Opening the Archive

The Writing on the Wall

Our archive volunteer Helen has uncovered a fascinating story about women confronting racism in 1970s Manchester…

wall newspaper
Decades before Facebook and Twitter allowed people who had never met to communicate anonymously, a group of women from Manchester decided to use a real life ‘wall’ to gather views from local people on the subject of racism. The women, from Longsight and Levenshulme, were united by their opposition to the National Front, a right-wing, racist organisation that was responsible for preaching racial hatred and carrying out violent attacks on members of Britain’s ethnic minority communities. On discussing how to react to a planned National Front march in the city, the women came up with the idea of a ‘wall newspaper’ where they could get local people to air their views on the National Front.

The wall newspaper was put up in Longsight’s main shopping street. According to the women:

This was only a few days after the National Front march through Longsight and feelings were very strong. Among both black and white people there was a terrific amount of discussion going on, also a lot of people were asking questions. We were surprised, considering the National Front had been headline news…how many people just did not know who the Front were and what they believed.

The wall did create some debate, and it allowed people to openly express how they felt without fear or intimidation. Right-wing violence was a real threat to black and Asian people, and those who displayed anti-fascist posters regularly had their windows smashed. The campaign attracted the attention of women of different ethnic backgrounds who were concerned about the rise of the National Front. Subsequent attempts to create other ‘walls’ were hijacked by the Front but this case illustrates how local communities came together to find innovative ways to combat racism and racist violence. In the face of such intimidation, unity was crucial, and the women involved issued this plea in an issue of Peace News in February 1978:

Everybody is talking about this subject in the privacy of their own homes. Please talk to your friends and neighbours on your street and if possible come out and join us. The national front cannot be allowed to take control of our streets and we must be seen to be standing together in public.

This information came from an article that I discovered while researching the Centre’s archive. I am a historian of race and national identity and recently completed a PhD thesis on the subject of race in interwar Britain. When I volunteered at the Centre, I was delighted (and slightly daunted!) to be given the task of exploring as yet unseen archival materials. There are some 51 files of newspaper cuttings that cover a variety of issues relating to race and race relations, including immigration and anti-racism. They offer a unique glimpse into life for Britain’s ethnic minority communities between 1977 and 1984. They also shine a light on public responses to immigration and race, both good and bad, and underline not only how far we have come in the fight against racism, but also why it so important to keep on fighting.

peace news label

The newspaper archive will be available for public access in the near future – please get in touch if you’d like to know more.

By aiucentre

An open access library specialising in the study of race, ethnicity and migration. Part of the University of Manchester and based at Manchester Central Library.

3 replies on “The Writing on the Wall”

Reblogged this on Archives+ and commented:
Our Archives+ partners at the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre have a great new post on their blog so we thought we’d share it with you!

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