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Life of Manchester’s black hero celebrated in new project

TRIBUTE: Beresford Edwards

THE LIFE of one of Manchester’s most celebrated black campaigners is set to be recognised in an exhibition and documentary to be screened next year.

Beresford Edwards, who died in 2003 in his native Guyana, was also known as Chief Nana Bonsu (an honorary title given to him because of his work with the Pan African Congress Movement) and Baba Berry.

He hit the national headlines in the late 1960s when he took one of Britain’s most powerful trades unions to court and won.

Now his life will be celebrated through a project that is being backed by a £49,700 Heritage Lottery Fund grant.

The documentary’s production and the creation of an exhibition, which will show at the Z-arts centre in Hulme, will also provide training opportunities through Moss Side-based media charity First Cut for 50 volunteers and young people aged between 16 and 24.

They will be trained in areas such as video production and desktop publishing, as they work on completing the project.

The young people will also interview those who knew Edwards for a series of oral history recordings, which will be available to listen to at the same time as the exhibition.

Tony Reeves, a close friend of Edwards and one of the people involved in organising the project, said: “Berry fought hard against racism and championed the needs of the local black community in Manchester in the 60s and 70s. His contemporaries have since passed away but their stories have not been recorded, stories that will inspire young people by showing them the effort and sacrifice that an older generation undertook to achieve racial equality.”

He added: “Berry’s life story can also show them what they can do with their lives despite facing difficult circumstances. We’re really proud that we got the opportunity to get this project up and running and once it is completed, we will do our best to make sure Berry’s story gets out there to the widest possible audience.”

Edwards, often referred to as one of the founding fathers of Manchester’s black community, came to Britain in 1961 and found work in the city as a printer, later becoming a shop steward for Society of Graphical and Allied Trades union. However, in a case that was fuelled by racism, Edwards was expelled from SOGAT in 1969 for alleged non-payment of union dues. As a consequence, he lost his job in what was a closed shop. Even after union officials discovered the fault was theirs and re-admitted him to the union, they refused to give him a union card.

Members of the union called for his dismissal for not having the card.

The former printer then sued the union and his case reached the high court in London, where Lord Denning condemned SOGAT, ordering it to pay Edwards nearly £8,000 in compensation. Lord Denning concluded his judgment by saying: “A man's right to work is now fully recognised by the law."

Following the controversial case, Edwards changed direction and became a youth worker. The self-confidence that resulted from his successful legal battle aided him in his work with young people who found themselves harassed by police officers.

He went on to help found the West Indian Organizations Coordinating Committee in Ardwick, the scene of countless campaigns and social events. He was also secretary of the national Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD), a key player in the creation of the Race Relations Act (1976). Edwards was also behind the creation of the Manchester branch of the Pan-African Congress Movement.

After his death in 2003, over 2000 people, some travelling from London, Birmingham and Bristol, attended a memorial event where tributes were led by former Lord Mayor of Manchester, Councillor Roy Walters, and the former Manchester Central MP Tony Lloyd.

Ian Johns, Chair of First Cut, said: “We at First Cut are thrilled to have received the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project will communicate how much British attitudes to racial diversity have changed since the 1960s and will reflect on how much we all owe to the work of people like Beresford Edwards in promoting equal opportunities.”

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