Darcus Howe (Anti-National Front Demonstration, Lewisham) by Syd Shelton

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    Darcus Howe (Anti-National Front Demonstration, Lewisham),    by Syd Shelton,    13 August 1977,    NPG x201508,    © Syd Shelton
Darcus Howe, leading British civil rights activist, journalist and pioneering broadcaster.
Darcus Howe (Anti-National Front Demonstration, Lewisham)
by Syd Shelton
gelatin silver print, 13 August 1977
14 1/4 in. x 20 7/8 in. (363 mm x 530 mm) image size
NPG x201508
© Syd Shelton

Darcus Howe (1944–2017) was a British civil rights activist, writer, journalist and broadcaster. He is remembered as a leading figure in the anti-racism movement, which emerged in the 1970s.

This photograph shows Howe leading a momentous anti-racism protest in Lewisham, southeast London. The protest became known as ‘The Battle of Lewisham’.

Analysing the portrait

  • View larger image
    Darcus Howe (Anti-National Front Demonstration, Lewisham),    by Syd Shelton,    13 August 1977,    NPG x201508,    © Syd Shelton
Darcus Howe (Anti-National Front Demonstration, Lewisham), by Syd Shelton, 13 August 1977

Look carefully at the portrait. Take your time – look at it for at least a whole minute. What can you see?

    • We can see Darcus Howe standing above a crowd of people. There are a number of young people standing next to him.
    • The crowd appears to include a diverse range of people including people of colour and white people; men and women.
    • A police officer’s distinctive helmet can also be seen in the crowd.
    • There are tower blocks in the background and a row of houses to the left. This suggests a densely populated place, probably in a city.
    • Howe is holding a Megaphone A cone-shaped device for making your voice sound louder, often used at outside events. . He has positioned himself on top of what is reported to be a block of public toilets, so he can be clearly seen.
    • The presence of a police officer in the crowd might suggest the police are concerned this is an event that could get out of hand.
    • One of the people next to Howe is holding a large camera. This suggests he must have been expecting something important or exciting to happen – something worth taking a photo of. (When this photograph was taken in 1977, cameras were larger than they are today.)
    • The photograph gives the impression of a large crowd – as if there are too many people to fit in the frame.
    • The fact that Howe needs to stand on a platform and use a megaphone also suggests this is a large crowd.
    • The photographer has framed the photograph so that Howe and the other people on the platform are central.
    • He appears to be the only person on the platform looking directly at the crowd.
    • He is also the only person on the platform with a Megaphone A cone-shaped device for making your voice sound louder, often used at outside events. , which he is using to speak to the crowd.
    • Howe’s expression appears serious and animated.
    • He is standing with his feet apart, leaning slightly forward towards the crowd. He is gesturing with his left hand as if to stress the importance of what he is saying.
    • Almost everyone in the crowd is looking at him. Some people have raised their hands in a gesture that appears to support what he’s saying.
I am always to be found running up freedom street.
Darcus Howe, 2001 

Who was Darcus Howe?

  • Darcus Howe was born in Trinidad, in the Caribbean. He came to Britain when he was 18 years old to study law.
  • He had planned to train as a Barrister A lawyer in the UK who argues cases in the higher courts of law.   but felt treated as a ‘second-class’ citizen. Instead, he left Britain and became involved in journalism and the Black Power A movement supporting rights and political power for Black people. movement in the US and the Caribbean.
  • In August 1970, having returned to London, Howe became famous when he successfully defended himself in the ‘Mangrove’ trial. Howe and eight others had been arrested for protesting against police harassment of a Caribbean restaurant called the Mangrove, in Notting Hill, London, and of Black people generally. All nine were found not guilty.
  • The trial of the ‘Mangrove nine’ was a turning point in the history of British civil rights. The court acknowledged that there was ‘evidence of racial hatred on both sides’. This was the first acknowledgement of its kind. It sent shockwaves through the Metropolitan police and wider political establishment, who the court had found to be racist.
  • Howe became a leading figure in the British Black Panthers The British version of the American group that fought for equal rights for African Americans. movement and in many other major civil rights campaigns.
  • He became editor of the ground-breaking Race Today journal, with his wife Leila Hassan. The journal was a central voice for the Black community and anti-racism in London. 
  • Howe was Chair of the Notting Hill Carnival Annual Caribbean festival event that has taken place in London since 1966 on the streets of the Notting Hill. in the early 1980s.
  • In the 1980s, Howe began a career in broadcasting. He continued to take a Radical In favour of extreme and complete political or social change. stance against racism well into the 2000s, and changed the face of British television with his uncompromising style and programmes.

Why is this portrait significant?

  • This photograph documents a key moment in the struggle against racism in 1970s London.
  • At this time, the National Front (NF) had quickly grown from a small group of Fascist Someone who supports fascism, an extreme right-wing political system or attitude. to a large, far-right political party with extremist views. This included being against migration to the UK and campaigning against the presence of Black and Asian communities in Britain.
  • On 13 August 1977, the NF attempted to march from New Cross to Lewisham town centre. This was an area with a large Black community. It was also an area where the NF felt they had support from many of the residents.
  • Thousands of Black, white and Asian people turned out to oppose the NF. Although the crowd were motivated by wanting to live in peace, free from the NF, there were violent clashes between these demonstrators and the police.
  • Howe was a visible and forceful leader in this counter-protest. Thirty years later, he remembered how he spoke to the large crowds of anti-fascists saying: ‘I cannot remember being excited that August afternoon in 1977. Passionate? Yes. Pleasantly victorious? That, too.’
  • The ‘Battle of Lewisham’, as it became known, marked the first time a National Front march was prevented from reaching its destination.
  • It was a disaster for the NF, who had been greatly outnumbered, and it was a turning point towards more widespread support for racial equality in Britain. 

Who is Syd Shelton?

  • Syd Shelton (born 1947) is a British photographer and graphic designer.
  • During the 1970s and early 1980s, Shelton documented social unrest and racism in London through his photographs.
  • In 1976, he became a founding member and official photographer of the Rock Against Racism A collective of political activists and musicians that organised concerts and other events with an anti-racist message in the 1970s and early 1980s. movement.
  • Shelton took a number of photographs of the ‘Battle of Lewisham’ on 13 August 1977. Almost 45 years later, in 2021, he remembered ‘… it was a violent day, but there was also a degree of triumph because the people were not going to take it anymore’.

Questions

  1. What do you think the overall message of this photograph is? Why?
  1. Why do you think Howe might have described himself as feeling ‘passionate and ‘pleasantly victorious’ but not ‘excited’?
  1. What impact do you think ‘The Battle of Lewisham’ may have had on the anti-racism movement at the time?