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
OccupationBroadcaster, columnist, activist

Leighton Rhett Radford "Darcus" Howe (26 February 1943 – 1 April 2017)[1][2] was a British broadcaster, writer,[3] and civil liberties campaigner. Originally from Trinidad, Howe arrived in England as a teenager intending to study law. There he joined the British Black Panthers, a group named in sympathy with the eponymous US organisation.[4][5] He came to public attention in 1970 as one of the "Mangrove Nine", who marched to the police station in Notting Hill, London, to protest against police raids of the Mangrove restaurant, and again in 1981 when he organised a 20,000-strong "Black People's Day of Action" in protest at the handling of the investigation into the New Cross 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 wrote columns for the New Statesman[12] and The Voice.[13]

Early life and early career[edit]

Leighton Rhett Radford Howe[2][4] was born in Moruga, 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] 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,[23] and fighting in the dock when some of the defendants tried to punch the prison officers.[24] The judge stated that there was "evidence of racial hatred on both sides"—the first acknowledgement from a British judge that there was racial hatred in the Metropolitan Police Service.[23] Howe appeared in the 1973 documentary film The Mangrove Nine (directed by Franco Rosso, produced by Rosso and John La Rose, with Horace Ové as associate producer, and scripted by La Rose),[25] which includes interviews with the defendants recorded before the final verdicts.[26]

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.[27] 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[28] also included Linton Kwesi Johnson, Barbara Beese, and others.[4] Howe's successor as editor, Leila Hassan, would eventually be his third wife.[29]

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][30] Linton Kwesi Johnson contributed a song, "Man Free (For Darcus Howe)", to the campaign for his release.[31]

Howe was also 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[32] — and as Chair of the Carnival Development Committee, elected in April 1977.[33]

Broadcasting career[edit]

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)[34] and later White Tribe, a look at modern-day Britain and its loss of "Englishness". Howe continued to write in the New Statesman[35] and fronted the Channel 4 current affairs programme Devil's Advocate. 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 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 he was later found innocent for, at the old bailey. [36]

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.[37] 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".[38][39]

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' show Brass Eye, in the final episode, "Decline".

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]

Personal life and death[edit]

Howe was married three times and had seven children. 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.[45] His 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.[46] His son Darcus Beese is president of Island Records.

Howe was diagnosed with prostate cancer in April 2007 and subsequently campaigned for more men to get tested.[47] 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.[48] 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.[49][50][51] 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.[52]

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,[53] and in a 2017 paperback edition entitled Renegade: The Life and Times of Darcus Howe.[54]

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]

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", BBC News, 2 April 2017.
  2. ^ a b c "Darcus Howe Papers, 1965–2008", Columbia University Libraries.
  3. ^ Howe, Darcus (16 August 2011). "Darcus Howe: 'My father curfewed me and I jumped through the window'". Socialist Worker. Retrieved 3 November 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d e Bunce, Robin, and Paul Field, "Darcus Howe obituary", The Guardian, 3 April 2017.
  5. ^ "The Amazing Lost Legacy of the British Black Panthers", Vice, 8 October 2013.
  6. ^ Darcus Howe profile page, The Guardian, accessed 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", IMDb.
  9. ^ Davies, Caroline, "Darcus Howe, writer, broadcaster and civil rights campaigner, dies aged 74", The Guardian, 2 April 2017.
  10. ^ "Darcus Howe season", Channel 4, accessed 13 August 2011.
  11. ^ a b Vallely, Paul, "Darcus Howe: The bruiser", The Independent, 21 October 2005.
  12. ^ Wilby, Peter, "Remembering the great Darcus Howe, Gibraltar’s phoney war, and cricket’s brain freeze", New Statesman, 11 April 2017.
  13. ^ "Leading Activist Darcus Howe Dies Aged 74", The Voice, 2 April 2017.
  14. ^ McFarlane, Gary, "Black Power comes to Britain", International Socialism, Issue 143, 26 June 2014.
  15. ^ Howe, Darcus, "The heroic struggle of black parenthood", 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. 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", Red Pepper, 6 December 2013.
  20. ^ Heartfield, James, "Darcus Howe: fearless in thought and deed", Spiked, 3 April 2017. Retrieved 6 April 2017
  21. ^ Howe, Darcus, "If I pleaded guilty, said the lawyer, I'd only get five years", New Statesman, 4 December 1998. Retrieved 4 April 2017.
  22. ^ "Racists in Setback". Internationaltimes.it. 28 January 1971. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
  23. ^ a b Bunce, Robin, and Paul Field, "Mangrove Nine: the court challenge against police racism in Notting Hill", The Guardian, 29 November 2010.
  24. ^ "Brawl in dock at Old Bailey", The Glasgow Herald, 13 November 1971.
  25. ^ "The Mangrove Nine (1973): Full Cast & Crew", IMDb.
  26. ^ "Mangrove Nine" Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine, Black History Month.
  27. ^ "Race Today", George Padmore Institute website.
  28. ^ Smith, Dr Evan (2010). "Conflicting Narratives of Black Youth Rebellion in Modern Britain". Ethinicity and Race in a Changing World: A Review Journal. 1 (3): 19.
  29. ^ Renton, David, "'Racism Had Taken a Beating'" (review of Robin Bunce and Paul Field, Darcus Howe: A Political Biography), Review 31.
  30. ^ Staff (1 February 1977). Race Today. Institute of Race Relations. p. 100. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  31. ^ Habekost, Christian (September 1993). Verbal Riddim: The Politics and Aesthetics of African-Caribbean Dub Poetry. Rodopi. p. 162. ISBN 978-90-5183-549-6. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  32. ^ 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.
  33. ^ Blagrove and Busby (2014), p. 345.
  34. ^ "'Bandung File (1985–91)", BFI, Screenonline.
  35. ^ "Darcus Howe". New Statesman. Retrieved 23 February 2017.
  36. ^ "Son of Mine", Channel4.com.
  37. ^ "Joan Rivers Confronts Darcus Howe's "Racist" Remark on BBC Radio (Audio)". YouTube.
  38. ^ "Race row disrupts Radio 4 debate", BBC website, 19 October 2005.
  39. ^ "Transcript of BBC radio race row", BBC News, 20 October 2005.
  40. ^ "London Riots: BBC Interview Gets Testy", Huffington Post, 10 August 2011.
  41. ^ Hughes, Sarah Anne. "BBC apologizes to Darcus Howe for ‘poorly phrased question’", 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", BBC News.
  44. ^ Pangburn, D. J., "Writer Darcus Howe Rips BBC on Coverage of London Riots", Death and Taxes, 9 August 2011.
  45. ^ Aitkenhead, Decca (3 November 2005). "Interview: Darcus and Amiri Howe | Media". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
  46. ^ "Tamara Howe, Controller of Business, Comedy & Entertainment, Television", About the BBC.
  47. ^ Howe, Darcus (17 November 2009). "My battle with prostate cancer | Society". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
  48. ^ "Darcus Howe Funeral Arrangements Announced", The Voice, 11 April 2017.
  49. ^ "Wreath for Darcus Howe on Railton Road", Brixton Blog, 19 April 2017.
  50. ^ Photiou, Andrea, "'He Will Surely Be Missed': Darcus Howe Casket Stops In SE24", The Voice, 20 April 2017.
  51. ^ Marc Wadsworth, "A tribute to Darcus Howe", The Croydon Citizen, 20 April 2017.
  52. ^ Andrea Photiou, "Darcus Howe Funeral: Pictures And Heartfelt Words", The Voice, 21 April 2017.
  53. ^ Darcus Howe: A Political Biography, by Robin Bunce, Paul Field, Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1849664950.
  54. ^ Bunce, Robin, and Paul Field, Renegade: The Life and Times of Darcus Howe, Bloomsbury Paperbacks, 2017. ISBN 978-1408886205.

External links[edit]