Darcus Howe – Civil Rights Activist?

Darcus dies and Linton raises a question about Civil Rights in England. Did it happen? Is it fair to use this term or is this just lazy journalism?


RIP Darcus

Darcus rallies crowds with his intellect in Notting HIll, against a West London backdrop. No Hugh Grant in sight. (See Diane Abbot, New Statesman link at end)

‘What say you? ‘
Contrarian and Provocateur. True Activist.
Devil’s Advocate.
Intellectual stimulant, taking bruises for militant respectability.
Rest In Peace
Your work here is well done.
But we’ll still hear, over the air, with our imaginings
What you might say. Ancestor.

My personal favourite memories…

1) on TV – when he tells us once that the invitation to the  Nation of Islam to come on the show was rejected. They reportedly said ‘they have no intention of  coming  onto any programme entitled, The Devil’s Advocate.’

That always stood out in my memory for some reason. Probably knowing friends in the NOI or like family in the Seventh Day Adventist church, knowing how they stay. The kind of thing they’d say.

2) in the sea – Once, I met him personally while I was swimming, or bathing as they say, in Barbados. And recognised a familiar voice and face maybe not too far away.  All the local elders seem to swim there, especially in the mornings, away from tourist traffic, hurried day tripped, cruise shipped, quick sun-seekers.  This was later in the day than the first light dips those local elders do. It was me, and two others in this small cove.  I bobbed over to the place where the elder was, it turned out to be Darcus! I don’t even remember what we spoke about but I remember letting him know I was from Englan’ and was honoured to meet him. And then thinking after, ‘Gee, that really was Darcus.’ !

Darcus, Just “Darcus”, no need for a surname. Like “Oprah”. For black people growing up in Inglun’ anyhow, above a certain age, we don’t need a surname for Darcus. There’s only one.  And Darcus is a whole lot easier to handle than “Leighton, Rhett Radford… ”

Shame he never got to see Guerilla but he got to be it and helped make the series happen I believe. Well Darcus would almost certainly be a ‘terrorist’ of his day.  But now, recognised by intellectuals, politeness and history we say… Civil Rights Activist.

Civil Rights in England? Or are we just lazy..journalistic?

So meanwhile, I’m interested in Linton’s response about Civil Rights in the UK. He says something to the effect of we had no civil rights in the UK. Only a series of anti-racist actions of which Darcus was at the centre.  Which prompts an interesting question for us.

The Mayor’s Race goes back to look at the Bristol bus boycott of 1963, which we blatantly call UK “Civil Rights”. I have to say I totally understand where LKJ is coming from.  And even his audible frustration on the radio interviews I heard.  Is it just our (Rob & Loraine, and BBC etc) lazy journalism? Or just journalism, which has something of the lazy about it inherently? So just ‘journalism’. Of course, the media shorthand of ‘civil rights activist’, can not possibly convey the nuances, subtleties , historicity and specifics of the fight for equality in the UK.

However, as people trying to promote a documentary film, with an interest in attracting US and wider, international audiences, what we do?  Embrace the blunt definition of UK Civil Rights and its reductive simplicity, in the hope that ‘you get the idea’.  Then of course, we hope, the film would widen the conversation. But for now, Can we be forgiven for grabbing a strapline to raise awareness of our project? I hope so. And that audiences think it worth it in the end.

And of course, Darcus the other thing we’ll always remember you for is that question, in a phrasing I often borrow. That little phrase of antiquated English usage,

‘What say you?

Diane Abbot’s Write up in The New Statesmen

RIP Darcus Howe (bbc)


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