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Roots of Radicalism

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NOTTING HILL UPRISING 1958

By JOE PEARCE

White youths take to the streets during the Notting Hill uprising in 1958

WHEN anyone thinks of 1958 the chances are that, depending on their age, they will think of Harold MacMillan and the 'winds of change', the beginning of space exploration and the first American satellite, or rock and roll music and Elvis Presley. On the other hand, if one thinks of Notting Hill it is not 1958 that springs to mind but 1978 when the West Indian 'carnival' through that particular part of London erupted into a full-scale riot.

However, there is a link between 1958 and Notting Hill and it is a link which warrants a place in this White Workers Power series on the grounds that it was the first major White uprising against the tide of coloured immigration which had begun following the British Nationality Act, passed ten years before in 1948.

It all began, so it is reputed, on Saturday, August 23, 1958, when nine White youths cruised around Shepherd's Bush and Notting Hill, 'nigger-hunting'. Fighting between these youths and West Indians broke out and three people were taken to hospital. Most of the White youths were later imprisoned for the night's misdemeanours.

Worse was to come. On the following Saturday night, not nine but 200 Whites assembled in Bramley Road, the western edge of Notting Hill. Chanting "let's lynch the niggers!" and "Keep Britain White", the crowd ran through Notting Hill and fought running battles with both the local West Indians and the local police.

BLOOD SPILLED

Much blood was spilled on that Saturday night, but as the following week progressed the violence intensified. Crowds of up to 700 Whites continued to mill around and White spectators lined the streets, enjoying the atmosphere.

Throughout the area organisations like Oswald Mosley's re-formed Union Movement attempted to get the frustrated Whites to vent their justifiable anger against the Establishment who had brought the Blacks to Britain rather than take it out on the Blacks themselves. They distributed leaflets and Union Movement members delivered speeches calling upon the Government to repatriate the immigrants.

After the riots had died down politicians and the press made their predictable condemnations of all those Whites concerned. They claimed that the riots were a temporary break with traditional tolerance instigated by an insignificant minority of pathological Teddy Boys. They failed to see, and completely ignored, the real fear and resentment felt by the working class people of Notting Hill who had lived through the Blitz only to see the colour of their neighbourhood changed almost overnight.

This feeling of resentment and betrayal wasn't only felt in Notting Hill, but was being felt by British people in many other areas that were turning into immigrant ghettoes during the decade following the passing of the 1948 British Nationality Act. In Lambeth, local residents, many of them old age pensioners who had been born and bred in the area, formed the Keep Brixton British association whilst in West London local residents formed the Keep Southall British association.

The White uprising in Notting Hill only differed from the more placid uprisings in Brixton and Southall insofar as those involved were young and far more volatile. Whereas the residents of Southall and Brixton aired their frustrations by holding demonstrations with placards, the youths of Notting Hill aired their frustration by open acts of violence.

However, many White youths paid very heavily for it. The courts, as always, came down very heavily on all those arrested during the nights of rioting in Notting Hill and dozens of young Whites spent long sentences rotting in gaol for their parts in it.

"ONLY WHITES RESPONSIBLE"

But it would be wrong and misleading to say that only Whites were responsible for the fortnight of rioting in Notting Hill. Nowadays, whenever the 1958 riots are mentioned, multi-racialist commentators will claim that the Whites were the sole perpetrators of the violence while the West Indian population were its unfortunate and defenceless victims.

To claim that Blacks were the persecuted-heroes of 1958 and that Whites were the ignominious villains is a gross oversimplification of the facts. Almost from the beginning of the trouble in Notting Hill, the Blacks were fighting back. Meetings of militant and trouble-seeking Blacks were held and counter-attacks were planned and carried out.

West Indian immigrants wielded axes, barricaded houses and hurled milk bottles from first floor windows onto the heads of Whites below. Oswald Mosley's headquarters were attacked and destroyed.

Another outcome of the riots of '58 was the establishment of militant 'Black Power' type organisations. A whole host of Black organisations appeared from Frances Ezzrec-co's Coloured People's Progressive Association set up during the riots to Michael de Freitas' more militant Racial Action and Adjustment Society ― better known and perhaps aptly named as RAAS!

This last development, the formation of 'Black Power' organisations, is ironically the only constructive thing to emerge from the '58 riots. In this respect the riots were a very important event' in the structuring of multi-racialism in Britain because they smashed the idea that 'racial harmony' was imminent, or even possible, thus forcing the Blacks to greater militancy and to look to their own racial roots rather than trying to ape the White man.

Finally, there is one more lesson to be learned from the Notting Hill uprising, namely that sporadic acts of unlawful and unco-ordinated violence can never achieve anything other than frustration and maybe even imprisonment for the offenders. The only way the British people will ever be able to avenge those who have betrayed them is to organise politically, to attack those who brought the Blacks here rather than attacking the Blacks themselves.

The White resistance in this country must be embodied in an organisation like the National Front which has the strategy and ability to overthrow our real enemies; namely, the Establishment who created the multi-racial nightmare that Britain has become.