and endless patience and good humour of a Sancho, was not an easy thing to be in the eighteenth century. Sancho himself knew all too well that he was not, and could never be, truly at home in England. ‘I am only a lodger – and hardly that’, he wrote. He was aware that few Englishmen possessed ‘charity enough to admit dark faces into the fellowship of Christians’. In his Letters at least, the pervading racial prejudice of the country he has grown up in rarely makes him bitter. But he does note wryly that ‘to the English, from Othello to Sancho the big – we are either foolish – or mulish – all – all without a single exception’.

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Olaudah Equiano

The rise of Pan-Africanism

Pan-Africanism, one of the major political traditions of the twen­tieth century, was largely created by black people living in Britain. In 1787 Ottobah Cugoano published in London his Thoughts and sentiments on the evil and wicked traffic of the slavery and commerce of the human species. In that seminal book, at the very dawn of the abolitionist movement, an African writer not only demanded freedom for the slaves but also forecast ‘universal calamity’ for the ‘criminal nations’ that profited from their enslavement. Two years later, Cugoano’s friend Olaudah Equiano published in London his Interesting Narrative. These two writers together anticipated many of the leading ideas of Pan-Africanism: racial solidarity and self-awareness; Africa for the Africans; opposition to racial discrim­ination; emancipation from white supremacy and domination. With their work begins the prehistory of Pan-Africanism – or, in other words, the history of ‘proto-Pan-Africanism’.1

Of the forerunners and creators of Pan-Africanism, some were born in Britain, others visited this country for varying periods. Why was Britain the womb of the movement? Chiefly because it was the centre of a fast-expanding empire. It was here that Africans, West Indians, Afro-Americans, and Anglo-Africans could most conven­iently meet, exchange ideas, create networks of contacts. And, when the time was ripe to organize, it was here that they could most easily launch a movement that challenged the whole imperialist system.

At the turn of the century the British Empire was so powerful that it seemed to its rulers as if the sun would never set on it. But the first Pan-African Conference, held in London in 1900, gave notice to the white imperialists who ruled over millions of Africans and West Indians that their minority rule could not last for ever. And within two generations decolonization was no longer a dream, but a fact.

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Resistance and rebellion

Right through the 1970s, Britain’s black communities had been under attack from fascists and police. They had been forced to defend themselves, since nobody else could or would defend them. The re­bellion of black youth in the inner cities was the logical and, as is now clear, inevitable response to racist attacks. It was the culmination of years of harassment. Its message was simply: ‘We have had enough.’

Between 1976 and 1981, 31 black people in Britain had been murdered by racists. They included Gurdip Singh Chaggar, aged 18, stabbed to death in Southall by a gang of white youths; Altab Ali and Ishaque Ali, murdered in Brick Lane; Michael Ferreira, murdered in Hackney; Akhtar Ali Baig, murdered in Newham; Mohammad Arif and Malcolm Chambers, murdered in Swindon; Sewa Singh Sunder, murdered in Windsor; Fenton Ogbogbo, murdered in south London; Famous Mgutshini, a Zimbabwean student, stabbed to death outside Liverpool Street station; a young boy in Manchester, stabbed to death by a motorist at whose car he had idly flicked an apple core. Besides the knife, the racists also used fire: by 1981, arson attacks on black people’s homes had become commonplace. In Chapeltown, Leeds, a disabled Sikh woman was burnt to death when a petrol bomb was thrown into her house. In Leamington Spa, an elderly Asian woman died after racists poured petrol over her and set fire to her sari. In Walthamstow, Mrs Parveen Khan and her three children were burnt to death when petrol was poured through their letter-box and set alight at three in the morning. And for every black person murdered, scores of others were attacked, beaten, kicked unconscious.

Black places of worship, black shops, black centres are targets for brutal attack, vandalism and fascist daubings. Nor is there safety inside the house – bricks may be thrown through windows and burning petrol-soaked rags pushed through let­ter-boxes. Day in, day out black people, young and old, men and women, are subjected to abuse and assault. Yet, by and large, this violence, even arson and murder, goes unreported, except at the local level – and not always then.

And in almost every case, in the teeth of the evidence, the police denied that there had been, that there could have been, any racist motive. Sometimes they went further, by arresting the victims and letting the attackers go free…

Meeting-places are essential for democracy, and any ‘law’ that stamps them out is oppressive and unjust. In April 1980, after years of harassing Bristol’s black community, police raided one of the few meeting-places black youth had left to them. The resistance was tougher than they had bargained for, and they withdrew after two hours’ fighting. In fact, they ran away, and for four hours St Pauls was a ‘no go’ area. Bristol became a symbol of resistance.

In January 1981, 13 young black people perished in a fire at a house in Deptford, an area where other black homes had been at­tacked and a black community centre had been burnt down. As usual, police discounted the possibility of a racial motive; but the entire community, not just the anguished parents, were convinced that the fire had been started by fascists.

Three months later some 15,000 black people, in the most remark­able demonstration ever mounted by Britain’s black communities, marched the ten miles from Deptford to central London. They de­manded justice for black people and an end to racist murders. They protested against police conduct of the Deptford inquiry. And, as they marched through Fleet Street, they protested against media in­difference to the mass murder.

Another month, and police in Brixton launched ‘Swamp 81’. This was merely the first local part of a London-wide exercise known as ‘Operation Star’, which many black people saw as a police reply to the Deptford march. Brixton was now well and truly ‘swamped by people with a different culture’ – 120 plain-clothes policemen, who in six days stopped 943 people in the street and arrested 118 of them. ‘It was’, said the head of the local CID, ‘a resounding success.’ They beat up a man outside a local school, and a parent who tried to remonstrate with them was hit on the head with a truncheon and arrested for obstruction. On 10 April a crowd rescued a black youth from a police car, then stood up to police reinforcements and forced them to withdraw.

Next day, Brixton exploded. In July, the rebellion spread to Southall after an attack on an Asian woman by people from outside the area. The uprising in the Toxteth district of Liverpool lasted four days: young workers, white and black, fought and defeated the police under the leadership of black Liverpudlians described by the local chief constable as ‘the product of liaisons between white pros­titutes and African sailors’. Under that leadership they succeeded in burning down 150 buildings, including some of symbolic signif­icance, putting 781 policemen out of action, and holding the area until the police returned with CS gas, which they fired at people with cartridges intended for use against walls.

Back to the television screen came Margaret Thatcher. ‘Nothing’, she said, ‘can justify, nothing can excuse and no one can condone the appalling violence we have seen.’ Within hours, the rebellion had spread to Manchester, where 1,000 youths, black and white, besieged Moss Side police station. Then it hit Handsworth in Birmingham, Chapeltown in Leeds, Bolton, Luton, Leicester, Nottingham, Birkenhead, Hackney, Wood Green, Walthamstow, Hull, High Wycombe, Southampton, Halifax, Bedford, Gloucester, Sheffield, Coventry, Portsmouth, Bristol, Edinburgh, Reading, Huddersfield, Blackburn, Preston, Ellesmere Port, Chester, Stoke, Shrewsbury, Wolverhampton, Newcastle, Knaresborough, Derby, Stockport, Maidstone, Aldershot, and dozens of other places, black and white youth together against the police. ‘Copycat riots’? Some cats – and some claws!

With remarkable historical symmetry, this burst of youthful rage began, and proved to be most powerful and sustained, in the very cities which had once been this country’s chief slave ports: Bristol, London, and Liverpool. There, if anywhere, the persistent bullying of black people was bound, sooner or later, to provoke rebellion. The size and scope and ferocity of the rebellion astonished everyone, in­cluding the youth themselves. They learnt that, tactically, they could defeat the police; that, strategically, they could hold them to a draw. The police learnt how far, in future, they could goad. On both sides of the barricades many other lessons are no doubt still being di­gested. Those who at present rule this country, and for whom control of Britain’s black communities has been a major consideration in the turn to ‘hard’ policing, would be ill-advised to underestimate the intelligence, determination, and proud traditions of those they desire to control. And if, as has been suggested, ‘traces of black life have been removed from the British past to ensure that blacks are not part of the British future’, the present book is offered as a modest contribution to setting the record straight.

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The new edition of Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain by Peter Fryer is available from Pluto Press. Featuring a brand-new foreword from Gary Younge, alongside the now-classic introduction by Paul Gilroy.

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Peter Fryer (1927-2006) was a jazz-playing Marxist author and activist. He was expelled from the Communist Party in 1956 for rejecting Stalinism, and later fought the imperial mendacity of whitewashed British history.