Hundreds tuned in online for a talk on November 3rd about Black British activism in the 1970s, with writer, history maker and cofounder of Race Today Collective, Leila Hassan Howe. Black History Walks in conjunction with UCL Sarah Parker Redmond Centre organised this insightful recount of a struggle for a better future for POC communities in London.


Leila takes us on a recount of her role as an activist, struggling for a better Britain amidst the 60s and 70s in Brixton. This story begins with a little girl, Leila Hassan Howe born in 1948 on 13th June. Brought up a devout muslim, her father sent her to be brought up in a wealthy Arab family, where she witnessed British colonialism. Meanwhile, her mother in England asked the foreign office in Britain to save her daughter from the Zanzibar Revolution, where local African revolutionaries overthrew the mainly Arab government that had been in power. In her teens, she  got on the last plane to leave the country. Returning to Heathrow airport and then East London Plaistow (close to Stratford!), Leila was met with the hostile British environment, and tensions following the 60s mass immigration. She decided to leave home and join the black British power organisation. 


Hassan Howe left school at 16 to work due to the racist environment. This was evident in the working mens’ club her family worked at, where black people weren’t allowed inside. 

Hassan Howe describes a huge library of liberation journals such as The Black Scholar and Black Panther newspapers and liberation journals from Mozambique and Angola. It was an international black movement for change, dispersed across the globe, as seen in the Pan-African Congress. These liberation journals served as a way for young black people to see themselves across the globe, and how the movement was furthering across the globe. It fostered hope. Hassan Howe joined the BUFP (The Black Unity and Freedom Party), taking a place on the editorial board.


Our story starts in a small publishing house when Race Today Collective was radicalised by Darcus Howe, Leila’s husband. It’s established readership of British universities, libraries, and government departments allowed black voices to be heard. Race Today members would manually typing pages, proofreading, typing reviews, culture and news. It was a tedious but necessary process. Even the headings were done manually, before they were later given money to digitalise. The journal was unique in that it depicted the struggle of Asian women as well, ‘A magazine with an ideology’. Race Today Collective fought against the inbuilt discirmation in housing, where the Bangladeshi community squatted in houses in the cold with only paraffin heaters. Hassan Howe said ‘we always discussed what we stood for and why we stood for it. That's what sustained us’. Members of Race Today Collective who didn’t work a 9-5 in Brixton, had to go in every week to say they were unemployed, earning 25/30 pound a week, some living in squats. In the early days, the World Council of Churches funded Race Today Collective. 


It was full of commitment, and some of the activists were devoted to their work with no weekends for 15 years. Despite court cases and her husband Darcus Howe being arrested 6 times, Leila said ‘We believed that what we were doing was the opposite of stress; we believed we were shaping our own destiny’. In what is now the Brixton lido, members even took time to make costumes for carnival, an artform in itself of Black British expression. 


At the tender age of 21, Hassan Howe rendered salute to the hundreds of marchers at Grosvenor Square to the US Embassy against racialism in America to commemorate George Jackson’s death and 13 young people in the New Cross Fire in south east London. She is an example to young activists today to fight for what they believe in, and the power of the press and media to be heard.


To finish, Leila reflected wistfully on improvements we see today, fruit born from decades of work. For the first time, this history was included in a GCSE level textbook - Pearson EdExcel 9-1 Migrants Black British Activism in Notting Hill. 


Check out blackhistorywalks on Youtube, or attend one of the Black History guided walks to unveil the black history steeped in our London streets.