I've seen some comparisons of the Black Lives Matter protests with the tumultuous events of 1968, some wondering if we're witnessing the start of something similarly historic. While comparisons can threaten to diminish rather than strengthen, it might be empowering for those marching to make some connections and know history has their back.
Andy went on the Birmingham protest on Thursday and posted some footage from within the crowd.
Amazing scenes at the #BlackLivesMatter rally yesterday. When it began the last thing I expected was to end up marching over the Hockley Flyover but there you go. Incredibly all that was planned was a stationary protest so this wild procession somehow came about spontaneously. Huge energy, overwhelming solidarity from car drivers and onlookers and not a single police officer in sight. An unforgettable experience. Let's hope it never happens again.
I found myself reminded of footage filmed by an ATV news cameraman on 5 May, 1968 of protests in Victoria Square. Ian Francis of the Flatpack festival showed it last year when talking about his new book, This Way To The Revolution, a look at art and activism in Birmingham in 1968. The footage isn't online but he has published an excerpt of the book covering that moment on the Flatpack blog.
It's a crisp, warm Sunday afternoon in central Birmingham. Demonstrators are filing into Victoria Square in anticipation of a visit from Prime Minister Harold Wilson, due to give a speech in the Town Hall at 3pm. There's an eclectic array of placards on display: students in donkey-jackets proclaim 'Yankee Aggressors Out of Vietnam' and 'Wilson is an Optical Illusion'; smarter and more orderly, a large group of Indian and Pakistani workers carry signs reading 'Black and White Unite and Fight' and 'Prosecute Fascist Powell'; bringing up the rear, a group of dancing, singing African protestors attack the 'Nigerian genocide' in Biafra. There's a large crowd of curious onlookers, from school-kids to old ladies, and on Galloways Corner at the top of the square a pocket of fascists is chanting "Send 'em back!" Among them is Colin Jordan, a former Coventry school teacher and prominent British nationalist.Black and White Unite and Fight – Flatpack blog
He goes on to outline the people and organisations that were active then and what they were fighting for. It's sobering to see what has and hasn't changed.
I also found myself thinking of this photograph from Vanley Burke's excellent photo book By The Rivers of Birminam published by the MAC for his exhibition there and available from their shop when it re-opens.
I love its sense of place, that these people are clearly marching in a residential Birmingham street, identified by the skyline, and that they belong there.
Vanley has been documenting the lives and experiences of the Afro-Caribbean community in Birmingham since 1967 which has of course involved protests, demonstrations and riots. By The Rivers of Birminam juxtaposes them with portraits and candid shots of people just being people, lending a depth and humanity to a community that has been wildly misrepresented over the years.
Walking together is often a radical act with a long history. I hope these two examples from Birmingham's past are of use to the current generation.