Brixton’s force to be reckoned with by Jon Newman – Head of Lambeth Archives
19 October 2007, South London Press
If you mention the name Olive Morris in Lambeth most people think of the rather forbidding council offices on Brixton Hill which bear her name. Olive Morris House is on the right hand side as you go up from the Town Hall and has served since 1986 variously as Lambeth’s Finance and Housing Benefits office. Few would describe it as a lovely building and even the current makeover that will transform it into a Customer Centre is not going to change that rather brooding and monolithic quality that it has always had.
Anyone venturing inside Olive’s ‘house’- normally on business rather than pleasure – may notice the simple plaque in the foyer that records the opening of the building and its dedication to Olive, who died in 1979 at the age of just 27 and was the founder of the Brixton Black Women’s Group. It was one of a number of council buildings that were named or renamed in the 1980s to commemorate prominent black people in the borough. Who now remembers Paul Robeson House on South Lambeth Road, now the Comfort Inn hotel, or the fast-disappearing Mary Seacole House on Clapham High Street?
So far, so succinct. But just who was Olive Morris? There is surprisingly little information about her, either at Lambeth Archives or out on the web. But we do know that in her short life Olive not only helped found the Brixton Women’s Group but was also involved in setting up the Brixton Black Panthers – which in turn fed into various important Brixton-based groups like the Black Workers Movement and the Race Today Collective. She was also actively involved in the early squatting movement in the mid-70s. In other words she was an important player in aspects of Brixton’s recent history that could all too easily become forgotten.
Hopefully this is set to change thanks to a piece of work by local artist Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre who has just set up a web log to collect local people’s memories of Olive. The blog was launched at Lambeth Archives appropriately on the first day of Black History month and will remain open for contributions for the next 6 – 12 months.
If you want to find out more about Olive and the local politics of the 1970s; or if you have memories of those times yourselves that you would like to offer, then Ana Laura is waiting to hear from you. You can access the blog at http://rememberolivemorris.wordpress.com/