Olive Morris

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Olive Morris
Born1952
Died12 July 1979
St Thomas's Hospital, Lambeth[1]
Cause of deathNon-Hodgkin lymphoma[1]
EducationHeathbrook primary school; Lavender Hill Girls' Secondary School; Tulse Hill secondary school; London College of Printing; Manchester University[1]

Olive Elaine Morris (26 June 1952 – 12 July 1979)[1] was a British community leader and activist in the feminist, black nationalist, and squatters' rights campaigns of the 1970s in the United Kingdom.

Early life[edit]

Olive Morris was born in 1952 in Harewood, St Catherine, Jamaica, to Doris (née Moseley) and Vincent Nathaniel Morris, and moved to London, England, with her family at the age of nine.[1] She lived predominantly in South London.[2] Leaving school without qualifications, she later went on to study at the London College of Printing.[1]

Adult life & activism[edit]

Police abuse of Nigerian diplomat Clement Gomwalk 1969[edit]

On November 15, 1969, Nigerian Diplomat Clement Gomwalk was confronted by police while parked outside the Desmond's Hip City record store.[3] The police dragged him out of his car to interrogate him and then when unsatisfied by his responses continued to beat him as a crowd formed around them to witness the police brutality. There are different accounts of Morris' involvement which are stated below

Aymo Martin Tajo's account[3][edit]

Local Journalist Aymo Martin Tajo states that Morris "broke to the crowd to the scuffle" and "tried to physically stop the police from beating the Nigerian", the police reaction being to beat her also.

Olive Morris' account[3][edit]

Morris' account stated that she did not arrive till after the diplomat had been taken away by the police. The situation with the police escalated after the crowd began to confront the police about their brutality. She recalls her friend being dragged into the record store by police shouting "I've done nothing". She does not state how she got involved but does state that she was brutally beaten. Her account goes on to describe her treatment in prison. She was forced to strip and was threatened with rape in police custody; "They all made me take off my jumper and my bra in front of them to show I was a girl. A male cop holding a billy club said, ‘Now prove you’re a real woman.’" referencing his billy club he stated: "Look it’s the right colour and the right size for you. Black cunt!"

Olive's brother Basil Morris described her injuries from the incident and time with the police: "could hardly recognize her face, they beat her so badly."[3]

She was arrested, fined £10 and given a suspended sentence. The charges were: assault on the police, threatening behaviour, and possession of dangerous weapons.[1][3]

Black Panther Movement[edit]

In the early 1970's Olive became a member of the youth section of the British Black Panther Movement (later the Black Workers movement), alongside Linton Kwesi Johnson, Clovis Reid, and Farrukh Dhondy.[1] In August 1972 she and a friend, Liz Obi, planned to visit the American Black Panther leader, Eldridge Cleaver, who was in exile in Algeria, but they became stranded in Morocco.[1]

Brixton Black Women's Group[edit]

She was a founding member of the Brixton Black Women's Group.[1]

121 Railton Road, Brixton[edit]

Olive squatted at 121 Railton Road, Brixton with her friend Liz Obi in 1973. This squat became a hub of political activism and hosted community groups such as Black People against State Harassment. The site remained a social center and a center for the squatting movement until its closure in 1999.[1]

Sabarr Bookshop[edit]

121 Railton Road was also the site of the Sabarr Bookshop, one of the first black community bookshops.[1] It was set up by a group of black men and women in Brixton that included Olive Morris.[4]

Study in Manchester[edit]

Olive studied at Manchester University between 1975 and 1978. Her activism did not take a break in the absence of London. She became involved in the Manchester Black Women's Co-operative and the Black Women's Mutual Aid Group[1][5] as well as establishing a supplementary school after campaigning with local black parents for better education provision for their children.[6]

Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD)[edit]

She was a founding member of the Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD) in London. OWAAD held its first conference at the Abeng center on Gresham Road in Brixton, a center that Morris had helped to establish along with Elaine Holness and other members of the community.[1][6][4]

Death[edit]

Olive became ill during a trip to Spain in 1978. When she returned to the UK, she was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She underwent treatment which was unsuccessful. She passed away on the 12th of July 1979 at St Thomas's Hospital, Lambeth and was buried in Streatham Vale cemetery. She was 27 years old.[1]

Recognition & legacy[edit]

Lambeth Council named one of its key buildings after her, in 1986.[7] The naming of the building followed the Brixton Uprising in 1981 and further riots in 1985. Both riots were fuelled by the killing of black people by police, some see it as an attempt by the council to appease the black community or, in a more positive spin, show the council's future commitment to reconciliation.[3] A play area and garden for the community was also named after her in Myatt's Feilds.[1]

Morris is depicted on the B£1 denomination of the Brixton Pound, a local currency in Brixton, London.

Lopez de la Torre launched the "Remember Olive Morris" blog in 2007.[3] As Lopez started to team up with other women, in October 2008 the Remembering Olive Collective (ROC) was started.[2][1]

In 2011 the Olive Morris memorial award was launched to give bursaries to young black women.[1]

In 2018, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of women's right to vote, The Voice newspaper listed Olive Morris – alongside Kathleen Wrasama, Connie Mark, Fanny Eaton, Diane Abbott, Lilian Bader, Margaret Busby, and Mary Seacole – among eight Black women who have contributed to the development of Britain.[8] She was also named by the Evening Standard on a list of 14 "Inspirational black British women throughout history" (alongside Mary Seacole, Claudia Jones, Adelaide Hall, Margaret Busby, Joan Armatrading, Tessa Sanderson, Doreen Lawrence, Maggie Aderin-Pocock, Sharon White, Malorie Blackman, Diane Abbott, Zadie Smith and Connie Mark.[9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Emma Allotey, "Morris, Olive Elaine (1952–1979)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, May 2012. Accessed 15 March 2017.
  2. ^ a b She had three brothers and two sisters.Sheila Ruiz (16 October 2009). "Do you remember Olive Morris?". BBC News. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Tanisha C. Ford (2016) "Finding Olive Morris in the Archive", The Black Scholar, 46:2, 5-18, DOI: 10.1080/00064246.2016.1147937.
  4. ^ a b "The Heart of the Race: Black Women's Lives in Britain" by Beverley Bryan, Stella Dadzie, Suzanne Scafe, Verso Books, 14 Aug 2018
  5. ^ Red Chidgey (25 July 2010). "Do you remember Olive Morris?". Red Pepper. Retrieved 26 December 2013.
  6. ^ a b "Black Cultural Archives" Olive Morris Administrative / Biographical History, 1977-2009
  7. ^ "Olive Morris House". Lambeth Council. Retrieved 24 July 2017.
  8. ^ Leah Sinclair, "Suffrage 100: The Black Women Who Changed British History", The Voice, 6 February 2018.
  9. ^ Georgia Chambers, "Inspirational black British women throughout history", Evening Standard, 11 October 2018.

External links[edit]