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Voice 35 Years: How a reader's letter led to KKK claim

RUMOURS: The concern highlighted long-held speculation among black people about the tobacco industry

A LETTER written by a reader and published in The Voice newspaper forced an international tobacco and beverage giant to deny that they had any links to the Ku Klux Klan.

This was The Voice’s front page lead story published on February 26, 1983 – its 25th edition since it launched in August 1982. Philip Morris the distributor for well-known cigarette brands such as Benson and Hedges, Marlboro and Chesterfield, had sent a statement to The Voice clarifying that certain markings on their cigarette packs were merely for quality control and not an indication of a link to the right wing racist organisation.

This was in response to a letter which was published in The Voice the week before under the headline ‘Spotting racism’ from a reader who said the gold and blue spots and two crosses on the interior flap of the cigarette packs resembled the Ku Klux Klan symbol.

The Voice said the reader’s letter brought to light one of the biggest held rumours among black people about the cigarette giant. The front cover story, headlined ‘Cigarette packet scandal – Tobacco giant denies KKK link’ included the full content of the Philip Morris statement, which also continued onto page five.

The statement highlighted the fact that the company has been a long-standing equal opportunities employer with more than 25 per cent of its US employees made up of minority groups, some holding executive positions. The reader’s letter in The Voice had stated that Philip Morris through its product, Marlboro, is connected with the American KKK an organisation that strives to keep the United States ‘clean’ which means it is against every minority.

The Phillip Morris statement, however, refuted this and said: “To accuse Philip Morris of having any connection with such a discriminatory organisation is absurd.”

Also featured on the 25th edition front cover was coverage of the funeral for Colin Roach whose mysterious death inside the Stoke Newington police station had dominated The Voice’s front page in its three previous editions, while 24-year-old Lorna Lewis’s battle with sickle cell anaemia disease was also highlighted.

Over on page three, both stories dominated the page with full coverage given to the funeral of Colin Roach at St Barnabas’s Church on Grove Road, Bethnal Green. More than 400 people attended including community leaders and many of Colin’s friends and family. Later at a sombre service in Manor Park cemetery, The Voice reported that the family took his death very hard as they still did not know how Colin died.

Another story on the same page headlined ‘Roach Grant approved’, reported that Paul Boateng had apologised to his colleagues at the Greater London Council (GLC) over his part in recommending a grant of £1,500 to the Roach Family Support Committee. The controversy was sparked when it was revealed that Mr Boateng was a solicitor in the company that was working for the Roach family and GLC opposition members were concerned that he had not declared that fact when the grant was approved.

SCREEN SUCCESS: British television comedy No Problems was a big hit for black actors, who played more positive roles on screen

Two leading young black actors were featured on page nine as The Voice took a close look at the TV sitcom No Problems which was described as the most successful black situation comedy ever seen on British television. Victor Romero Evans and Chris Tummings, two of the principles in the Powell family, held the spotlight.

Tummings, who played Toshiba in No Problems, said the new role had taken him a long way in the world of entertainment as he used to often play the part of muggers, but he now turns those roles down. He said: “They add fuel to the fire and give an overall bad representation of the black youth. When I first started acting I played the parts without thinking, but I’m not into that

Victor Romero Evans expressed his opinion that Britain doesn’t have very much to offer black people. He said: “Blacks have to start creating things for themselves as it’s the only way I see change. Four years ago I decided on one direction and that was forward. The youth of today are heavy and it is up to the older ones to encourage and lead them.”

Reggae news dominated page 15 as The Voice reported on the BBC Radio London Awards at the Rainbow Suite in Kensington. Headlined ‘Reggae Stars Gala’ Carroll Thompson was voted Best Female Vocalist, Winston Reedy as Best Male Vocalist along with Saint and East as Best DJs and Aswad as Best Band. Thompson and Reedy were pictured with their award as The Voice noted that the highlight of the night was the impromptu jam session with the awards winners much to the delight of the audience.

The Voice is celebrating its 35th birthday this year. Share your memories, comments and birthday wishes on social media, using the hashtag #Voice35Years. Each week we will be digging into The Voice archive and publish a front cover from its first year of publication as we look back over 35 years.

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