Who knew there was a British contingent of the Black Panthers? Certainly not the average American; and most certainly not the English who’ve excluded the group from English classrooms or consciousness even though their actions changed immigration legislation in the 1970s.This will all change in a few days, however, when an exhibition of photographs by British Black Panther member Neil Kenlock will be launched at Brixton’s Photofusion Gallery minutes from where the movement was head-quarted at 38 Shakespeare Road.
The British Black Panthers was a movement rather than a political party. Unlike their US namesake, they didn’t carry guns; they fought for the rights of all ethnic minorities in the UK.
“Over there, they were a party; they were seeking political power,” explains Kenlock who spoke to the Independent this week. “The American Constitution allows people to carry guns, so they were policing the police. There was segregation in America at that time – the system in America was far behind Britain. What we were about was seeking better education and jobs, and making sure the police treated us fairly. It was just the name and the culture that was adopted.”
The name was a quick way to attract attention and get young people excited; some of the style was taken on, too.
“The berets, black trousers, black T-shirt and guns,” is how Darcus Howe, a member of the British Panther inner circle, and later editor of Race Today, describes the iconography. “But we didn’t get to the [real] gun bit over here.”
Kenlock joined the group in the 60s after he and a friend were denied entry into a nightclub in London because they were black. Angry and confused, teenaged, 16 and out of school, Kenlock met members in Brixton who were handing out leaflets in the streets after seeking answers on how he could change his life and the system in the UK. He became their official photographer, documenting meetings, marches, and so on.
The British Black Panthers show was organized by Organized Youth and will be on view through October 26.
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