On 9 August 1970, 150 protesters marched the streets of Notting Hill, West London, to demonstrate against the racial harassment of black people at the hands of the police. While many factors came into play, the protests were mainly sparked by the repeated police raids at Mangrove, a beloved local restaurant and social hub for the Black community in the area.
Led by activists Frank Crichlow, Darcus Howe, Altheia Jones-LeCointe, Barbara Beese, Rupert Boyce, Rhodan Gordon, Anthony Innis, Rothwell Kentish and Godfrey Millett, the group became known as the Mangrove Nine after being arrested and charged with incitement to riot for their part in the protest. However, the remembrance and commemoration of their lives and work for the black community has been few and far between.
Darcus Howe, one of the Mangrove Nine, seen in mid-protest
Earlier this year, the monumental protest marked its 50-year anniversary. But how much do we know about the once high-profile battle against racism and its forgotten leaders?
When we think about Notting Hill today, we envision extortionately priced rainbow coloured homes, a vibrant atmosphere, local art galleries, swanky restaurants and of course, the hipster-fueled Portobello Market. However, long before gentrification swept away the locals and brought in a new, middle-class white crowd, the neighbourhood wasn’t the sought-after postcode it is now. In fact, back in the 1960s the area was still full of undeveloped bomb sites from World War Two and many of the shiny, white-rendered Victorian mansions that make up the roads were in dire conditions. Due to this, rent was cheap and many migrants of the Windrush generation, who arrived in the UK between the late 1940s and early 1970s, made it their new home.
The Mangrove - which first opened its doors on All Saints Road in March 1968 - quickly became the go-to for the locals thanks to its authentic West Indian cuisine and the feeling of having a piece of Caribbean culture in their new home. The popular restaurant was owned by Trinidadian-born businessman Frank Crichlow, who decked the place in black leather furniture and the electrifying sound of soul music. But the restaurant's incredible food and West Indian ambience wasn’t just a hit among locals, with A-list celebrities including the likes of Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye all came in to sample the dishes. Above all though, The Mangrove created the sense of community many Windrush migrants were longing for when they came to London.
Sadly, others weren’t as fond of how much of a cultural hub the Mangrove had become. Two days before Christmas in December 1969, the restaurant was targeted by the local council, Chelsea and Kensington, who suddenly withdrew Crichlow’s license to operate as an all-night cafe. He complained, claiming the decision was based on unlawful discrimination but nothing changed. He also reported that the police had illegally raided the Mangrove on two separate occasions but once again, his complaints fell on deaf ears. As the harassment continued, a group named ‘The Action Committee for the Defence of the Mangrove’ was formed and plans for a march against the police commenced.
During the actual march, the streets were flooded with people, mostly of Caribbean descent, carrying posters with slogans like “black unity now” and “hands off us pigs”. According to archived footage from the day, some protestors had even brought a pigs’ head to symbolize the police. However, as the protest continued, they quickly became outnumbered by police, with over 500 officers against only 150 protestors. Things took a violent turn soon after, with many people on both sides getting injured and 19 arrests being made, including the nine protest leaders.
Pictured: Barbra Beese holds up a pig’s head
The following court trials became a national spectacle with The Met Police attempting to rip apart the credibility of the Mangrove Nine and the black community. However, after a draining 55 day hearing at the Old Bailey, the group were acquitted of incitement to riot but five individuals - Rupert Boyce, Rhodan Gordon, Anthony Innis and Altheia Jones-Lecointe - received suspended sentences for lesser offences, including assaulting a police officer.
Some of the Mangrove Nine, pictured outside the Old Bailey
Despite being changemakers in British history, the Mangrove Nine have slowly been forgotten over the years - so much so that few of us know about the protest and what caused it. However, if the events of this summer and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement have proven anything, it’s that despite the strides we’ve taken over the past half a century, the fight against racism is far from over.
To celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the Mangrove Nine, Oscar-winning filmmaker Steve McQueen has created a special film dedicated to the story as part of his ‘Small Axe’ series with the BBC, an initiative to tell Black stories and showcase black talent to a mainstream audience. Starring Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes, Malachi Kirby, Rochenda Sandall and Jack Lowden, the film premiered at the New York Film Festival in September and will air on BBC One and Amazon Prime at the end of November.
You can watch the trailer here: