Neil Kenlock arrived in Britain from Jamaica in the early 1960s to join his parents. By the end of the decade, the photographer was documenting anti-racism protests and had become the official photographer for the British Black Panther movement.
To coincide with the 70th anniversary of Windrush, Kenlock – who later co-founded Choice FM – has delved into his extensive photographic archive to present an exhibition that celebrates the British black community leaders of the time. “I think it’s important to see how black people lived in London and Britain. To see what that generation has done for our wellbeing and community. These people worked hard for the community. They got government to change laws, they created employment and were lawyers who assisted disadvantaged people,” Kenlock tells Culture Trip.
Kenlock wants to inspire the younger generation and give them access to the untold stories of the prominent people – many first-generation African and Caribbean men and women – who worked hard to make changes for black people in Britain in the ’60s and ’70s.
“Many young black people from our community only engage with heritage when they visit museums during their educational studies. This project aims to give access to examples of black leadership, as well as archive material outside of the normal educational environment.”
The exhibition features a number of portraits of key figures from sports to politics, including lecturer Ricky Cambridge, who taught black history at Lambeth Town Hall, and the first Jamaican Olympic gold medallist Arthur Stanley Wint OD MBE. Also featured is Olive Morris, an anti-discrimination, women’s and squatters’ rights activist who, Kenlock tells us, “was recognised by Lambeth Council in 1986 when they named their local office building ‘Olive Morris House’”.
The exhibition chronicles not only the people but also the crucial events in black British history, including the troubling and challenging attitudes the black community had to experience.
Kenlock is probably most well known for his 1974 photograph capturing racist graffiti sprayed on the door of a training centre for young black women in Balham. The picture shows Barbara Grey, manager at the centre, pointing at the words “Keep Britain White”. “It’s one of my favourite images because it tells a true story of what was going on in this country,” says Kenlock.
Kenlock started working for the British Black Panthers, documenting their demonstrations and marches, after he experienced unprovoked discrimination at a South London nightclub. “I had an experience when I was quite young in Streatham at a nightclub when I was told by a doorman to come back the following week because they were full. When I went back they said, ‘Sorry, you can’t go in. We don’t want your type here and if you don’t leave we’ll call the police.’ I said, ‘Call the police.’ The police arrived and said, ‘Look, if you don’t go back home, we’re going to arrest you.’
“I didn’t know how to deal with that, and I didn’t want my parents to come to the police station and bail me out because that wasn’t on the agenda for me. So I walked to Brixton Hill, and during that journey I decided I wanted to campaign against unfairness and discrimination in this country – from that day I’ve been using my images to speak.
“When I got to Brixton I saw people giving out leaflets and they said to me, ‘Would you come to our meeting in Shakespeare Road?’ These were the Black Panthers. When I got there they said, ‘What do you do?’ ‘Well, I’m a photographer and I photograph people in the community.’ And they said, ‘Well, great, you are now our photographer!’”
Here Kenlock gives us some background on the important individuals featured in this powerful exhibition.
“This is a portrait of Trinidadian writer, broadcaster and activist Darcus Howe. Early ’70s. Darcus Howe was one of the most influential campaigners for civil liberty. An important member of the British Black Panthers, Howe organized a Black People’s Day of Action in response to the New Cross fire in 1981, was arrested as part of the Mangrove Nine and continued to fight for racial equality throughout his lifetime.”
“This is Grenadian-born Lord David Pitt, Baron of Hampstead, at his home. In 1959, Pitt was the first black person in Britain to be a parliamentary candidate. He became the first black chair of the Greater London Council in 1974. He founded Campaign Against Racial Discrimination in 1964, one of the first black British civil rights organisations.”
“Ann Wharton (19), Yana Francois (17) and Veronica White (22) are crowned the Miss West Indies at one of the first black beauty pageants in London. The Miss West Indies competition came to life in response to Miss England, which black models were not allowed to enter. Sponsored by the Sammy Jay movement, and held in London in the 1970s and 1980s, this competition allowed black Caribbeans to celebrate their beauty and culture.”
“Steve Barnard broke boundaries as the first black DJ and presenter to play Caribbean music on mainstream radio. His show Reggae Time was pioneering for BBC Radio London. One of his first interviews was with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.”
“London’s first black pub owner and licensee George Berry, standing in his pub the Coach & Horses after it was burnt down in a racist fire attack by the National Front. He assumed the licence for the Coach & Horses in 1965. He was a well-known pioneer in the industry, inspiring other Caribbean people to apply for licences. Today the pub is known as the Market House.”
Expectations: The Untold Story of Black British Community Leaders in the 1960s and 1970s is at Black Cultural Archives, 1 Windrush Square, Brixton, London SW2 1EF until 28 September 2018. Open on Tuesday-Saturday from 10am-6pm.
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