Sabaar Bookshop

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The first person I ever spoke to who had known Olive Morris was Mr Oniel Williams. He told me there was some information published about Olive Morris in a book entitled: The Heart of the Race. Black Women’s Lives in Britain (Beverley Bryan, Stella Dadzie and Suzanne Scafe – Virago, 1985). The book is out of print and Brixton Library’s copy had gone missing. Liz Obi, who has a copy of the book, kindly lend me some photocopies. A transcript of the section on Olive Morris is posted separately.

Oniel told me he used to frequent a Black bookshop on 121 Railton Road where he had met Olive Morris. The book shop was called Sabaar, but I have also found references to it with other spellings: Sabbaar and Sarbbarr. Sabaar Bookshop was opened at 121 Railton Road, once Olive and Liz (the first squatters to live there) moved to another squat down at 64 Railton Road. The squat at 121 was then used as premises for the Brixton Black Panther Movement, and was soon developed into a Black advice center and bookshop. Olive was involved in setting up and running it.

Sabaar Bookshop is sometimes referenced as the first Black Bookshop in Brixton, but the first Black bookshop in Brixton had been Unity Bookshop that in 1973 had been burned to the ground when a firebomb was placed in the letter box. Sabaar Bookshop filled in the gap, but I haven’t been able to find out the exact dates it was open at 121 Railton Road, or any other information about it.

The importance of these bookshops is described in “We Shall Not Be Terrorized Out of Existence”: The Political Legacy of England’s Black Bookshops by Colin A. Beckles (Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 29, No. 1 Sep., 1998)

Finally there were bookshops cum advice centers, such as the black people’s information centres, BLF’s Grassroots Storefront and BWM’s Unity Bookshop and the weekly or monthly newspapers: Black Voice (BUFP), Grassroots (BLF), Freedom News(BP: Black Panthers) Frontline (BBC Brixton), Uhuru (BPFM: Black People’s Freedom Movement) BPFM Weekly and the BWAC Weekly (Black Workers Action Committee) and the less frequent and more theoretical journal Black Liberator. A theory can be purported that these small publications paved the way for stronger forms of black literary self-expression in the form of poetry and the novel. The connection is valid since this was to happen a few years later in this decade of the black journal.

The Radical Bookshop History website lists Sabbaar as a Black bookshop active during the late 70s and early 80s at 378 Coldharbour Lane, where the Archives and Museum of Black Heritage and then the Black Cultural Archives were subsequently located during the 80s and 90s. So it seems that Sabbar was moved from 121 Railton Road to Colharbour Lane at some point in the late 70s. In the same website there is reference to a later bookshop at 121 Railton Road, run by anarchists and feminists from 1982 onwards (possibly until the final closure of the squat in 1999).

Do you remember anything about Sabaar or Unity Bookshops, or were you involved in the running of these bookshops? Perhaps you still have copies of some of the publications that they sold, or have a picture of the shop at the time.


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