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Voice 35 Years: Yellowman fever grips the capital

HISTORY: Yellowman blew crowds away in London

THE FRONT cover of The Voice on July 16, 1983 carried two big stories covering news of the first performance in the UK of Jamaica’s DJ sensation Yellowman and the hit-andrun death of a three-year-old toddler who was playing in the street with his Nigerian father near Waterloo.

This was the 44th edition of the newspaper after its launch 35 years ago.

"Yellow fever hits London" was the headline below a picture of Yellowman who The Voice said made the crowd go wild at his concert in Picketts Lock, Edmonton, north London as he took to the stage alongside UK-based Aswad and the Sagittarius Band.

But the lead story on the page headlined: ‘Boy killed by hit and run’, reported that police were searching for the ruthless hit-and-run driver who was responsible for the death of three-year-old Michael Otite after he was hit in the side street near his home in Waterloo, central London.

The article said the incident happened on Sunday, July 3 when Michael was outside under the supervision of his father, Okubu Otite, who told reporters: “There was a loud bang and my boy fell into the road. I didn’t look at the vehicle, it just sped away. All I was worried about was my son.” The little boy, however, died two days later in St Thomas Hospital where he was rushed to.

Police began an extensive search soon after the incident going door-to-door in Pearman Street seeking witnesses. They had pieced together a description of the vehicle which was either a white Datsun or Toyota van that would have been damaged. The Voice said an obviously distraught Mr Otite broke down during his interview with the newspaper, but said he was not “trying to forget this terrible tragedy and hoped the police catch whoever it was who did this”.

DEATH THREATS: Attacks against Southwark's first black mayor, Sam King, were on page 2

On page two, the lead story carried the headline ‘Death threats to Mayor’ which reported that Southwark’s first black mayor, Sam King, had been receiving what he called ‘neo-fascist’ threats by way of post and phone calls.

Mr King told The Voice: “It has been going on for some time now, but I had hoped to keep the whole thing quiet. I didn’t want to give these people publicity.” The threats apparently contained phrases like ‘I’m going to kill the mayor and burn his house down’. But a very forthright Mr King said: “I’ve lived in this country for 40 years and I fought the Nazis in the Second World War. Unfortunately, there are some neo-fascists in Southwark, but they don’t worry me. If I worried about things like that, I would have been dead from worry a long time ago.” The article said after consultation with the police, Mr King had taken a number of precautions while the culprit or culprits were sought.

Turning over to page three, the main story carried the headline ‘250,000 for repatriation’ which reported that Michael Williams, founder of the West Indian Movement (WIM), a welfare organisation in favour of voluntary repatriation, claimed that many of its members would support the idea of ‘going home’.

Williams wrote a letter to the then-home secretary Leon Brittan calling for ‘positive action to assist those substantial numbers who are trapped in Britain.’ The organisation had sent out 53,000 questionnaires and received 20,000 in favour of voluntary repatriation.

A SENSITIVE ISSUE: Page 3 focused on repatriation

The Voice said this sensitive issue had been in the minds of many for a long time but received prominence after Williams had instigated discussions the year before.

There appeared to be a division between the black communities regarding the subject, the article reported.

Many older West Indians had contemplated returning ‘home’ and therefore would support the idea provided the circumstances were right.

However, critics of the idea regard it as a formal way of doing the work of racists who were eager to eliminate black people from British society. The Home Office, however, refused to comment on whether such a move was possible.

The Voice then focused on the history of multi-racial Britain with a special news feature spread on pages 12 and 13. Headlined, ‘400 years of black people in Britain’, the feature traced the presence of black people and Asians living in Britain for at least four centuries.

The article, written by Michelle Bowen, followed the progression of the black man from the first cargo of African slaves to Britain in 1563 to the arrival of the ‘new’ West Indian immigrants aboard the Empire Windrush in 1948.

The article also revealed that, in the 17th century, some black people were fortunate to buy their freedom when they found employment as apprentices for traders and artisans, while some runaway slaves paid for their freedom from earnings gained as street traders or domestic servants.

It also recalled the first race riots took place in Cardiff, Liverpool and London in 1919 as the outbreak of the First World War had brought thousands of black people to Britain.

The Voice is celebrating its 35th birthday this year. Share your Voice memories, comments and birthday wishes on social media, using the following 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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