Civil rights hero Olive ‘erased from history’ by Walter Hemmens
11 November 2008, South London Press
A council has been accused of “erasing from history” the name of a woman hailed as one of Brixton’s heroes in the 1970s struggle for civil rights.
When the Lambeth council building in Brixton Hill names after Olive Morris, a member of the Brixton Black Panthers, was revamped as a “customer centre” last year, her name was removed from the part of the building used by hundreds of members of the public everyday.
A photograph of Olive and a plaque, unveiled by her mother Doris in 1986, were also taken down.
Olive’s name now appears only above and inside the staff entrance.
Veteran civil rights campaigner and poet Clarence Thompson said: “People who have dedicated their lives to changing the quality of life in Lambeth should be honoured and it should be forever.”
“You wouldn’t go interfering with Nelson’s Column would you? Why have they got to do that?. It sends a bad signal.” He was speaking after a meeting of the REmembering Olive Collective (ROC), an organisation set up last year to preserve Olive’s memory.
The meeting was held at the Karibu Centre in Gresham Road and was attended by Emory Douglas and Billy X Jennings – two veterans of the US Black Panthers that inspired Olive and the Brixton Movement.
Born in Jamaica in 1952, Olive made her mark as a feminist and black activist until she died from cancer aged 27. Only five out of 20 people spoken to by the South London Press outside Olive Morris House knew anything about her.
Liz Obi, chairwoman of the ROC, who squatted at 121 Railton Road with Olive and was in the Brixton Black Women’s Group set up by Olive, said last week: “She was a whirlwind of a person, really inspirational. She had a lot of energy. It’s tragic she died so young, she had a lot to give to the community.”
Ms Obi said the ROC and the Morris family wanted to reinstate a display about Olive’s life in the customer centre, but had been told by the council it would not match the centre’s new “corporate image”.
Poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, who was a member of the Brixton Black Panthers with her in the 1970s said after last week’s meeting: “Its tragic really, it shouldn’t be allowed to happen. She was someone who was very significant for Lambeth, and its part of the borough’s heritage.”
A council spokesman said: “We very much want to pay tribute to Olive Morris and her legacy in Lambeth, and we’re looking to reinstate a plaque near to its original location as well as looking at further options to mark her contribution. The building is already named after Olive Morris, in her memory and displays her name on the outside.”