Edinburgh’s Protest Stickers: Black Lives Matter

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020 sparked a resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Founded in 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement has experienced a renaissance since the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis in May 2020. From protests to art, the resurgence of BLM over the Summer of 2020 has been dramatic. Racism has been a topic of protest stickers for as long as I have been studying them, but the recent BLM revival has resulted in a corresponding surge in stickers that use the language and symbolism of BLM. Since my recent move to Edinburgh, I have found a lot of protest stickers on a whole range of topics, but racism and BLM have been some of the most common.

Love [insert place or thing], hate Racism is a fairly common formula for protest stickers. Racism was a common topic of protest stickers long before BLM experienced a revival this summer (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker combines two of the hot topics of 2020! Stand up to Racism has been prominent in anti-racism campaigns in Britain over the last few years (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The raised clenched fist has been a symbol of resistance for decades, but at the moment it is particularly synonymous with Black Lives Matter (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Simple but striking black and white designs is also fairly typical of Black Lives Matter (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Graffiti artists and taggers often use ‘Hello, my name is…” stickers to make their mark on urban space. I don’t think I have seen an Italian version before, but it is still instantly recognisable (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Repeating the names of black people killed by police is a common practice of BLM at meetings and protests. The next few photos are sticker versions of this practice. Michael Brown was 18 years old when he was shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
BLM is very much a social movement for the social media age. Hashtags are common, and are used very effectively to attract attention to causes and events. Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed by a white civilian whilst out jogging in Georgia on 23rd February 2020 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Yvette Smith was shot and killed by a police officer in Texas in 2014 when she opened the door of a friend’s house. Yvette was unarmed, and had called the police because of a dispute between two men (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Sandra Bland committed suicide in her jail cell in Texas in 2015 after being arrested for assaulting a police officer during a traffic stop. Both her arrest and her treatment in prison have been heavily criticised (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The next set of stickers are also part of a series that I assume are produced by the same person(s). When Britain ended slavery in the 1830s the government borrowed a huge sum of money to pay compensation–not to the slaves, but to their former owners for the loss of their ‘property’. The British public only finished paying off that debt in 2015 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
There seems to be a general sense in Scotland that it is not as racist as the rest of Britain. This sticker is disputing that narrative. Sheku Bayoh died whilst being arrested by police in Kirkcaldy, Fife, in May 2015 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker is also disrupting the narrative that Scotland does not have a problem with racism (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Henry Dundas was the most powerful man in Scotland in the late 18th century. He became Home Secretary in 1791, and he has been accused of using his influence to delay the abolition of the slave trade by 10 years (he supported a gradual rather than immediate abolition). A statue of Dundas stands on top of a 150ft pillar in St. Andrews Square in Edinburgh, and it has been just one of the statues targeted in a campaign to decolonise British statues in recent months. Dundas is a popular figure in Scotland, and the debate about his legacy has been fierce. It is difficult to make out, but someone has written on this sticker: “Dundas abolished slavery in Scotland 1793.” His legacy in relation to the slave trade is complicated, and certainly cannot be resolved by a single protest sticker. It does demonstrate how strongly people feel on this issue, however, on both sides of the debate (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The BLM Mural Trail in Edinburgh

Photographs by Jamal Yussuff-Adelakun on the railings on Tolbooth Kirk on the Royal Mile (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

On the first day that I arrived in Edinburgh in August I went for a walk up the Royal Mile. As I walked towards the castle, my eye was caught by a set of pictures and yellow ribbons attached to the railings of the Tolbooth Kirk. On further investigation, it turned out to be an installation of photos called ‘I can’t breathe’ by British born Nigerian photographer Jamal Yussuff-Adelakun. The ribbons are expressions of solidarity with Black Lives Matter Scotland.

Ribbons tied to the railings of Tolbooth Kirk on the Royal Mile in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The installation at Tolbooth Kirk is just one part of the Black Lives Matter Mural Trail, a series of artworks in towns and cities across Scotland led by creative producer Wezi Mhura. Scottish Black and Asian artists have created new artworks in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The formats range from stereotypical street art murals, to less conventional photography and digital artworks. The project is “a call out to the people of Scotland to challenge racism wherever you see it – in the streets, in institutions, at work and at school.” As I have continued to explore Edinburgh over the last few months, I have come across more examples from the mural trail (of course I could just look them up on the map, but I think it’s more fun to stumble across them!)

A piece by Rudy Kanhye at The Queen’s Hall, exploring the meaning of the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ and its controversial counter ‘All Lives Matter’ (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Black Lives Matter was founded in 2013, but the movement has experienced a resurgence since the death of George Floyd in May 2020. I am interested in the ways that protest movements make their mark on public spaces, and I have recently written about the traces that BLM protests left on the streets of Brighton, my home city. The BLM mural trail is more formal than the traces I found in Brighton, but it has a similar effect; it brings the debate into public space, and reaches out to those who might not otherwise have become involved in the conversation.

Street art by Shona Hardie at Dance Base in the Grassmarket (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

There seems to be a perception amongst many Scots that racism isn’t really a problem here. Interventions such as the mural trail help to undermine this narrative, and draw attention to the very real examples of racism in Scotland, as well as how broader systematic discrimination affects ethnic minorities here. The first step to achieving change is to start a conversation, and the BLM Mural Trail is an innovative and effective way to do this.

The large mural by Abz Mills at Usher Hall commemorates Sheku Bayoh, who died in police custody in Kirkcaldy in 2015 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Turbulent Scots: Wendy Wood, 1892-1981

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the Turbulent Londoners posts, where I celebrate the lives of Londoners who have played a part in the city’s rebellious history. As I recently moved to Edinburgh, I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the women who made an impact on Scotland’s radical history. First up is Wendy Wood, artist, campaigner, and committed nationalist.


Scottish nationalism gained traction throughout the twentieth century. Wendy Wood was an important figure in the Scottish independence movement for much of this time. Preferring direct action to political maneuvering, she was a controversial figure, even within the nationalist movement. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that she was a fearsome, dedicated campaigner.

Gwendoline Emily Meachum was born to Scottish parents in Kent on 29th October 1892. Her mother told her stories of William Wallace, but she did not grow up in Britain, let alone Scotland. The family moved to South Africa for her father’s work, and Wendy’s experience of the Boer War as a young child probably shaped her later politics; it was not uncommon for Scottish nationalists to compare themselves to the Boers.

Wendy went to school in England, discovering a passion for art. She studied in London, including at the Westminster School of Art. She was involved in politics from a young age, and was a supporter of the suffragettes. Aged just 19, Wendy married Walter Robertson Cuthbert in 1913 and moved to Ayr. The couple toured Scotland, and in her later years Wood talked about having an epiphany about the significance of nationalism at the Wallace Monument during this road trip.

Wendy had two daughters (Cora and Irralee) during the first World War. She also became increasingly active in nationalist politics, joining the Scottish League in 1916 and the Scottish Home Rule Association in 1918. In 1923 she got a job with BBC radio, and would go on to become a successful storyteller and illustrator of children’s books. In 1927 she divorced her husband and started to use her mother’s maiden name, Wood.

When the National Party of Scotland was founded in the 1928, Wood was an early supporter. The National Party would merge with the Scottish Party to become the Scottish National Party in 1934. Wood worked hard to promote the cause of nationalism; she became an effective public speaker, and toured Scotland speaking at public meetings. In 1957 alone she gave 73 speeches.

Wendy Wood leading a protest against schemes to encourage emigration in 1959 (Source: The Scotsman/TSPL).

Wood was a firm believer that cultural nationalism was just as important as political and economic nationalism. She founded Scottish Watch in 1931, a youth organisation the encouraged its members to learn about Scottish culture. For example, she organised mass Scottish country dances in Princes Street and Castle Esplanade in Edinburgh. At its height, Scottish Watch was more popular in Scotland than the Scouts.

Wood always preferred direct action to negotiation and compromise. In 1932 she led a group of nationalists into Stirling Castle to take down the union flag and replace it with a lion rampant. This was particularly embarrassing for the British soldiers stationed in the castle, and Wood was criticised by some members of the National Party of Scotland for taking such a symbolic step.

In 1947 Wood embarked on a fundraising and publicity trip around America, speaking to large crowds of expatriate Scots. She was also given an official position in the Scottish National Party. She didn’t like the restrictions of party politics, however, and left to form the Scottish Patriots in 1949, an organisation dedicated to cultural nationalism.

Wood was involved in several successful campaigns in the 1950s and 60s, including persuading the Church of Scotland to adopt a policy of home rule in 1961, pressuring the Post Office to issue Robert Burns stamps in 1966, and getting the Elizabeth II motif removed from post boxes (Scotland was never ruled by Elizabeth I). In 1972, she started a hunger strike when the British government failed to deliver on a promised referendum, and only stopped when she received a promise that the issue would be discussed in Parliament.

Wendy Wood speaking at a rally in Stirling in 1989 (Source: Scottish Political Archive).

Scottish nationalism was not the only cause Wood supported. She started an anti-conscription league in 1933, and was imprisoned for the first time for trying to disrupt a fascist rally in Edinburgh. She also went to prison in Glasgow to draw attention to the awful conditions faced by female prisoners. In the 1930s and 40s Wood supported Indian Independence and she sided with Iceland during the Cod Wars in the 1970s.

Wood continued to campaign into her 80s. She was uncompromising in her beliefs; for example, she had a union flag placed under the carpet on the stairs of her Edinburgh home so that she could tread on it every day. She was passionate about Scottish culture and folklore, and helped define Scottish nationalism over more than 50 years of fighting for Scottish independence. She died on 30th of June 1980.

Sources and Further Reading

Crow House Kitchen. “Scots Women of History. 2 – Wendy Wood.” Last modified 27th June 2014, accessed 23rd September 2020. Available at https://crowhousekitchen.wordpress.com/2014/06/27/scots-women-of-history-2-wendy-wood/

MacPherson, Hamish. “Wendy Wood: A Scottish Patriot to her Very Core.” The National. Last modified 21st April 2020, accessed 23rd September 2020. Available at https://www.thenational.scot/news/18392801.wendy-wood-scottish-patriot-core/

Pittock, Murray G. H. “Meacham [married name Cuthbert], Gwendoline Emily [pseud. Wendy Wood].” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Last modified 24th May 2008, accessed 18th September 2020. Available at https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/40380 [Subscription required to access].

Edinburgh’s Political Martyrs Memorial

Whenever I move to a new city I like to get to know its history, especially its radical history. So when I started reading up on Edinburgh, and found out it has a memorial to five political reformers, I knew it had to be one of the first places I visited when I arrived. The memorial is a familiar part of the skyline of central Edinburgh, but few know who it commemorates, or what they did to deserve such a tribute.

The Political Martyrs Memorial in the Old Calton Burial Ground, Edinburgh (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The Political Martyrs Memorial is located in the Old Calton Burial Ground on Waterloo Place. Edinburgh’s graveyards are interesting and atmospheric places. The Greyfriar’s Kirkyard is probably the most famous for its connection to Greyfriar’s Bobby and JK Rowling, amongst others. It is a popular stop for Edinburgh’s numerous ghost tours. The Old Calton Burial Ground has several notable features too, however. As well as the Political Martyr’s Memorial there is also a grand memorial for Enlightenment philosopher David Hume, and the only memorial to soldiers of the American Civil War outside of America, so it’s worth a visit even if radical history isn’t your thing.

The memorials for philosopher David Hume and Scottish-Americans who fought in the American Civil War (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Unveiled in 1844, the Political Martyr’s Memorial is a 27 metre tall obelisk on a square base. The plan to erect a monument to the five martyr’s was the brainchild of David Hume, a Scottish doctor and MP. He chaired a London-based committee to raise the funds for the memorial. It was designed by Thomas Hamilton, who also designed the Burns Memorial on Calton Hill. The original plan was to site the memorial on Calton Hill itself, but the local council refused, so a plot was acquired in the burial ground instead. On the north face are inscribed the names of the men which the memorial is dedicated to: Thomas Muir, Thomas Fyshe Palmer, William Skirving, Maurice Margarot, and Joseph Gerrald.

The names of the five martyrs inscribed on the north face of the memorial (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Two quotes are inscribed on the west face of the obelisk. They are part of speeches given by two of the radicals during their trials. The first is from Thomas Muir, and reads:

I have devoted myself to the cause of the people. It is a good cause – it shall ultimately prevail – it shall finally triumph.

30th August 1793.

The second quote is from William Skirving:

I know that what has been done these two days will be rejudged.

7th January 1794.
The two quotes inscribed on the west face of the memorial (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The 1790s were a politically turbulent time across Europe. Inspired by the French Revolution in 1789 and the publication of texts such as Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man, reformers in many countries began to demand change, and Scotland was no exception. The men commemorated by the Political Martyr’s Memorial were just some of the reformers who fell victim to a wave of oppression that swept across Europe. Thomas Muir and William Skirving were the only two out of the five who were Scottish (the other three were English), but all five were arrested for sedition in Scotland. They were part of a movement that was demanding universal suffrage (for men) and annual elections. Contrary to the fate the name of the monument implies, however, the men were not executed for their ‘crimes’; they were sentenced to transportation to Australia. Margarot was the only one who ever made it back to Britain alive.

Hume also initiated plans for a similar (but smaller) memorial in London, which was erected in Nunhead Cemetery in 1852. Campaigns for political reform in Britain continued, on and off, well into the nineteenth century. Hume and the other members of the committee that funded and built the memorial wanted some heroes for the new generation of reformers to rally around. It takes political power and financial resources to build a memorial, so it is relatively unusual for radical people and events to be commemorated in this way (unless they later come to be seen as fighting for a good cause). Although wanting change, Hume was still part of the political establishment, so he would have been keen to tone down the more radical elements of the 1790s campaign. The Political Martyr’s Monument doesn’t mention any specific demands or actions, and the two quotes featured are quite moderate.

As an object, the Political Martyr’s Memorial is relatively nondescript. There are lots of monuments on Calton Hill, and if I’m honest most of the others are more interesting to look at. However, the story of its’ construction, and those of the men it commemorates, are interesting. I’m certainly glad I went to visit, even if only because it led me to these stories.

Sources and further reading

Bambery, Chris. A People’s History of Scotland (2nd edition). London: Verso, 2018.

Canmore. “Edinburgh, Waterloo Place, Old Calton Burial Ground, Martyrs’ Monument.” No date, accessed 9th September. Available at https://canmore.org.uk/site/117414/edinburgh-waterloo-place-old-calton-burial-ground-martyrs-monument

MacAskill, Kenny. “How Scotland’s Martyrs for Democracy were Written out of History.” The Scotsman. Last modified 27th February 2020, accessed 9th September 2020. Available at https://www.scotsman.com/heritage-and-retro/heritage/how-scotlands-martyrs-democracy-were-written-out-history-kenny-macaskill-1995976

Wikipedia. “Political Martyr’s Monument.” Last modified 6th May 2020, accessed 9th September 2020. Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_Martyrs%27_Monument#:~:text=The%20Political%20Martyrs%20Monument%2C%20located,18th%20and%20early%2019th%20centuries.

Brighton’s Protest Stickers: Coronavirus

It is not uncommon in Brighton to find junction boxes painted by street artists and for advertising. This one is a recent addition to the Brighton streetscape (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Church Street, 03/08/20).

Disease is not political, but how we cope with it most definitely is. The Coronavirus epidemic has sparked a whole range of political debates, from the effectiveness of the government’s handling of the crisis, to the necessity of facemasks, to the questionable link between the virus and 5G. I have written before about how people interacted with urban streets differently during lockdown in Brighton and Hull, but as the lockdown eased coronavirus has started to crop up in the protest stickers I have spotted as I move around Brighton (in a safe and socially distanced manner, of course!)

People engaged with their surroundings in new ways during the lockdown. Homemade signs in windows quickly spilled out onto streets and footpaths (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Dyke Railway Trail, 25/04/20).
My instinct is that this isn’t a genuine product of the Brighton and Hove City Council, but I suppose it’s a possibility! (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Providence Place, 18/06/20).
The pandemic has sparked a lot of conspiracy theories. The Shropshire Corona Resilience Network is a Facebook Group which posts various conspiracies about coronavirus (Photo: Hannah Awcock, London Road, 18/06/20).
Other conspiracy theories question the origins of coronavirus. These stickers are advertising a Youtube documentary about the origins of what it calls the ‘Chinese Communist Party Virus’, which suggests that the virus did not really originate in a food market (Photo: Hannah Awcock, 20/05/20, Brighton seafront).
The Corbett Report claims to be an independent news sources and has been promoting conspiracy theories since 2007. It is no surprise that he has something to say about coronavirus (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Madeira Drive, 03/08/20).
Not all of the protest stickers and posters I’ve found are promoting conspiracy theories. This poster is demanded PPE and testing to protect NHS workers (Photo: Hannah Awcock, East Street, 18/06/20).
There isn’t much of this poster left, but it is mimicking the aesthetic used by the government in the “Stay Home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives” posters. I think this poster is suggesting people “Stay Home. Boo for Boris. Sack Cummings.” (Although it “Sack” could be something more rude”!) (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Madeira Drive, 03/08/20).
This sticker has also been partially removed, but I think it says something along the lines of “Anti Social Distance Resistance”, which could be pro-social distancing, but I suspect is actually against it. (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Madeira Drive, 03/08/20).
Before the virus, if a person was wearing a face mask in a protest sticker or piece of street art, it meant they were an anarchist, or radical activists. Nowadays they are just as likely to be a conscientious individual doing their civic duty. I think this sticker is pre-virus, but it an interesting example of how the meanings of symbols can shift and change (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Madeira Drive, 03/08/20).
I think that this sticker is also pre-virus, but again its meaning has shifted because of the current situation we find ourselves in. I hope it is correct! (Photo: Hannah Awcock, North Street, 03/08/20).
I think we have all had this thought once or twice over the last few months! (Photo: Hannah Awcock, Marine Parade, 03/08/20).

Book Review: Mudlarking- Lost and Found on the river Thames

Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames by Lara Maiklem

Lara Maiklem. Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames. London: Bloomsbury, 2019. RRP £9.99 paperback.

I have always been curious about Mudlarks. Once a way of scraping together a living for some of London’s poorest residents, modern Mudlarks are more likely to be hobbyists and amateur archaeologists. They search the Thames foreshore at low tide, searching for historical objects revealed or washed up by the river. So when Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames was published, I was keen to give it a read. I was not disappointed; Mudlarking is a fascinating book, and a joy to read.

For just a few hours each day, the river gives us access to its contents, which shift and change as the water ebbs and flows, to reveal the story of a city, its people, and their relationship with a natural force…As I have discovered, it is often the tiniest of objects that tell the greatest stories.

Maiklem, 2019; p. 5.

Mudlarking is not easy to categorise. It’s not a history book, a memoir, or a travel book, but it has elements of all 3. Lara describes the process and experience of mudlarking; explores what mudlarking, and the Thames more generally, means to her; and investigates and speculates on the origins and history of a huge range of objects that she has found over the years, from the mundane to the extraordinary.

The book is structured geographically, beginning at Teddington, where the tidal Thames begins, and finishing in the Estuary. The narrative winds and curves however, much like the river itself. Sometimes it jumps back Lara’s childhood, pauses on a particularly memorable trip to the river, or stops to reflect on a different types of object such as pins, buttons, or clay pipes. Mudlarking always comes back to the river however, and its relationship to London.

Lara Maiklem on the foreshore of the Thames, with Battersea power station in the background (Source: NPR/Lara Maiklem).

London is a city where the past is never far from the surface; simply turning a corner can catapult you back hundreds of years. There is just so much history there, so many lives and stories, most of which are irrevocably lost to us. The objects Lara finds on the Thames foreshore are a way for her to connect with those lost stories, to imagine Londoners long gone and conjure the city as it used to be in her mind. This struck a chord with me; I also find myself daydreaming about past people and places when presented with an archival document or running my hand along the walls of an ancient church.

Not only is Mudlarking well written, it is also well put together. It is full of special touches, from the illustrations on the inside cover, lovingly drawn by one of Lara’s fellow mudlarkers, to the font used for the front cover and chapter epigraphs, the type of which was consigned to the river by its’ creator in the early twentieth century. There are also two lovely maps of the river (there are few books that couldn’t be improved without the inclusion of a map or two, in my opinion!), and images of many of the finds Lara discusses.

Thanks to the Coronavirus lockdown, I haven’t been to London in five months. Reading Mudlarking: Lost and Found on the River Thames was a wonderful way for me to reconnect with a city that I miss. There are so many books about London, it isn’t easy to find a fresh angle. In Mudlarking, Lara Maiklem has done this, and then some.

Turbulent Londoners: Olive Morris, 1952-1979

Turbulent Londoners is a series of posts about radical individuals in London’s history who played a part in the city’s contentious past. Most of the Turbulent Londoners I feature are women, because their contribution to history has so often been overlooked. My definition of ‘Londoner’ is quite loose, anyone who has played a role in protest in the city can be included. Any suggestions for future Turbulent Londoners posts are very welcome. Next up is Olive Morris, radical, activist, and organiser.


Olive Morris in 1973 at the squat she helped established at 121 Railton Road in Brixton (Source: National Portrait Gallery).

There has been a conscious effort over the last few years to ensure that black activists throughout history receive the attention they deserve. Olive Morris is one of those who has been the subject of concerted efforts to research and publicise her life and legacy. She was even featured on a Google Doodle on the 26th of June 2020, which would have been her 68th birthday. Olive was an accomplished and dedicated activist, who made significant contributions to the developing Black Power movement in Britain in the 1970s.

The Google Doodle celebrating Olive Morris, from the 26th June 2020 (Source: Google).

Olive Morris was born on the 26th of June 1952 in Jamaica. Her parents moved to London when she was young and in 1961, aged 9, she joined them in Lavender Hill. She left school without any qualifications, although she would later go on to study at the London College of Printing and the University of Manchester. The London that Olive grew up in was not welcoming or supportive of people like her; black and Asian people faced a racist police force, attacks by racist groups such as the National Front, and discrimination in education, employment, and housing. In this context Olive became a fierce and determined activist, campaigning against racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression. Her activism was intersectional; she believed that all forms of discrimination interact and overlap, and in order to fight one you must fight them all.

In 1969, at the age of just 17, Olive intervened in the arrest of a Nigerian diplomat in Brixton. The police did not believe that a black man could own such a nice car, so accused him of stealing it. Olive was physically and verbally abused by the police for standing up to them. She was also arrested, charged with assault on an officer, and fined £10 and given a 3 month suspended sentence.

At this time, Brixton was a hub for black political organisations, so Olive found no shortage of allies. In the early 1970s, she joined the youth section of the British Black Panther Movement. In 1974 she was a founding member of the Brixton Black Women’s Group, which was formed to create a space for women who felt marginalised by the broader black freedom movement.

Olive began squatting in 1972, and quickly became very good at it. For her, squatting was a political act; she used it to draw attention to the fact that so many black people were homeless, despite good quality housing being available. In this way, she helped pioneer squatting as a form of activism. In 1973 Olive squatted 121 Railton Road in Brixton, which became an organising centre for community groups such as Black People against State Harassment. It was also home to Sabarr Bookshop, one of the first black community bookshops in Britain. Railton Road remained a squat and community centre.

Olive Morris scaling a building on the front cover of a handbook for squatters published in 1979 (Source: Lambeth Council).

Between 1975 and 1978, Olive studied economics and social studies at the University of Manchester. Whilst there, she was a member of the National Coordinating Committee of Overseas Students. Amongst other things, she helped campaign against raising tuition fees for overseas students. Olive saw this policy as a racist denial of British responsibilities to its former colonies. She was also a member of the Manchester Black Women’s Co-operative (later the Abasindi Co-operative) and the Black Women’s Mutual Aid Group.

During and after her studies, Olive traveled extensively, using what she learnt to inform her activism back home. She also wrote and published on her experiences and politics. In 1978, Olive co-founded the Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD), an umbrella movement which brought together other groups and activists. After graduating, Olive returned to Brixton and worked in the juvenile department of the Brixton Community Law Centre. Here, she campaigned against the controversial ‘sus’ laws, which allowed the police to stop and search people based solely on suspicion.

Olive fell ill whilst on holiday in Spain in 1978. On her return she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Treatment was unsuccessful, and she passed away on 12th July 1979, aged just 27. It was a tragic shock to her friends and family, and also a great loss to London’s activist communities. In 1986 a Lambeth Council building at 18 Brixton Hill was named after her; there is also a community garden and play are in Myatt’s Field dedicated to her. In 2008 the Remembering Olive Collective was set up to publicise and preserve her legacy; the materials they collected are now held at Lambeth Archives. In 2009, she was chosen by public vote to be one of the historical figures featured on the Brixton Pound, a local currency. In 2011, the Olive Morris Memorial Award was launched, which gives bursaries to young black women.

Olive Morris on the one Brixton Pound note. She was chosen by a popular vote to appear on the local currency (Source: National Portrait Gallery).

Olive Morris was a dedicated, skilled, and strategic organiser and activist, who fought against discrimination in all its forms. During her short life she worked tirelessly to combat the disadvantages faced by black people in Britain and build networks of solidarity and mutual support. Some of these networks were specifically aimed at women, encouraging many women of colour to engage in politics for the first time. Olive is remembered as a local hero in Brixton, but her legacy goes much further than that. I somehow doubt she would be impressed by being featured in a Google doodle, but is a step towards the recognition she deserves.

Sources and Further Reading

Allotey, Emma. “Morris, Olive Elaine (1952-1979).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Last modified 24th May 2012, accessed 25th July 2020. Available at https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/100963

Barr, Sabrina. “Olive Morris: Google Doodle Honours Activist who Campaigned to Improve the Lives of the Black Community.” Independent. Last modified 26th June 2020, accessed 25th July 2020. Available at https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/women/olive-morris-google-doodle-who-activist-black-police-london-a9586836.html

Osborne, Angelina. “Black History Month: The Power of Olive Morris.” Fawcett Society. Last modified 2nd October 2018, accessed 25th July 2020. Available at https://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/blog/black-history-month-power-olive-morris

Reilly, Felix. “‘Black women who have struggled to make our efforts possible’: Olive Morris and the Legacy of Black Power in Manchester.” History@Manchester. Last modified 13th October 2019, accessed 25th July 2020. Available at https://uomhistory.com/2019/10/13/black-women-who-have-struggled-to-make-our-efforts-possible-olive-morris-and-the-legacy-of-black-power-in-manchester/

Remember Olive Collective blog. Various dates, accessed 25th July 2020. Available at https://rememberolivemorris.wordpress.com/news-and-events/

Tsang, Amie. “Overlooked No More: How Olive Morris Fought for Black Women’s Rights in Britain.” The New York Times. Last modified 26th June, 2020, accessed 25th July 2020. Available at https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/30/obituaries/olive-morris-overlooked.html

Streetscapes of Black Lives Matter

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A raised fist is one of the most identifiable symbols of Black Lives Matter (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Black Lives Matter was founded in 2013 by three women: Alicia Garcia, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, following the killing of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida on 26th February 2012.  In July 2013 his killer was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter. Trayvon was by no means the first African-American unjustly killed in the US, and he would sadly not be the last, but the injustice of his killer’s acquittal inspired a movement that is still going strong seven years later.

On 25th May 2020, George Floyd was killed when police officers knelt on his neck for almost 8 minutes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His was not even the first violent and unpunished death of an African-American that hit the headlines this year; the killings of Ahmaud Arbery on 23rd February in South Georgia, and Breonna Taylor on 13th of March in Louisville, Kentucky also caused disbelief and anger. But it was the killing of George Floyd that sparked a resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement, leading to protests around the world. Protests and rallies leave traces on the environments they take place in; they alter streetscapes, even if only for a little while. A few days after a BLM protest in Brighton in the UK on 13th June 2020, I photographed some of those traces. Regular readers of my blog will know that I normally write captions describing and explaining the photos I take documenting protest and resistance, but this time I decided to let the photos speak for themselves.

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Book Review: Bad Girls- The Rebels and Renegades of Holloway Prison

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Bad Girls by Caitlin Davies.

Caitlin Davies. Bad Girls: The Rebels and Renegades of Holloway Prison. London: John Murray, 2018. RRP £10.99 paperback. 

For 9 years, I studied at Royal Holloway, a college of the University of London in Egham, Surrey. For 9 years, when I told people I went to Royal Holloway, I had to put up with jokes about Holloway Prison, the infamous women’s penitentiary in London. Beyond that, I didn’t know much about Holloway apart from the fact that a lot of suffragettes were imprisoned there. So when I heard about Bad Girls: The Rebels and Renegades of Holloway Prison, it seemed like a good opportunity to find out more about why Holloway is so well known.

First opened in 1852, HMP Holloway was made female-only in 1902, rebuilt in 1971-85, and closed for good in 2016. In that time, it has witnessed dramatic changes in society, including seismic shifts in the treatment of both women and prisoners. In Bad Girls, Caitlin Davies recounts how life in the prison changed over more than 150 years, telling the stories of governors and staff as well as the women incarcerated there. Some of the women described in Bad Girls are well known, either for the severity of their crimes, such as Myra Hindley, or because they took a stand for what they believed in, like the suffragettes and the women of Greenham Common. The vast majority of the women who spent time in Holloway, however, are unlikely to remembered by anyone but their families. That does not, however, make their stories any less fascinating.

the history of women in Holloway is a bleak one and stories of triumph are few and far between. It’s impossible not to feel depressed at a century and a half of women betrayed and coerced, condemned and mistreated, wrongly imprisoned, punished and executed. But this is why its story has to be told, because women have for too long been kept out of sight and out of mind behind the walls of Holloway.

Davies, 2018; p.316.

The women imprisoned in Holloway did not just break the law, they also undermined society’s perceptions of gender; crime is simply not feminine. Caitlin Davies doesn’t just tell a good story, she also explores how dominant narratives around gender and femininity are tied up with understandings of criminality and punishment. She questions what prisons are for and highlights how their dual purposes of punishment and rehabilitation rarely complement each other. This book has as much to say to the present as it does to the past.

Although many of Caitlin Davies’ books are clearly based on extensive historical research, she describes herself as a writer rather than a historian, and this is reflected in Bad Girls. Unlike most history books, Davies herself is very much a part of the narrative; she details her visits to prisons and cemeteries, and describes the London cafes in which she interviews former inmates of Holloway and their descendants. I enjoyed this approach; it felt as though Davies is taking the reader with her on her journey to uncover the stories of women who’s lives have often been swept under the carpet.

Bad Girls is an excellent book. Not only is it a great read, it is also an ideal example of how an understanding of the past can illuminate significant issues in the present-day. In the acknowledgements, Davies mentions that she had to cut out a lot of material, and that a lot of stories have been left untold. My response to that is: when can we expect the sequel?

Street Artefacts of the 2020 Lockdown: Hull

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Murals thanking healthworkers have cropped up all over the world since the coronavirus epidemic began. This one in Hull city centre is by local artist Hull_grafitti (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

In my last blog post, I wrote about the streetscapes of Hove and Portslade during the 2020 coronavirus lockdown. Once the lockdown started, people began to place artefacts in their windows, gardens, and streets in an attempt to connect, entertain children, or just make each other smile. I recently travelled up to Hull (it was an essential journey, I wasn’t just testing my eyesight!), and whilst I was there I got to see how Hullensians used the streets to express themselves during the lockdown. The neighbourhoods where I spend most of my time in Hull, the Avenues and Newland Avenue, are pretty creative anyway, so I had high hopes for the city’s lockdown streetscapes. I wasn’t disappointed!

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Window displays like this one have become increasingly common during lockdown, perhaps as a way of reaching out at a time when many of us are feeling isolated (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Over the last few months the rainbow has become a symbol of gratitude for our NHS and keyworkers. This has led some in the LGBT+ community to fear that their association with the rainbow flag is being overwritten (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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Whilst some trends, like the rainbows, are common across the UK, some things are more localised. Coloured ribbons like this one are not something that I have come across in Brighton, but they are quite common in Hull (Photo: Tricia Awcock).

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Here, the rainbow and the ribbons have been combined (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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The floral displays along Newland Avenue are changed frequently to reflect important events and holidays such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Remembrance Day. During the lockdown, they have been used to celebrate the NHS (Photo: Tricia Awcock).

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Creativity has shone through during the lockdown, and this drawing certainly brightened up the waterfront on a particularly dreary evening (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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These are lyrics from the Maroon 5 song “She will be Loved” (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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These stickers can be found all along Newland Avenue. It is not uncommon to find stickers of all kinds in this area (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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There is quite a lot of street art in Hull. One area you can almost always find some is the Fruit market, which is where I found this unicorn impaling coronavirus (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

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I almost felt like an intruder reading this, but Miss June and Mr February clearly wanted to commemorate this important moment during lockdown (Photo: Hannah Awcock).