The Brixton Black Women’s Group expressed their excitement at discovering sisters through their groundbreaking newsletter.
Fifty years ago, a group of women from the British Black Panther movement grew tired of being disregarded. In conversations dominated by men, there was little attention given to women’s concerns, and the organization’s hierarchy made some members feel silenced.
Beverley Bryan, a retired academic, remembers that the women’s caucus within the Panthers was not well-received by all members. Some men questioned the purpose of the women coming together.
Bryan and her friends established the Brixton Black Women’s Group (BBWG) with the goal of advocating and promoting awareness for the challenges faced by women of color in the UK. This included addressing events such as the trial of the Mangrove Nine and the mistreatment of Indian and Pakistani women who were subjected to virginity tests by immigration officials upon entering the country, as documented by the Home Office. The 1980s also saw the Brixton riots.
Amina Mama, a Nigerian-British writer and one of the first members of BBWG, explains that the group was formed due to the urgent circumstances of the time. Amidst the Brixton riot uprisings, people were being targeted and imprisoned. The alarming amount of violence witnessed by the group motivated them to take action. Mama recalls seeing women with strollers being forcefully taken into vans.
According to Gail Lewis, a writer and academic who was an early member of the Brixton Black Women’s Group, we came to the group seeking something, but it also provided a space for us to discover ourselves in new ways.
Mother gave her approval and joined the group after spending four years in Scotland. She shared the same desire to be around people with similar beliefs. It was a wonderful experience to find sisters and feel a sense of unity.
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the group’s establishment, the writings of the BBWG have been compiled and published as a book for the first time. The book, titled “Speak Out!”, has been praised by Booker-winning author Bernardine Evaristo as “unique and essential.” The content of the book is taken from the group’s newsletter, also named “Speak Out!”, which served as a means of connecting with other women who shared similar experiences, as explained by Lewis. The newsletter featured a variety of content, including updates on the group’s activities, political analysis, and reviews of various forms of media.
Milo Miller, the editor of the collection, began collecting archival material in 2016 after coming across the group’s work during their PhD thesis. One interesting finding was that the articles were written collaboratively, without any individual authors credited. “The younger generation finds it hard to believe. We had to carefully consider every word as a collective effort,” explains Lewis.
“I believe that Speak Out! serves as a strong example of our movement’s principles and actions. The decision to not include our names in the newsletter demonstrated our commitment to being a non-hierarchical and egalitarian group,” explains Mama. “Speak Out! was a crucial tool for us to spread our ideology and rally others, as we saw ourselves as part of a larger movement. Communication is essential for any movement, and this newsletter served as our means of reaching out.”
The BBWG had a short lifespan of 16 years, but it left a lasting impact as a central community and political group that served as a source of inspiration for numerous other feminist and anti-racist organizations in the following years. It played a crucial role in the formation of the Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent, the first national group for Black women in the UK that operated from 1978 to 1982.
However, even though their main focus was on external issues, the group was primarily viewed as a community. Sona Osman, a barrister who joined the group in her early 20s, states, “The group provided immense support and assistance, and helped us refine our skills in debating and discussing important matters.” While contemporary activist groups are being formed, Osman believes that the same sense of community that was present in the 1980s cannot be reproduced.
“If such a group were still around, I would join without hesitation.”