Here we focus on the evolution of the Black Liberation Front, showcasing their manifesto, pamphlets, the social issues they explored, and their fascinating alliances in the UK and abroad. The Black Liberation Front was formed in 1971, and was preceded by a number of Black Power activist organisations.
Development of Black Power
The British Black Power Movement of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s formed out of the need for racial equality in a hostile Britain. Although the term “Black Power” is mostly associated with the civil rights movement in the United States, the British Black Power Movement was a movement in its own right, fighting against the racial discrimination which was increasingly rife in Britain. The British Black Power movement was led by both Black and Asian migrants, who were dedicated and determined to shape a future in Britain, and to obtain an equal society, among white British people. The aim was to overthrow white supremacy which subordinated Black people in a range of ways, including access to healthcare, safe housing, voting and fair and equal education. Unlike the Black Power Movement in the US, the British movement was less concerned with combating segregation, but it did have similarities in combating the unfair justice system, as well as police brutality and creating a liberation movement led by Black people for Black people.
Universal Coloured People's AssociationBlack Cultural Archives
Within the British Black Power Movement there were many factions that made up the movement including differences in what liberation and power looked like for Black people in Britain and how it would be achieved. The groups formed around the late 1960’s formed and created a sense of collective consciousness. The Black activists of the wider movement established a variety of organisations to represent their communities, which fed into the collective struggle and fight for Black population in Britain.
Three groups which were initially formed in the early stages, were the United Coloured People’s Association, the Black British Panther movement, and the Black Liberation Front. All played major roles to inform the growth and evolution of the later Black political movements during the 1970’s and 80’s.
The Universal Coloured People’s Association was the first Black Power organisation in the UK, founded in 1967. It was formed and led by Obi Egbuna, then President of the organisation and Roy Sawh who was second in charge. The group was the first to take on the view of having a Black Power movement which was run by the people for the people. Following a conference run by Stokey Carmichael, the group expelled all of its white members, in favour of a more Black Power oriented system.
The Struggle for Black Power (1967)Black Cultural Archives
The group ran several activities, including running study groups, poster-making, Black-related film nights, discussions around the politics of Black Power and liberation, and music events. It dissolved in 1968, when Obi Egbuna left to form the UK branch of the Black Panther Party Movement, in which it was renamed the Black Unity and Freedom Party.
Black Defence organisations ManifestoBlack Cultural Archives
A document titled "10 immediate steps to take" which instructs people on the behaviour of "the Wicked" [police]
In September 1967, following a visit from Stokey Carmichael and Malcolm X in London, a group of West African and West Indian settlers identified themselves as the British Black Panther Movement. The Black Panther Movement in the UK was officially founded in 1968 by Obi Egbuna, Darcus Howe, but later led by Althea Jones-Lecointe.
Although there were similarities with the Black Panther Party Movement in America, including aspects of their symbols, chants, and demands. Egbuna envisioned the party to be a revolutionary, militant underground organisation, with trained leaders representing the plights of the working class. Whilst, Jones-Leocinte wanted to position the Panthers as a grassroots organisation, including the causes of young people, Black workers, and those who were unemployed.
During its formation, and dissolution in 1972, many young men were inspired to join, including Neil Kenlock, who became the official photographer for the party, and dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson.
Papers and Photographs from the National Black Womens Conference Papers and Photographs from the National Black Womens Conference (March 1979) by Stella DadzieBlack Cultural Archives
Women including Olive Morris, Barbara Beese, Liz Obi and Beverley Bryan also joined the party, but some soon left due to the sexism they faced. The party’s activities ranged from attending marches and protests, to producing banners and publishing and distributing the newspaper ‘Black Peoples News Service’.
The impact the British Black Panther Party could be seen quite heavily in the exposure of the police and the injustice of the law for Black people, such as dedicated efforts to expose the racism and injustice in schools and law enforcement and the government.
Black Liberation Front
The Black Liberation Front was a political organisation, which started in 1971. They had a broad Black membership base, most of whom remained anonymous in their engagement with the public. Drawing ideas from Pan-African Socialism and Black nationalism, The Black Liberation Front engaged with international as well as national issues affecting Black People in the UK, having a significant impact on the Black British political landscape, influencing many policies and movements.
Black Defence organisations ManifestoBlack Cultural Archives
At a global level, the Black Liberation Front worked in solidarity with Black Liberation struggles that actively fought against the anti-imperialist movements in Africa and elsewhere in the world and continued to develop strong links with liberation struggles within Africa and the diaspora.
Although the Black Power movement in Britain was relatively short lived, it’s impact can be seen in establishing and developing educational reforms and supplementary schools for Black children's education, as well as creating affordable and safe housing for the Black population in Britain, and creating community spaces, including bookshops.
The Black Liberator: theoretical and discussion journal for Black liberation, vol 1, no 4 by Alrick Xavier CambridgeBlack Cultural Archives
In the UK, they also had a large impact on the justice system. Supporting Black prisoners, as well as being very active in mobilising around the issue of policing, such as exposing the use of SUS laws, which were heavily used between the 1970s and 1980s and highlighting the increased presence of police brutality.
The Black Liberator: theoretical and discussion journal for Black liberation (number 1) The Black Liberator: theoretical and discussion journal for Black liberation (number 1) (1973-1978) by The Black LiberatorBlack Cultural Archives
Many of the issues raised by the activists involved in the movement were taken up through increasing legislation to protect the rights of Black people, such as the amendment of the Race Relations Act 1976.
However, many of the issues and campaigns fought by those involved in the movement are still relevant today.