Sunday, March 01, 2009

Black Power in Wales

The Welsh Black Power movement emerged in Cardiff in the Spring of 1968. Chalked notices went up in the Butetown area of the city telling of a meeting to be held at St Mary's church hall. 40 men turned up and a black workers' solidarity group was immediately formed. Assurances were given that the organisation would be non-violent. The Race Relations Board, they claimed, was totally ineffectual and "nothing but humbug to black workers."

A member of the executive committee commented: "Our aims are to combat racial discrimination and we believe the only way we can do this is to meet it with black power. We are a Marxist group associated with no other party. There is a great deal of discrimination against coloured people in such places as the docks and trade unions, and this is what we want to stop."

And they weren't all hot air either. In 1970 they targeted the Top Rank venue in Cardiff because, they alleged, the management had a policy of barring the majority of black people from entering. 400 people had to be evacuated from the premises when a series of co-ordinated smoke bombs were set off. 4 people were taken to hospital. Forensic analysis showed that the acrid yellow smoke billowing from the club originated from distress flares.

A letter handed to the press by members of the Welsh Black Power movement stated: "We do not relish the methods we have had to adopt but we find ourselves with little or no choice. The Top Ranks's (racist) policy is being systematically reinforced by the police. The Top Rank is not alone in this practice of social racism, which is often pursued to the point of violence. The majority of clubs are also involved." The Top Rank denied having a racist door policy but they were now under close public scrutiny and so it was a victory of sorts for the protestors.

I've no idea if the Welsh Black Power movement was involved in other direct action during this period or, indeed, whether they eventually officially disbanded. If you were once a member of the organisation get in touch, I'd love to hear more about this fascinating part of Wales's secret political history.