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Darcus Howe

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Darcus Howe
Leighton Rhett Radford Howe

26 February 1943 (1943-02-26)
Died1 April 2017(2017-04-01) (aged 74)
Streatham, London, England
Other namesRadford Howe; Darcus Owusu
EducationQueen's Royal College
Occupation(s)Broadcaster, columnist, activist
Organization(s)British Black Panthers, Mangrove Nine
Known forRace Today, Black on Black, Bandung File
SpouseLeila Hassan
RelativesTamara Howe (daughter)
Darcus Beese (son)

Leighton Rhett Radford "Darcus" Howe (26 February 1943 – 1 April 2017)[1][2] was a British broadcaster, writer[3] and racial justice campaigner. Originally from Trinidad, Howe arrived in England as a teenager in 1961, intending to study law and settling in London. There he joined the British Black Panthers, a group named in sympathy with the US Black Panther Party.[4][5]

He came to public attention in 1970 as one of the nine protestors, known as the Mangrove Nine, arrested and tried on charges that included conspiracy to incite a riot, following a protest against repeated police raids of The Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill, London. They were all acquitted of the most serious charges and the trial became the first judicial acknowledgement of behaviour (the repeated raids) motivated by racial hatred, rather than legitimate crime control, within the Metropolitan Police. In 1981, he organised a 20,000-strong "Black People's Day of Action" in protest at the handling of the investigation into the New Cross house fire, in which 13 black teenagers died.[6][7]

Howe was an editor of Race Today, and chairman of the Notting Hill Carnival. He was best known as a television broadcaster in the UK for his Black on Black series on Channel 4, his current affairs programme Devil's Advocate, and his work with Tariq Ali on Bandung File.[8][9] His television work also included White Tribe (2000), a look at modern Britain and its loss of "Englishness"; Slave Nation (2001); Who You Callin' a Nigger? (2004); and Is This My Country? (2006), a search for his West Indian identity.[10][11] He was a columnist for the New Statesman[12] and The Voice.[13]

Early life, activism and writing[edit]

Leighton Rhett Radford Howe[2][4] was born in Moruga in Trinidad, the son of teacher Lucille (née Rudder) and Cipriani Howe, an Anglican priest.[4] Howe was schooled in Port of Spain at Queen's Royal College (QRC),[11][14] where he won a scholarship.[4]

At the age of 18, after leaving QRC, Howe moved to England,[15] arriving on the SS Antilles at Southampton[16] on 11 April 1961, after a two-week journey, and taking a train on to London Waterloo station.[17] He intended to study law, but after two years at Middle Temple he left,[17] becoming more involved with journalism. In 1969, he returned to Trinidad,[18] where his uncle and mentor, radical intellectual C. L. R. James, inspired him to combine writing with political activism. A brief spell as assistant editor on the Vanguard, weekly newspaper of the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union, was followed by a return to Britain.[19]

Howe became a member of the British Black Panther Movement, and adopted the nickname "Darcus" around that time.[20] In the summer of 1970 he took part in a protest against the frequent police raids of the Mangrove restaurant in Notting Hill, where he worked on the till. The restaurant had become a meeting place for black people, serving as what Howe called the "headquarters of radical chic".[21] It was raided 12 times between January 1969 and July 1970 by police looking for drugs, and so 150 demonstrators marched on the local police station in protest, a demonstration that ended in violence. Six weeks later, Howe and eight others (the Mangrove Nine) were arrested for riot, affray and assault.[22] In what would come to be considered a landmark case, Howe elected to represent himself.[23] He and four of his co-defendants were acquitted of all charges after a 55-day trial in 1971 at the Old Bailey, which included an unsuccessful demand by Howe for an all-black jury,[24] and fighting in the dock when some of the defendants tried to punch the prison officers.[25] The judge stated that there was "evidence of racial hatred on both sides".[24]

From 1973 to 1985, Howe served as editor of the magazine Race Today (1973–88), which was originally connected with the Institute of Race Relations.[26] As Howe recalled in 2013:

When the institute set up Race Today, it began by publishing mainly academic articles on the colonial territories. It later focused on British immigration, especially the children of the first generation, from India, Pakistan, Africa and the Caribbean. After a shift on the council in a more radical direction, they appointed me, the first black editor. We turned it into a radical black newspaper. We moved it to Brixton, reoriented the whole journal, and worked with ex-Panthers who'd squatted in Brixton, including the writer and activist Farrukh Dhondy. The intention was to be aggressively campaigning, and to 'record and recognise' the emerging struggles in the black community.[19]

The Brixton-based Race Today Collective[27] also included Linton Kwesi Johnson, Barbara Beese, and others.[4] Howe's successor as editor, Leila Hassan, would eventually become his third wife.[28]

In 1977, Howe was sentenced to three months' imprisonment for assault, after a racially motivated altercation at a London Underground Station, but was released upon appeal after protests over his arrest.[16][29] Linton Kwesi Johnson contributed a song, "Man Free (For Darcus Howe)", to the campaign for his release.[30]

Howe was involved over many years with the Notting Hill Carnival, both as a participant — in 1971 he founded the Renegades steelband, sponsored by Race Today and eventually called Mangrove/Renegades[31] — and as Chair of the Carnival Development Committee, elected in April 1977.[32]


In 1982, Howe began his broadcasting career on Channel 4's television series Black on Black, was subsequently co-editor with Tariq Ali of Bandung File (1985–91)[33] and later White Tribe, a look at modern-day Britain and its loss of "Englishness". Howe continued to write in the New Statesman[34] and fronted the Channel 4 current affairs programme Devil's Advocate (1992–96).[4] He was a keynote speaker at the 2005 Belfast Film Festival's "Film and Racism" seminar and presented his documentary Who You Callin' a Nigger? at the festival.

In October 2005, Howe presented a Channel 4 documentary entitled Son of Mine, about his troubled relationship with his 20-year-old son Amiri, who had been caught handling stolen passports, shoplifting, and accused of attempted rape, of which Amiri was later found innocent at the Old Bailey.[35]

Howe appeared on the discussion programme Midweek (on BBC Radio 4) to promote the documentary on 19 October 2005 and, live on air, became involved in an angry debate with American comedian Joan Rivers.[36] The dispute began when Howe suggested that Rivers was offended by the use of the term "Black"; Rivers objected strongly to the suggestion that she was racist and accused Howe of having a "chip on his shoulder".[37][38]

Is This My Country? (Paul Yule, 2006) was a reflection on his life and a search for his West Indian identity in the face of strident calls for assertions of "Britishness" by the political elite.

Howe was one of several public figures who fell foul of satirist and prankster Chris Morris on Morris's show Brass Eye, in the final episode, "Decline". Instead of a legitimate interview, Morris hurled a volley of degrading insults at him, before quickly apologising and claiming to have mistakenly read out the introduction to Robert Elms.[39]

2011 BBC interview[edit]

Howe was interviewed by Fiona Armstrong for BBC News on 9 August 2011 at the time of the 2011 England riots.[40] During the interview, Armstrong twice referred to him as "Marcus Dowe", then asked: "You are not a stranger to riots yourself, I understand, are you? You have taken part in them yourself." Howe denied this, saying: "I have never taken part in a single riot. I've been part of demonstrations that ended up in a conflict. Have some respect for an old West Indian Negro, and stop accusing me of being a rioter. Because you wanted for me to get abusive, you just sound idiotic—have some respect."[41] The BBC apologised for any offence the interview caused,[42] and said "it had not intended to show him any disrespect".[43]

Asked about the unfolding situation in London, Howe discussed the death of Mark Duggan: "What I am not – what I'm concerned about more than anything else, there's a young man called Mark Duggan. He has parents, he has brothers, he has sisters, and two yards away from where he lives, a police officer blew his head off."[44]

Marriage, children and death[edit]

Howe was married three times and had seven children.

Howe was married to the British editor and activist Leila Hassan, who succeeded him as editor of Race Today.[45][4] The 2005 Channel 4 documentary Son of Mine examines Howe's relationship with his 20-year-old son Amiri Howe, who faced jail for charges related to stolen passports.[46] Howe's daughter Tamara Howe was a director of production for London Weekend Television before moving to the BBC, where she rose to be Controller of Business, Comedy & Entertainment, Television.[47]

Howe also had a relationship with fellow Black Panther and Mangrove Nine member Barbara Beese, and they have a son, Darcus Beese, who is a former president of Island Records.[48]

Howe was diagnosed with prostate cancer in April 2007 and he subsequently campaigned for more men to get tested.[49] He died aged 74 on 1 April 2017, at his home in Streatham, London, where he lived with his wife Leila Howe.[1] An event in his honour, "Tribute to Darcus, Man Free", took place at the Black Cultural Archives on Sunday, 9 April.[50] On 20 April, his funeral service was held at All Saints Notting Hill Church, following the cortege's procession through Brixton, with wreath-laying at the Railton Road building where the Race Today collective was formerly based.[51][52][53] Those who gave spoken tributes and eulogies at the church included his daughter Tamara and Farrukh Dhondy. A note of condolence from Jeremy Corbyn was read out.[54]

Academic legacy[edit]

Darcus Howe: a Political Biography, by Robin Bunce of Cambridge University and human rights activist Paul Field, was published in 2013 by Bloomsbury Academic,[55] and in a 2017 paperback edition entitled Renegade: The Life and Times of Darcus Howe.[56]

The Darcus Howe Papers – containing "correspondence, writings, interview transcripts, court reports and transcripts, printed material, and audio and video tapes regarding the life and work of journalist and activist, Darcus Howe—a British citizen and native of Trinidad" – are archived at Columbia University Libraries.[2]

In popular media[edit]

Howe appears in the 1973 Franco Rosso and John La Rose documentary film The Mangrove Nine.[57][58]

Actor Malachi Kirby portrays Howe in the Mangrove episode of Steve McQueen's 2020 film anthology/television miniseries Small Axe.[59]

Linton Kwesi Johnson wrote about Darcus Howe in the song “Man Free” on his 1978 debut album Dread Beat an' Blood.[30][60]

In March 2023, a special memorial edition of Race Today dedicated to Howe was published, linked to what would have been his 80th birthday and coinciding with the launch of the magazine's on-line archive at an event organised by the Darcus Howe Legacy Collective,[61] hosted at Goldsmiths, University of London,[62] at which journalist and broadcaster Gary Younge was the keynote speaker.[63][64]

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • Black Sections in the Labour Party, London: Creation for Liberation, 1985. ISBN 978-0947716066
  • President Nyerere in Conversation with Darcus Howe and Tariq Ali, London: Creation for Liberation, 1986. ISBN 978-0947716073
  • From Bobby to Babylon: Blacks and the British Police, London: Race Today Publications, 1988. ISBN 978-0947716127

As editor

  • The Road Make to Walk on Carnival Day: The Battle for the West Indian Carnival in Britain, London: Race Today Collective, 1977.
  • With Margaret Busby, C. L. R. James's 80th Birthday Lectures, London: Creation for Liberation, 1984. ISBN 978-0947716011

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Civil rights activist Darcus Howe dies aged 74" Archived 15 December 2018 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 2 April 2017.
  2. ^ a b c "Darcus Howe Papers, 1965–2008" Archived 28 September 2016 at the Wayback Machine, Columbia University Libraries.
  3. ^ Howe, Darcus (16 August 2011). "Darcus Howe: 'My father curfewed me and I jumped through the window'". Socialist Worker. Archived from the original on 24 May 2013. Retrieved 3 November 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Bunce, Robin; Paul Field (3 April 2017). "Darcus Howe obituary". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on 4 April 2017. Retrieved 6 June 2020.
  5. ^ "The Amazing Lost Legacy of the British Black Panthers" Archived 25 February 2016 at the Wayback Machine, Vice, 8 October 2013.
  6. ^ Darcus Howe profile page Archived 3 April 2017 at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
  7. ^ Perry, Kennetta Hammond (2016). London is the Place for Me: Black Britons, Citizenship, and the Politics of Race. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780190240202.
  8. ^ "Darcus Howe" Archived 3 April 2017 at the Wayback Machine, IMDb.
  9. ^ Davies, Caroline, "Darcus Howe, writer, broadcaster and civil rights campaigner, dies aged 74" Archived 2 April 2017 at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian, 2 April 2017.
  10. ^ "Darcus Howe season" Archived 5 January 2010 at the Wayback Machine, Channel 4. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
  11. ^ a b Vallely, Paul, "Darcus Howe: The bruiser" Archived 20 May 2017 at the Wayback Machine, The Independent, 21 October 2005.
  12. ^ Wilby, Peter, "Remembering the great Darcus Howe, Gibraltar's phoney war, and cricket's brain freeze" Archived 21 April 2017 at the Wayback Machine, New Statesman, 11 April 2017.
  13. ^ "Leading Activist Darcus Howe Dies Aged 74" Archived 21 April 2017 at the Wayback Machine, The Voice, 2 April 2017.
  14. ^ McFarlane, Gary, "Black Power comes to Britain" Archived 2 July 2017 at the Wayback Machine, International Socialism, Issue 143, 26 June 2014.
  15. ^ Howe, Darcus, "The heroic struggle of black parenthood" Archived 5 April 2017 at the Wayback Machine, New Statesman, 12 March 2007. Retrieved 4 April 2017.
  16. ^ a b Howe, Darcus (5 March 1999). "For every racist, I've met scores of kind people". New Statesman. Archived from the original on 4 April 2017. Retrieved 4 April 2017.
  17. ^ a b Bunce, Robin, and Paul Field, Darcus Howe: A Political Biography, London: Bloomsbury, 2014, p. 23.
  18. ^ Bunce and Field (2014), p. 72.
  19. ^ a b Howe, Darcus, "Nelson Mandela, CLR James and the Brixton radicals: how South Africa inspired South London" Archived 13 April 2017 at the Wayback Machine, Red Pepper, 6 December 2013.
  20. ^ Heartfield, James, "Darcus Howe: fearless in thought and deed" Archived 5 April 2017 at the Wayback Machine, Spiked, 3 April 2017. Retrieved 6 April 2017
  21. ^ Howe, Darcus, "If I pleaded guilty, said the lawyer, I'd only get five years" Archived 4 April 2017 at the Wayback Machine, New Statesman, 4 December 1998. Retrieved 4 April 2017.
  22. ^ "Racists in Setback". Internationaltimes.it. 28 January 1971. Archived from the original on 7 October 2011. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
  23. ^ Bunce, Robin (1 December 2010). "Landmark Court Case Against Police Racism". Diverse Magazine. Archived from the original on 29 April 2018. Retrieved 11 December 2020.
  24. ^ a b Bunce, Robin; Field, Paul (29 November 2010). "Mangrove Nine: the court challenge against police racism in Notting Hill". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 24 February 2017. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  25. ^ "Brawl in dock at Old Bailey", The Glasgow Herald, 13 November 1971.
  26. ^ "Race Today" Archived 3 April 2017 at the Wayback Machine, George Padmore Institute website.
  27. ^ Smith, Dr Evan (2010). "Conflicting Narratives of Black Youth Rebellion in Modern Britain". Ethnicity and Race in a Changing World. 1 (3): 19. Archived from the original on 3 April 2017. Retrieved 2 April 2017.
  28. ^ Renton, David (2017), "'Racism Had Taken a Beating'", Review 31. Archived 3 April 2017 at the Wayback Machine (review of Robin Bunce and Paul Field, Darcus Howe: A Political Biography).
  29. ^ Staff (1 February 1977). Race Today. Institute of Race Relations. p. 100. Archived from the original on 3 April 2017. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  30. ^ a b Habekost, Christian (September 1993). Verbal Riddim: The Politics and Aesthetics of African-Caribbean Dub Poetry. Rodopi. p. 162. ISBN 978-90-5183-549-6. Archived from the original on 11 January 2014. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  31. ^ Blagrove, Ishmahil, and Margaret Busby (eds), Carnival: A Photographic and Testimonial History of the Notting Hill Carnival, London: Rice N Peas, 2017 (ISBN 978-0954529321), pp. 259, 261.
  32. ^ Blagrove and Busby (2014), p. 345.
  33. ^ "'Bandung File (1985–91)" Archived 23 August 2019 at the Wayback Machine, BFI, Screenonline.
  34. ^ "Darcus Howe". New Statesman. Archived from the original on 24 February 2017. Retrieved 23 February 2017.
  35. ^ "Son of Mine"[permanent dead link], Channel4.com.
  36. ^ "Joan Rivers Confronts Darcus Howe's "Racist" Remark on BBC Radio (Audio)". YouTube.
  37. ^ "Race row disrupts Radio 4 debate" Archived 31 October 2005 at the Wayback Machine, BBC website, 19 October 2005.
  38. ^ "Transcript of BBC radio race row" Archived 25 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News, 20 October 2005.
  39. ^ "Brasseye - Darcus Howe - Delcine - Zeitguest - Zeitgeist". YouTube. Retrieved 16 August 2023.
  40. ^ "London Riots: BBC Interview Gets Testy" Archived 18 November 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Huffington Post, 10 August 2011.
  41. ^ Hughes, Sarah Anne. "BBC apologizes to Darcus Howe for ‘poorly phrased question’" Archived 23 October 2017 at the Wayback Machine, The Washington Post, 11 August 2011.
  42. ^ "BBC News, England riots coverage", BBC complaints website, 10 August 2011.
  43. ^ Reporters: Anna Browning, Vanessa Barford, Fiona Bailey and Rebecca Cafe, "As it happened: England riots day five" Archived 12 July 2018 at the Wayback Machine, BBC News.
  44. ^ Pangburn, D. J., "Writer Darcus Howe Rips BBC on Coverage of London Riots Archived 7 January 2015 at the Wayback Machine", Death and Taxes, 9 August 2011.
  45. ^ "Civil rights activist Darcus Howe dies". BBC News. 2 April 2017. Archived from the original on 10 June 2020. Retrieved 6 June 2020.
  46. ^ Aitkenhead, Decca (3 November 2005). "Interview: Darcus and Amiri Howe | Media". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 29 August 2013. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
  47. ^ "Tamara Howe, Controller of Business, Comedy & Entertainment, Television" Archived 20 January 2019 at the Wayback Machine, About the BBC.
  48. ^ Fuscoe, Jan (29 September 2020). "The Woman With the Afro: The Story of Barbara Beese". Byline Times. Retrieved 24 November 2020. I made contact with Barbara's son Darcus (named after his father and the well-known activist Darcus Howe), who confirmed that the image was of his mother and that he was the boy, aged around five years old at the time.
  49. ^ Howe, Darcus (17 November 2009). "My battle with prostate cancer | Society". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 14 August 2014. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
  50. ^ "Darcus Howe Funeral Arrangements Announced" Archived 21 April 2017 at the Wayback Machine, The Voice, 11 April 2017.
  51. ^ "Wreath for Darcus Howe on Railton Road" Archived 21 April 2017 at the Wayback Machine, Brixton Blog, 19 April 2017.
  52. ^ Photiou, Andrea, "'He Will Surely Be Missed': Darcus Howe Casket Stops In SE24" Archived 20 April 2017 at the Wayback Machine, The Voice, 20 April 2017.
  53. ^ Wadsworth, Marc, "A tribute to Darcus Howe" Archived 28 September 2018 at the Wayback Machine, The Croydon Citizen, 20 April 2017.
  54. ^ Andrea Photiou, "Darcus Howe Funeral: Pictures And Heartfelt Words" Archived 26 April 2017 at the Wayback Machine, The Voice, 21 April 2017.
  55. ^ Darcus Howe: A Political Biography Archived 14 July 2014 at the Wayback Machine, by Robin Bunce, Paul Field, Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1849664950.
  56. ^ Bunce, Robin, and Paul Field, Renegade: The Life and Times of Darcus Howe, Bloomsbury Paperbacks, 2017. ISBN 978-1408886205.
  57. ^ "Mangrove Nine". itzcaribbean. 17 October 2011. Retrieved 28 March 2023. The Mangrove Nine film portrays interviews with the defendants recorded before the final verdicts were delivered at the trial, as well as contemporary comments from Ian Macdonald and others.
  58. ^ "The Mangrove Nine", IMDb.
  59. ^ Arboine, Niellah (11 November 2020). "Where Are The Mangrove 9 Now?". Bustle. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  60. ^ "Man Free (For Darcus Howe)". Song Search. Retrieved 16 March 2022.
  61. ^ "The Collective". Darcus How Legacy. Retrieved 28 March 2023.
  62. ^ "Gary Younge Talk on Darcus Howe, Race Today: Legacies of Resistance". Goldsmiths, University of London. Retrieved 28 March 2023.
  63. ^ Bagheri, Mo (27 February 2023). "Darcus Howe, Race Today: Legacies of Resistance". blackhistorymonth.org.uk. Retrieved 28 March 2023.
  64. ^ Mohdin, Aamna (2 March 2023). "Race Today archive chronicling lives of black Britons to launch online". The Guardian.

External links[edit]