Jesse Jackson was on target when he visited the Cannon Street Memorial Baptist Church on Soho Road, Handsworth. This is Birmingham UK not Alabama. Other speakers gave a warm up, including Cllr Salma Yaqoob who reminded the audience that when she had questioned the Tory leader, Mike Whitby, about no black cabinet members he had told her to go back to Oldham. She said that there were now two appointed!
Jackson’s message was timely. Speaking on the anniversary of the Haitian revolution of 1791 when slaves revolted under the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture, Jackson reminded us that slavery wasn’t over. If you didn’t have access to decent jobs, education, health care etc. then how was freedom a benefit? He reminded the audience that African people had contributed hugely to the economic success of America and European countries yet they had still to reach a point when they got equal reward. This was still a way off at the present rate of progress.
Ken Livingstone gave an apology for slavery happening as Mayor of London following Liverpool’s example. Birmingham has yet to think of it so let’s put in an apology. As a Birmngham citizen, former Labour Councillor representing a Handsworth ward let me put forward an apology. Birmingham manufactured guns, Birmingham manufactured chains and shackles. Birmingham still does and one of its clients is Guantanamo Bay! Let Mike Whitby repudiate this, let Paul Tilsley repudiate this. Let Albert Bore repudiate this. We are deeply sorry for the centuries of violence, degradation and death inflicted on those taken from their African homes and the exploitation of their labour and resources. In doing so we pledge to build a society based on equality and to right the continuing consequences, the enduring legacy left by slavery.
I was fortunate to get into the meeting. At first I was ushered into the overspill hall where a screen had been installed. This gave a rather fuzzy image of the proceedings in the church next door. I noticed that the choir seats behind the speakers were empty so when I pointed this out to two friends they went off to investigate and took their places in the church. Both these women I know as outstanding people in the struggle for equality in the U.K. either of whom could have spoken at the meeting. Camille Ade-John and Rosemary Campbell devote their lives to the improvement of the community and equality. In the meeting other less progressive figures secured the limelight, one with a promise of being returned to parliament with the presumption that Clare Short will be vacating her Ladywood seat. It is such opportunists that New Labour continues to nurture and support rather than anyone who shows seriousness of purpose. Salma Yaqoob is a case in point. She is a Respect councillor, the sort of person that a vibrant Labour movement would include. While it has the sort of leadership it has in the West Midlands New Labour remains a reactionary force. Progressive people have to look elsewhere.
My former colleague on Birmingham City Council, Phil Murphy, fetched me from the hall and found me a seat in the choir close to the speakers.
After the meeting Phil and I had a discussion about both Jackson’s talk and the situation in Birmingham. The lack of progressive thinking to the fore was brought sharply into focus. Phil spoke of Dr Walter Rodney who had spoken out against rifts between people of African and Asian origin. Here at the meeting it was good that Yaqoob was given prominence she deserves and she was well received by the largely African Caribbean audience. Phil had wished for a rather wider representation given this was Handsworth, a diverse community. Horace Campbell had known Walter Rodney and has written about him.
Jackson referred to the successful struggles across the world in which black people had overcome racism and oppression from the Civil Rights movemen in the U.S.A. to apartheid in South Africa. But these products of colonialism have had far reaching an lasting effects as I saw all too clearly in my visit to Zimbabwe. Post independence the african people continue to be dispossessed. As Jackson pointed out “freedom” is rather more than the end of slavery and colonial rule. Phil Murphy has drawn my attention to another of Horace cambell’s works: “Zimbabwe Reclaimed”. It’s subtitle “The Exhaustion of the Patriarchal Model of Liberation” has prompted me to order a copy. Looking at reviews Campbell has attracted controversy so I am looking forward to reading further!
The credit for bringing Jackson to Birmingham goes to Maxi Hayles and the Birmingham Racial Attacks Monitoring Unit (BRAMU).
Nelson Mandela’s visit to UK to unveil his statue in Parliament square and his message to black leaders. (Independent 29/8/2007) This follows on from Jesse Jackson’s message.