Knowledge Session: Who was Olive Morris?

Olive Mor­ris. Com­munity Lead­er; Equal­ity Cam­paign­er; Polit­ic­al Act­iv­ist.  Born: 1952. Jamaica. Died: 1979, Lon­don.

Olive Mor­ris moved from Jamaica to England in the 1960s and the fam­ily lived in South Lon­don where she was to become a sig­ni­fic­ant char­ac­ter in loc­al his­tory.

Mor­ris exper­i­enced injustice and dis­crim­in­a­tion at her loc­al school and left without any qual­i­fic­a­tions. How­ever, determ­ined to suc­ceed in edu­ca­tion she went to a loc­al col­lege to study for her ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels while work­ing in a full-time job. It was dur­ing this time, her teen­age years, that Olive Mor­ris became polit­ic­ally act­ive. Mor­ris prac­tised dir­ect action when con­fron­ted with injustice and she was arres­ted innu­mer­able times and saw her­self as a vic­tim of police har­ass­ment. There is evid­ence that she was arres­ted in Novem­ber 1969 when she inter­vened after the police arres­ted a ‘black man driv­ing a nice car’ – later revealed to be a dip­lo­mat at the Nigeri­an High Com­mis­sion. Mor­ris asser­ted that she beaten up by the police and a pho­to­graph from the 15thNovem­ber shows her bruised and dishevelled on her release from cus­tody.

In the 1970s Mor­ris became an act­ive mem­ber of the Black Pan­ther Move­ment and was a found­ing mem­ber of the Organ­isa­tion of Women of Afric­an and Asi­an Des­cent (OWAAD), and she set up the Brix­ton Black Women’s Group in 1984. With a group of loc­al people Mor­ris set up Sar­barr Book­shop, the first black self-help com­munity book­shop in South Lon­don. Her polit­ic­al act­iv­ism was not lim­ited to her loc­al com­munity.

While study­ing for three years in Manchester to obtain a social sci­ence degree, Mor­ris co-foun­ded the Manchester Black Women’s Co-op and the Manchester Women’s Mutu­al Aid Group. In 1978 she vis­ited China as part of a del­eg­a­tion of Marx­ist stu­dents from Manchester Uni­ver­sity.  A keen trav­el­ler, Mor­ris and her friend Liz Obi hitch-hiked their way to North Africa in 1992 in search of a Eldridge Cleav­er who was a Black Pan­ther in exile from the United States of Amer­ica.

Ren­ted accom­mod­a­tion was increas­ingly dif­fi­cult to find in the inner city and many people turned to squat­ting as a hous­ing altern­at­ive. Mor­ris, a squat­ter her­self, was a sig­ni­fic­ant mem­ber of the squat­ters’ cam­paign in the 1970s. Along with her friend Liz Obi, Mor­ris became the first suc­cess­ful squat­ter of private prop­er­ty in Lam­beth. She con­tin­ued to use dir­ect action to chal­lenge injustice for her­self and for oth­er mem­bers of the loc­al com­munity. She became renown for her fear­less­ness in the face of dis­crim­in­a­tion and inequal­ity.

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At the young age of 27 Olive Mor­ris suc­cumbed to a ter­min­al ill­ness. Her leg­acy for polit­ic­al act­iv­ism and com­munity work influ­enced her com­munit­ies at a loc­al and inter­na­tion­al level. In 2009 Olive Mor­ris was one of the people to be hon­oured when they were fea­tured on the loc­al cur­rency of Brix­ton show­ing what an indelible mark she had made on the area: the intro­duc­tion of the Brix­ton Pound was designed to encour­age people to use their money to sup­port loc­al busi­nesses and invest in their own com­munity. Brix­ton, a com­munity with a high migrant pop­u­la­tion (in 2001 the white pop­u­la­tion was less than 25%), was the first urb­an area to use a loc­al cur­rency.

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In 1986, in hon­our of her con­tri­bu­tion to the loc­al com­munity Lam­beth Coun­cil, in Lon­don, named one of their build­ings at 18 Brix­ton Hill as Olive Mor­ris House. In 2008 the com­mem­or­ative plaque and build­ing name was removed from the front of the build­ing and it was renamed the Brix­ton Cus­tom­er Ser­vice Centre. After a cam­paign it was rein­stated in 2009 in the foy­er of the staff entrance to the build­ing and a win­dow dis­play, view­able from the street, was also installed.

[Source: http://historicalgeographies.blogspot.co.uk]

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Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal

Edit­or / PR Con­sult­ant at No Bounds
Rish­ma Dhali­wal has extens­ive exper­i­ence study­ing and work­ing in the music and media industry. Hav­ing writ­ten a thes­is on how Hip Hop acts as a social move­ment, she has spent years research­ing and con­nect­ing with artists who use the art form as a tool for bring­ing a voice to the voice­less. Cur­rently work­ing in TV, Rish­ma brings her PR and media know­ledge to I am Hip Hop and oth­er pro­jects by No Bounds.

About Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal
Rishma Dhaliwal has extensive experience studying and working in the music and media industry. Having written a thesis on how Hip Hop acts as a social movement, she has spent years researching and connecting with artists who use the art form as a tool for bringing a voice to the voiceless. Currently working in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media knowledge to I am Hip Hop and other projects by No Bounds.

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