Radical Times in Journalism

Before powerful tools like the internet and social media, the drum beat around race activism in Britain, as well as globally, was generated mostly by radical print media, writes Will Brook.

One of the most influential political journals about race in the 1970s and 1980s – Race Today, was based in Brixton.

It was launched in 1969 by a think tank called the Institute of Race Relations, but was in 1973 given a new, more radical, direction by a breakaway organisation called Race Today collective.

The collective included figures of black British activism, such as Race Today editor Darcus Howe, pictured writer Farrukh Dhondy, poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, and activist Leila Hassan Howe, among others.

The publication was at the heart of the fight for racial justice in Britain, providing reports and analysis of the struggles of black and ethnic workers in the UK against police and state racism.

Its purpose was to raise awareness around racial injustices, as well as topics such as sex and social class.

The magazine’s base at 165 Railton Road, Brixton, pictured, was crucial for the publication to stay on the ‘front lines’ of this struggle, and it established itself there by breaking down the door of a squat, changing the locks, and moving in.

Mr Howe, a broadcaster, writer and racial justice campaigner, was editor of the journal from 1973 to 1985.

He said in 2013: “We moved it to Brixton, reoriented the whole journal, and worked with ex-Panthers who had 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.”

The collective behind Race Today went beyond journalism to achieve its goals, lending its organi-sational weight to support grassroots campaigns for justice.

In 1981, the collective helped organise a large-scale revolt known as the Brixton Uprisings, which saw more than 20,000 people march through London in demonstration against police brutality in the area.

Leila Hassan Howe, 72, was deputy editor of Race Today before becoming editor in 1986, and helped organise the demonstration with her partner and then editor Darcus Howe, who she would eventually marry.

Mrs Hassan Howe told The Guardian: “We would leave our house and when you’d hit Railton Road they (police) would stop you.
“Anybody going into Brixton. Old people, young people, people like me.”

The protest, now dubbed the National Black People’s Day of Action, is said to mark a major positive shift in black British identity.
Mrs Hassan Howe co-edited the 2019 Race Today anthology, Here to Stay, Here to Fight bringing together articles and clippings from the journal.

A film called Race Today is due to be released on November 22, and will reveal the journal’s untold story.


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