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Salute to embodiment of black struggle

Moving tributes at funeral of Darcus Howe, activist and TV presenter who played a leading role in fighting rampant discrim­ination

27 April, 2017 — By John Gulliver

Darcus Howe leading the demonstration on the Black People’s Day of Action, March 2, 1981. He is pictured accompanied on the truck by two of his sons, Darcus Jr and Rap

IF I had given enough thought to it I would have known that the generations of the 1950s and 1960s would not forget the man they felt they owed so much to.

But I didn’t – not at first.

Certainly, Darcus Howe had played one of the leading roles fighting the foul and rampant discrim­ination facing Caribbeans who came here more than 60 years ago.

Too often they were met with the signs outside rundown lodging houses saying “No dogs, no Irish, no blacks”!

I thought that perhaps all that belonged to the past – and that his funeral on Thursday would be a relatively quiet, sombre affair. Though I had been told by a friend – an eminent Caribbean medical practitioner – that Darcus Howe had been the “embodiment” of the “black struggle for human rights” in the UK.

I knew, of course, of his determination to challenge such crude racism, his editorship of the influential publication Race Today, the way he channelled the anger over the death of 13 children in New Cross in 1981 into the biggest street protest by Caribbeans London had ever seen – leading a weekday demonstration of more than 20,000 protesters.

I also remembered his TV journalism for the Bandung File and his own popular show, the Devil’s Advocate.

Darcus – ‘our multi-ethnic society is thanks to leaders like him’

But hadn’t all that happened a long time ago?

Would memories still linger of the back street racist murders in Notting Hill of the late 1950s and 1960s, the police harassment, the doors slammed in the face of newly arrived immigrants?

I should have had more confidence in the power of the collective memory.

It was standing-room only at All Saints church, Notting Hill, on Thursday as more than 600 people crowded into the aisles. When the hearse arrived at the church from Darcus Howe’s south London home it was greeted with drums and horns.

Darcus, who died at 74, a committed atheist, had stipulated he didn’t want a religious service but his family made one concession – a haunting rendition of Amazing Grace, sung to the accompaniment of the Mangrove steel band.

Tributes were paid by his old friend TV producer Farrukh Dhondy, Paul Field and Robin Bunce, authors of a newly published biography, Stafford Scott, a black campaigner whose eulogy drew sharp applause as he said, with clenched fists and a Black Panther salute that we shared a “multi-ethnic society today” because of leaders like Darcus.

A tribute was read out from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn while Darcus Howe’s daughter, Tamara, remembered the wonderful family man.

Nearly 200 mourners, with clarinets and drums, accompanied by the Mangrove Street Band, then wound their way to the West London Crematorium to pay more tributes amidst loud wailing among the congregation, some of whom gave clenched salutes. Later, family members, friends and scores who simply wanted to honour him, held a party at the Tabernacle community centre in Notting Hill. It was the end of a typical Caribbean farewell.


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