Lately, I have been working for the Victoria and Albert Museum on a collection of work relating to the history of the Black/West Indian experience in Britian since the 1950s. While they have actually acquired many beautiful prints from Neil Kenlock, who was the 'official' photographer for the British Black Panther Movement in the 60s and 70s, I have noticed that the V&A have ommited to acquire an image that, to me seems to be an important symbol of everything that the Black British community fought so hard for in the 60s and 70s but which has been largly overshadowed in history by the American civil rights struggle.
Olive Morris was a member of the British Black Panther Movement and was a campaigner for Black womens rights during the 1970s and ‘80s. In this image taken by Neil Kenlock she is pictured at a rally for Black civil rights, she is shoeless and holding a cigarette in one hand while also holding a large placard which reads: ‘Black Sufferer Fight Police Pig Brutality’. This image is iconic as it represents an important time in the history of Black British civil rights and depicts Olive Morris, despite her shoelessness, as a self-assured and confident figure so that an interesting juxtaposition is formed in the viewers mind resulting in a sense of respect for a campaigner not just of Black rights but of women’s rights also. She was the founder of the Brixton Black Women’s Group and was well-known at the time for the passion and devotion she commited to her cause at the time but remains today largely forgotten despite a block of flats with an accompanying plague being named after her in Brixton.
Recently a group calling themselves 'Remember Olive Morris' have sought to resurrect the memory of Morris in Brixton, heralding Morris' acheivements by creating a website devoted to her and initiating community projects in her spirit, resulting in an archive being set-up at Lambeth Archives.
I'm not really sure why the V&A failed to pick up on the importance of this image - I suppose that since the historical importance of many of these images has been lost or forgotten it is quite probable that the relevance of this has simply gone unnoticed. I think that since they have acquired quite a few images relating to protests for civil rights the museum may be reluctant to acquire more but this is one of the only images of its kind that features an identifiable figurehead of the movement in such an iconic manner and I think it would be wise for them to acquire it for the collection.