Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Before the WindrushRace Relations in 20th-Century Liverpool$

John Belchem

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9781846319679

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781846319679.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM LIVERPOOL SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.liverpool.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Liverpool University Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in LSO for personal use.date: 16 May 2022

The failure of community relations

The failure of community relations

(p.225) Chapter Seven The failure of community relations
Before the Windrush

John Belchem

Liverpool University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter considers why prescient warnings from Liverpool went largely unheeded. Blighted by recession and shunned by ‘new Commonwealth’ migrants, Liverpool was in seemingly unstoppable collapse. Against this backcloth, community relations continued to deteriorate as hard-pressed agencies seeking to regenerate and rehabilitate the city seldom bothered to include, yet alone prioritise, measures to address racial discrimination and disadvantage in a succession of ill-fated plans and projects to tackle multiple deprivation. Still to acknowledge the ‘special but not separate’ needs of the long-resident black British population in the city, the Council simply sought to catch up with developments elsewhere, implementing English language centres and other forms of reception provision for new immigrant arrivals. Of little relevance to long-established and long-suffering black Liverpudlians, such projects caused anger and offence, hindering the efforts of those seeking to promote community relations.

Keywords:   recession, multiple deprivation, regeneration, ‘new Commonwealth’ immigration, racial discrimination, racial disadvantage

Prescient warnings from ‘black’ Liverpool went largely unheeded in the burgeoning race relations ‘industry’ prompted by legislation in the late 1960s and the mounting hysteria about immigration. A comparatively rare sight in the city, new arrivals from the West Indies, India and Pakistan constituted a mere 0.4% of the local population, well below the threshold for resource investment and concern. Blighted by recession and shunned by ‘new Commonwealth’ migrants, Liverpool, the once proud second city of empire, was in seemingly unstoppable collapse, careering down the urban hierarchy to unenviable designation (and denigration) as the ‘shock city’ of post-industrial, post-colonial Britain. Although meriting special attention as a timely warning and object lesson, the problematic Liverpool experience of race relations was ignored as the city was marginalised, stigmatised and traduced. The proverbial (and irredeemable) exception, Liverpool was portrayed as an internal ‘other’ at odds with positive developments elsewhere in enterprise Britain. Against this backcloth, community relations continued to deteriorate as hard-pressed agencies seeking to regenerate and rehabilitate the city seldom bothered to include (yet alone prioritise) measures to address racial discrimination and disadvantage in a succession of ill-fated plans and projects to tackle multiple deprivation. Along with most of the local media, councillors remained wedded to the fiction of racial harmony, dismissing all who argued otherwise as ‘interfering do-gooders and sensationalist sociologists’. Still to acknowledge the ‘special but not (p.226) separate’ needs of the long-resident black British population in the city, the Council simply sought to catch up with developments elsewhere, implementing English language centres and other forms of reception provision for new arrivals. Of little relevance to long-established (and long-suffering) black Liverpudlians, such projects caused anger and offence, hindering the efforts of those seeking to promote community relations. A perceived increase in levels of police harassment of black youths exacerbated the tension, leading to the formation of the Merseyside Anti-Racialist Alliance ‘to combat the institutionalized forms of racial discrimination that have existed on Merseyside for a very long time’. Working with this umbrella organization, a panoply of black groups, supported by the under-resourced Merseyside Community Relations Council and attendant academics in the Merseyside Area Profile Group campaigned hard to force the City Council to fulfil its legal obligations and implement a long-overdue equal opportunities policy. Once accepted, however, the policy was accompanied by local authority cuts in funding to the Community Relations Council and various voluntary agencies in the field. Shortly afterwards, within a month of the outbreak of rioting in Liverpool 8 in 1981, the Select Committee on Race Relations, having heeded the warning signs, issued an ominous report acknowledging that Liverpool was ‘the most disturbing case of racial disadvantage in the United Kingdom … a grim warning to all of Britain's cities that racial disadvantage cannot be expected to disappear by natural causes’. The only compensation was the recently instituted annual Caribbean carnival, a brief opportunity for celebration, saturnalia and inversion.1

* * *

Established by new legislation in 1965, the Race Relations Board saw no need to accord special attention to Liverpool, a city with a ‘long tradition of accepting strangers’, and hence did not appoint a locally based Conciliation Officer. Resources were concentrated on areas where ‘a relatively large and sudden influx of immigrants has produced conditions in which there are more grounds for complaint and a greater readiness to complain.’ In operational terms, this applied to towns and regions where newly arrived immigrants from the West Indies, India and Pakistan constituted at least 2% of the population. Liverpool and Merseyside registered a mere 0.4% and 0.3% respectively.2 The North West Conciliation Committee reported that in its first 27 months only nine out of 162

The failure of community relations

Figure 15: Liverpool 8 street trader and dealer, ‘Shadow’ took pride in the witty inversion of his carnival float designs, for example a giant 50 pence piece in which he appeared (as depicted here by his fellow club habitué John Cornelius) as Britannia in drag, trident in hand. The design failed to impress the eponymous insurance company from whom he sought sponsorship, but ‘Shadow waives the rules’ duly won first prize in the Caribbean carnival.

(p.227) complaints received had come from Liverpool.3 The merchant marine, however, remained a case apart, even after the strengthening of the Race Relations Act in 1968. A complaint of unlawful discrimination by 27 Somali seamen in Liverpool was not upheld by the Board as Section 8 (10) of the legislation allowed discrimination in employment on a ship where persons of different race, colour, national or ethnic origins would otherwise have to share sleeping rooms, mess room or sanitary accommodation.4

The 1968 Act established the Community Relations Commission and marked a seemingly welcome change from laissez faire to interventionism with a commitment to anti-discrimination legislation and positive measures to promote integration. Here, too, however, the focus (p.228) was on immigration and restrictive control. ‘Discussion of community relations policies has been inextricably linked with discussion of what constitutes an acceptable number of “coloured” citizens,’ the Commission rued, noting how the media represented ‘discussion of race relations policies and immigration as being synonymous’.5 In consequence, the first Community Relations Councils, funded by the Commission, were established in those areas of recent immigration from the new commonwealth highlighted by the Race Relations Board. There were 70 such bodies in existence before the Liverpool Community Relations Council (LCRC), a key recommendation of Special but not separate, was eventually established.6

Given the hostile reception to the report, the Working Party of the Youth Organisations Committee was somewhat surprised to receive a letter of invitation from the Town Clerk in January 1970, sent to voluntary and statutory organisations, churches and other interested parties, seeking assistance in the formation of a Community Relations Council:

Liverpool has a long tradition of harmonious relations between its white and coloured citizens … However, recent research indicates that the situation is not all that it should be, and that indeed, much more could be done to foster racial harmony in Liverpool.

One of the ways in which this may be achieved is by the formation of a Community Relations Council, as advocated by the Community Relations Commission … Liverpool is the only large city in this country that does not, at present, have the benefit of such a Council.7

Progress was rapid thereafter, led by a working group chaired by Edward Patey, Dean of Liverpool, with Ludwig Hesse, a veteran of the CPDA, as deputy.8 By the early summer an Executive Council was in place: Sue Sharpey-Schafer, a teacher at Paddington Comprehensive (and one of the authors of Special but not separate) served as secretary, and L.A. Nwagwu, a Nigerian with a degree in management, as treasurer.9 A few months later, Dorothy Kuya, another CPDA veteran, moved into 2 Rialto Buildings as the Community Relations Officer (funded through Community Relations Commission grant aid) and began a major research project into racial bias in children's books.10 McNabb, who (in the words of his nominator) spent his life ‘wandering round Liverpool 8’, was the most radical voice on the Executive Council, calling for structural intervention to tackle the critical problem of school leavers (p.229) and the young unemployed. ‘Solving their grievances would not make a radical change in the situation,’ he insisted, as ‘they would still be looking for jobs in dead-end situations’:

A long-term solution was essential – the improvement of employment opportunities … we should consider the setting up of an Economic Development Corporation with the backing of the Government and the Local Authority to make more and varied employment available.11

McNabb resigned in February 1972, claiming his time was wasted on the Executive Council given its preference to discuss operational matters rather than policy issues – he was also keen to quell rumours that he used cases brought to the LCRC for his own research.12

In an effort to enhance its profile, the LCRC decided to transfer office operations from the Rialto to larger and more accessible premises in Mount Pleasant in the city centre, ahead of its re-designation as the Merseyside Community Relations Council (MCRC) in 1974.13 As Edward Patey later recorded, the Council ‘quickly became a target of criticism. For some it was too radical. Others saw it a pawn of the establishment … it was not possible to please everybody at the same time’.14 Relationships with the local authorities across the metropolitan county (not all of whom offered financial support) tended to be strained, but the voluntary sector was supportive: the local liaison group of the NCCL offered help with problems outside the scope of Race Relations legislation, taking up cases with ‘general civil liberties implications’, and subsequently explored the possibility of filling in when the LCRC had to abandon 24-hour cover.15 As well as a hefty casework load (and contingency preparations for the arrival of Ugandan Asians in the reception camp at Kirkby Fields), much effort continued to be expended on the Dragon's Teeth project, exposing the racial bias in school textbooks, ‘analysed for distortions, omissions of facts and stereotypes’.16 At the same time, the LCRC compiled a ‘very pessimistic’ memorandum to present to the Select Committee on its return to Liverpool, evidence of how ‘in the four years since the Committee's previous visit the situation had worsened.’ Hard statistics were still lacking – given suspicions prevailing in black and ethnic minority communities, the LCRC chose not to push for record keeping and monitoring – but the indictment was damning. Liverpool stood accused of institutionalised racism, a charge repeated in its published reports:

The failure of community relations

Figure 16: A member of the Young Communist League and the Colonial People's Defence Association in the 1950s, Dorothy Kuya, a Liverpool-born black with a Nigerian father and local mother, brought a wealth of experience to her role as Community Relations Officer in the 1970s, leading a campaign to expose and expunge racial bias from children's literature.

(p.230) Neglect of the problems of the original non-white immigrants had led to the many difficulties of the present-day English-born black community. Racial discrimination was not a phenomenon which arrived in the city with the wave of new Commonwealth immigrants in the 1950s–1960s, but had operated as long as black people had lived there. It had, to a large extent, become institutionalised.

It was rare to see black people in positions of authority or ‘face to face’ jobs and they were under-represented in most day-to-day situations. They had no black probation officers, matrons or deputies in hospitals or nurseries, heads or deputies of schools.17

The Select Committee recognised that all was not well. ‘When we last came to Liverpool, this was a city with no problems,’ the Chairman averred as he registered serious disquiet at the altered state of affairs during the ‘rather depressing’ return visit:

Cities which have lived longest with racially mixed communities may react less swiftly and less imaginatively to signals of danger than those suddenly confronted with a large influx … Liverpool, for all its long (p.231) experience with a mixed population, left us with a profound sense of uneasiness.18

Liverpool, the Committee feared, might be a harbinger of things to come in multi-racial Britain:

How much is it a portent of the future? It has difficulties of its own. A proud record as a port, renown as the prime city of the cotton industry lie behind it. The future is less assured. It is an extreme example of the city explosion, the centre fragmented by commercial redevelopment; slum clearance and displacement of population; the fringes an indifferent mix of new industry and unsettled communities. The resulting imbalance was reflected in the sphere of particular concern to us.19

The Community Relations Commission expressed similar concern, following the findings of the Runnymede Trust that 32% of Liverpool-born black youths were unemployed in September 1972:20

The fact that they had been unemployed often several times, the high proportion unregistered, the cynicism and hostility felt about statutory employment services, all point to the increasing gap between some black young people and white society. This alienation despite involving a comparatively small number of people is bound to seek some outlet which may result in conflict within the family, conflict with society or political militancy. The situation in Liverpool, where race is a much more important factor than newness, could be seen as a portent of the future if present trends continue.21

Seen in these terms, Liverpool underlined the need for major change in race relations policy as the British-born children of the Empire Windrush generation reached adolescence:

It was accurate in 1966 to describe the ethnic minority population in this country as ‘immigrants’. The largest flow of immigration from the Caribbean and the sub-continent of India took place in the fifties and early sixties. Today over 40 per cent of the black population in this country were born here … This proportion will steadily increase in the years to come. In many respects they do not share the attitude of their parents. They are not newcomers nor do they expect to be treated as newcomers. They are not prepared to be treated as second class citizens in exchange for a higher standard of living and the prospect of some employment. They are British: and they take the phrase equality of opportunity for what it means. They expect to be taken into account and (p.232) their views to be listened to. They will not accept discrimination, public hostility or twice the national level of unemployment without protest.22

These ominous warnings notwithstanding, the lessons from Liverpool went unheeded. Hardest hit by recession, Liverpool – Britain's Beirut – was a doomed city apart.

Once development aid and other short-term advantages were exhausted, industrial combines were apt to close their new Merseyside plants ahead of branches elsewhere. Here, of course, Merseyside militancy – a myth in the making – helped to justify a boardroom decision taken far away from Liverpool.23 Thereafter, with the collapse of the colonial economic system and global restructuring – the ‘triple whammy’ of the end of empire, the introduction of containerisation and Britain's eventual entry into the European Economic Community – Liverpool's descent appeared unstoppable. By the early 1970s there were more young people registered as unemployed in Liverpool than in London and Birmingham combined.24 In a worsening context of multiple deprivation, racial discrimination was by no means always considered the priority issue to address, the ominous warnings of the Select Committee and others notwithstanding.

The City Council continued to reject positive discrimination for any of its residents, but felt the need to catch up with developments elsewhere, implementing English language centres and other race relations initiatives designed for new arrivals. However, with less than 2% of new Commonwealth immigrants in its population, Liverpool failed to meet the criteria for additional funding under Section 11 of the Local Government Act of 1966. Of little relevance to long-established (and long-suffering) black Liverpudlians, such projects caused anger and offence to those who were, as the Merseyside Area Profile Group (MAPG) affirmed, ‘in no sense “immigrant”; indeed the official ignorance displayed in persistent descriptions of this group as “Non-European” or “Third Generation Immigrant” is quite extraordinary’.25

There were some positive developments. The Race Relations Board opened a local office in Leece Street in October 1973;26 new teachers in the city attended an induction course on ‘Liverpool – a multiracial city’, delivered in suitably ironic manner by Patrick McNabb, Dorothy Kuya, Gideon Ben-Tovin and others: ‘The opinion has often been expressed that Liverpool exemplifies a harmonious multiracial society: an overstatement not entirely borne out by history, nor by the present situation.’27 The Black Social Workers' Project set up (with Urban Aid (p.233) funding) in 1975 within the Social Services Department, however, had a problematic early history, in part through recruitment of immigrant graduates rather than locally born blacks.28

While racial problems were acknowledged, there was reluctance in some planning and policy quarters to prioritise the needs of Liverpool blacks as ‘special’. Race was simply one component of Liverpool's inner-city social malaise. Some sections of the local press, indeed, still refused to admit race was a factor. ‘The situation in Liverpool is simply this’, an editorial in the Daily Post asserted in 1978: ‘There is no racial problem. There are problems of unemployment, of crime, of hooliganism. They are problems which trouble both black and white communities.’29 The local Communist Party was denounced as ‘reactionary’ by the MCRC when it opposed a public grant to a Chinese community centre in the Cornwallis Street area. The Abercromby and St James Branch was duly reminded of ‘the clear and generally acknowledged need for ethnic minority groups to be relieved of their special, racial disadvantages. These are disadvantages over and above the urban depression as suffered by the whites’.30

In desperate need of urban renewal, inner city Liverpool was a fertile ground for experimental projects and social surveys: in terms of ‘stop-start’ urban policy, Liverpool, as Richard Meegan has noted, was both experimental testing-ground and main site of resistance.31 After the Planning Department's pioneer investigation into ‘Social Malaise’, applying ‘multivariate analysis to small area social data’, the city featured in the gamut of ‘priority’ projects introduced by the government: educational priority in Paddington, the neighbourhood project in Brunswick, community development in Vauxhall and the Shelter Neighbourhood Action Project (SNAP) in Granby.32 Liverpool 8, indeed, became known as an area that ‘provides plenty of work for sociologists and very little for anybody else’.33 In an unsophisticated but poignant statistical exercise, SNAP developed a sliding scale with ten ‘problem points’ accorded to the wards with the highest score (one for the lowest) on each of the 36 social malaise indicators. Granby topped the deprivation league with 250 problem points, followed by Central Ward 177, Abercromby 170 and St James 160.34 Technically not a ghetto in the American sense as the majority of the population were white, Granby was the focal point of the local black population, with the highest level of black concentration, about 30%. The blitz, slum clearance and other displacements had driven the black community up the hill from dockland areas into the Granby Triangle, (p.234) in previous decades, as Margaret Simey reminisced, ‘very sedate rather old-fashioned … Eleanor Rathbone's ward, a very respectable area’.35 The middle-class flight to the suburbs and the movement of the working class into council housing on outer estates had produced what social scientists described euphemistically as ‘a filtering down process in the housing market’.36 ‘Here lies Liverpool's shame, and its skeleton,’ the Echo reported, ‘without the grace of a cupboard to hide its dereliction, and the grievances of its depressed occupants’.37

Table 7.1: Indicators of multiple deprivation in Granby compared with the national average

Source: SNAP, p. 55.



Granby ward (%)




Shared dwellings



No hot water tap



Overcrowded houses



‘If ever questions come to us, from the Government, on problems of this sort – over-population, bad housing, social problems, social security problems, etc., it would be this area they would all visit,’ John Hamilton informed the Select Committee, as (in line with Labour policy) he sought to place worsening race relations in Granby in wider socioeconomic perspective:

In other words, it is not merely race relations problems but multi-deprivation problems … when people have these conditions, and when a city cannot lift itself out of them very easily without massive help of one sort or another, then people go around and look for an easy answer, and one is racial prejudice.38

There was no escape from discrimination out in the suburbs, however. The Race Relations Board upheld a complaint from a young married couple, both fourth-generation Liverpool-born ‘coloured’, who, having signed a contract to purchase a new suburban dwelling, were informed by the developer that they would lose the sale unless they agreed to purchase the adjacent property as well, because of ‘fears from potential (p.235) buyers that having coloured neighbours would adversely affect the market value of their property’.39

For SNAP, the ‘twilight trap’ of Granby demonstrated the urgent need for a new holistic approach to the inner city by ‘creating a process where the whole range of welfare subsidies and concerted programmes of work could combine with the energies of the mass of the people to some good structural purpose’:

When the citizen's problem is an education problem, a health problem, an employment problem, a housing problem and, too often also a racial problem, then it is unlikely that remedial action concentrating on any one of these many aspects of one of these problems is likely to succeed. The really intractable nature of multiple deprivation is that to solve one problem is but to succumb to another and, since public action is always conceived in a fragmented fashion, resulting programmes have not been relevant to the real circumstances of the inner city.40

Despite internal restructuring, as recommended by management consultants McKinsey, demarcation and bureaucracy still prevailed in the City Council, testing the patience of SNAP and its Director, Des McConaghy. With its ambitious slogan, ‘A New Town for Granby’, SNAP raised many hopes, but it fell far short of its great aim, a community-based general improvement area founded on a truly co-operative effort between local community and local authority. The project closed in 1972, having ‘underestimated the difficulties of generating mass interest in a very poor area and stimulating any kind of effective response by the local authority’.41

SNAP's ‘total’ approach to urban renewal was endorsed by the next main exercise, the Inner Area Study, a comparative project involving London and Birmingham as well as the inner area of Liverpool embracing Granby, Smithdown and Edge Hill. With the ominous title Change or Decay, the final Liverpool report, published in 1977 after four years of research, catalogued yet further ‘accumulated disadvantage’ in the Granby area: a labour market which compared unfavourably with those elsewhere in Merseyside; a housing market similarly disadvantaged; a legacy of industrial dereliction, decaying housing and a squalid environment; an accumulated and exaggerated bad reputation (also a matter of concern to the MCRC); and an unequal provision of basic government services in relation to need. While poverty crossed racial (p.236) lines, there was growing evidence of a new black separatism, a challenge to the orthodox race relations prescription of integration:

The impression is of a fragile truce maintained locally by an equality of poverty between black and white, and further afield by ignorance, indifference, or the presumed security of distance. Liverpool born blacks suffer most. Many have little knowledge of their original culture but feel rejected from the same one into which they were born … They are turning for identity and pride to black music, African history and in some cases the politics of black power, rather than the culture of English society from which they have felt rejected for so long. Although their position in society is closely paralleled by poor whites, they feel they have little in common with them. Whether their future position in society is to remain one of conflict and rejection or whether it can be accepted that peaceful separatism is a feasible alternative depends to a great extent on how well our institutions can respond.42

To the consternation of the MAPG, subsequent major planning documents, the Liverpool Partnership Programme (1979) and the Merseyside County Structure Plan (1979),

contained no explicit reference to the special needs and problems of what is in fact one of the most long-standing black communities in Britain … The failure to move beyond ad hoc and cosmetic responses has, so far, put the local authorities, however unwittingly, in the position of perpetuating existing patterns of racial discrimination and disadvantage.43

While planners and politicians struggled with the problems of multiple deprivation, black and minority ethnic groups in Liverpool decided to co-ordinate efforts to tackle discrimination, dismayed by the failure of local institutions to keep pace with community relations initiatives elsewhere. Under Don Henry as chair, the Afro Asian Caribbean Standing Committee brought together the Merseyside Caribbean Council, Somali Welfare, Bangladesh [sic], the Indian Association, the Merseyside Asian Social and Cultural Organisation, the Ghana Union, the Ibo Union, the Pakistan Association, the Yoruba Federal Nigeria and the National Union of Nigeria:

To safeguard their civil rights and combat Racial discrimination in Housing, Employment, Education and social standing, the resident Black Immigrant groups, as they are called felt it necessary to form an umbrella organisation for all oversea [sic] organisations … While on the National level there has been a conscious move and some awareness (p.237) in recognising the fact that the structure of the British society is fast becoming a multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious [sic]. The apathy to accept these changes in the pattern, on the local level, has been most disconcerting.44

Henry was kept very busy as unemployed Merseyside slid into ‘a black depression’. He was quoted in The Times, under the headline ‘Black violence simmers in unemployment-hit Liverpool’, as ‘having to work harder than ever since he started doing community work under Bessie Braddock in the 1950s to keep tempers cool. The atmosphere in Liverpool 8 is ripe for agitators, he believes’.45

Complaints to the North West Conciliation Committee increased dramatically: in 1975, 40 of the 60 received from the Merseyside area concerned discrimination against ‘young coloureds’ aged 16 to 25. A complaint brought by Miss Clovis, an 18-year-old kitchen assistant in the municipal canteen, against the City Council was not upheld, however, as the supervisor treated the young white workers in similarly harsh manner.46 Some of the cases were brought to the Race Relations Board by South Liverpool Personnel, which issued a disturbing report on Black Prospects in 1978. Over 50% of local black people registered with the agency had been discriminated against in job interviews. (Mention of an L8 postcode address, a Guardian reporter was told, was sufficient to ‘make an employer lose interest’.) ‘Employers who have no intention of taking on black workers except under pressure’, the report adduced, ‘have built up sophisticated methods to ensure that as few as possible are taken on. Those who are taken on to keep up appearances are shunted into jobs where promotion is unlikely and public contact minimal’.47 Echoing the earlier comments of the LCRC, the final report of the North West Conciliation Committee of the Race Relations Board (prior to its replacement by the Commission for Racial Equality) condemned patterns of discrimination and disadvantage ‘institutionalised and hardened over a very long period of time’:

Liverpool has still to recognise that within its boundaries an entire group of people, not immigrants but black Liverpudlians, not only share the disadvantages felt by many white Liverpudlians but also suffer the additional disadvantages brought about by racial prejudice and discrimination – simply because they are black. It is the interaction between social and racial disadvantage, so devastating in its consequences, which (p.238) makes the Liverpool experience so important for multi-racial Britain as a whole. Liverpool's warning is surely too serious to be ignored.48

There were still no hard statistics, but the deduction that ‘however bad things are for the whites, they are twice as bad for the blacks,’ went unchallenged. In his report for The Times on ‘Liverpool's unique “local born blacks”’, Ross Davies calculated that

in central Liverpool, where most blacks live, the chances of unemployment are four times greater than on the periphery … Liverpool youth unemployment is about 40 per cent, for young blacks it is nearer 60 per cent, and for the women it is worse than for the men.

Like other observers (then and since), he was shocked by the absence of blacks in the city centre:

In Liverpool, a city with possibly the oldest “black” community in Britain, a multi-racial country, hardly a non-white face is to be seen serving in the shops of Lord, Dale or Church Street. Yet many of the city's “local-born blacks” live within half an hour's walk.

‘The strange status of the “local-born blacks”’, he concluded, ‘and the inability of the white community to see, let alone to change that position, mock the hopes of those who trust to time and to assimilation to improve the lot of more recently arrived black immigrants in Brixton or Southall’.49 ‘Being “born-blacks” in the city's language only makes it worse’, Jeremy Bugler of the Guardian was informed while embedded with the ‘Down and out in the Harlem of Liverpool’: ‘As one black said: “If we were foreign blacks we might at least get a job in a store on the exotic foods counter.”’50 There were plans to picket the large city centre stores to draw attention to ‘the unwillingness of Liverpool employers to admit black people into jobs where they come into contact with the public’.51 Another new grouping, the Liverpool Black Organisation (established in 1979) successfully lobbied the Trades Council to investigate the under-representation of black workers, particularly in shops.52 After its first ten years of effort, the MCRC had to record that, after a presence since time immemorial, blacks in Liverpool remained ‘a sub-working class; a cushion at the bottom of the economic hierarchy more likely to be unemployed, poorly paid, badly housed, inadequately educated and socially deprived than any other group’.53

In tackling the specific circumstances of Liverpool, the MCRC came under criticism within the black community as it sought to ‘respond (p.239) adequately to all the different and sometimes divergent interests of the various cultural, age and class groups and in particular to handle the difference between “immigrant” and “British-born” groups’. The latter, mobilised by the Liverpool 8 Action Committee, picketed the MCRC offices in March 1978, convinced that the MCRC was ‘not adequately representing their interests’. A field-worker was promptly appointed for Liverpool 8, the MCRC recognising that it had ‘in some sense acted as a lightning conductor for the anger of a section of the community who suffer most so long as public policy is concerned more with the adaptation of immigrants than with the pressures that all blacks suffer from racism in Britain’:

Our ability to reflect the needs of local-born blacks and the willingness of society as a whole to respond to those needs will continue to be a yardstick for the success of our work and the extent to which racism is being overcome in this country.54

To the dismay of the MCRC, however, race relations projects and initiatives remained at the margins of local authority spending and service delivery in the late 1970s – local councillors were still apt to dismiss those who raised racial issues as (in the words of Labour leader Bill Sefton) ‘interfering do-gooders and sensationalist sociologists’.55 Funds were no longer accorded to Stanley House, but there were limited grants (using Urban Aid and Partnership funding) for ethnic community centres and voluntary efforts, such as the Methodist Youth Centre and associated ‘Elimu Wa Nane’ multi-racial education project,56 South Liverpool Personnel and the Charles Wootton Centre, a voluntary black further education (or ‘second chance’) project. ‘The local authority has by and large been responding in an “ad hoc” way to local projects or other agencies rather than using main spending budgets and developing its own mainstream race relations strategy,’ the MAPG observed critically:

As the sources of funding of some of these posts or projects may not be available for much longer, the need for a move away from piece-meal responses towards corporate planning with respect to ethnic minority needs becomes ever more urgent.57

After negotiations between the Commission for Racial Equality and the Liberal chair of the Housing Committee, an Ethnic Minorities Liaison Committee was set up within the Housing Department but met infrequently. When it suggested that the Council establish a working (p.240) party ‘to Plan for a Multi-Racial Britain’, the proposal was ‘referred back’ by members of the Labour Group with no discussion. The MCRC lobbied for an ethnic dimension in Partnership, leading to the Race Relations Sub-Group of the Social and Environmental Working Party, but with the change in government in 1979, it disappeared after three inconclusive meetings, along with ‘all other mechanisms for popular involvement in Liverpool's Partnership initiative’.58 At the end of 1980, however, there seemed to be a major breakthrough when the City Council, somewhat belatedly, adopted an Equal Opportunity Policy.

There had been a lengthy campaign to force the City Council to implement the 1976 Race Relations Act and adopt equal opportunities as formal policy. The lobbying extended from the MCRC, the Liverpool Black Organisation, the various black and ethnic minority groups, to a new umbrella organisation, the Merseyside Anti-Racialist Alliance (MARA). Launched at the Caribbean Centre in April 1978, MARA had two main aims: ‘to combat the institutionalized forms of racial discrimination that have existed on Merseyside for a very long time’; and ‘to develop a unified opposition to the overt racism manifested by extreme right-wing organizations such as the National Front’. Determined to promote ‘a positive view of Britain as a multicultural and multiracial society to counter the divisive racist propaganda currently gaining ground in British political life’, MARA was outraged to encounter the old slurs of the Fletcher Report not from resurgent fascists but from a respectable quarter.59 In The Listener Martin Young reported on a month-long assignment for the BBC TV programme, ‘Nationwide’, working with the police ‘On the Mersey beat’:

Policemen in general, and detectives in particular, are not racialist, despite what many black groups believe. Like any individual who deals with a vast cross-section of society, they tend to recognise that good and evil exist, irrespective of colour or creed. Yet they are the first to define the problem of half-castes in Liverpool. Many are the product of liaisons between black seamen and white prostitutes in Liverpool 8, the red-light district. Naturally, they do not grow up with any kind of recognisable home life. Worse still, after they have done the round of homes and institutions, they gradually realise that they are nothing. The Negroes will not accept them as blacks, and the whites just assume they are coloureds. As a result, the half caste community of Merseyside – or, more particularly, Liverpool – is well outside recognised society.60

‘Don't let this slander go unchallenged!’ MARA asserted as it convened (p.241) a protest meeting at the Sir Joseph Cleary (Stanley House) Community Centre, followed by a mass petition and march through the streets. Police investigation, however, failed to identify the culprits and the BBC issued no apology.61

Concern over deeply held prejudice in the Merseyside police was reinforced by anger (channelled into protest by the Liverpool Black Organisation and MARA) at the changed pattern of policing in Liverpool 8 introduced by Chief Constable Ken Oxford. The ‘fire-brigade tactics’ of the Task Force were replaced by so-called ‘community policing’, involving, as the MAPG explained, ‘a heightened degree of surveillance and control, with increased measures against illegal and late night drinking, street gambling and street activities’:

As a part of this changing method of control there has been an increasing use against the black community of not so much the ‘sus’ law (Suspected Person Loitering 1824 Vagrancy Act: though this is widely used in Liverpool despite increasing public concern including that of the Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee who have recently suggested its abolition) as Liverpool's own unique ‘Stop and Search’ powers. The powers to stop and search individuals were given to the Liverpool police under a Corporation Act of 1922, and are further enshrined in the recent Merseyside County Act … research suggests that young unemployed men from the Inner City can be expected to be searched a minimum of three times during the course of a year. These encounters involve a degree of physical and verbal confrontation between police and black youth, resulting in the youth ‘becoming known to the police’ and possibly in escalation to a criminal charge.

The upshot of these powers is the intimidation of a large majority of the black population in Liverpool 8, who suffer from the tendency of the police to define every black person as a potential suspect of some illegal activity.62

On-going efforts since the 1972 riots to develop ‘a more “grass-roots” dialogue between police on the beat and black people on the streets’ finally foundered on mutual suspicion and hostility. As for the Community-Liaison scheme run by the police, its officers were now regarded as ‘being little more than spies on the black community’.63 In July 1980 the MCRC wrote to the Chief Constable stating that unless positive action was taken by the police to improve their attitudes, particularly towards black youth, they could no longer co-operate in police/community liaison schemes.64 Home Office figures noted that black people were 7.5 times more likely (p.242) than white to be stopped and searched, and 6.5 times more likely than whites to be arrested on Merseyside.65

As community relations deteriorated, the campaign for an equal opportunities policy in the city acquired talismanic significance. The essential components of such a policy – statement, mechanism and monitoring – were expounded in a formal request to the City Council in September 1980, signed by Wally Brown, chair of the MCRC (and member of the Liverpool Black Organisation), on behalf of an array of organisations (judiciously) listed in alphabetical order: the Afro Asian Caribbean Standing Committee, Black Workers Association, Charles Wootton Centre for Adult Education, Elimu-Wa-Nane Multi-Racial Education Project, Hindu Cultural Organisation, Liverpool Black Organisation, Merseyside African Council, MARA, Merseyside Bangladesh Association, Merseyside Bengali Association, Merseyside Caribbean Council, Merseyside Chinese Community Services, Merseyside Somali Community Association, Pakistan Association, Princes Park Methodist Youth Club and South Liverpool Personnel Limited.66 Monitoring was still the most contentious aspect, given continued opposition in ethnic and minority groups (and in some other quarters) to ‘permanent personalised record-keeping’, let alone methodological difficulties in compiling the statistics that really mattered, based on ‘colour’ rather than such markers as ethnicity or country of origin:

We, therefore, ask at this stage only for a commitment to anonymous surveys of matters of interest at any given moment (e.g. numbers of blacks employed, black children in care, blacks in school, blacks in housing, etc) and not for permanent personalised record-keeping. Most important is that any monitoring process should take place in consultation with the black community.67

While lobbying the Council, the various community relations organisations, together with black and minority ethnic groups, were preparing for the imminent visit of the Select Committee to investigate ‘racial disadvantage’. The evidence presented on 14 October 1980 in a hard-hitting memorandum revealed a depressing lack of progress since the last visit:

Black Liverpudlians continue to find themselves for the most part blocked at the bottom of the economic hierarchy of the area, constituting a sub-working class more likely to be unemployed, poorly educated and poorly housed than any other sector of the community … This is (p.243) the result over a long period of time of prejudice and discrimination by society as a whole, compounded by indifference and an unwillingness to confront the issue from local ‘establishment’ organisations … Throughout Britain the proportion of black people born in this country and whose only experience is of being Black British, is constantly increasing – Liverpool illustrates the dangers if public policy makers do not move from the pathological fixation with immigration control to putting real energy and resources into improving relations between people of different races settled in this country, and combating racism and the disadvantage that it causes.68

More powerful still was the ‘area profile’ of ‘racial disadvantage’ compiled by the MAPG, warning that ‘time is running out. A combination of one of Britain's bleakest employment areas with one of Britain's most disadvantaged black communities could be disastrous.’ Led by members of the Sociology Department at the University of Liverpool, the MAPG worked in close collaboration with the MCRC, MARA, Liverpool Black Organisation, South Liverpool Personnel, Black Workers Association, Merseyside African Council and the Black Social Workers Group. ‘Liverpool's population has been surveyed ad nauseam,’ the Select Committee observed, but the Area Profile brought social scientific depth and rigour, and was thus particularly ‘worthy of further study’.69

Still awaiting the Council's response to the formal request to become an equal opportunities employer, the Profile spelt out the consequences of the continuing ‘colour-blind’ approach, while placing the ‘widespread myth of racial harmony and racial equality’ in due historical and geo-political cultural context:

The reasons for Liverpool's continued ‘colour blindness’ seem to be several. It is felt by some politicians and officials that to pay attention to race is itself divisive or racist, a concern held particularly tenaciously in a city where sectarian Catholic/Protestant divisions have always been a cause of concern. The very longstanding nature of Liverpool's black community, and the extent of local inter-marriage, has perhaps encouraged a complacency that ‘there isn't really a race problem in Liverpool’, which may be combined with the observation that there are relatively few black people here compared to other British cities. Thus across the whole political spectrum in Liverpool has developed a consensus that any explicit reference to the needs of black people is to be avoided wherever possible. In the local situation, (p.244) however, in which there are widespread racial inequalities and areas of under-achievement, these attitudes, even though of possibly benevolent origin, have the effect of reinforcing the disadvantages of the black population.70

The central thrust of the Profile underlined the need for special and urgent action, beginning with adoption of an equal opportunities policy, to reverse racial disadvantage:

… considerable racial disadvantage persists as a major problem within Liverpool, which cannot be simply equated with problems of class, urban deprivation, or Inner City malaise; or with problems of linguistic and cultural differences. The factor of racial bias and racial discrimination must be seen as an additional burden facing Liverpool's minorities, especially the locally born black population who are in no sense ‘immigrants’ … problems of occupational discrimination and insecurity, educational under-achievement, residential segregation, mental stress, encounters with the police, media insensitivity, and racist remarks or attacks combine to create an oppressing and alienating situation, which may in fact be deteriorating in the current economic and political climate.71

In its report, published in July 1981, the Select Committee averred that Liverpool was ‘the most disturbing case of racial disadvantage in the United Kingdom … a grim warning to all of Britain's cities that racial disadvantage cannot be expected to disappear by natural causes’:

The Liverpool Black Organisation warned the Sub-Committee, ‘what you see in Liverpool is a sign of things to come’. We echo that warning … patterns of disadvantage in employment, education and housing, so far from disappearing with the passage of time, have if anything been reinforced over the years, to the extent that Chinese or Asian ‘newcomers’ are in a better position than Liverpool's indigenous blacks. If we cannot combat racial disadvantage in our other cities now, we will soon have a dozen Liverpools but on a far greater scale.72

In the interim between the visit to Liverpool and publication of the report, the City Council adopted an equal opportunities policy in December 1980. The Committee thus declined to cast the Council as

the villains of the piece: we hope their recent decision to declare themselves an equal opportunity employer is evidence of greater determination on their part to break down the barriers of mistrust and should (p.245) help to change the prevalent feeling that no local politician would stand up for equal opportunity.73

There was no dramatic change however. The number of black workers in the Council workforce of 30,000 registered a nominal rise from 225 in 1980 to just over 250 in October 1982. Hindered by lack of clarity, commitment and resources, the new Race Relations Liaison Committee encountered a number of other obstacles: meetings were prevented by industrial dispute within the Council; activities were curtailed by Liberal and Tory cuts to voluntary bodies including the MCRC and the Charles Wootton Centre; and the ‘black’ unity which had proved so forceful in the campaign for equal opportunities fractured in dispute over the Caribbean Centre.74 The Liverpool Black Organisation organised a takeover of the Centre in May 1981 after its director, Frederick Reese, was quoted in the tabloid press denigrating ‘the browns’, the

Liverpool-born blacks, the products of mixed marriages. The half caste population is well over 50 percent of the non-white population of Liverpool. They are concentrated in Liverpool 8 and if they ever come together, they would swarm over everybody else.75

Shortly afterwards, within a month of the Select Committee's ominous report, came the ‘Toxteth riots’ of 1981.



(1) Instituted in the late 1970s, the Caribbean Carnival fell into desuetude but subsequently served to inspire other Liverpool 8 festivities, such as the Brouhaha International Festival and Africa Oyé. See Sonia Bassey, ‘Carnival in Liverpool’ in Diverse, available online at www.diversemag.co.uk.

(2) Report of North West Conciliation Committee, Report of the Race Relations Board, 1967–8, pp. 26–27.

(3) Report of North West Conciliation Committee, Report of the Race Relations Board, 1968–9, p. 37.

(4) Report of the Race Relations Board, 1971–2, pp. 14–15.

(5) Community Relations 1975–1975, pp. 1–3.

(6) LvRO: M364 PSS7/5, Liverpool Council of Social Service, ‘Working Party for Liverpool Community Relations Council’, May 1970.

(7) M364 PSS7/5, Town Clerk, 21 Jan. 1970.

(8) A maintenance Electrician at Merseyside Passenger Transport Executive, and a Shop Steward of Electrical, Electronic, Telecommunications and (p.246) Plumbing Union, Hesse was appointed to the North West Conciliation Committee of the Race Relations Board in 1974. He also chaired the Liverpool 8 Detached Youth Work Project.

(9) M364 PSS7/5, minutes 10 June and 1 July 1970.

(10) M364 PSS7/5, letter from Dorothy Kuya, 30 Nov. 1970. Kuya's father was Nigerian; her mother, like herself, was born locally.

(11) M364 PSS7/5, minutes 1 and 22 July 1970.

(12) M364 PSS7/5, minutes 19 Feb. 1972.

(13) M364 PSS7/5, LCRC minutes 30 Sept. 1971. It was also hoped that the move away from the Rialto would encourage Stanley House to take a more active role in the area.

(15) Hull History Centre: U DCL/352/4, Newsletter Sept. 1970; and /349/11 Minutes, Group Meeting, 1 Dec. 1973.

(16) SCRRI, 1972, Evidence, 566. The LCRC provided numerous examples of textbooks which, by reflecting the British colonial heritage, provided a negative self-image for black school pupils, leading to their underachievement in the education system. An exhibition displaying some of the worst examples as well as laudable alternatives was mounted in the LCRC offices, see ‘Race bias test on text books’, Guardian 6 Sept. 1972. The MCRC subsequently published a series of articles on racism in children's books, Merseyside Community Relations Council, The Dragon's Teeth, Liverpool, n.d. (1975?).

(17) Guardian 29 Sept. 1973 quoted the LCRC annual report under the headline, ‘Race prejudice “entrenched” in Liverpool’.

(18) SCRRI, 1972, Evidence, 561 and Report, 5.

(19) SCRRI, 1972, Report, 5.

(20) Runnymede Trust, Industrial Survey, cited in Gideon Ben-Tovim's chronology of events, 1968–80 in Merseyside Community Relations Council, 10th Anniversary Annual Report, Sept. 1980, p. 7. The figure for unemployed white youths in Liverpool 8 was 19%.

(22) Preface by Mark Bonham Carter in Community Relations 1975–1975: The Report of the Community Relations Commission July 1975-November 1976, London: HMSO, 1976, p. v.

(23) Merseyside Socialist Research Group, Merseyside in Crisis, Birkenhead: Merseyside Socialist Research Group, 1980.

(24) Unemployment and Homelessness, p. 42.

(25) Home Affairs Committee: Race Relations and Immigration Sub-Committee: (p.247) Racial Disadvantage, Session 1979–80, Minutes of Evidence together with Appendices, (SCRRI, 1980), 607.

(26) M364 PSS7/5, letter from Race Relations Board, 10 Oct. 1973.

(27) Liverpool – A Multiracial City, pamphlet in uncatalogued MCRC papers, Liverpool Record Office.

(28) Liverpool Black Caucus, The Racial Politics of Militant in Liverpool: The Black Community's Struggle for Participation in Local Politics, 1980–1986, London and Liverpool: Runnymede Trust, 1986, p. 24.

(29) Daily Post 24 Nov. 1978.

(30) LvRO: 329COM/10/15, MCRC to Frank Carroll, 14 Feb. 1978.

(31) Richard Meegan, ‘Urban Policy: National, Local and European Perspectives’ in William Ackah and Mark Christian (eds), Black Organisation and Identity in Liverpool, pp. 13–41.

(32) Planning Research Applications Group, Liverpool Social Area Study Interim Report (1966 Data), 1975.

(33) ‘Tough times in Toxteth’, Guardian 6 Oct. 1975.

(34) Shelter Neighbourhood Action Project, Another chance for cities- SNAP 69/72, 1972, p. 149.

(35) Margaret Simey's evidence, SCRRI, 1968–9, Minutes, 833.

(36) SCRRI, 1980, Evidence, 555–56.

(37) ‘The Ugly Facts’, Echo 15 Jan. 1973.

(38) SCRRI, 1980, Evidence, 551.

(39) Report of the Race Relations Board for 1974, p. 36–37.

(40) SNAP, p. 17.

(42) Change or Decay, 93 and 192–93.

(43) SCRRI, 1980, Evidence, 574 and 580.

(44) M364 PSS7/5, Afro Asian Caribbean Standing Committee, undated press statement.

(45) The Times 16 July 1976.

(46) CK 2/3130: Miss Clovis v Liverpool City Council, 1976. Miss Clovis may well have been a relative of Mr C. Clovis, representative of the Merseyside Caribbean Council on the Afro Asian Caribbean Standing Committee, member of the Trinidad and Tobago Association and of the local liaison group of the National Council for Civil Liberties.

(47) Quoted in SCRRI, 1980, Evidence, 542. See also Guardian 14 Sept. 1975.

(48) Quoted in MARA: Why an anti-racist campaign on Merseyside, undated leaflet in 329COM/10/15.

(49) ‘Liverpool's unique “local born blacks”’, The Times, 1 Sept. 1980.

(50) ‘Down and out in the Harlem of Liverpool’, Guardian 14 Sept. 1975.

(p.248) (51) ‘Black violence simmers in unemployment-hit Liverpool’, The Times 16 July 1976.

(52) 329COM/10/15, Report of Trades Council Race Relations Sub-Committee: Racialism and Employment in Liverpool.

(54) ‘Local-Born Blacks and the C.R.C.’ in Merseyside Community Relations Council, 10th Anniversary Annual Report, Sept. 1980, p. 15.

(55) Quoted in Liverpool Black Caucus, Racial Politics of Militant in Liverpool, p. 22.

(56) Established by Wally Brown, subsequently the Principal of Liverpool Community College, Ellimu Wa Nane was Swahili for ‘education for eight’, in other words Education for Liverpool 8. Princes Park Methodist Centre also received funding from the Community Relations Commission under the ‘Moggie’ scheme, for trips to and from Liverpool. When the Commission questioned the expenses claimed for a trip to Manchester, it was explained that the group had ‘predominantly black youth membership from the Liverpool 8 area and an exchange would help broaden perspectives … the awareness of life in another big city particularly in the case of my lads the notice taken of black and white integration’, see CK3/162 and CK3/204.

(57) For details of the various centres and organisations, see section ix, ‘Community Organisations’ of the Area Profile, SCRRI, 1980, Evidence, 598–602.

(58) Racial Politics of Militant, pp. 24–25. SCRRI, 1980, Evidence, 579.

(59) See the collection of MARA pamphlets and leaflets in 329 COM/10/15.

(60) ‘On the Mersey beat’, Listener 2 Nov. 1978.

(61) SCRRI, 1980, Evidence, 583–84.

(62) SCRRI, 1980, Evidence, 583. See also the evidence presented by MCRC, 517. In their Sick City report in 1974, the North West Area Young Conservatives expressed concern at the ‘special surveillance of the Liverpool 8 area which leads to antagonism between the community and the police’, quoted in Kenneth Leech, The Liverpool 8 Defence Committee, London: Race, Pluralism and Community Group, 1981.

(63) SCRRI, 1980, Evidence, 585.

(65) Cited in Diane Frost and Richard Phillips (eds) Liverpool ′81: Remembering the riots, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2011, p. 61.

(66) The ‘final version’ of the letter sent to the City Council was included in the MCRC memorandum, see SCRRI, 1980, Evidence, 518–21.

(67) ‘The definition of “coloured” is more a matter of opinion than a fact,’ (p.249) Professor Simey had advised the Select Committee back in 1969; ‘Alternative methods could, however, be devised. For instance, following the lead of Charles Booth, satisfactory estimates could be derived by the comparative study of returns made by those officials whose duties take them into the homes of the people (rent collectors, education welfare officers, nurses, teachers, etc),’ SCRRI, 1968–9, Appendices, 86. The Working Party on Departmental Statistics for Commonwealth Immigrants, 1970 agonised over the difficulties, recognising that there was ‘a distinction between problems of colour and problems of recent immigrants’, HO332/58.

(68) SCRRI, 1980, Evidence, 510.

(69) House of Commons: Fifth Report of the Home Affairs Committee, 1980–81: Racial Disadvantage, London: HMSO, 1981, p. xlvii. The Profile Group comprised Gideon Ben-Tovim, Dave Clay, Linda McGowen, Vivienne Brown, Ian Law and Protasia Torkington.

(70) SCRRI, 1980, Evidence, 605.

(71) SCRRI, 1980, Evidence, 607. The MAPG published their memorandum, see Evidence submitted to the Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee, Race Relations Sub-Committee October 1980 by the Merseyside Area Profile Group Department of Sociology, University of Liverpool, Liverpool.

(74) Liverpool Black Caucus, Racial Politics of Militant in Liverpool, p. 41. On the decision to stop the annual grant to the Charles Wootton Centre, see ‘Toxteth centre's grant axed’, Guardian 22 Sept. 1981.

(75) See the discussion of the controversy in Jacqueline Nassy Brown, Dropping Anchor, Setting Sail: Geographies of Race in Black Liverpool, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005, p. 111. See also the correspondence about the affair in HO266/58 Inquiry into the Brixton Disturbances. Phase II visits: Liverpool, 1981, including the letter from the MCRC: ‘We would disassociate ourselves entirely from the suggestion that local born blacks are a “threat” to other blacks.’