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Darcus’ final farewell: “A real revolutionary…I miss him"

BLACK POWER SALUTE: The UK Black Panthers were there to see their fellow Panther off (photo credit: Tony @ Black Ink)

ONLY A man with the legacy of Darcus Howe could unite with such ease and somber celebration The Nation of Islam, UK Black Panthers, Rastafarian hornsmen and Nyabinghi drummers, teenaged steel pan players, elderly Irish west Londoners and manicured political dignitaries to name a few.

Thursday 20 April saw these funeral-goers unite with family, friends, colleagues, members of the press, social change-makers and supporters for a day-long celebration of Howe’s decorated life.

Beginning at the former site of Race Today magazine in Brixton, of which Howe and his widowed love Leila were both editors before its closure, people waited, some with large cameras in tow; for the hearse to pass them. The convoy then travelled to All Saints Catholic Church in Notting Hill where speakers such as Tottenham activist Stafford Scott and Howe’s daughter Tamara (BBC Controller of Business, Comedy & Entertainment Television) shared personal memories and fitting tributes to the fallen soldier. Tamara said:

A REAL REVOLUTIONARY: The late Darcus Howe

"When dad was in the mood to party he would keep you out until the early hours of the morning, ‘A man must have a good time in town’, he would say. But when he was ready to go, you knew it. I can hear him now. 'Tamara..?' 'Yes dad?' 'Get me the hell outta here.' And in the end, it was no different. He left in his timing.

"He would watch and delight in the strength of his DNA – a receding hairline, the Howe forehead, the bandy legs, and naturally, he was all too happy to take credit for our achievements. But in quieter moments of reflection he also acknowledged the disproportionate contribution of our mothers – strong, intelligent and resourceful women who have also shaped who we are today.”

A personal note of condolence from Jeremy Corbyn was read out before the north London congregation.

LEAN ON ME: Darcus Howe’s coffin enters All Saints Church in Notting Hill (photo credit: Tony @ Black Ink)

Howe is survived by wife Leila, children Tamara, Darcus, Taipha, Rap, Clare, Amiri and Zoe, his brothers John and Ray and grandchildren Nathan, Ché, Darcey, Darcus, Lois, Kaiya, Amede and Zayla Rose.

A thread that seemed to run through the day was that of a feeling of loss, not just of the man himself but also of a mentor and active, strong bastion of racial equity. Scott said:

"I've lost most of my mentors...he was a colossus. We have big shoes to fill."

COLOSSUS: Social campaigner Stafford Scott branded Darcus Howe a “colussus” (photo credit: Ken Passley)

Herald Wilson of Brockley, south east London, who was among those paying homage to Howe at the BAC commented:

“I remember when the National Front (NF) tried to march in Lewisham. I remember Darcus’ reaction. I remember the New Cross fire, that was right next to my old school.

“The name Darcus Howe always being a fixture in my political life and it probably started late 70s.

“It was his uncle C.L.R. James and his book the Black Jacobins was one of the things that lit my political torch and so that tradition has always been there.”

Sharmilla Beezmohun of Speaking Volumes live literature productions, standing opposite a black and white image of Howe on the front of the BAC said:

PAIN: As well as fond memories there were also many tears shed (photo credit: Tony @ Black Ink)

“I live here on Railton Road.

“I met Darcus a few times but more than that I saw the legacy of his fight for racial equality and social justice, which obviously still carries on today and he was one of those leading voices who gave other people courage I think, to actually say what they thought.

“I think he’s gonna be sorely missed and people of that generation have really taught us subsequent generations like us so much and we need someone like that in the community.”

Decorated poet and voice against injustice, Benjamin Zephaniah said of Howe’s impact on his own life:

PASSING THE MANTLE: Lauded poet and social activist Benjamin Zephaniah (photo credit: Ken Passley)

“He said to me that he’s feeling a bit tired and that he couldn’t make it along that day, but the interesting thing was that he started talking politics on the phone so we talked for about an hour and a half and when I came off the phone I thought - his energy was just like a teenager, y’know what I mean?

“He wanted to get out and do it, he wasn’t somebody that was giving up. He was like somebody that was ready to go, y’know, and I thought ‘wow’ and I kept thinking…I almost feel like I’m retiring then there’s this guy -!

“A lot of people say that he was difficult to deal with – hey, that’s the kind of person you needed at the police station. You didn’t need somebody that was nice and polite – ‘can we have our brother out?’ - we need somebody that was difficult and that’s why he got things done.

“He stood up in court and defended himself at a time when black people couldn’t get lawyers, and all those kind of things, sometimes people don’t realise what we have until they’ve gone…y’know?

STILL STANDING STRONG: Many a salute was given in celebration of Darcus Howe’s fight against racial inequalities (photo credit: Tony @ Black Ink)

“He was a real militant, a real freedom fighter, a real revolutionary. Never changed his stance – he understood that times are changing but on certain terms of principle, he was always a revolutionary – I’ll never forget one day somebody questioned him and said ‘Y’know, when you were young you were on riots’ and he said ‘No, we were on demonstrations and we were attacked and we defended ourselves’.

When it was suggested that Zephaniah was indeed a mentor himself, he responded:

“Well I try…A lot of time I’m coaching these people and I always make sure I quote them (Howe and Benn) because they inspired me and each one teach one.

“Those people inspired me – there was Darcus Howe, Linton Kwesi Johnson, the Race Today collective, that inspired me to come down from Birmingham because I saw the Panther movement and all these people, and in Birmingham, I didn’t see any of that.

“If I were in Birmingham now I would've stayed there. Back then there were three theatres and that was it. And you had to stay in Handsworth laughs and that’s where the black community was – Handsworth and Borstall Heath. The other theatres wouldn’t let me in. I was 21 when I came to London.”

FRIENDS UNITED: Black Panthers, Rastafarian musicians and the Nation of Islam were just some of the diverse groups that came together on 20 April (photo credit: Tony @ Black Ink)

“Completely revolutionary way of looking at things…I miss him. I had two mentors in this world, two people that I go to – for political advice. Tony Benn, Darcus howe. I don’t have them anymore. Only my mum.”

Fred Taggart, Chair of the BAC and someone who worked in the building next door to Howe during his Race Today years is “optimistic” about the future for the next generation of activists:

“Darcus and his generation kicked open the doors of exclusion. Many of the things we take for granted they fought for. But there is much still to do.

“Brixton is full of young people with talent and commitment who are making a difference in all walks of life. Their creativity and passion is amazing.

FINAL JOURNEY: Friends and family carry the coffin out of the church (photo credit: Tony @ Black Ink)

“Even the toughest and most alienated kids just want a decent break in life. Give them a chance and they will take it. And they won't settle for second best.

“We had faith in Darcus and so we should also support and trust today's young people. They will challenge prejudice and demand opportunity. I back them to the hilt.”

Milestones in Darcus’ life:

• 26 February 1943 Leighton Rhett Radford ‘Darcus’ Howe was born in Moruga, Trinidad to parents Cipriani, an Anglican minister and teacher Lucille

• Pre-teens Won a scholarship to Queen’s Royal College in Trinidad

• 1961 Moved to London to study law at Middle Temple

• 1963 Left law for journalism

• 1969 Returned to Trinidad and was mentored by uncle and fellow activist and author C.L.R. James who inspired him to politicize his writing

Returned to England and became a British Black Panther

• 1970 Arrested along with eight others after a peaceful protest against police harassment at Notting Hill police station ended in violence. The ‘Mangrove Nine’ ended with an acquittal for Darcus after 55 days at the Old Bailey

LONG WALK HOME: A swelling crowd followed the hearse long after it had driven away (photo credit: Tony @Black Ink)

• 1973-1985 Edited Race Today, which also employed Linton Kwesi Johnson

• 1977 Became Chair of the Notting Hill Carnival Development Committee

• 1982 Broadcasting career began on Channel 4

• 2007 Diagnosed with prostate cancer

• 1 April 2017 Passes away in Streatham, south London.

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