Do you remember Olive Morris?

Do you remember Olive Morris? was a community art project seeking to bring to wider public attention the history of Brixton-based activist Olive Morris (1952-1979). In her short life, Olive Morris co-founded the Brixton Black Women’s Group and the Organisation of Women of Asian and African Descent (OWAAD) and was part of the British Black Panther Movement. She campaigned for access to education, decent living conditions for Black communities and fought against state and police repression. Despite dying at a young age, she empowered the people who lived and worked around her.

You can Download a pdf short biographical note on Olive Morris, written by Emma Allotey and published by the Remembering Olive Collective.

This blog is a central online resource of information on Olive Morris, bringing together the personal memories of those who knew her, and publishing online information and materials relating to her life and the life of the people and organisations that she worked with. It is also a repository of information about the Do You Remember Olive Morris? project and the different individuals and groups that made it possible.

This long-term project was started by Brixton-based artist Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre, when she encountered in 2006 a photograph of Olive Morris taken by British Black Panthers’ photographer Neil Kenlock. The photo shows Olive Morris standing at a Black Panther Movement demonstration in Coldharbour Lane in 1969, and holding a placard reading: “BLACK SUFFERER FIGHT PIG POLICE BRUTALITY”. Research into this particular moment in local history led to a meeting with community activist Liz Obi, a friend and colleague of Olive Morris, who then become a key collaborator in the project.

At the project’s inception, there were no public records about Olive Morris, and no information about her was available on the Internet. Ana Laura and Liz launched this blog in October 2007, and made a short film outside Olive Morris House to make the point that the memory of Olive and what she did for her people were at danger of being lost to future generations. The blog was launched with support from Lambeth Archives and London Metropolitan Archive, as part of Lambeth’s Black History Month Celebrations.

As the project developed and interest in Olive Morris grew, a group of women with different backgrounds started to join as volunteers, observers, critics and enthusiasts. In October 2008, they formed the Remembering Olive Collective (ROC) and worked together to document and make public the story of Olive Morris, her contemporaries and the issues she fought for.

There were many public moments throughout the project: events, talks, articles in the press, film screenings and radio shows that are documented in different sections of the blog. Underpinning all this there was a dedicated group of people doing research, meeting, organising, developing friendships and fiercely debating what was at stake in the act of making public the story of a black grassroots activist. The blog became the main tool to archive all this activity, and to share it more widely with others.

In 2009-10, with the support of local cultural institutions (Gasworks, Lambeth Archives and Brixton Library) and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, ROC was able to consolidate, present and make publicly available the results of the research on Olive Morris life and work.

In October 2009 ROC launched the Olive Morris Collection at Brixton Library. The collection comprises 30 oral history interviews with those who knew Olive and were involved in the political struggles of the 1960s and 1970s. It also holds Olive Morris personal papers and photographs, donated by Liz Obi. All the interviews were recorded and transcribed by ROC members, who also cataloged the collection. ROC members trained as oral historians, and on the basics of archiving and cataloging at Lambeth Archives, where the Olive Morris Collection is now housed. If you would like to know more about the collection and how to access it, please contact Lambeth Archives directly.

In November 2009 Ana Laura had an exhibition at Gasworks, telling the story of the project, the complex web of collaborations that made it possible, and the stories that it uncovered. The exhibition was laid out as a chronological time-line made with documentation materials, intersected by art works, films, historical photographs and sections dedicated to the special contribution made to the project by Liz Obi and Neil Kenlock. It also featured archival material from the then newly-created Olive Morris Collection. The exhibition served as a contextual backdrop for a weekly programme of events including walks, discussions, presentations, workshops and music evenings. These events were devised by the Remembering Olive Collective around the issues she championed during the 1970s and remain significant today: from squatting and immigration, to self-education.

A publication documenting the project as a whole was launched in January 2010 and is available from all Lambeth Libraries and several resource centres in London and other UK cities. Copies of the publication were sent to every primary and secondary school in Lambeth and to all the contributors to the project.

This blog is being archived by the British Library as part of their Web Conservation Project. Therefore we would like to ensure that all contributors to the blog, including those that leave comments, are aware of this process.

By submitting your comment you are automatically giving ROC (Remembering Olive Collective), Lambeth Landmarks and the British Library permission to store and publish it. However if you wish to withdraw this permission, you will need to do so by getting in touch with us through the comment box at the foot of this page.

The Do you remember Olive Morris? blog and its contents (unless otherwise stated) is published and licensed by ROC for public use under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 UK. This means people will be able to share and remix the material, as long as it is for non-commercial purposes and they credit ROC and any other identified author of content as the source.


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