1980s

Leicester Caribbean Carnival
Credit University of Leicester and Leicester Mercury

International

The 1980s left no room for political apathy, whilst technology and media continued to shape how news across the African and African Caribbean Diaspora was documented and shared.  Black Entertainment Television (BET) was founded in 1980, and became a full-time channel in 1983.  In 1986, Oprah Winfrey became the host of a nationally syndicated talk show, the most successful in television history.  The Caribbean Broadcasting Union created regional consortiums, creating a collective Caribbean identity in broadcasting with magazine style programmes from the mid-1980s onwards.

As many Caribbean states began to establish themselves after centuries of colonisation, the 1980s saw periods of both stability and unrest.  Antigua gained independence in 1981, and Anguilla separated from St Kitts and Nevis in 1982, with Aruba separating itself from the Netherlands Antilles in 1986.  In October 1983, Maurice Bishop, Prime Minister of Grenada was assassinated in a military coup after a military junta group tried to force him into a power sharing agreement, or step down.  Maurice Bishop was the leader of New Jewel Movement, under the People’s Revolutionary Government he introduced free public health and illiteracy dropped from 35% to 5%, although there were power struggles within the party.  The coup was followed by an invasion by 2000 American troops, and 300 troops from six Caribbean countries, citing the concern for American nationals on the island, although this justification was met with scepticism.  The invasion was considered unjust by the United Nations and Britain and unsettled international relations.

Maurice Bishop and Fidel Castro.

 

The decade ended with the powerful Hurricane Hugo in 1989, which affected countries throughout the Caribbean, in Guadeloupe, United States Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Montserrat where over 90% of the island’s residents were impacted, many left homeless.

In Southern African, Angola Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia come together to form a memorandum of understanding for economic development, at the Southern African Development Coordination Conference in 1980.  Many countries wished to be less dependent on South Africa, which was crippled by the heavy international sanctions and boycotts in response to apartheid.  Prime Minister Botha declared a state of emergency in 1985.  That same year, Desmond Tutu became Bishop of Johannesburg and in 1986 the Archbishop of Cape Town, the most senior position in southern Africa’s Anglican hierarchy and the president of the All Africa Conference of Churches.  This marked a landmark moment during the dismantlement of apartheid in South Africa.

In the US, the 1980s saw Black female voices in literature take centre stage, with the publication of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Color Purple in 1983, and Toni Morrion’s Beloved in 1987, for which she received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Martin Luther King Jr Day was established as a national holiday on 20 January 1986, and in 1984, Jesse Jackson organised the Rainbow Coalition to run for president, and in doing so urged Black voters to become more politically active.

 

National

The beginning of the 1980s were marked by riots across UK cities across Bristol (1980) and London, Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and Leicester in 1981, and again in Handsworth in Birmingham, Brixton and Boardwater Farm in Tottenham in 1985.  Ignited by the isolation, unemployment and police brutality that young Black people faced at the time.

The British Black Arts movement grew out of the first National Black Art Convention in 1982.  Local authorities, community groups and local activists sought to build opportunities, and outlets for creative expression, it helped to forge Black British identify and recognise the everyday lived realities for the Black community. Autograph ABP is established in 1988 to advocate Black photographers.

Black British theatre and poetry experienced prominence with the founding of new companies, seminal productions and new writing.  Talawa Theatre Company was founded in 1986 by Yvonne Brewster, Mona Hammond, Carmen Munroe and Inigo Espehjel with their first production of CLR James’ The Black Jacobins with an all-Black cast.  Other writers and companies created productions that reflected conflicting realities for young Black people in the UK.  These included Caryl Phillips’ Strange Fruit (1980), Michael Ellis’ Chameleon (1985) and Amani Nepthali’s Ragamuffin (1989).  Linton Kwesi Johnson’s launches LKJ Records in 1981, producing work by reggae artists and Dub poets including Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze and Benjamin Zephaniah.

Mainstream television also begins to change with the founding of Channel 4 in 1982.  In 1983 the channel broadcast Now Problem!  The first Black produced comedy sitcom for British television.  Later in 1989 Desmond’s starring Norman Beaton, Carmon Munroe and Lenny Henry, the programme became the longest running sitcom on the channel.

Black History Month in the UK is first officially celebrated in 1987.  Akyaaba Addai Sebbo, a special projects coordinator at the Greater London Council, Ansel Wong, cultural activist and Linda Bellos, chair of the London Strategic Policy Unit.  The first events were held in October as part the African Jubilee Year.  Black History Month established a much-needed presence in the British cultural calendar, an opportunity to establish artistic and educational programmes, build community cohesion and celebrate Black excellence.  The first three Black MPs are elected to Parliament in the same year; Bernie Grant (Tottenham), Paul Boateng (Brent South) and Diane Abbott (Hackney North).

 

Local

Events in the East Midlands mirrored those happening on a national scale, whilst artistic and educational events also built a focus on developing a unique perspective that encapsulated the region’s history.

New Vision Film company was established in Northampton during the 1980s, working to create teaching resources for local schools centred around Black history.  The company produced Moving On: Northamptonshire and the Wider World (1989) exploring the histories of four families from the area, alongside archival documents and photography.

Leicester also saw a new wave of initiatives growing out of the Black community.  In the turmoil of the Thatcher era, and rioting across the UK, communities sought to establish positive change.  Ajani Women and Girls Centre and the Highfields Workshop Centre, both founded in 1981.  The Ajani Centre was the first of its type in the Midlands. Similarly, in Nottingham the Caribbean Trust was support young Black people.

Music became a force for change with Herdle White’s Talking Blues becoming BBC Radio Leicester’s first programme for the African Caribbean community in 1982, and pirate radio stations across Leicester also started to appear.  Leicester Caribbean Carnival was first held in 1985, with Felicity McCarthy as the first Carnival Queen.  Leicester Caribbean Carnival becoming one the biggest cultural events.  Caribbean Focus Year in 1986 saw one of the largest programmes of activities in the country take place in Leicester.  Adelaide Hall appeared at the Studio Theatre, Haymarket Leicester in 1989 in a concert organised by composer and musician Gavin Bryars.  The 1980s supported an explosion of new talent in the region, whilst honouring the legacy of pioneers who had paved the way.

Adelaide Hall featured in the Leicester Mercury.

 

References

Our History So Far. Available at: https://www.northants-black-history.org.uk/about-us/our-history-so-far (Accessed on: 29 September 2019)

United States invades Grenada, Oct. 25, 1983. Available at: https://www.politico.com/story/2017/10/25/united-states-invades-grenada-oct-25-1983-244072 (Accessed on: 29 September 2019)

Brief History of Channel Four Television Corporation. Available at: https://www.channel4.com/about_c4/foia/c4brief_history.doc (Accessed on: 29 September 2019)

Ansel Wong. Available at: https://www.africansinyorkshireproject.com/ansel-wong.html (Accessed on: 29 September 2019)

Black Plays Archive, Chameleon.  Available at: https://www.blackplaysarchive.org.uk/explore/productions/chameleon-0 (Accessed on: 29 September 2019)

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British Black Arts Movement. Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/b/british-black-arts-movement (Accessed on: 29 September 2019)

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Caribbean Broadcasting Union. Available at: https://caribroadcastunion.org/ (Accessed on: 29 September 2019)

US Invasion of Granada. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QiqCX2efipc (Accessed on: 29 September 2019)

Black Plays Archive, Ragamuffin. Available at: https://www.blackplaysarchive.org.uk/explore/productions/ragamuffin (Accessed on: 29 September 2019)

Africa 1980–2010: Tragedies, Triumphs, and Challenges. Available at: https://exhibitions.nypl.org/africanaage/essay-africa-2010.html (Accessed on: 29 September 2019

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SPECTRUM – The History Of Black Music In Leicester. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rei5sMW6wj0 (Accessed on: 29 September 2019)

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